May 21, 2018
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Bangor man gets 15 months in prison, ordered to repay $50,000 for stealing from fireworks group

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A former Kiwanis member who has admitted stealing more than $140,000 from the group that sponsors the Fourth of July parade and fireworks was sentenced Thursday to 15 months in prison on theft charges at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Bruce Fowle, 62, of Bangor was ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution at the rate of $200 per month after his release from prison to the Bangor-Breakfast Kiwanis Club and its sister organization that sponsors the city’s July Fourth celebration.

Fowle pleaded guilty last month to two counts of Class B theft. He withdrew those pleas after Superior Court Justice William Anderson rejected a plea agreement that would have put Fowle behind bars for just nine months. Anderson reinstated the guilty pleas Thursday.

A nine-month sentence would have allowed Fowle to be incarcerated at the Penobscot County Jail. He will have to serve the 15-month sentence at a facility run by the Maine Department of Corrections.

Fowle, who had been free on bail, began serving his sentence immediately after he was sentenced.

He did not address the court Thursday or in May.

By pleading guilty on May 16, Fowle admitted that he stole more than $140,000 over a 10-year period. Anderson said Thursday that the amount of restitution was based on how much money was stolen between 2006 and 2012. Any theft before 2006 was outside the statute of limitations, the judge said.

Fowle spent the money on living expenses, according to Roberts.

Defense attorney Richard Hall told Anderson on Thursday that it was doubtful his client would be able to pay the entire amount of restitution “in his lifetime,” but is determined to get a job after serving his sentence and try to repay the money he stole.

A former self-employed accountant, Fowle no longer will be able to work in that field and earn what he previously did, his attorney said.

“We don’t put people in jail for not paying restitution,” Anderson said. “If he doesn’t have the ability to pay the entire amount, it can be reviewed later.”

Under Maine law, Anderson or another judge could lower the amount of restitution if, in a few years, Fowle were to prove he had made a good faith effort to repay the money but simply was unable to do so because he was unable to work due to age, declining health or a disability.

Anderson said he ordered Fowle to repay $50,000 just in case “he wins the lottery” or were to inherit enough money to repay what he owes the organizations.

Anthony Bernatche, who spoke on behalf of both organizations on May 16, told the judge 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 youngsters with cancer, and Camp Capella, a camp for children with disabilities, Fowle pocketed the money.

“There is no good response to the sentence,” Bernatche said Thursday outside the courthouse at an impromptu press conference. “No amount of sentencing is going to repair the damage done to community through both of these organizations Mr. Fowle embezzled from. No amount of time can correct the damage and no amount of money can correct the damage. Judge Anderson did the best he possibly could with what he had to work with.”

Bernatche also said that despite the theft, this year’s Independence Day events will be “the biggest Fourth of July celebration in the state of Maine.”

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, he said last week and again Thursday, adding that without their contributions the fund likely would have reached about half of its goal.

“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.

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

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

As of Thursday, Fowle had not repaid any of the money he is accused of embezzling, Anderson said.

“If he had repaid the money, he would have had a shorter sentence,” the judge said in imposing the prison term.

Fowle faced 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 Fourth fireworks display in past years.

BDN reporter Nick McCrea contributed to this report.

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