Man embezzled from fire agencyPLATTE — Disappointment is the defining emotion following the sentencing of a Platte man who embezzled more than $100,000 from the Platte Volunteer Fire Department.
By: Ross Dolan The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
PLATTE — Disappointment is the defining emotion following the sentencing of a Platte man who embezzled more than $100,000 from the Platte Volunteer Fire Department.
Steve Backes last week received a suspended five-year sentence from circuit court Judge Bruce Anderson. In November, Backes pleaded guilty to a single count of embezzling money while he served as secretary-treasurer of the PVFD.
The court required Backes to return the money he stole, to pay a $5,000 fine and to serve a 60-day sentence in the state penitentiary, starting no later than Jan. 9. Backes will be on probation during the five-year suspended sentence.
PVFD Chief Rick Gustad said Backes, who was elected secretary-treasurer in 1984, took the money between 2000 and 2007. About a year ago, department officials began noticing “some transactions that were noted that didn’t seem appropriate,” said Gustad, who declined to offer further details on those transactions.
Darrin Erickson, who took over as the department’s secretary-treasurer in the spring of this year, also assisted with the investigation. The fire department confronted Backes in the spring, said Gustad.
“We did our (in-house) investigation and we asked him to explain those transactions,” he said.
When no acceptable explanation was offered, the PVFD turned the matter over to Charles Mix County State’s Attorney Scott Podhradsky, who enlisted the help of state Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Todd Rodig to further track the discrepancies.
Podhradsky said Backes repaid the money before charges were filed.
Podhradsky said medical issues likely affected Backes’ judgment.
“He did nothing to cover his tracks,” said Podhradsky.
“The theft was open,” he said, adding that Backes readily admitted his crime to investigators.
Backes has repaid roughly $109,000, an amount that includes the principal amount plus interest and other costs. Podhradsky said Backes’ sentence “is what I fully expected.” The penalty imposed was consistent with sentences given to others convicted of similar crimes, he said.
Even though the money was repaid, the incident was a blow to public trust, said Gustad.
“I’m just disappointed. It bothers me that it was done to an organization that serves the public,” he said.
Numerous accounting procedures have since been instituted to prevent any future thefts, said Gustad. In the future, each transaction will require multiple reviews and signatures. More stringent periodic audits will be conducted.
Backes no longer is associated with the PVFD, said Gustad.