Former Ester fire chief convicted of embezzlement

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Former Ester Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Oden was convicted Friday of embezzlement.

Following a two-week trial, a Fairbanks jury took just more than three hours to convict Oden, 50, of one count of first-degree theft.

He was charged with stealing more than $25,000 from the department between March 1996 and June 2000. He resigned as Ester fire chief in April 2000 and as senior safety management officer for the University of Alaska Fairbanks risk management services, jobs he held concurrently, after the charges came to light.

Prosecutor Gene Gustafson said Oden double-billed the fire department for trips paid for by UAF, charged personal travel expenses to the department, and used department funds to pay for maintenance of family cars.

Oden also was charged with using Ester department funds to finance a visit to Alaska by a firefighting expert, a trip sponsored by another organization to which Oden belonged, and buying personal items, especially clothing and hunting supplies, with department money.

Gustafson said Oden in all embezzled more than $56,000.

Defense attorney Bill Murphree said many of the items and repairs Oden purchased had legitimate uses for fire department operations, and that trips he made for UAF also involved lobbying for Ester fire department grant money.

Oden will be sentenced Jan. 29.

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