KEENE N.H. -- A former member of the volunteer Spofford Fire Department pleaded guilty to stealing roughly 276 gallons of fuel last year.
Matthew D Coleman, 32, was sentenced to pay back $893.78 to the fire department, with 17 percent interest going to the Department of Corrections, and a 30-day to two-year sentence plus a $1,000 fine, all of which was suspended on Monday in Keene District Court.
But members of the fire department, including Chief Gordon Rudolph, said Coleman's sentence wasn't enough.
According to Rudolph, Coleman will only have to pay $3.24 per gallon for the fuel he stole while everyone else was paying nearly $4 a gallon at the time.
"It seems like a slap on the wrist," Rudolph said in a phone interview. "He got the fuel so cheap and he has time to pay it off with the only real punishment suspended seems unfair."
Court documents state that Coleman has until Dec. 1 to pay back the nearly $900 owes to the fire department.
Rudolph said he isn't concerned about a repeat theft from members of his department, but wanted to know how the penalty would prevent other people from committing the same crime.
"I would trust the members of the Spofford Fire Department with the number to my safe in my house," he said. "But it seems like such a violation of trust and the punishment doesn't fit the crime."
Rudolph added that the cost to pay for the stolen fuel had also put a serious financial stress
"As a taxpayer I knew that money had to get paid, we run on a budget," he said. "But where were we supposed to come up with an extra $893 without cutting services?" Fortunately, Rudolph said, no cuts had to be made; the department made the situation work.
When Coleman was arrested, Rudolph said he was suspended from all activity from the fire department without pay, pending the outcome of the court case.
Now that the case has been solved, a meeting has been scheduled with the fire officers for Aug. 6, to discuss disciplinary action and a possible removal from the department.
According to court documents filed Monday, Coleman waived his right to an attorney and represented himself in the matter and agreed to plead guilty to the Class A misdemeanor theft charge.
Investigation into the stolen fuel began after highway department officials stated there was an "exceedingly higher than normal" amount of fuel taken from the Chesterfield Municipal Pumping Station.
Between August and December of 2011, Coleman admitted to going to the town pump and using a key and code for one of the Spofford fire trucks to fill up his own personal vehicle.
Coleman became a suspect in the case after police learned it was his identification code that was used to activate the pumps, according to Det. David Eldridge.
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.