Sumter Fire Chief faces criminal charges - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Sumter Fire Chief faces criminal charges

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AMERICUS, GA (WALB) -

Prosecutors there say John Ekaitis illegally cashed in unused vacation time when he was Fire Chief in Hardeeville. The Sumter county commission is standing behind the chief. County leaders believe he'll be cleared of any wrongdoing.

John Ekaitis became Sumter county fire chief in 2011 and county officials say his record is excellent. They say he hasn't taken a day off and is always ready to go the scene of the fire, even at three in the morning.

They say Ekaitis had the same track record in Hardeeville, racking up unused vacation days in the South Carolina city. On March 21st Ekaitis was indicted for cashing in his acquired leave time between 2005 and 2006.

"An employee there would build up leave time, and they eventually at some point had a policy for an employee to cash in their leave instead of taking leave. They could fill out a form, which the Chief did, submit that form to their superior, and then it would be approved. Then the city would write them a check for that leave time instead of them taking leave," said Bill Nesmith, Sumter County Attorney.

Nesmith says South Carolina authorities have not released any case information to Sumter County and that the board has tried to stay informed through news articles and information provided by the chief. He says it appears Ekaitis was following procedure and the board continues to support the chief.

"He has done an excellent job as fire chief here, and they're going to support him through this entire process and hope for the very best for chief Ekaitis," Nesmith said.

County leaders say they're confident the chief didn't break the law. "As it stands right now with the information Chief Ekaitis has given and with the level of cooperation and concern that he has given the board of commissioners, at this point they're satisfied with what he's telling them. And they are going to keep a very close eye on this and see where it progresses."

Ekaitis was indicted along with five other Hardeeville officials, all accused of engaging in acts and omissions including but not limited to abuse of the leave cashing policy.

Nesmith describes Ekaitis as a good man and says he doesn't understand why South Carolina officials have not released any information on the case. Law Enforcement officials began investigating after an audit of Hardeeville's finances in 2008.

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