HAILEY — A former Blaine County Sheriff’s deputy charged with stealing is now accusing a retired sheriff and a prosecutor of unethical conduct.
Accused of pilfering a non-profit children’s program he ran, Chad Russell Schiermeier, 40, was originally indicted by a Blaine County grand jury on six felony counts of misuse of funds over $300 by a public employee.
Those charges have since been dismissed, but Schiermeier still faces a felony count of grand theft. He’s set for a pretrial conference Tuesday in Blaine County District Court.
Schiermeier was employed by the sheriff’s department between 1999 and 2015, working as the Wood River Middle School resource officer and director of the Police Activities League, a non-profit summer program for children aimed at preventing juvenile violence and crime by building relationships among police, children and the community.
After Schiermeier’s arrest, Sheriff Gene Ramsey released a statement saying his office uncovered discrepancies in the PAL account and possible thefts committed by the deputy. Schiermeier was suspended by the sheriff’s office in November 2015 and fired a month later. In October 2016, he was indicted after an investigation by the Idaho State Police.
But Schiermeier and his lawyer say the deputy was authorized to make every transaction he made, that Blaine County leaders failed to provide Schiermeier with any financial oversight or training, and that Ramsey neglected the PAL program until 2015, when he worked with the prosecutor’s office to press charges to cover up his own neglect of the program.
Thomas Green, Schiermeier’s defense attorney, recently filed a pretrial memorandum outlining the defense theory of the case, which hinges in large part on the fact the PAL program was a corporation and not a public entity.
Green wrote that his client was “fully authorized to make every expenditure at issue,” but that any issues that did arise should have been taken up in civil court.
“The county prosecuting attorney, rather than exercising sound legal reasoning and independent discretion in evaluating any potential criminal case against Schiermeier, decided to join with the sheriff in making a criminal case out of what would otherwise be an internal civil matter within the corporation, and not a criminal matter whatsoever,” Green wrote.
The memorandum goes on to accuse Ramsey of controlling the county in a “successful venture of ruining Schiermeier’s life with an illegal indictment.” It also accused prosecutor Jim Thomas and his chief deputy, Matt Fredback, of unethically obtaining the indictment “using hearsay on hearsay and opinion testimony to establish the key element of the case.”
Thomas denied all wrongdoing in an emailed response to questions from the Times-News.
“Yes, we reviewed those allegations,” Thomas wrote. “They are totally false and have no basis in fact or law. Due to the upcoming trial in two weeks and certain obligations we have as a prosecutor in regard to pre-trial publicity comments, I am not at liberty to expound further on these spurious allegations. Myself and Chief Felony Deputy Matt Fredback look forward to proving this case to a jury of Mr. Schiermeier’ s peers beginning May 3, 2017.”
Among the accusations levied by Schiermeier and his attorney against county officials:
Thomas “participated in directing the investigation himself, thereby eliminating the independence and impartiality which normally exists between law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office.”
Thomas “basically led Ramsey through his testimony (at the grand jury hearing), thereby presenting false and misleading evidence to the grand jury about how expenditures were approved in the DARE/PAL program, stating, without reference to any authority from the corporation, that certain expenditures were not authorized. The prosecutor did not call any witnesses from the corporation itself, but rather elected to use Sheriff Ramsey and one his deputies, to testify as to their opinions of what would constitute unauthorized expenditures.”
Ramsey used an “unethical press release” after Schiermeier’s arrest to shift blame to the deputy “rather than facing any difficult questions about the matter himself.”
Ramsey nor other county officials ever conducted an audit of the PAL program or implemented any review procedures or spending oversight, and Ramsey pushed for charges after realizing “his gross negligence in failing to implement any control over the county’s donations (to the PAL program) could make him look extremely incompetent in the eyes of the public, even though the program itself had been a tremendous success over the years … under the direction of Chad Schiermeier.”
Ramsey, in his press release last October, called the allegations “serious” and said he’d seek “to see that truth and justice prevail … in the interest of transparency and honesty.” Ramsey has since retired and been replaced by his chief deputy, Steve Harkins.
Schiermeier is set to stand trial beginning May 3.