Over the course of three years, a former firefighter and his wife stole more than $8,200 from two charities tied to Central Emergency Services. On Tuesday, the two pled guilty to reduced charges — originally they both faced three felony counts of theft, fraudulent use of an access device and scheme to defraud — and, as part of the plea deal, will pay restitution, perform 80 hours of community service to escape jail time and be placed on probation.
Angela Anderson pled guilty to theft in the second degree, a class C felony, and Jack Anderson pled guilty to theft in the third degree, a misdemeanor. Their lawyers asked for the same penalties which including an SIS, or suspended imposition of sentence. Typically, when an SIS is granted, the defendant is given probation and if he or she completes the probation sentence is ordered — meaning the case is not considered a conviction in some situations.
Angela Anderson’s lawyer, Eric Derleth, said she was pleading guilty and eager to start her probation because she is currently being treated for cancer.
“(She) wants to be able to focus on that and not this,” Derleth said.
During the change of plea hearing, two current CES employees testified about the challenges they faced after learning that the Andersons had drained the bank accounts of the local chapter of the national Fraternal Order of Leatherhead Society, or FOOLS, and Explorer Post No. 999, which provides training opportunities and scholarships for teenagers interested in the fire service. Both cried during their testimony.
CES firefighter John Evans told the court that the FOOLS chapter had nearly $10,000 that had been donated by the father of a local firefighter who had been killed in action in 2007.
“It’s all gone. It’s all gone. I don’t even know how I’d be able to face his father, Bob, and explain to him where the money went, on behalf of his son,” Evans said.
Evans and another firefighter asked for an investigation into the missing money in 2013 after they discovered that the FOOLS account had been drained. According to charging documents, Jack Anderson was “evasive” about the missing money before admitting that there no money in the account. He was the only one who had been issued a debit card for the account.
“This is infuriating a lot of us that do this line of work,” Evans said. “We’re expected to go out and show an example of our value system, what we should aspire to as firefighters. Taking that money and not accounting for it over the past couple of years, not taking ownership in anything related to this and then writing it off as a big mistake is a big slap in the face to all of us.”
Jack Anderson’s lawyer, William Walton, characterized the case as one of mistaken usage rather than intentional theft.
“I know the alleged victims probably think that these two people are getting off easy,” he said. “I think, from a legal standpoint, they’re actually accepting responsibility that, had a trial occurred, may not be their responsibility to bear as a crime.”
During the investigation, Jack Anderson told police he had discovered “numerous” Amazon.com purchases during the 2011-2013 period when he and his wife had access to the FOOLS bank account. He said he had confronted his wife about it, as she was in charge of their household finances, and had been told that she had mistakenly listed the FOOLS credit card as the primary card on her Amazon account, according to charging documents.
At the time, both agreed to make personal purchases from their own bank accounts to pay for FOOLS items until the problem was fixed, according to the documents.
The problem persisted, however, and by the time other CES employees checked the accounts several other purchases had been made, including personal utility payments and a trip to Disney Land, according to bank account records seized by police.
Jack Anderson told police that he did not understand how the finances were paid in the couple’s home and, according to the charging documents, said he wanted to make restitution.
Angela Anderson said the fraudulent charges were her mistake and she did not want her husband to lose his job, according to the charging documents. She said she had mistakenly taken what she believed to be her husband’s personal checkbook and used the
account number to make online utility bill payments, not realizing she was using the wrong account, according to the documents.
“In large part, this is an unfortunate situation caused by an accident, and a mistake that ended up perpetuating over a series of time where you have automatic debits and transactions coming out of accounts that they should not have,” Walton said.
The second CES employee who testified, Lori Tyler, a training officer and paramedic with the department, spoke on behalf of the Explorer Post which is owned and governed by CES.
She said she and Jack Anderson had started at CES together in 1998 and were co-advisors of the post.
“I’d like to say, as a firefighter, I’m highly embarrassed to be standing here and talking about one of our own as a defendant in a criminal hearing,” Tyler said.
Her voice broke as she continued, “As a person who went to the bank to obtain records to deliver the news to the fire chief and turn the evidence over to (the Soldotna Police Department), I find it shameful that somebody who I used to call a friend, put me in that position.”
The post had to be closed down after the funds were drained — the account was overdrawn by about $60 after more than $2,400 had been fraudulently spent, according to the charging documents — and Tyler said she had to send a high school student home from ride-alongs with the firefighters.
“It was pretty awful,” Tyler said. “She cried. It was very upsetting to her that the job she was looking forward to and the career path that she was choosing — you know, as a high-schooler — it was shut down to her at that moment.”
In addition to the post becoming defunct, Tyler said the money was also taken from teenagers who would normally have gotten scholarships to attend college.
“They were very active members in the post. One of them had a disabled dad and put himself through college and he’s working as a firefighter paramedic now. The other one, the young lady, well, she finished high school and she’s in paramedic school right now and she doesn’t really have that much help — but she didn’t get a scholarship.”
Tyler said Jack Anderson’s actions had reflected negatively on the firefighters he left behind at CES and that the inclusion of an SIS in the sentencing recommendations meant that Anderson could potentially find work as a firefighter-paramedic again.
“If this is allowed, he will still be held up as an example for children and it’s unfortunate because he didn’t honor his oath to start with.” Tyler said. “I find that utterly intolerable.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org