Organizer: Bangor’s July 4 celebration to be bigger than ever despite $100,000 embezzlement

Posted June 22, 2013, at 3:14 p.m.
Last modified June 23, 2013, at 8:54 a.m.
Bangor Waterfront's fireworks display for July 4, 2009. Despite suffering a $100,000 theft last year, the organizer for Bangor's July 4 celebration said the event will be bigger than ever this year.
Bangor Waterfront's fireworks display for July 4, 2009. Despite suffering a $100,000 theft last year, the organizer for Bangor's July 4 celebration said the event will be bigger than ever this year.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s Fourth of July celebration will be bigger than ever this year, in spite of the theft of more than $100,000 from its coffers uncovered shortly after last year’s celebration, according to organizers.

Bruce Fowle, 62, of Bangor admitted in May to stealing more than $140,000 from Bangor Kiwanis, of which he was a member. Fowle kept the books for the Bangor-Breakfast Kiwanis Club and stole more than $40,000 from that club and another $100,000 from the Greater Bangor Fourth of July Corp., the group under the Kiwanis that plans and hosts Bangor’s July 4 events, over the course of more than a decade.

Tony Bernatche, president of the Fourth of July Corp., said the news had a “crippling effect” on fundraising at first, with several big donors from the past deciding not to contribute because of concerns about the security of their donations.

“Fortunately, we caught the embezzlement right after the Fourth of July last year, and that gave us most of this year to prepare,” Bernatche said.

The fundraising goal for this year’s event was $49,000, and the corporation has managed to raise more than $42,000, in large part thanks to significant contributions from WABI-TV, Quirk Auto and Bangor Federal Credit Union, Bernatche said, adding that without their contributions the fund likely would have reached about half of its goal.

“Those three companies have stepped up incredibly this year,” he said.

Buckets will be passed around during fireworks and other July 4 events and Bernatche said he hopes to close the remaining fundraising gap.

Fourth of July events start early, with a pancake breakfast at the Brewer Auditorium from 6 to 10 a.m. The Walter Hunt Memorial road race starts at 10:45 a.m., with a parade scheduled to start 15 minutes later along the same route from Brewer into Bangor. Gates open on the Bangor Waterfront at 2 p.m. for a concert that will run through 9:30 p.m., when the fireworks start. Bernatche said it would be the biggest fireworks show in the state.

In an effort to create an all-day family friendly event, Bernatche said The Maine Jump plans to bring bounce houses and other activities for children. All these events are paid for through the Fourth of July Corp. fund.

Kiwanis and corporation have made significant changes to their organizations to stem any future thefts, according to Bernatche. For example, The Fourth of July Corp. now has two treasurers and every member of the board receives the corporations bank statement each month.

“Despite the chilling effect that theft had, we’re going to be bigger and better this year,” he said.

Fowle, who last appeared in court in May, has yet to pay back any of the money he stole, according to Bernatche. A judge rejected a plea deal during that appearance that would have put Fowle in jail for nine months. Fowle is expected to plead guilty a second time and be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the district attorney’s office.

Fowle faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $20,000 for each of the two counts of Class B theft he faces.

The Bangor Daily News has assisted in raising funds for July 4 fireworks in past years.

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