The Washington Post

Probation sentence for former president of volunteer fire department accused of theft

The former president of a volunteer fire department in Fauquier County, Va., was sentenced Friday to two years of supervised probation for swiping more than $40,000 of his organization’s funds to pay his own mortgage during the 2008 financial crisis, authorities said.

Prosecutors had asked that William J. Stuart, 52, former president of the Remington Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, spend at least some time in prison, saying that such a sentence was necessary to deter others from committing similar crimes. A federal district court judge in Alexandria, though, gave him only the probation sentence and ordered him to pay restitution.

Stuart, who was in charge of purchasing office equipment, furniture and electronics for his department, submitted invoices to be reimbursed for things he did not buy, and he sometimes wrote checks from the organization to himself, prosecutors wrote in court filings.

“He stole more than $40,000 from the local fire department where he was the trusted President,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle wrote. “His breach of the public trust was extraordinary.”

Stuart, of Bealeton, Va., pleaded guilty in August to a charge of theft from an organization receiving federal funds. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison sentence between 10 and 16 months, though prosecutors did not ask in court filings that Stuart spend any specific amount of time behind bars.

Stuart’s case was among a handful brought this year by federal prosecutors in Alexandria against allegedly corrupt volunteer fire officials accused of swiping their organization’s funds. Douglas G. Taylor, the former chief in Remington, pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and filing a false tax return in a similar case and is awaiting sentencing. And Jerry Keith Cromer Jr., the longtime treasurer of the Aldie Volunteer Fire Department in Loudoun County, was sentenced last month to a year and a day in prison. He admitted to stealing more than $645,000 from his organization.

Jorge Artieda, Stuart’s attorney, argued in a lengthy pre-sentence memo that Stuart, a father of two adult daughters, should not face any prison time. Artieda wrote that Stuart stopped stealing in 2009, years before the FBI agents began their probe, and he was motivated not by greed,but by money troubles stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

“He was not using the funds to live a lavish lifestyle; instead, he was paying the mortgage,” Artieda wrote.

Stuart, who now works selling used cars, wrote in his own letter to the judge that he was “deeply sorry” for what he had done.

“I will be thinking about this every day for the rest of my life,” Stuart wrote. “Also every time the fire truck or ambulance passes me by this will stay with me and remind me how much shame I have.”

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.

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