Former Denton County volunteer fire chief pleads guilty to stealing from department funds

The former Denton County Emergency Services District 1 fire chief accused of stealing more than $490,000 from his department pleaded guilty Wednesday to 13 federal charges, according to a news release from Denton County ESD 1.

Troy Mac Hohenberger, the fire chief and an employee of the district for nearly 30 years, was arrested Nov. 17 at DFW Airport by FBI agents after his flight from Las Vegas landed. Federal authorities accused him of stealing the nearly $500,000 from the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department’s operating fund and mismanaging its 401(k) plan.

The indictment alleged Hohenberger’s credit card bills included charges for cash advances at casinos, payments to a relative’s business in Hawaii and other personal expenses. It also said the former chief failed to put funds into a pension plan for firefighters in the department in the time required by federal law.

In addition, he was accused in the indictment of making false statements about the pension fund in forms submitted to the Department of Labor.

The accusations in the indictment were also mentioned in a lawsuit filed against Hohenberger and ESD1.

Hohenberger was the administrator of the department’s 401(k) plan since 2010, according to court documents. Problems arose when employees went several days without a check after payday, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court against Emergency Services District 1 and Hohenberger by former engineer Harold Ring.

In the lawsuit obtained by the Star-Telegram in November 2022, Ring alleges that a breach of fiduciary duty by Hohenberger and ESD1 caused damages to all current and past beneficiaries of the 401(k) plan. According to court records, the case is still open and pending a possible hearing seeking class certification for the suit.

Payments to the firefighters were also delayed on multiple occasions when Hohenberger, the sole administrator over the department’s finances, was out of town, according to the lawsuit. The department did not have a professional bookkeeper and whenever Hohenberger would travel, Ring alleged payments would be missed. Sometimes, payments made to firefighters were the wrong amount, according to the suit. In some cases, payments would not come until “several days after Hohenberger returned to town.”

Hohenberger would also fail to move money taken out of employee paychecks for the 401(k) plan into the fund like he was supposed to, Ring says in the lawsuit.

Hohenberger and ESD1 denied all those allegations.

The lawsuit seeks relief for damages including back pay, equitable front pay, attorneys’ fees and court costs, but does not list a specific number.