As tempers flare behind closed doors inside a local volunteer fire department, an investigation continues. Two men's names have been thoroughly vetted over the past month at the El Paso Sheriff's Department: Robert Ostrenga and Carlos Sandoval.
The two men have been under investigation thanks to a vehicle once owned by the Montana Vista Fire Department, which was sold for a fraction of the price it would typically be valued at according to online websites. Not only was the truck, a 2005 Chevy Silverado, sold at a deep discount but it also remained on the books for several months racking up more money in repairs than the sale price negotiated in January.
Ostrenga, the fire chief for Montana Vista Fire Department for more than a decade, bought the truck on Jan. 11, 2012, according to a sale receipt uncovered by the ABC-7 I-team, a fact that Ostrenga does not dispute. The receipt, signed by Carlos Sandoval, who serves as the president of the El Paso County Emergency Services District No. 2, which encompasses Montana Vista's fire department, shows the vehicle was sold for $2,500.
What happened next is still being sorted out, and is now part of a file on the district attorney's desk to determine whether any legal action should be pursued.
Between the date of the sale receipt and mid March, the 2005 Chevy Silverado was serviced on at least seven separate times, according to receipts given to ABC-7s Matthew Smith via an informant who works within the Montana Vista Fire Department. The work included fixes to the driver's door, which made a wind noise, an overhaul of the engine and detail work. The total of the seven service bills add up to $7,445.54, or roughly three times the amount of money the vehicle was sold for. All of the repairs made on the vehicle were paid for by credit cards belonging to Robert Ostrenga, who bought the truck, and his administrative assistant Wendy Younger.
Younger's name had not been made public by investigators, however she did admit to being questioned by members of the sheriff's department. When approached for comment on this story, she made it known that she thought it was premature to speak with the media, and that more information needed to come out after the investigation was complete.
"All I did was my job," said Younger. "I take care of everything. The station, the trucks, the training…"
Asked for further comment she declined to add anything else except this: "They're doing an investigation. Let's see what they come up with, okay? I was asked some questions, I answered the questions truthfully, and they have their information."
Ostrenga, who is retired and drawing a pension but remains the chief, said everything was a simple misunderstanding. According to him, the truck's title was lost when he initially attempted to purchase the vehicle. As a result, Ostrenga tells ABC-7 that he put the sale receipt away and the truck remained in service, racking up repair work like any other vehicle.
"We deal with millions of dollars a year," explained Ostrenga. "Am I going to try to get a couple grand off a truck? There is now way…that is ridiculous."
Ostrenga said there was no attempt to defraud the fire department or the taxpayers who ultimately footed the bill for the truck. He said that when the additional work that was done on the truck was brought to his attention he offered to pay the difference, however, the vehicle was eventually returned to Montana Vista Fire Department and the payments likewise were returned to Ostrenga.
As for the investigation, Sheriff's officials have said very little about what they've found. Ostrenga's case could see a grand jury in the coming weeks, which would determine whether charges would be brought, but it is unknown at this time whether the district attorney has made a decision to do so.
Meanwhile, Sandoval has also been investigated. Sandoval said he was not aware of the everyday happenings within Montana Vista and thus unaware of the fallout until it was reported at a later date to him. According to him, the vehicle has since been sold to a separate fire department and is back in use at a separate Emergency Services District No. 2 department in El Paso County.
Ostrenga has made recent comments that he intends on stepping down as chief of his department when re-election for the position comes up in November, but said it has nothing to do with the allegations of wrongdoing. Ostrenga said it has been his plan for some time to step down, but that he would like to remain on as a member following his November step down.