TRENTON – The former treasurer of the Mine Hill Fire Department pleaded guilty today to embezzling approximately $330,000 from the fire department over a period of six years, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced.
Lisa Ayers, 40, of Mine Hill, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge Stuart A. Minkowitz in Morris County. She admitted that she stole roughly $330,000 from the Mine Hill Fire Department by writing unauthorized checks and making unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the fire department’s checking account for her personal use.
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Ayers be sentenced to five years in state prison. She must pay $228,631 in restitution, representing the full amount stolen minus amounts previously paid back, and she will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. Judge Minkowitz scheduled sentencing for Jan. 3.
Ayers initially was charged by complaint on Feb. 19, 2013 as a result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Perry Primavera prosecuted the case and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Sgt. 1st Class Lisa King and Detective Sgt. Kenneth Lutz conducted the investigation for the State Police.
“Ms. Ayers was entrusted with handling the finances of the Mine Hill Fire Department, an agency dedicated to protecting and serving local residents. But rather than conducting herself in a spirit of public service, like the firefighters who volunteer for the department, she corruptly chose to serve herself by embezzling roughly $330,000,” said Hoffman. “This level of theft demands a substantial prison term.”
“This guilty plea, which calls for a five-year prison sentence, should deter others in positions of public trust who might consider using taxpayer funds to pay their personal expenses,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to work closely with the New Jersey State Police to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases of public corruption.”
The Township of Mine Hill partially funds the Mine Hill Fire Department and also reimburses it for utility bills and other operating expenses. Ayers, as treasurer of the fire department, was responsible for paying most bills by check from the fire department’s bank account and then submitting copies of the bills to the township for reimbursement. The investigation into the thefts by Ayers began after a bank reported to the township that it had received questionable payments made by Ayers using the fire department’s checking account.
A township official subsequently examined the fire department’s checking account and discovered that Ayers had written numerous inexplicable checks to herself and other parties with no apparent ties to the Mine Hill Fire Department.
The State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice subpoenaed numerous records from banks and finance companies, uncovering the following unauthorized checks and ATM withdrawals that Ayers issued and made against the Mine Hill Fire Department checking account between January 2007 and February 2013, when she was charged in this case:
· 53 checks totaling $77,661 that Ayers used to make payments on the mortgage loan for her home;
· 26 checks totaling $9,556 that Ayers used to make payments on her car loan;
· 32 checks totaling $13,915 that Ayers used to make payments on her husband’s car loan;
· 167 checks totaling $50,676 that Ayers issued to herself;
· 64 checks totaling $33,860 that Ayers issued to cash and endorsed;
· 60 checks totaling $22,696 that Ayers issued to her husband but endorsed herself;
· 11 checks totaling $12,092 that Ayers used to make payments on a personal loan;
· 147 checks and e-checks totaling $56,217 that Ayers used to pay various personal bills; and
· 224 ATM withdrawals by Ayers totaling $68,186.
Ayers was entitled to receive a stipend as treasurer of $14,800, which was subtracted in calculating the total theft of just over $330,000.
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