Woodstock fire official embezzled more than $220K, authorities say

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks during

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks during a news conference in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2012) (Credit: AP)

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An Ulster County man stole more than $220,000 while serving as treasurer of a fire company in Woodstock, even pocketing proceeds from pancake fundraisers, state officials said.

Dale D. Hughes Jr., 64, of Lake Hill, has been charged with felony second-degree grand larceny by Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright, according to a statement Friday by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Woodstock Fire Company No. 3 had been under an audit by DiNapoli's office since mid-2011, when the unit bounced a $10,000 check toward payment on a new firetruck. The fire company's executive committee questioned Hughes and then contacted the comptroller's office, officials said.

The audit and investigation found Hughes endorsed 83 checks totaling $200,385 that were made payable to cash, between 2006 and 2011. Auditors estimate Hughes pilfered $21,000 more in cash proceeds from pancake breakfast fundraisers, officials said, and routinely failed to give the executive committee written reports on the unit's spending.

Expenses were OK'd by the committee without reviewing available invoices, officials said.

"The fire company handed the fiscal reins to this individual and he responded by fleecing the public," DiNapoli said. "The lack of basic financial oversight allowed this fraud to continue unabated for five years. It is imperative for company officials to put systems in place to protect public dollars and prevent future abuse."

Investigators said they traced much of the stolen money to Hughes' bank accounts. When the comptroller's staff requested some financial documents, Hughes altered bank and vendor records to try and hide his thefts, officials said, and began to secretly put money back in the fire company's bank account. As much as $170,000 was returned to the unit by this past July via undocumented deposits.

Hughes served as Woodstock Fire Company No. 3's treasurer from 1997 to 2011 and is currently its vice president, officials said.

Carnright called the investigation "yet another example of good government at work."

DiNapoli issued a series of recommendations urging the company to tighten its fiscal oversight procedures. Fire company leaders agreed to implement the recommendations, officials said.

Hughes was arrested on Thursday by Ulster County Sheriff's Department deputies and arraigned before Woodstock Town Court Justice Richard Husted. He was held in Ulster County Jail on $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond bail, according to a jail booking officer. Hughes did not have an attorney listed in jail or court records.

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