A Cutchogue volunteer firefighter faces accusations he made 96 false entries...

A Cutchogue volunteer firefighter faces accusations he made 96 false entries to 55 emergencies in the fire department’s electronic records system, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. Credit: Randee Daddona

A Cutchogue volunteer firefighter is accused of falsifying department records to claim that he and his family had responded to emergency calls they never actually attended, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

James P. Burns, 27, of Cutchogue, was arrested and charged Wednesday with tampering with public records, a felony, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor, the office said in a news release.

Burns was arraigned at Southold Town Court and freed without bail, according to the release. The case is due back in court April 26. Burns faces up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if convicted, but sentences are typically less.

He is accused of making 96 false entries to 55 emergencies in the Cutchogue Fire Department’s electronic records system.
False entries were allegedly made at the firehouse on Sept. 30, 2023, after Burns responded to an emergency call, the release said.

“While at the firehouse, Burns allegedly accessed an internal computer system that he was not authorized to use and made 96 changes to the records of 55 prior emergency calls,” the office said in the release. “In so doing, Burns allegedly gave himself and three family members credit for attending previous emergency calls they did not actually attend.”

The fire department didn’t return a message Wednesday afternoon seeking comment, and Burns’ lawyer, William Goggins, of Mattituck, declined to comment when reached by phone.

The family members were volunteer firefighters, said Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

The false entries extended Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) credits to one of the family members, “which that family member allegedly did not earn, thereby potentially providing future fraudulent monetary benefits,” the office said.

According to a 2015 report by the state comptroller: “fire districts and municipalities that rely on volunteer firefighters (volunteers) have the option to offer pension-like benefit programs to facilitate the recruitment and retention of active volunteers.”

The program “can be set up as either a defined contribution plan or a defined benefit plan.”

In addition to emergency responses, credits toward the program can be earned by “training courses, stand-bys and sleep-ins, serving in an elected or appointed position, teaching fire prevention classes, attending certain meetings, drills and certain miscellaneous activities."

Lopez said the fire department detected the fraud and reported it to the authorities. She said no program credits were received because the fraud was detected before any award. 

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