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Former Pacific Junction Fire Chief Arrested

Pacific Junction’s former fire chief is suspected of stealing money from a charity account for the community’s now-defunct fire department.

Mills County Attorney DeShawne Bird-Sell announced the arrest of 67-year-old Ernie Gencarelli on charges of persistent criminal conduct, theft and money laundering, according to video footage from a Wednesday news conference.

The investigation began after the city’s most recent fire chief, Steven Bogert, reported unusual allegations through the Pacific Junction First Responder’s Association charity account, which was not associated with the city, according to Deputy Jeremy Ripperger of the Mills County Sheriff’s Office.

Ripperger said an investigation over the past five months found about $40,000 in improper charges, including ATM withdrawals, loan payments and personal purchases.

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Gencarelli served as Pacific Junction’s fire chief for about five years until Bogert took over in May 2023, Ripperger said.

The Pacific Junction Fire Department closed in December 2023 when Bogert and all of the department’s volunteer firefighters resigned. Fire calls in the area are now being forwarded to the Glenwood Fire Department.

The closure was due to a lack of funding, Bird-Sell said. However, Ripperger said he believes the money allegedly stolen by Gencarelli may have contributed to the closure.

Pacific Junction was hit hard by the 2019 floods.

Gencarelli is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

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