GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- There are growing questions about what happened to more than $2 million in federal money which was set aside for fire protection in the Tahoe Basin. Those who did the work say they cannot get any answers.
Gardnerville's Joe Benigno is one of nearly 40 contractors hired by the now-defunct Nevada Fire Safe Council to clear brush and trees in an effort to reduce the risk of a major wildfire in the Tahoe basin.
The work was done more than two years ago, in the summer of 2011. But the contractors and business owners have yet to be paid.
Benigno, who owns his own tree service in Gardnerville, says he is owed $19,000. "The work's been done. The trees are gone. The trees are trimmed. The neighbors are safer, the Tahoe basin's safer. But at whose expense?"
According to a bankruptcy court filing, the total amount owed to all of the contractors is about $2.5 million. That's $2.5 million in grant money, your taxpayer dollars, that is unaccounted for after federal auditors discovered lapse bookkeeping practices at the Nevada Fire Safe Council, a non-profit which was created to manage fuel reduction projects.
Grant money intended for different government agencies was apparently deposited into one account at the Nevada Fire Safe Council, when it should have been kept separate. That spurred an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.
But where the money is now, no one seems to know. At least, no one is willing to say. We asked State Senator James Settelmeyer, who represents Douglas County, if the money has disappeared. "That's the issue of the day." Settelmeyer said. "Where is it?"
We also asked Senator Harry Reid's office for information on several occasions. So far, Reid's office has refused to comment on where the money went or what the Majority Leader is doing to get answers for the contractors who did the work.
Joe Benigno says he's simply tired of being in the dark. "The biggest frustration is just not getting a straight answer. At least be honest with us and let us know where we stand."
Where does this go from here? On Your Side will continue searching for answers. The first priority is figuring out what happened to that $2.5 million dollars. Someone, at some level of government, has to know.
If you have something you would like us to investigate, email Joe Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.