Follow-up on David Monington, forger of fire training certificates

By Bill Gabbert

(Updated, February 10, 2010)

More details have emerged about David Monington, who on February 1 was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for sending through the mail 14 forged certificates of fire training, fire position task books, and employee performance ratings issued in his name. Monington was trying to become qualified as a fire instructor, and for the positions of Air Tactical Group Supervisor, Strike Team Leader, and Helibase Manager.

In putting together this information, we talked with a Special Agent with the Bureau of Land Management (now with the the Bureau of Reclamation), representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s office, Miles City Fire and Rescue, and the National Wildfire Suppression Association,

Several organizations and individuals had contact with Monington or became involved with him prior to his being introduced to the federal prison system.

Armstrong Fire, Inc., Rapid City, South Dakota

Armstrong fire truckArmstrong Fire is a private company that has wildland engines, a water tender, command trailers, and one of the ugliest fire trucks north of Mexico. Monington was employed by Armstrong, and among other things, he instructed a basic wildland firefighter course for five people for the company.

Monington wanted to become certified through the National Wildfire Suppression Association as an instructor for the 100-series fire courses so that he could issue training course completion certificates for firefighters at Armstrong.

(Note: see the update below for more information about Monington’s association with Armstrong Fire.)

National Wildfire Suppression Association

When Monington, in an attempt to become qualified as an instructor, sent his course certificates, performance ratings, task books, and training records to the NWSA, their training coordinator, Stan Kunzman, began evaluating the documents as he routinely does. Kunzman has extensive wildland fire experience and worked his way up to the Area Commander position when he worked for the U. S. Forest Service.

The documents at first looked very official and included logos of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group and other organizations. They appeared to be generated by the U. S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the states of Wyoming and South Dakota. But on closer examination some of them looked suspicious, and Kunzman made some calls and talked with the people whose names and signatures appeared as instructors and task book certifiers.

It turned out that some of the names of the certifying officials were misspelled and some of their titles were incorrect. Many of them told Kunzman that they had never heard of Monington and had not instructed him in fire courses or signed his course certificates, task books, or performance ratings.

Miles City Fire and Rescue, Miles City, Montana

Monington has operated a business in Miles City, Montana under the name of Midwest Fire Suppression. In fact, the state of Montana still has the business listed on their “Purchasing Vendors List“.

When I asked Scott Moore, an officer at Miles City Fire Department, if he was familiar with David Monington, he said that Monington was “around for about 30 days until we figured out that things were a little hinky, and we dis-invited him.” Further questions were referred to their Chief, Derrick Rodgers, who Moore said is on vacation and will not return for 2 weeks.

Special Agent Brian Cornell, Bureau of Reclamation, formerly with the BLM

Brian Cornell was first aware of David Monington when he saw the name on a business card brought to him by a firefighter. The card had the logos of the USFS and the BLM, which Cornell thought was very unusual for a person who was not an employee of either agency.

Cornell did some checking and heard that Monington “was in trouble in South Dakota”. Further investigation in cooperation with the Department of Interior Inspector General’s office later led to a criminal history check which showed that he had a history of forgery and fraud. Monington was charged with felony check fraud for writing about $10,000 worth of bad checks related to his Midwest Fire business. In August of 2008 he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, a misdemeanor, for the crime.

Cornell also heard that Monington had been fired from Armstrong Fire and from Miles City Fire and Rescue.

Other agencies assisting in the investigation included Pennington County (SD) States Attorney’s Office and the Rapid City Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg S. Peterman prosecuted the case.

Indictment

The indictment against Monington, dated November 19, 2008, states that Monington sent forged documents in May of 2006 to the State of Montana, the state of South Dakota, and to the National Wildfire Suppression Association in Oregon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343, Fraud by Wire, Radio, or Television, and 18 U.S.C 1341, Mail Fraud. The count to which he pleaded guilty, Mail Fraud, states that he:

…devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud the National Wildland (sic.) Suppression Association by attempting to obtain from them certification as a firefighter “Instructor” which he would thereafter use in a variety of firefighting and training contexts including earning additional pay as a firefighter Instructor.

