Former fire chief sentenced to two years in prison

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The former chief of the Ester Volunteer Fire Department has been sentenced to two years in prison for embezzling more than $56,000 from the department.

Mike Oden, 50, also was placed on 10 years probation and ordered to pay $55,591 in restitution.

Oden was convicted of one count of first-degree theft after a two-week jury trial in September. The charges against Oden date from between March 1996 and June 2000, during which time he also worked as a senior safety management officer for UAF risk management services.

Oden was charged with putting department funds to his own use in a number of ways, including double-billing the Ester Fire Department for trips that were paid for by UAF; charging other personal travel expenses to the department; using department funds to pay for the maintenance of his own vehicles and those of his family; using Ester department funds to finance a visit to Alaska by a firefighting expert, a trip that was actually sponsored by another organization; and buying a number of personal items, especially clothing and hunting supplies, with Ester department money.

At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, the courtroom was packed with spectators, many of them wearing Ester Volunteer Fire Department uniforms.

At the hearing, Ester Fire Department Board of Directors member Paul Beals read a prepared statement on behalf of the board that condemned Oden's crime. The statement said that ''Oden betrayed and endangered the people who so selflessly serve their communities.''

Defense attorney Bill Murphree asked for a sentence of 90 days to a year, contending that Oden has a clean record, a history of community service and good prospects for rehabilitation.

''I submit Mike Oden does have an ability to learn from this mistake,'' Murphree said. ''He's going to get his life together.''

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