News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
LANGLEY, S.C. (WRDW) -- Williston Rescue Squad's Aiken County Business Registration looks normal, but it's not just spurring a News 12 investigation, it's spurring one in Aiken County too.
Williston Rescue Squad is headquartered in Barnwell County, but since the service operates its private ambulance company in Aiken County too, they must have an office facility in Aiken County as well.
News 12 took the address from the Rescue Squad's registration, 2868 Augusta Road in Langley, and it took News 12, surprisingly, to a gas station in Langley.
"I've never even heard of [Williston Rescue Squad], to be honest. I haven't," says a clerk at the Bryant's Express convenience store, who confirms the address of her store is 2868 Augusta Road.
However, News 12 later found out the ambulance service is actually being run out of a gun store next door that has the same address, but there were no Williston Rescue signs, no ambulances, not even one ambulance worker around.
"If someone's, you know, opening up a facade business in Aiken County . . . then what they've done is a tantamount to fraud," says Aiken County Councilman Scott Singer.
Singer wants a level playing field.
Aiken County Code of Ordinances (Sec. 11-154) has specific rules to regulate an ambulance service's office: "The franchisee shall maintain an office in the county. Such office shall be official office of the franchisee to which all notices, correspondence, complaint, and other communications from the county shall be sent. The office shall be an operating base for the county, from which calls are dispatched and operating staff are located. The franchisee shall provide a non-long distance telephone number for the area for which they want to conduct business. All vehicles used in Aiken County shall be registered in Aiken County and taxes shall be paid in Aiken County."
Even though the office allegedly has a phone number, Williston Rescue Squad confirms no calls are dispatched from the Langley gun store. Additionally, the Aiken County tax collector's office says the Rescue Squad has failed to pay around $800 worth of taxes over the past three years. That means their business registration is technically invalid.
"Council adopts the rules and regulations that it does for reasons, and it's important that staff do its due diligence to ensure that all those requirements are met," adds Singer.
Both Singer and Councilman Andrew Siders want the county to fix the problem, if there is one.
"They're going to have to abide by the letter of the ordinance," says Councilman Siders. "Period."
Additionally, Singer says he doesn't doubt the level of service Williston Rescue Squad provides for Aiken County. However, Singer awaits to see what the county finds in its investigation.
County Administrator Clay Killian says he and EMS Director Tommy Thompson are looking into the alleged violation. He says Williston Rescue Squad has had problems complying with county ordinances in the past. He says the county's investigation will continue on Thursday.
Rescue Squad Operations Manager Phil Clarke couldn't say much until he receives more information from the county, but he says he will work with the county to fix any possible problems. He says the Rescue Squad responds to a small number of convalescent calls in Aiken County. He says when the building was established in the county, he believed it to be comparable with those of other local ambulance services.
In 2013, investigators with the United States Justice Department say Williston Rescue Squad billed Medicare for routine, non-emergency ambulance rides that were not medically necessary and created false documents to make those rides appear to be covered under Medicare guidelines.
The company was ordered to pay back $800,000 to right the wrong.