Former fire chief indicted on theft charges

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The former chief of the Ester Volunteer Fire Department has been indicted on theft charges.

James Mike Oden allegedly embezzled more than $25,000 from the fire department over the last five years. A grand jury on Wednesday indicted Oden on charges of first-degree theft. If he is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Court record say Oden charged purchases, including travel expenses, tickets for his family to Texas, maintenance on personal vehicles and a four-wheeler, which he said was bought for firefighters to use.

Oden says travel expenses were for trips made for his job as senior safety services officer for the risk management department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he worked for 10 years.

He says he reimbursed the fire department for the expenses. Records show that he paid back about $3,000 for air travel. However, when receipts for the trips were obtained from UAF, they suggest he was double-billing the fire department, according to court records.

After the allegations surfaced, the borough obtained the services of an independent accounting firm to investigate the bookkeeping as well as scrutinize financial policies at the fire department, said Tom Biggane, director of emergency services for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Oden, who was chief for 15 years, resigned in April. He resigned from UAF on June 16.

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