Former Lake George Watershed Coalition leader sent to jail

Don Lehman

The Post Star

Jun 6, 2018

The former director of the Lake George Watershed Coalition was sent to jail Wednesday after a judge increased his bail in light of additional, weightier criminal charges filed in an indictment.

David J. Decker remained in Warren County Jail into Wednesday afternoon, after prosecutors and state officials revealed that records show his alleged theft entailed more than $440,000 and told a judge that he had made “admissions” about his alleged theft. He posted cash bail and was released later in the day.

Decker, 67, of Burnt Hills, was indicted last week on 22 charges that allege he stole state and federal funding that he oversaw when heading the coalition of municipalities and environmental groups that guided environmental projects in the Lake George basin between 2001 and early 2017.

He was handcuffed and turned over to Warren County sheriff’s investigators after Warren County Judge John Hall entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, but raised bail to $25,000 cash or $75,000 bail bond after a request by the Warren County District Attorney’s Office.

Decker had been free on $5,000 cash bail since his March 2017 arrest on a single grand larceny charge, but Assistant District Attorney Ben Smith asked Hall for higher bail when pointing out that Decker now faces weightier charges and more charges.

“The level of seriousness of the charges has now increased after this grand jury review,” he said.

Smith said the prosecution’s case was very strong and includes a “money trail” and audiotaped admissions of guilt by Decker, including that he “upcharged” the state during some of the projects.

“We have those admissions several times over from him,” Smith said.

His lawyer, Joseph Brennan, pointed out that Decker has made his prior court appearances and was aware of the scope of the investigation before his indictment, but did not flee.

“He intends to defend himself in this case,” Brennan said.

Decker, a professional engineer, has claimed he was entitled to at least some of the money that he took, which resulted in tax fraud-related charges because the money wasn’t claimed on his taxes.

Hall directed that Decker report to the county Probation Department if he is released on bail. He asked Brennan to file pretrial motions by July 20 and scheduled a lawyer conference in the case on July 10. No trial date or further court dates were set.

Decker had no comment as he was escorted from court.

The charges include 21 felonies and one misdemeanor, including a charge of first-degree corrupting the government, a count that is punishable by up to 25 years in state prison. That charge alleges he was a public official and that he “engaged in a scheme to defraud the state” or other municipal entity between September 2007 and December 31, 2016.

The office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, which assisted Warren County police and prosecutors, released a statement about the case later Wednesday.

“Mr. Decker’s brazen scheme diverted more than half a million dollars meant to protect and improve Lake George for its residents, vacationers and other visitors from near and far,” DiNapoli is quoted as saying. “Thanks to our partnerships with District Attorney Jason Carusone and Warren County Sheriff Nathan ‘Bud’ York, we have exposed this scam.”

“It has been a pleasure working with state Comptroller DiNapoli’s office on this complicated case,” York said in the comptroller statement. “My office opened this criminal investigation, like many cases, on a tip from a concerned citizen. We appreciate the help from state Comptroller DiNapoli’s office and the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which clarified all the criminal acts allegedly committed by David Decker.”

Decker allegedly used the stolen funds to gamble and indulge in other luxuries. To do so, he double-billed the state and federal government, inflated invoices and created a shell business to bill for extra income. He also allegedly pocketed money meant for vendors. Decker was also indicted for associated tax fraud.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, Decker’s alleged ill-gotten gains include:

$187,000 through inflated invoices for unapproved salary hikes and other payments; $135,000 from double billing state and federal grants; $118,000 by stealing subcontractors pay and falsifying grant invoices. Police allege he created a shell company, Empire State Materials & Supply Co. of Glenville, to which some of the funds were illegally diverted.

The investigation began in 2016, after Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead contacted the Sheriff’s Office with concerns after Warren County Treasurer Michael Swan voiced concerns about delayed payments in a number of environmental projects.