Former fire chief accused of embezzling
By Patrick McArdle
BENNINGTON — The former chief of the Bennington Rural Fire Department was arraigned on a felony charge of embezzlement on Monday after police said he had been involved in a department raffle for which many winning players and the department had not received money.
Joseph T. Hayes, 44, pleaded innocent through his attorney, William Wright, in Bennington criminal court.
He was released without bail but ordered not to handle any money for the Bennington Rural Fire Department.
After the arraignment, Wright said he was confident his client would be cleared of any illegal activity.
“It’s very unfortunate that there’s this amount of dissension within the (Bennington) Rural Fire Department.
This is nothing more than fire department politics. When this case is over, everyone is going to agree with me,” he said.
An affidavit in the case said that the fire department ran a raffle in December while Hayes was still chief. The intent of the raffle was to raise enough money to award 75 cash prizes and still make a profit for the department.
However, other fire department members, including the treasurer, told police that Hayes put tickets into the drawing that would benefit the fire department, even though the fire department did not pay the $10 price of the tickets.
Police said at least 10 people had their names drawn in the raffle on Dec. 16 but never received their winnings. Officials with the Bennington Rural Fire Department said that the department didn’t receive its “winnings” either.
The arraignment comes about a week after the Bennington Rural Fire Department suspended 15 members who were allegedly involved in setting a fire, without the proper permits, at a mud-riding event in April.
Hayes, who lost his position as chief in an election this year, was charged with embezzling from the fire department in 2007 but the case went though the court diversion program so he doesn’t have a criminal conviction for the charge.
Bennington has two volunteer fire departments. The Bennington Fire Department is run by the town while the Bennington Rural Fire Department is located within its own taxing district and run by a prudential committee elected by members of that district. Hayes is a member of that committee.