We're uncovering more about possible fraud from the fire chief in Buena Vista.
Butch Lawhorn has taught volunteer first reponders swiftwater rescue procedures for years, but State Police think he may have faked his credentials and given out bogus certificates.
That means he may have illegally billed volunteer first responders for thousands of dollars.
He has not been charged with any crime and in a search warrant for his cell phone, special agents reveal his side of the story.
This week, State Police investigators searched Butch Lawhorn's home in Buena Vista, as well as its local fire department building. What they took from those places hasn't been revealed to the public, but a newly released search warrant outlines the case so far.
Lawhorn has told investigators he is properly certified to teach swiftwater rescue by Rescue 3 International, one of the largest organizations that certifies instructors and students in proper safety procedures.
In the interview with State Police, Lawhorn says he's been certified since 2007, but WDBJ7 sources and the search warrant debunk that claim. He did start the process of becoming an instructor, but investigators say he never finished.
Lawhorn goes on to say he thought he's been working with an employee from Rescue 3 and has been sending checks for the licensing of teaching materials to a post office box in California. He further claims he's been talking with this man through email.
But State Police investigators say in the search warrant, the post office box and the website for the email address don't exist. Rescue 3 says the man Lawhorn names as Steve Jones is not an employee.
Lawhorn is being investigated at this time, but has not been charged with any crime.
Calls for comment from Lawhorn have not been returned this week, but that may be because detectives have that cell phone.
Officials with the Buena Vista Fire Department declined comment and would not say what his current status with the department is.
Buena Vista fire chief Butch Lawhorn is accused of faking his credentials to teach life-saving swiftwater rescue courses.
Sources confirmed Wednesday that this all came to light earlier this year when four members of the Glasgow fire department in Rockbridge County were hurt during a course Lawhorn was teaching.
That's when first responders there first started to question if he was qualified to be an instructor.
Lawhorn hasn't been teaching since then, but he may have taught hundreds of volunteer members across the region.
Lawhorn has not been charged with any crime.
Search warrants executed in the case are still under seal.
The chief of the Buena Vista Fire Department is being investigated for possible fraud for teaching volunteer first responders in swift water rescue operations in Rockbridge County for years without being properly certified, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
State and federal agents served search warrants at the fire station on Sycamore Avenue on Tuesday, as well as at Butch Lawhorn's home. The underlying Virginia code violation mentioned in the warrants is "obtaining money or signature, etc., by false pretense" (§ 18.2-178.) The penalty range for such an offense, if the total money taken is more than $200, is one to 20 years in prison.
Lawhorn is only the subject of an investigation and has not been charged with any crime. A message requesting comment left on Lawhorn’s cell phone has not been returned. A phone number listed for his home has been disconnected.
Sources with knowledge of the State Police investigation say since as early as 2010, Lawhorn has taught rescue squad members and firefighters in the county using teaching materials he wasn't authorized to use and gave out fake completion certificates from a prominent certifying body to students called Rescue 3 International. The paperwork is made to look like it's from Rescue 3, which authorizes and trains individuals to teach courses as "swift water rescue technicians." While Lawhorn did take steps to become a technician, he never completed necessary course work and is not authorized by any organization to be teaching live-saving techniques, the sources told WDBJ7.
An investigation continues with the Rockbridge County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert "Bucky" Joyce. He declined to comment, but did not deny an investigation is under way. Over three years, Lawhorn charged each student $230 for the course and may have received around $80,000 total.