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Ex-fire district clerk draws prison for $500K theft

Ex-fire district clerk draws prison for $500K theft

The former clerk/treasurer of the Charlton Fire District was sentenced to three to nine years in pri

The former clerk/treasurer of the Charlton Fire District was sentenced to three to nine years in prison Monday for stealing nearly $500,000 in public money from the district.

Virginia J. DeCapria, 52, of 773 Charlton Road, Charlton, was sentenced by Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry J. Scarano after pleading guilty in March to second-degree grand larceny for thefts that occurred over a six-year period.

DeCapria was accused in 2011 of stealing $499,413 from the small rural volunteer fire district between January 2005 and December 2010.

The sentence was agreed to at the time of her plea; the maximum penalty could have been up to 15 years in prison.

DeCapria was also sentenced to one to three years in prison on a guilty plea to fourth-degree tax fraud for failing to pay state taxes on the stolen funds. The two sentences will be served concurrently.

In addition, DeCapria was ordered to make restitution — an order that will remain in place for at least 10 years, and includes any money she may earn in prison, and after her release.

“Virginia DeCapria violated the public’s trust by lining her pockets with taxpayers’ money to the tune of half a million dollars,” said District Attorney James A. Murphy III. “Thankfully New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli uncovered the theft during an audit of the Charlton Fire District No. 1, and worked with my office and the New York State Police to bring criminal charges immediately.”

Murphy said DeCapria used the stolen money to pay for iPods, laptops, plastic surgery, cigarettes and Schwan’s frozen food delivery for herself and her family.

“Due to DeCapria’s greed, Charlton’s fire district residents were deprived of the money they would have had to buy firetrucks and medical equipment to protect them from fires and assist in medical emergencies in their district,” Murphy said.

In a brief statement in court, DeCapria said she was remorseful — the first time she has made such an acknowledgement, according to Assistant District Attorney Debra A. Kaelin, who prosecuted.

Even after two years of investigation, Kaelin said, the motive for the thefts is unknown. “There was nothing that would indicate gambling or drugs,” she said. “To me, it just looks like a shopping addiction.”

DeCapria, whose then-husband was the fire chief at the time, was able to take the money over a number of years without being detected. The fire commissioners at the time of her arrest, none of whom are any longer in office, said they placed too much trust in her to properly maintain district finances.

Before the sentencing, fire district attorney Terry Hannigan read a statement that detailed how the thefts affected the volunteer firefighters, the fire commissioners and all the residents and taxpayers.

The fire district recouped about $320,000 through an insurance settlement, but has lost the rest of the money unless DeCapria can make restitution.

In late 2010, the fire commissioners became concerned about discrepancies in the books and asked for a state audit. Charlton Town Supervisor Alan R. Grattidge had also raised questions about district spending and a rising district tax levy.

After DiNapoli’s office conducted an audit, state police arrested DeCapria in September 2011.

DeCapria stole the $499,413 through misuse of fire district credit cards and $316,670 in checks improperly written to herself or her husband. The audit found that thefts grew over time, reaching $158,187 in 2010.

Her total board-authorized salary during the six-year period was $46,955.

Since the audit was concluded, fire district officials said they have developed new internal financial controls.

“Mrs. DeCapria continues to blame others for her own criminal behavior. State prison is the only appropriate sentence given her ongoing scheme of manipulation and cover-up,” Kaelin said.

Grattidge, who was in court, said the money was taken by someone who had taken an oath to uphold the law.

“Through all this, the volunteer [firefighters] kept doing their jobs, and the money that was given to them was misappropriated,” he said. “I think it clearly shows that when you are dealing with public money, you have to have a check and balance system.”

DeCapria, who had been free on bail, was immediately taken into custody after being sentenced Monday to begin serving her time.

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