Oakley sentenced to six months in jail for embezzlement

Date Published: 
Nov. 10, 2017

Former Millville Volunteer Fire Company (MVFC) Treasurer Justin Oakley will serve six months in jail after stealing more than $190,000 from the organization in which he was a member.

“Mr. Oakley took an awful lot of money,” said Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley at the Nov. 3 sentencing. “There’s no doubt he took somewhere around $190,000 and there was a serious breach of trust. He took this money from people who trusted him, and the source of much of that money was the public itself. That is a terrible breach of trust. The people he took it from was his friends… He certainly betrayed that trust. That is very unfortunate.”

Oakley pled guilty on Sept. 20 this year to Theft Over $50,000. He was arrested in May of last year after he was charged with theft over $100,000 and 100 counts of falsifying business records of the department between 2012 and the early part of 2015. Last week he was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by six months of home confinement, then one year of probation.

He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,181.88, which was done so on Friday following the sentencing.

During the sentencing, Oakley’s counselor, Christina B Kane, LPC testified that Oakley’s behavior was due to “mental health psychosis” due to his ex-wife taking their son to Poland (away from Oakley), compounded with another rift in the family. Kane also testified that Oakley was in an accident which resulted in severe head trauma, impacting the area of the brain that controls impulsivity. She also said he suffers from depression, severe post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

She noted that Oakley is motivated to get treatment, and has been attending counseling sessions weekly, as well as taking prescribed medications. He is currently living with his sister and parents, is employed full-time, and has a girlfriend.

Kane testified that she believes he is getting his life together and making “tremendous progress.” During her testimony, Oakley stood before Judge Bradley with his attorney, Lacey Holly III, and cried.

When he was stealing money from the volunteer fire department, she said, Oakley was acting impulsively, whereas now, “he is able to think before he acts.”

State attorney Dennis Kelleher asked Kane if he understands that it is wrong to steal, to which she replied that at the time of the theft, “No, he did not comprehend.”

Oakley joined the fire department in 1988 as a teenager, and served as its treasurer for five years. Holly said Oakley did not have a “remarkable criminal record,” citing two DUIs, and does not post a physical threat to the community at large.

He noted that Oakley has been punished, as he is now a felon, who cannot travel, vote or enjoy his favorite hobby — hunting — ever again. Holly also stated that Oakley could lose his professional license as a respiratory therapist.

“[He has been] outcast by the organization and the people in that organization that he cared for like family,” said Holly. “We ask the court to temper out the justice handed out today with mercy.”

“I am truly, very sorry,” said Oakley, following Bradley’s question as to whether or not he would care to add to his attorney’s statement.

Millville Volunteer Fire Department President Clarke Droney, who is a 38-year member, spoke before Bradley regarding the impact of Oakley’s criminal actions.

“The reputation of the fire department has been tarnished, for how long we don’t know. Our members hang their heads in shame and feel as if we have a target on our back. We have 80-plus years of dedicated volunteers. Some people have spent 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years in the fire department.”

Droney said the department has been suffering from declined participation of volunteers, as well as a noticeable decrease in donations, letters and cards.

“There’s not a week goes by that we don’t get a fundraising letter back with no money in it because people don’t trust us anymore,” he said, adding that at one time an area home owners association held a fire department fundraiser for six years, raising over $30,000 for the department. Following Oakley’s theft, he said, the community stopped the fundraiser.

He also said the department has had a reduction in grant and aid from State and County sources in the wake of Oakley’s actions.

“We recouped some of the money… It’s not like Mr. Oakley wrote us a check and made us whole again. We’ve had increased expenses, higher insurance premiums,” noting their insurance has increased about $15,000 a year since Oakley was treasurer. “These fees and expenses are not going to be reduced overnight. It will take years if ever to recover.

“When everything is added up, we’ve lost almost half a million dollars.”

In the Victim Loss and Impact Statement, Millville Volunteer Fire Department said that there were numerous fundraising efforts from which cash was received, however they were not recorded in the company’s records or received by their financial institutions.

“The LUCAS device events which consisted of a movie night, car washes, cash donations, etc., were documented by our financial secretary Michele Steffens. The three LUCAS devices were purchased in the amount of $43,578.96. ACTS Thrift Store donated $15,000 towards the purchase. That would leave a balance collected from the public of $28,600. All funds were turned over to Mr. Oakley for deposit.… Again, that cash was not deposited in the financial accounts. These funds were freely given by our community members to assist us with saving lives . The MVFC expensed those items while not receiving the benefit of the donations from the public.”

Droney ended by asking that the Court “not further victimize the victim.”

“You folks do a lot of very, very good work in the community,” responded Bradley.

In handing down his sentence, Bradley acknowledged that while Oakley may have been suffering in his personal life, his actions were not all out of his control.

“In the pre-sentence investigation, I do believe Mr. Oakley acknowledged one of the reasons he took this money was to finance a lifestyle he otherwise could not afford and wanted to pursue making his current girlfriend happy.”

Bradley ordered Oakley to begin his sentence on Friday, Nov. 10, and added that he is not to have contact with any members of the fire company. When he is serving time at Level 4 and 3 he will have to get a full-time job, and continue to participate in his mental health treatment.

“I think, to put it lightly, disappointed. Extremely disappointed,” said Droney following the sentencing. “We’ve got people who have dedicated 60 years of their life to the fire company — poured their heart and soul into it. Now at this point we have to hang our heads because of the action of one person… He certainly didn’t seem depressed when he was living the good life on the fire company’s bank account…

“We’re very disappointed and we don’t feel like justice was done. Mr. Oakley’s biggest remorse is that he got caught.”

Since discovering Oakley’s crime, the department has worked hard to put controls in place to protect the department, and the community’s monies from future theft. The department hired a full time independent book keeper, canceled all company debit cards, require two authorized signatures for any company account, utilized QuickBooks®, and more.

“We’ve been very forthcoming with that information. The only thing we’re going to be able to do now is just to continue to respond to calls and put our best face out there, because his face is not the face of Millville Volunteer Fire Company,” said Velicia Melson, the department’s administrative assistant.

Earlier this year, the towns of Millville and Ocean View approved an ambulance subscription service, which would charge every improved lot $35 a year for ambulance service to the home.

“It was very well received,” said Melson. “It’s a program that will continue.”

“It’s very expensive to run a fire department,” added fire department member Earl Green, noting the department’s payroll to keep ambulances on the street, 24-7 with two crews a day, costs $1 million a year. The fire side is still all volunteer.

Droney added that the department felt as though they received very little support from the State throughout the process.

“We feel if we hadn’t been coming to the case reviews, this would’ve been ended a long time ago,” he said. “The plea agreement you heard today, we had no input on that whatsoever.”

Melson said the department could file a civil suit against Oakley, however the fire company would have to pay the legal fees.

“And what would we recover?”

Even with their open efforts to address those issues, Droney said the department is still feeling the effects of Oakley’s criminal actions. But the fire department will continue to serve the community as they have done for nearly a century.

“We’re very dedicated and very passionate about the fire department,” he said. “We’ve worked years to develop the reputation of the fire department. Most of us grew up there.”