Monington could have been charged with forgery, but since he sent the forged documents using the U. S. Postal Service, Federal Express, and by fax, he was indicted for mail fraud at least partly because it was easier to prove than the more complex crime of forgery. But for those that may be planning a similar caper and hoping to avoid prison time by using other means of transferring forged documents, they should keep in mind that the crime of forgery is defined by Blacks Law as:

“The making, drawing, or altering a document with the intent to defraud. A signature made without the person knowing of or consenting to it.”

Sentencing

Before Monington was sentenced, he and his attorney agreed to a plea deal, in which he would plead guilty to the count of mail fraud. The deal stated that he and the U.S. Attorney’s office would jointly recommend a sentence of no prison time, 5 years probation, restitution to Armstrong Fire, Inc. in the Amount of $5,000, and a payment to the victim’s assistance fund.

But during the sentencing hearing on February 1, 2010, which lasted one hour and 37 minutes, U.S. District Court Judge Karen E. Schreier compared Monington’s crime to surgery. She said that if a doctor were performing surgery on her, she would expect that the surgeon was fully qualified, and that the surgeon had not forged any of his qualification documents. She went on to say that there was the potential for great harm if a wildland firefighter were performing in a supervisory role or instructing others, but had forged his qualification documents.

Judge Schreier took note of the agreement for no prison time, but went her own way, sentencing Monington to 10 months in federal prison. He was also given supervised release for 3 years following his prison term, and ordered to immediately pay $5,000 restitution to Armstrong Fire, Inc, and $100 to the Crime Victims Fund.

UPDATE: February 10, 2010, @ 0900

Even more information about Monington is coming to light. Here is an excerpt from the Billings Gazette:

Prior to the South Dakota charges, Monington pleaded guilty in state court in Custer County [Montana] in 2008 to two misdemeanor bad check charges. He initially was charged with four felony counts, including theft, theft of property, issuing bad checks and deceptive practices.

While in Miles City, Monington said he was fire chief for Midwest Fire Suppression. He worked as a part-time firefighter in Miles City, but Fire Chief Derek Rogers discovered that Monington had drafted his own firefighting training certificates and forged the instructors’ names.

Monington was accused of buying radios and firefighter accessories on the Internet and not paying for them. He also was accused of writing bad checks to Miles City businesses.

A judge sentenced Monington in August 2008 to six months in jail on each count, suspended, and ordered $2,178 restitution. He did not pay restitution and the suspension was revoked. Monington was sentenced again in December to the same sentence, which was suspended. Restitution has not been paid.

Finally this guy is in prison where he belongs, thanks to U.S. District Court Judge Karen E. Schreier.

UPDATE: February 10, 2010 @ 1200

Yesterday when the article was published, Jerry Armstrong, the owner of Armstrong Fire, was away from the office and was not available. Today I was able to talk with him and he provided more details about Monington.

About four years ago he received a call from an employee at the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division who told him about an individual, Monington, who had some wildfire helicopter-related qualifications who might be able to assist Armstrong in obtaining some equipment rental agreements for mobile helibase facilities. Armstrong made the contact and hired Monington.

Armstrong said that Monington embezzled about $200,000 from him and his company.

  • Monington obtained Armstrong’s credit card information then contacted the credit card company and had the billing address changed. Then he purchased a great deal of equipment with the credit card without Armstrong’s knowledge.
  • Monington bought two Type 6 engines under Armstrong’s name without his knowledge.
  • He signed equipment rental agreements for Armstrong’s fire equipment without his knowledge.

Armstrong began receiving calls from creditors who told him that his company owed them a great deal of money. He also received a call regarding an agreement for fire equipment, which was news to him.

Armstrong fired Monington, but was left with a huge debt. The $5,000 restitution ordered to be paid to him by the judge on February 1 will barely put a dent in the money that was embezzled by Monington.

Much of the fire equipment that Monington bought, Armstrong would like to sell, but until now it has all been frozen due to the pending legal proceedings.

Here are some photos from Armstrong’s site of some of his fire equipment.

