The man who stole nearly $200,000 from three local veterans groups was sentenced Thursday morning to two to six years in state prison in what investigators are calling a severe embezzling case.
Ralph VanAlstyne, 63, appeared in Fulton County Court, where a packed house of members of the organizations he stole from awaited the sentencing before Judge Richard Giardino. He was also ordered to make restitution.
“He was very remorseful and apologized for what had taken place,” said District Attorney Louise Sira. “He thanked the court system for treating him with fairness and he was very remorseful and committed to beginning his time and paying everyone back.”
VanAlstyne will make scheduled payments of $300 a month, beginning one month after his release from prison, Sira said. She also said he has put a family home up for sale. “The likelihood of recovering all the money from a man of his age and income is not likely, though,” she said.
VanAlstyne, the former commander of the VFW in Gloversville, was sentenced following his guilty plea in June on two counts of third-degree grand larceny and one count of second-degree grand larceny, all felonies. He began serving his time following his sentencing. In all, VanAlstyne took about $186,000 from the VFW, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans organizations in Fulton County.
He had previously served as VFW quartermaster, financial officer for the Legion, and treasurer of the DAV. His positions of authority in the groups allowed him access and opportunity to systematically steal funds, Sira said following last year’s indictment.
“Statewide, very few embezzlers ever see a jail cell, as the majority of victims want the return of the money to be the priority,” said Sira in a news release. “But it was important to send a clear message on the severe impact these long-term thefts at the hands of one of their own members had on these organizations.”
The Gloversville Police Department, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the financial crimes unit of the State Police, and Fulton County District Attorney’s Office conducted the investigation over two years, which culminated in a December 2010 indictment.
VanAlstyne, of 11 Almond St., was indicted on 14 counts that accused him of stealing money between 2005 and 2008 from the American Legion Harold Wilmont Post 137, the Bernard W. Kierney Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2077, and the Fulton County Disabled American Veterans Chapter 122.
The top count in the indictment was for second-degree grand larceny, theft of greater than $50,000, for stealing $57,936 from the DAV. The indictment also accused him of stealing $43,173 from the American Legion and $44,784 from the VFW.
The discovery of VanAlstyne’s theft has been heartwrenching for the members of the American Legion, Post 137 Commander John Rose wrote in a victim impact statement.
“This man abused his authority as a trusted member, causing countless man hours of reparative work — man hours that could have been used for the organization and to the community,” he said. “In the military, it is a known rule that if a leader falls, then the next in rank steps up and takes command. In our case, one man stumbled and ‘all’ stepped up for the greater good of this post.”
Rose said that the damage caused by the theft is still being rectified.
For the DAV Chapter 122, VanAlstyne’s theft has left the organization without the funds to support those returning from Iraq with injuries, said Adjutant Trent Natola in a written victim impact statement. VanAlstyne should have to serve 18 years (six years per organization) in prison without a chance for early parole, he wrote.
At his age, Natola wrote, VanAlstyne won’t have adequate time to pay back a reasonable portion of the funds he misappropriated. So only a full sentence could provide his victims and veterans some solace.
“You would think that anyone who steals such a large amount of money would have something really great to show for it,” Natola said, “rather than simply spending it as though he simply put a match to a pile of money — money intended for disabled veterans.”
VFW Post 2077 Commander Kevin Jones wrote about the impact the theft has had on his group’s reputation. When Jones asks someone for a small donation, he can tell by the look on that person’s face that they’re wondering if the money they are about to hand over will ever actually reach its proper destination, he wrote in his impact statement.
That tarnish to the VFW’s reputation is a direct result of VanAlstyne’s actions, he said. But the financial damage is just as real and painful. The VFW lost well over $100,000, he said, most of which “will never be recovered.”
“Furthermore, it appears to us now that we may actually never see so much as one thin dime of this restitution,” Jones said. “And if we are actually ever fortunate enough to recover any money at all from Mr. VanAlstyne, that money will come to us in very small amounts, probably not even starting to arrive for several more years.”
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