Jail For Va. Thief Who Stole from Fire Dept., Children

April 9, 2013
Big Island Vol. Fire Department is struggling to rebuild community trust after the theft.

April 09--A former Bedford County supervisor was sentenced to a year in jail for stealing almost $300,000 from the Big Island Volunteer Fire Department, a children's benefit fund, his great aunt and her estate.

In January, Earl Anthony "Tony" Ware pleaded no contest to a dozen money laundering and embezzlement charges. In exchange for the pleas, the Commonwealth dropped 13 similar charges against Ware.

Big Island Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brandon Cocke said after the sentencing the fire department is satisfied with the punishment, but is struggling to rebuild community trust.

"The county is good to us," he said, but added the department's image has taken a hit.

And the financial struggles are taking a toll.

Cocke said he believes the department could prove Ware took $3,000, but due to sketchy bookkeeping by Ware there's no way to tell how much more disappeared.

That has worked reforms in the way the department handles its money, he said. Now, two signatures must be on each check and if a check goes to the bank without meeting that requirement, it is rejected.

"It's a lot different than it was two years ago."

Four character witnesses testified in Ware's defense, painting the picture of a man whose gave his life to public service, such as cooking stew for fundraisers, helping secure money to renovate the county's court house and always being there for his neighbors.

Ware himself enumerated many of his deeds as he apologized before his sentencing.

He said his actions showed "a great lack of judgment," and added he wants to continue helping people after his release.

"My life has revolved around service to others ... I'm anxious to rebuild people's trust in me."

Botetourt County Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney John Alexander prosecuted the case after the Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney's office removed itself from the proceedings.

In arguing for a lighter sentence, defense attorney Mark Arthur told Circuit Court Judge James Updike he didn't believe the Commonwealth could have proven Ware guilty of all the charges to which he pleaded.

Before sentencing Ware, Updike said jail time was necessary.

"I have seen people go to jail for stealing a cheap bottle of wine," he said.

"A period of confinement is required by justice."

Updike sentenced Ware to 11 years on each charge, but suspended all but one year of each. The sentences are to run concurrently.

After the hearing, Arthur said Updike pronounced "a fair sentence," and added he believe it was in Ware's best interest to plead to the charges because it avoided a drawn-out trial and because of the number of charges the commonwealth was willing to drop.

"He really did want to resolve this with the least harm possible," Arthur said.

As part of the sentence, Ware must pay restitution of $295,000.

Copyright 2013 - The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.

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