By Mishele Wright
VAN BUREN, Ind. — A former Van Buren firefighter will avoid jail time after stealing money from the department.
William “Bill” Wentz, 45, pleaded guilty last month to 12 counts of theft, admitting that he stole money from the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department. He used the money for personal use, which included a veterinarian payment, the purchase of a firearm and a Verizon telephone bill.
Grant Superior Court 1 Judge Jeff Todd sentenced Wentz on Monday to six years in jail — all suspended. He will serve the six years on probation.
As terms of the probation, Wentz cannot hold a public office or work for a government entity for six years.
Wentz resigned as town councilman in Van Buren in May after police began investigating him. He was also suspended from the fire department pending the outcome of the inquiry.
On Monday, Fire Chief Don Plummer said Wentz was terminated from the department last month after pleading guilty to the crimes. He wouldn’t elaborate on the termination, only that it was a decision made by the department’s board.
Plummer also is facing a theft charge because investigators say he accepted a blank check from Wentz that came from the fire department.
According to the plea agreement, the executed portion of the sentence could’ve been up to a year in jail.
Grant County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bill Heck said the judge’s decision was reasonable and fair, and he thought that giving Wentz a year in jail could’ve actually caused more damage.
“We acknowledged to the judge during the hearing there were certain reasons why that would actually result in potentially more harm to the victim being done because it would delay the period of time he could be making restitution,” he said. “The victim in the courtroom had no interest in seeing him go to jail.”
Marvin Surber, also a town councilman, was present to represent the fire department.
An estimated $12,000 was taken illegally from the department, but a restitution hearing is set for 10 a.m. March 11 to determine the exact amount that Wentz will have to pay back.
Heck didn’t know how much money Wentz would end of owing, but said he anticipated it being a “substantial number.”
“He indicated during the hearing he had started to accumulate some money he had in his account that was ready to be paid toward restitution,” he said. “I don’t know how much he’s put together at this point … I think it will take a large amount of time to pay back.”
As part of the plea deal, a count of corrupt business influence was dismissed. Wentz doesn’t have a criminal record.
Wentz’s attorney Bruce Elliott couldn’t be reached for comment after the hearing Monday.
Copyright 2013 Chronicle-Tribune (Marion, IN)
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