James Deeghan walked into the courtroom with his head held high at a low point for the Vermont State Police. After 22 years on the job, the former sergeant is charged with felony fraud. On Tuesday, Deeghan forfeited his badge, but Friday he denied allegations he padded is timecard to collect overtime he didn't earn.
Prosecutors say falsifying his time sheet was not even the most egregious allegation. According to court papers, Deeghan also fabricated police calls. In June alone, prosecutors say he was paid for responding to two accidents and a security alarm call that never happened.
"People trusted him. He betrayed that trust. This is truly a textbook example of a crime of opportunity," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said.
Officials say no one at the Williston barracks was supervising Deeghan's actions and he was using that power to get away with the alleged fraud. When confronted by his superiors, prosecutors say he admitted doctoring his overtime, but said he planned to make it up off the books. His boss says it's a disturbing black mark on Vermont's green and gold.
"This is about the public trust. This is about things we come to work to protect. So no one is walking with their head held real high right now," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
And it gets worse. The state police have a contract with the town of Jericho to provide 20 hours of police patrol per week. The overtime contract was supervised by Deeghan. Now town officials are wondering if they got ripped off.
"His name was routinely on the bills," Jericho town administrator Todd Odit said.
Odit says he knew Jericho was in trouble when the colonel showed up at his door earlier this week.
"He seemed disheartened," Odit said.
Turns out an investigation into Deeghan's last month of pay revealed that on two occasions Deeghan allegedly billed Jericho for calls other troopers responded to and the town double-paid for the service.
"You don't want to see potentially one bad apple spoil the bunch," Odit said.
He says the colonel's visit came with a promise to repay. Odit says that's a step in the right direction.
"That right there has helped to start rebuild that trust," Odit said.
"We're moving forward, we're not moving on; because we move on, we never look back. We have to keep an eye on what happened to ensure it never happens again," L'Esperance said.
But the colonel knows better than anyone it will be a long road back for Vermont state police.
State police maintain that Deeghan's actions are an isolated incident. But officials say more supervision will occur within all the barracks. Deeghan's pension is now under review and the colonel says he will not be paid for anything he did not earn.
If convicted, Deeghan faces up to 10 years behind bars.
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