SKOWHEGAN — The man fired Friday as Skowhegan’s fire chief after about three months on the job had previously overseen a New Hampshire department that is now under a criminal investigation involving missing money.

Richard E. Fowler Jr., fired as Skowhegan’s fire chief without any publicly disclosed reason last Friday, was the fire chief in Farmington, N.H., during the period covered in the investigation.

“We have opened a criminal investigation in regards to the possible theft of revenues from the town of Farmington — at this point we are focusing on the fire department,” Strafford County Attorney Thomas Velardi said in a phone interview Monday. “We are not at this time in a position to name who the target is or if there are multiple targets.”

Velardi would not say how much missing money is involved, but said the investigation meets the New Hampshire “felony threshold” involving more than $1,500 and stretches back several years.

Fowler, 47, has previously said he had been a firefighter since he was 18 years old and had been fire chief in Farmington, N.H., for the past 10 years. He started in Skowhegan on May 13 at an annual salary of $56,000.

In a press release Monday afternoon, Velardi said his office, “with full cooperation from Farmington town officials, is actively investigating the possible theft of town revenues.” The theft was reported to authorities by a member of the Farmington Fire Department and has led to several interviews with more to be conducted, according to the release.

Fowler was fired by Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand following a meeting in Almand’s office Friday morning. Almand said she could not discuss the reasons behind the firing because it is a personnel matter.

Contacted by phone on Sunday, Fowler declined to discuss the matter, saying only that his employment in Skowhegan just hadn’t worked out. On Monday, he again declined comment when reached by phone.

Charles Williams, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the New Hampshire fire department, said Monday that the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department Association had to be dissolved because of the missing money. He said the department has 20 to 25 on-call firefighters with two salaried employees — the fire chief and the deputy chief.

Williams, who is employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Fowler, as fire chief, allegedly deposited revenues into association accounts only to personally withdraw the money later. He alleged it was an “ongoing problem.”

“It hurts; it’s a shame what has happened to our department,” Williams, 54, said by phone Monday.

Williams said he has known Fowler over the past decade with the fire department.

Farmington Fire Chief Peter Lamb declined to comment when reached by telephone Monday. Town Administrator Keith Trefethen’s office referred all questions to the county attorney’s office.

Skowhegan town officials and members of the original search committee that hired Fowler said they did everything they could to look into Fowler’s background and references before hiring him this past spring.

The fire chief interview committee earlier this year included the Board of Selectmen — Betty Austin, Newell Graf, Don Lowe, Steve Spaulding, and Paul York. Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore, who was interim town manager during the hiring process, also served on the search committee, as did Fire Capt. Shawn Howard and Almand, who was then the town’s human resources director.

“As with all full-time hires, a thorough background check was performed, which included checking references,” Almand said.

Dore and Graf echoed Almand’s comment on vetting the new fire chief before he was hired.

“We did everything that we should have done,” Dore said. “I was very surprised when Christine told me. … He had done a very good job and just seemed like the perfect fit for Skowhegan.”

Graf, the current chairman of the Board of Selectmen, agreed, saying the search committee did everything it could have done at the time.

Almand said she has appointed Howard as interim fire chief until a new one can be found. The job will be advertised in the coming weeks.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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