Judge dismisses embezzlement charge against former chief


BENNINGTON -- A judge has dismissed an embezzlement charged filed last year against the former chief of the Bennington Rural Fire Department.

Judge Nancy Corsones dismissed the felony against Joseph T. Hayes, 45, of North Bennington on July 8 after Hayes' attorney, William D. Wright, filed a motion requesting the dismissal.

Hayes was charged with embezzlement after Bennington Police investigated complaints that he had mishandled raffle tickets. Fire department member John Scutt told them that the department had not sold enough tickets to pay the winners their prizes, and that he had seen Hayes putting the department's name on unsold tickets despite the department never having bought any.

Police said some winners had not been paid, or informed that they had won, and that there was money missing. The money from the raffle tickets had been kept in a red envelope, which Hayes had control of. Scutt told police that Hayes claimed to have misplaced it.

The crux of Wright's argument was that the affidavits the state based the charge on failed to identify a victim, what Hayes did to take the money, and how much was taken. A felony embezzlement charge requires more than $100 be taken, but the affidavit could not show it was over that amount, if any, according to Wright. He said the information supporting the charge is required by law to be specific so a proper defense can be made.

The state's response to the motion, filed by Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke, says the affidavit is specific and shows that a raffle was held, that Hayes controlled the money, that some winners were not paid, and that Hayes was the last person seen with the funds. He writes that while Hayes claimed to have given the department's then-treasurer Shawn Gardner the money to pay winners, Gardner disputed ever having been given money by Hayes.

Burke wrote that for a charge to be filed, the evidence has to be seen in the light most favorable to the state, and given that, the information is enough to support a charge of embezzlement.

According to Corsones' decision, she dismissed the embezzlement charge because the affidavits did not contain anyone with personal knowledge of how much money was alleged to be missing. She wrote that while Scutt told police the department sold 137, there was no evidence showing he had personal knowledge of that, or of how much money was in the red envelop. Since the state could not show more than $100 was missing, the charge could not be supported.

Hayes still faces four counts of violating release conditions.

After he was charged with embezzlement, the court forbid him to handle money for the Bennington Rural Fire Department.

Hayes was a member of the department's Prudential Committee which serves as its governing body. The charges stem from his participation in a meeting where decisions about BRFD finances were made.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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