A Hempstead Village police officer had falsified a document to become a cop and stole thousands of dollars from the Hempstead Fire Department when he was a volunteer firefighter, prosecutors said Wednesday in announcing a 13-count indictment against him.
The arrest of Randy Stith, 27, who also is a school board member, was the result of “several schemes” that involved a “betrayal of trust to the people of Nassau County,” prosecutor Lisa Berk said at the officer’s arraignment at State Supreme Court in Mineola, where he pleaded not guilty.
Stith is accused of stealing more than $6,500 from the fire department’s Southside Hose 2, when he was treasurer, from February 2015 to January 2018. He was sworn in as a Hempstead Village police officer in June 2017 during a ceremony in which Mayor Don Ryan called Stith his godson.
Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan said Stith was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday.
“It’s a disappointing set of circumstances, to say the least,” McGowan said Wednesday in a phone interview.
Prosecutors allege that the Nassau County Civil Service Commission initially denied Stith’s application to be a police officer in February 2015 — “on grounds unrelated to this investigation” — but reconsidered him after he filed a forged recommendation letter in April 2015 “purporting to be signed by another member” of his fire company.
Martha Krisel, a deputy Nassau County attorney who is counsel to the Civil Service Commission, declined to comment.
Stith’s attorney Joseph Conway said he didn’t know the grounds for the initial civil service dismissal.
Stith was arrested in 2010 at age 19 and served five days in jail after pleading guilty to a noncriminal harassment violation, according to court records.
On Wednesday, Stith was charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument; two counts of grand larceny; four counts of falsifying business records; four counts of offering a false instrument for filing; petit larceny; and official misconduct. If convicted of the top charge, he faces 2 1⁄3 to 7 years in prison.
“This is a tough day for Mr. Stith. He’s an individual that served his community since he’s been old enough to do so,” Conway said outside the courthouse.
At an unrelated event, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas called the allegations “very troubling” and said Stith would “be held accountable for this.”
Acting Supreme Court Justice Teresa Corrigan released Stith on his own recognizance Wednesday. He is due back in court June 1.
“We believe the complaint and the DA’s case was generated by people in the firehouse that have differences and are on different sides of the road than Mr. Stith,” Conway said.
Stith said in a phone interview Tuesday that he has “faith in the justice system that it will work out and that I will be vindicated.”
Stith made 12 unauthorized cash withdrawals from the bank account of the fire department’s Southside Hose 2, prosecutors said.
In addition, when the fire department received a refund check for the taxes paid on a canceled cruise for five members, Stith allegedly cashed the check and pocketed the money. He is accused of then falsifying a financial statement “to obscure the withdrawals from the [fire] company’s bank account” in January 2017, prosecutors said.
Fire Chief Steve Giardino did not immediately have a comment Wednesday. Prosecutors said Stith was terminated from the fire department Jan. 31.
Because Stith is considered a probationary police officer for a year after his hiring, “he could be fired without much legal hearings,” McGowan said, adding that he believed any termination would have to go through the board of trustees.
The police chief said he would meet with legal advisers on Thursday to determine the department’s next step.
When asked about the indictment Tuesday, Ryan declined to comment because the case is a personnel matter.
Stith was elected to a three-year term on the school board in May 2017 and is part of a three-person board majority.
Stith “is someone who has given years to public service and deserves the benefit of the doubt,” the Hempstead school district said in a statement Tuesday. If the “serious allegations” are proven true school officials would have to address it, the statement said.
Stith can remain on the school board unless he is proved guilty of a felony, said Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the state School Boards Association.
During the school board elections, Stith’s arrest from 2010 — after he allegedly hit a woman in the head with a bottle of bleach, splashing the chemical into her eyes at a Hempstead laundry — became an issue.
“Since my little incident some seven years ago, which I was found un-guilty of, I have served the community as a member of the fire department,” he said in a Facebook video during the election campaign.
With Keshia Clukey and Joan Gralla