Former Croton fire chief Gerald Munson pleads guilty to theft of more than $300,000

David McKay Wilson

Journal News

Sep 12, 2018

Former Croton-on-Hudson Fire Chief Gerald Munson pleaded guilty Wednesday to grand larceny in the theft of more than $300,000 from department coffers.

Munson, 64, who had served as treasurer of the department's Fire Council in recent years, now faces up to four years in prison. He’s also on the hook for $298,766 in restitution.

So far, he has paid half of the sum, including a check for $124,383 that he submitted to state Supreme Court Justice Michael Martinelli Wednesday morning. Four generations of Munsons have served as Croton fire chief, dating back to 1928.

“I think it’s fair,” Munson said, as he walked to the elevator at the Richard J. Daronco Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains.

He’s the latest fire official in the Lower Hudson Valley to face prison time for plundering fire department finances. In 2017, Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department Treasurer Michael Klein was sentenced to six years in prison for stealing $5.7 million. Patterson Fire Department Treasurer Treasurer Albert Melin in 2017 was sentenced to 33 months in prison for stealing $1.1 million.

In July, former Briarcliff Manor Fire Department Chief Michael Garcia plead guilty to embezzling $120,000 from the department. He’ll be sentenced in November.

Under the plea agreement, Munson pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny, second degree, in a crime of public corruption. A second grand larceny charge was dropped. The charges carried sentences of 25 years and 15 years. Under the plea, Munson will be sentenced on Oct. 29 to between one-and-half and four years.

The plea capped a seven-month saga in the village, following an investigation conducted by Croton-on-Hudson police and the offices of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, Jr.

“Stealing public money is a crime against all of us,” said Scarpino. “It is also a breach of trust that hurts a community and those dedicated to its safety.”

DiNapoli noted that Munson also had served as an officer in the Croton-on-Hudson Police Department.

“Mr. Munson stole more than $312,000 from his fire department and abused his duty to the public,” said DiNapoli. “As a former police officer and fire department chief, his behavior is particularly egregious.”

The probe found that Munson stole $312,925, including a portion of the department’s “2 Percent” money, which comes from the state’s tax on home insurance policies written by out-of-state companies. As company treasurer, he manipulated the company’s books to conceal his thievery.

Scarpino said the embezzlement was discovered by the department’s Audit Committee in Feburary, 2018, when it discovered that Munson had provided them with false bank statements from 2017.

“When confronted by the Audit Committee, Munson admitted he had created the false statements on his home computer, that he had stolen money from the department’s account for his personal use and had used the fire department credit card as if it were his own,” according to Scarpino’s office.

Since Munson’s arrest in June, the fire department has instituted a raft of reforms. All debit and credit cards were terminated. An old savings account was terminated. All checks now require two signatures. The district’s Fire Council hired an accounting firm to conduct an annual audit.

The treasurer’s report is now presented each month to the Fire Council, with a copy of the monthly. Meetings of the Fire Council are now open the public.

“As we move forward and learn from this unexpected and dismal event, we can only hope that our loyal supporters know we will always do what we can to provide you with the most open and honest level of dialect that we can – and you deserve,” the department’s officers said.