Former Speedway fire chief expected to plead guilty to theft, official misconduct

(Provided Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Former Speedway Fire Chief Mark Watson is expected to plead guilty to charges of theft and official misconduct stemming from allegations he stole from his own department.

Prosecutors filed charges of theft and official misconduct Thursday morning against Mark Watson. By mid-afternoon, a plea deal was announced. Under the terms of the agreement, Watson will avoid jail time but will plead guilty to both charges and pay back more than $58,000 in restitution. Restitution must be paid on the date of his sentencing, September 28. Watson must also pay back the cost of the state audit that uncovered his alleged theft.

The terms of the agreement also state that he must apologize to the Town of Speedway. It is not clear in what form.

A message left for Watson at his home was not immediately returned.

Watson’s attorney, David Hennessy, said by phone that “Mr. Watson deeply regrets the harm and embarrassment he caused the Town of Speedway. He intends to plead guilty and pay full restitution.”

Part of the plea agreement will allow Watson to travel to Illinois, where he works. Hennessey would not say where Watson was employed, but did say he was not a firefighter and was not involved in handling public funds.

Watson, who resigned from the Speedway fire department last October, was accused in a state audit of misusing more than $58,000 in taxpayer money by allegedly setting up a personal bank account with town funds that he used to make cash withdrawals along with payments on a 2013 Toyota pickup truck and payments to soccer organizations, the audit stated.

It also alleged that more than $42,000 in fire department funds were deposited into the account set up by Watson. The money deposited came from billings for fire protection service, refunds from vendors and fees made by recruits, according to the audit.

At least $31,000 in funds deposited to the account Watson set up came from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, court records show. The money was intended to go to the Speedway Fire Department for fire protection services it provided the racetrack over the course of three years, the records also state.

“The funds deposited were not used for fire department purchases,” the audit reads.

The audit also alleges that Watson used Town of Speedway credit cards to buy personal items including a gun, a baton, a holster, a 46-inch television and other home and lawn care improvement items, the audit stated.

Watson failed to show up for an exit conference in June. According to a statement from the Town of Speedway at the time the audit was released, town officials first discovered the purchases made by Watson on Oct. 17, 2014. It was then that the State Board of Accounts was notified and an audited was requested. Ten days later, officials spoke to Watson, who admitted to making the purchases and after which resigned immediately.

The alleged misuse went on for three years.

A civil lawsuit brought on by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office is expected to be resolved as well, Hennessy said.