May 24, 2018
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Groups lose more than money when member steals; credibility in community tough to reclaim

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor-Breakfast Kiwanis Club and the organization that sponsors the city’s July 4 fireworks display lost a lot more than money when one of their members stole more than $140,000 over a 10-year period.

“We’ve lost credibility in the community,” Anthony Bernatche, who spoke on behalf of both organizations, said Thursday after Bruce Fowle, 62, of Bangor pleaded guilty at the Penobscot Judicial Center to two counts of Class B theft.

Fowle remains free on bail while Superior Court Justice William Anderson considers whether to accept a plea agreement that would put Fowle behind bars for nine months and have him pay $10,000 in restitution. The judge said he would sentence Fowle in about two weeks but did not set a date.

“When I made the very first call to raise money for the Fourth of July event, the response was, ‘Who’s watching the money?’” Bernatche told Anderson.

He also said that nine months in jail was not enough given “the crippling effect” the thefts have had on the groups’ ability to raise funds. He also said that instead of giving money authorized by the boards to children’s charities such as Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer, and Camp Capella, a camp for children with disabilities, Fowle pocketed the money.

“Because of what he did, sick kids didn’t get to go to Camp Sunshine before they passed away,” Bernatche told the judge.

Bernatche said after the plea hearing that the group has pledges of $25,000 toward the $49,000 anticipated cost of this summer’s Fourth of July parade and fireworks in downtown Bangor.

Fowle’s plea agreement with the Penobscot County district attorney’s office called for him to serve nine months at the Penobscot County Jail and to pay $10,000 in restitution to the organizations.

As of Wednesday, Fowle has not repaid any of the money, his attorney, Richard Hall of Bangor, said.

Bernatche said that Fowle gave him a check for $5,000 toward restitution, but there are insufficient funds to cover it in Fowle’s bank account, so it has not been cashed.

Anderson accepted Fowle’s pleas but said that he wanted time to review other sentences he has imposed in similar cases, including those in which restitution was made prior to sentencing. A date for the sentencing has not been set.

In October, Anderson sentenced Jeffrey Gahagan to 60 days in the Piscataquis County Jail for stealing nearly $50,000 from the Kiwanis Club in Milo. Gahagan repaid $45,000 of that amount prior to sentencing.

The judge sentenced a former employee of the charitable arm of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems to four years in prison with all but nine months suspended and three years of probation. Laurena Cunningham also was ordered to pay more than $56,000 in restitution. She paid $11,000 toward that before being sentenced.

If Anderson does not accept the plea deal, Fowle would be able to withdraw his pleas and ask for a trial. If the judge were to impose a sentence longer than nine months and Fowle were to agree to that sentence, under state law, he would be incarcerated at a facility run by the Maine Department of Corrections, not the county jail.

Fowle stole $100,000 over a period of several years from the fireworks fund and about $40,000 from the breakfast group between sometime in 2000 and July 31, 2012, Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, told Anderson on Thursday. The prosecutor said the amount of restitution was based on Fowle’s ability to repay the money he admitted taking.

Hall said that his client received Social Security benefits but that 80 percent of his monthly check went to cover his home mortgage. He said that Fowle’s wife earned a limited income running a small daycare out of the couple’s home.

Fowle, who until last year ran his own accounting firm, told Anderson that he intended to pay the restitution even if he had to use the proceeds from a life insurance policy to do it.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $20,000 on each count.

The Bangor Daily News helped raise funds for the July 4 fireworks display in past years.

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