Armstrong Type 6 engines

Armstrong helibase facilities

CO, WY, and SD to receive $40 million to deal with beetle-killed forests

The U. S. Forest Service is making $40 million available in three states where the mountain pine beetle has infested more than 2.5 million acres. The USFS announced that $30 would go to Colorado, $8 million to Wyoming, and $2 million to South Dakota where about 30 percent of the Black Hills National Forest is affected. The dollars will come from left over stimulus funds and reallocations within the Forest Service. About $5 million will come from funding that the Forest Service has been using to reduce the threat of wildfires.

The $40 million will be used for hazardous fuel reduction, on road and trail maintenance, and on providing assistance to state and local governments.

The USFS said:

The epidemic has had a severe impact on forest health and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the danger of trees falling on roads, trails and recreation areas. In addition, these dead and dying trees greatly increase the risk of fire danger in the communities of the Rocky Mountain Region and elsewhere in forested areas of the United States.

Some campgrounds have been temporarily closed in Colorado and Wyoming because of of the danger from falling trees.

Andy Stahl, the executive director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics is concerned that trails or facilities won’t be maintained because of taxpayer dollars being spent on “removing dead trees from remote areas in the Colorado Rockies”. Stahl believes the beetle-killed trees are not the wildfire risk that the Forest Service says they are.

As Wildfire Today reported in November, Steve Gage’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team out of Boise has been tasked to develop plans to deal with some of the effects of the beetle infestation. Some of the objectives of the Team are to manage the removal of hazard trees along roads, power lines and in campgrounds; develop safety protocols for those working in beetle infested area; and develop fire preparedness and management plans to address the increased wildfire threat posed by dead and falling trees.

California governor to appoint blue ribbon commission to look into Station fire

While touring areas below the Station fire in the Los Angeles area that were affected by mud and debris flows, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would appoint a blue ribbon commission to look into the accusations by at least two politicians that mismanagement of the fire by the U.S. Forest Service caused the fire to become very large, which later resulted in mud slides.

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported that there were significant delays in getting aircraft assigned to the fire on the morning of the second day. There was criticism that more aggressive tactics that day may have kept the fire from turning into a megafire, eventually burning 160,000 acres, the largest fire in the recorded history of Los Angeles County.

On Sunday, La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso joined Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich in blasting the U. S. Forest Service. Here is an excerpt from an article at myfoxla.com.

The mayor of La Canada Flintridge said the National Forest Service caused this weekend’s disastrous mud flows in her city, by mismanaging last summer’s big brushfire, and should pay to remove thousands of truckloads of muck.

Mayor Laura Olhasso joined Los Angeles County supervisor Mike Antonovich in blaming the 250-square-mile Station fire on U.S. Forest Service decisions not to call in helicopter tankers early in the fire’s spread last August. The mudslides that crushed nine homes Saturday are a direct consequence, they said, of catastrophically-bad firefighting strategies.

“I call on the federal government to take the responsibility to help our residents pay for cleaning up the mud,” Olhasso said at a news conference in a mud-filled Paradise Valley street, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stood next to her. “The federal government must take responsibility for their mud, that is coming out of their hills.”

Olhasso has said U.S. Forest Service officials have compounded the threat to constituents living below the fire-denuded Angeles National Forest by refusing to let city crews onto federal property this winter to clear debris.

Arriving at the scene today, Schwarzenegger promised to “appoint a blue ribbon commission to look into” the local claims.

“It’s important for us to come out, right now, and say `what can we do to help?”‘ Schwarzenegger said. The governor pledged to cut red tape to find disposal sites for thousands of truckloads of debris that must be removed from houses, yards, streets and catch basins.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich blamed the U.S. Forest Service for failing to commit more resources to the Station Fire in its infancy.

(THE VIDEO IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE)

L.A. County Supervisor blames mud slides on USFS

The Ramblings of a Chief Officer web site has an article about a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who is blaming the U. S. Forest Service for the recent storm damage and mud slides in the Station Fire area. This is the same Supervisor, Mike Antonovich, that last month had the lame-ass idea to spend millions on a fire detection system so that fire departments could…

….identify new fires as they start and have a programmed airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads.

He is just another politician that spreads the myth that aircraft put out wildfires. Check out the Ramblings article HERE.