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December 11, 2013

Fire chief pleads guilty to defrauding department

PLATTSBURGH — A former AuSable Forks Volunteer Fire Department chief pleaded guilty to defrauding that organization.

Jason F. Whisher admitted Monday to two misdemeanor charges — third-degree forgery and petit larceny — before Jay Town Justice Robert Minogue, according to a news release from the Clinton County District Attorney’s Office.

’TOTAL STOLEN UNKNOWN’

“There were multiple schemes for his theft,” said Clinton County Chief Assistant District Attorney Timothy G. Blatchley, who served as special prosecutor for the Essex County District Attorney’s Office.

Whisher stole cash raised in fundraising events, Blatchley said, and made multiple checks out to “cash,” withdrawing money from one of the department’s checking accounts.

He also used the department’s tax-exempt status to purchase items at retailers that weren’t meant for the Fire Department, the ADA said.

It’s impossible to calculate how much Whisher stole since the amount of cash raised in the department benefits is unknown, Blatchley said.

“The only person who truly knows how much was stolen was him.”

The $8,500 in upfront restitution that the court required Whisher to pay back to the department was calculated using records of proceeds from fundraising in past years, he said.

Whisher paid the restitution on Monday in court, he said.

“There was a large contingent of the Fire Department present at court, so the (certified) check was immediately delivered to them.”

The former chief has been conditionally discharged from a one-year jail sentence, the District Attorney’s Office said in the release.

In addition to restitution, the conditions of his sentence are that he pays $1,000 in fines and provides a DNA sample to be kept on file with the New York State DNA Databank registry, the DA’s Office said.

Should he fall afoul of the law again within a year, he would serve the jail sentence, said attorney James E. Martineau Jr., who represented the Fire Department in the case.

Whisher was originally arrested by State Police in January and charged with second-degree forgery and third-degree grand larceny, both felonies.

“Neither myself nor any members of the department have anything for comment,” said Fire Chief Michael Cross, who was promoted to the post after Whisher was charged.

Whisher could not be reached for comment.

Email Felicia Krieg:fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg

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