David Monington pleads guilty to forging fire training certificates

In a case that Wildfire Today has been following since November 17, 2008, David Monington pleaded guilty last week in a Rapid City, SD federal court to mail fraud for sending wildfire training certificates through the mail with forged signatures of fire training instructors.

The original indictment for Mr. Monington alleged he forged about 20 signatures of South Dakota firefighting officials in an attempt to gain certification from the National Wildfire Suppression Association. The documents included training certificates, position task books, and a performance rating. The documents fraudulently attest to his training and experience as a firefighter.

Mr. Monington was trying to become qualified as Air Tactical Group Supervisor, Strike Team Leader, and Helibase Manager.

“A number of the printed names and signatures of certifying officials were misspelled, while others were followed by incorrect listings of the certifying officials’ titles,” the indictment stated.

The charge to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, but the plea deal specifies that the prosecutors will recommend five years of probation and $5,000 restitution when Mr. Monington is sentenced on February 1, 2010.

We wrote about this previously on:

It is stunning to think about what could have happened if this douche bag had actually become qualified for the positions of Air Tactical Group Supervisor, Strike Team Leader, and Helibase Manager. They are all positions that require a great deal of experience, skill, and knowledge. They supervise others and manage very technical, specialized fire suppression equipment.

Bad performance or decisions in these positions could put numerous firefighters at risk. The thought of a fraud or imposter directing air tankers, helicopters, and a strike team of engines or hand crews is scary as hell.

I think he should receive some prison time in addition to the plea deal’s probation and $5,000 restitution.

I am very glad that someone caught these forgeries before this asshole got someone killed.

Here is an excerpt from the Semiannual Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General in April, 2009. It has a summary of the case at that time:

Contractor Indicted for Fraud in Connection With Bogus Training Certificates
The OIG initiated a joint investigation in December 2007 with the BLM Office of Law Enforcement and Security regarding fraud allegedly committed by private fire contractor David A. Monington, operating as Midwest Fire Suppression, in Miles City, Montana. Investigators suspected Monington had submitted false documents to BLM fire contractors in connection with his fire suppression training and employment qualifications.

Our investigation revealed 10 forged certificates of training, 9 forged fire position task books, and 1 forged employee performance rating issued in the name of David Monington. Monington used these documents to obtain fire suppression-related employment in supervisory positions for which he was unqualified (e.g., air tactical group supervisor, strike team leader, and helibase manager). If he had been successful, he could have created an unsafe and increasingly hazardous work environment for fellow fire fighters. Several South Dakota and Wyoming state employees, as well as one former U.S. Forest Service employee, stated that their purported signatures recorded on certificates of training and position task books issued in Monington’s name were forgeries.

When interviewed, Monington admitted that 15 of these false documents contained forged signatures, although he denied that he was responsible for the forgeries. Monington asserted that he first learned of the forged documents in December 2006 while employed with the Miles City Fire Department. However, he continued to issue these documents to prospective employers through calendar year 2007. The investigation also revealed that Monington submitted these false documents to the National Wildfire Suppression Association in May 2006 to obtain instructor status, a position he was unqualified to hold and one that he maintained until December 31, 2006.

On November 19, 2008, our findings were presented to the Federal Grand Jury convened in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Grand Jury charged Monington with two counts of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. He was arrested without incident at his residence on November 24, 2008, and transported to the U. S. District Courthouse in Billings, where he appeared before a U. S. Magistrate and, after processing, was released from federal custody.

UPDATE, Feb. 10, 2010

Yesterday we wrote an update to this story after Monington was sentenced.