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EAST LAKE -- Chuck Schult, a former East Lake fire commissioner and longtime local activist, two weeks ago resigned from a civic organization after its members questioned whether he had used group funds to pay for lawn service at his home.
The allegations, Schult said, arise from a political witch hunt designed to drive him out of the group and to embarrass him before Tuesday's election. Schult is running for the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District Board of Commissioners.
"These people are anxious to hang me higher than a kite," Schult said, denying that he misappropriated group funds.
In a two-page statement sent to local newspapers, the Tarpon Woods Entrance and Islands Alliance contended that a recent review of its financial records found "a number of gaps, inconsistencies and troubling entries" while Schult was the group's chairman and treasurer. The volunteer organization was formed in 1994 to improve and maintain entrance islands on Tarpon Woods Boulevard and other small islands in the neighborhood.
Through the years, the group has received contributions to pay for a black marble entrance sign and to help maintain the islands.
Schult said he had used the same lawn service company that does work for the alliance for sprinkler work at his home in 2001. He got the bills mixed up, he said, and mistakenly paid for the work done at his home using the group's money.
When the group told him about it, he repaid about $298.
"I made a mistake and paid the money back," Schult said. "I turned the records over to them and was very open. I wasn't trying to hide anything. Mistakes like that do happen."
The group also contends that there are two other checks totaling $1,017 "that appear to have been converted to his personal use," according to the group's statement.
Schult said one of the checks, which was cashed for $742, was to pay for a water main leak. He said he spent none of the money on himself, but since both checks were written while he was the chairman, he said he also would reimburse that money to the group.
"I'm not trying to hide anything," Schult said. "I'm not admitting fault, but I can't check it out, and it happened on my watch."
In a letter he sent Tuesday to the group, Schult said he would pay that money back within 45 days.
"Please note that I have no intention of cheating an organization I ran successfully for almost 81/2 years, and also note if I really wanted to take money from the alliance, I could have cashed any number of checks received in 2001 and 2002 and no one would have known," Schult wrote.
Members of the group declined to comment beyond their written statement on Tuesday or did not return phone calls.
"That is the only statement we are going to make," alliance member Bob Painter said.
Schult said the move was orchestrated to attack him before the election. Schult is running against Dan Bobel, publisher of the East Lake Eagle. The two are longtime political foes.
-- Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or firstname.lastname@example.org .