COUDERSPORT — The Coudersport Volunteer Fire Department’s treasurer has been charged for allegedly stealing approximately $39,000 from the department, according to court documents.
Joe D. Ayers, 27, of Coudersport, was charged with one count of theft by unlawful taking — movable property (F3), one county of theft by deception — false impression (F3), theft by deception — failure to correct (F3), receiving stolen property (F3) and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds (F3). The alleged theft occurred in June 2019.
The fire department contacted police on Wednesday, Oct. 7 regarding Ayers, who allegedly took “illegal control of their money by deceiving them as to where their money went and how it was spent,” according to the affidavit of probable cause completed by the arresting officer, Sgt. James R. Collins, of the Coudersport Borough Police Department.
A formal interview was conducted on Oct. 9, where Ayers made a voluntary statement admitting that he took approximately $26,000 from the department and used it for personal use, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
After, Collins spoke with a board member of the fire department who had access to the department’s financial books and caught on that there was an issue. According to the affidavit, Ayers allegedly showed he was moving money between accounts, such as the building fund and truck fund, when he was actually paying his own personal bills with the money.
Then, when the department held certain events, like boot drives or the 300 club, those funds were not deposited into its account, as required, according to the affidavit. Between this and the $26,000, approximately $39,401.84 was stolen from the fire department.
The Coudersport Volunteer Fire Department posted a statement on its Facebook page Thursday afternoon, about an hour after the Potter Leader-Enterprise published the original article.
“Coudersport Volunteer Fire Department recently found discrepancies in our finances. A short internal investigation lead to a timely turnover to Coudersport Borough Police Department,” the statement read, composed by its board members and officers. “We will support any legal actions resulting from their investigation. The board, officers, and membership of CVFD are disheartened that this could happen in our organization.
“We wish to assure you, our community that we’re taking the matter very seriously, and it will not affect our ability to serve you in a time of need,” it stated.
Coudersport Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bryan Phelps declined to answer any questions from the Potter Leader-Enterprise, citing the ongoing investigation.
In a letter to the editor, which can be read in full on page 4, Coudersport Borough Council member Todd Husson, wrote the department “immediately removed the treasurer from his seat and all access to the facility and accounts.”
Husson went on to say, that to his knowledge, the incident is confined to just Ayers. He said he has faith in the criminal justice system and if Ayers is found guilty, that he will be punished “to the full extent of the law and made financially responsible for every cent of restitution.”
“I can assure the Borough residents that this will in no way interfere with fire protection or services provided by the fire department,” Husson wrote. “Additionally, this will not raise taxes, nor has the fire department asked for additional funds through taxation.”
He asked the community to stand by the fire department and not judge or blame the volunteers who work hard and put their lives on the line to protect the community.
Ayers was arraigned on Friday, Oct. 23 in front of Magisterial District Judge Annette Easton. Unsecured bail was set at $50,000. His preliminary hearing is set for noon Tuesday, Nov. 17 with Easton.