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New Chapel assets still tied up in Noel investigation

Utica Township Volunteer Firefighters Association station on Utica Pike in Clark County
Aprile Rickert
The CEO of New Chapel EMS said the nonprofit still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets tied up in the investigation of former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel.

The CEO of New Chapel EMS says the nonprofit is still paying close to $20,000 a month on high-end vehicles seized in the criminal investigation of former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel.

New Chapel CEO Matt Owen said the fire and EMS service has hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets tied up in the criminal investigation of former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, who previously led the organization.

That includes vehicles used for operations, as well as high-dollar “investment” vehicles Noel financed. Once the vehicles are returned, Owen hopes to sell them to bring in revenue.

The vehicles were seized as part of the now 10-month investigation of Noel and his time leading the nonprofit and sheriff’s office. He’s facing 25 felonies including theft, ghost employment and corrupt business influence.

Owen estimates the investment vehicles, financed by Noel “before all of this came to light,” are valued at around $400,000 to $500,000. He hopes to recoup some of that when they’re returned, which he said Indiana State Police have indicated will be at the close of the criminal case.

“They have indicated to me that … what is ours will come back to us after this is all over,” he said.

New Chapel is also paying $19,246 a month plus insurance on the seven high-end vehicles — a 2021 Dodge Challenger; 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer; 2022 Jeep Wrangler; two 2023 Cadillac Escalades and two 2023 Cadillac CT5-Vs — in state police possession.

“When we get these vehicles back, we hope to be able to liquidate those to eliminate these monthly payments, to eliminate the insurance costs,” he said. “And to put those resources back into what we're doing, which is providing for public safety in Clark and Floyd County.”

New Chapel currently serves all of Clark County and most of Floyd County. The Floyd County contract ends in May. Last month, officials rejected a bid from New Chapel for a new contract, based in part on incomplete financial information in their proposal. They’re still working to solidify a provider ahead of the deadline.

Court records show investigators identified more than 130 vehicles registered to New Chapel, including two dozen “cars and SUVs which appeared inconsistent with a not-for-profit fire department and EMS business.”

The documents include accusations by police that Noel sold and traded New Chapel cars and then titled the new cars in his name or deposited the money into his account, resulting in “zero return” to the nonprofit.

Court records also show vehicles that “appear to be suspiciously transferred or sold” from the sheriff’s office to New Chapel.

Owen said he was aware that New Chapel, led by Noel, had in the past frequently bought and sold operations vehicles, at times pulling them out of the fleet before they reached certain mileage so they could recapture the resale value.

He said he was also aware to some extent of Noel buying high-priced cars to bring in revenue for the department.

“I knew that those types of things happened,” he said. “But I didn’t know that it was to this magnitude.”

Owen said he first became aware of this practice during COVID, when Noel had purchased a vehicle which, due to supply issues, had delayed delivery. When the vehicle arrived, it was worth more than what they had paid for it.

“It was put to me as an investment strategy that we were buying these cars that were high-ticket cars that would hold value and exceed in value over time, and then resell them in the future for the company,” Owen said. “Again, how much that was going on? I didn't really realize.”

Owen was named to the New Chapel board in August and recently took over as CEO. Before that, he held a leadership position with the nonprofit but said he wasn’t involved with the car investments.

He said even though he was aware that was happening to an extent, “I was not in a position to ask questions about how … the chief of the department ran the business."

“I handled our operations side of making sure that EMTs were scheduled on ambulances. I really didn't even have anything to do with the fleet services,” he said.

He added he didn’t know of anything that wasn’t on the up and up, like accusations from court records that Noel personally benefited from car sales or trades.

He said state police also have several of New Chapel’s operations vehicles, including a Chevy Tahoe, Dodge Durango, two Dodge Rams, a box truck and a van.

New Chapel also still has some vehicles stored at Noel’s pole barn, as part of an agreement for the nonprofit to use the barn in exchange for paying utilities. The new board approved that agreement last August, a short time after the first search warrants were served.

Owen said they haven’t made a utility payment on the pole barn since December, the only one made since Noel’s initial arrest in November. They’re working to sell or relocate any New Chapel property still there so they can terminate the agreement.

As part of the investigation, police also seized computers with financial information. Owen said they’ll be working to complete an internal audit once they have all the financial information in place.

“We want to know that we have a full and complete picture of everything operationally here … in our finances, so that we can start making some better decisions on future purchases.”

He said current leadership is already working toward improving resources — they’re expecting two new ambulances soon. Owen says the vehicle sales will help New Chapel address its long list of capital needs, including upgraded cardiac monitors and patient care computer systems, and automatic CPR devices.

“There's a lot that we can be doing that we weren't doing before that will make for a better service,” he said.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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