Paul Joseph Reardon, former treasurer of the Mathews Volunteer Fire Department, appeared before a packed courtroom in Mathews County on Monday and pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $200,000 over a two-year period from the organization he had served for 30 years.
The bench trial was short and to-the-point, since Reardon and his defense attorney, Bill Johnson, had reached a plea agreement with the prosecutor, Gloucester Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Hicks, prior to the trial date.
Under the plea agreement, the prosecution and defense agreed to roll four embezzlement charges into one and to dismiss the three remaining original charges. Hicks also indicated in the agreement that he wouldn’t object if Reardon were released on bond pending the pre-sentencing hearing. But Long wouldn’t hear of that.
"I won’t let him remain free on bond," said Long. "It sends the wrong message. It suggests that it’s O.K. to steal $200,000, plead guilty, be found guilty, and then go back home."
Before finding Reardon guilty, Long questioned him extensively about his plea, making sure that Reardon in fact understood the terms of the agreement, was not on any medication that would affect his judgment, and had no mental or physical impairment that would prevent him from making a knowledgeable decision about his plea.
He also asked Reardon whether he had been pressured by anyone to plead guilty or had been promised anything in exchange for his plea, and the judge made sure that the defendant understood that by making the plea he was giving up any right to an appeal.
Reardon indicated that he understood all the implications of a conviction and was in agreement with the charges, answering all the questions in a clear, strong voice that wavered only slightly once or twice. When asked if was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty, Reardon clearly answered "Yes."
The conviction carries with it a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500, not including any restitution that might be ordered. Typically, the court follows sentencing guidelines when a conviction is made, and those guidelines often call for shorter sentences than allowed.
But Long emphasized that he didn’t have to follow the sentencing guidelines and pointed out that Reardon could be sentenced to the full 20 years in jail. If that were to happen, the defendant wouldn’t be eligible for parole and would be required to serve 85 percent of any jail time imposed by the court, said the judge.
In brief statements before the court, both Hicks and Johnson acknowledged that the facts in the case weren’t "much in dispute." The two sides had slightly different totals for the amount embezzled, with the commonwealth finding that $221,000 was taken between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009, while the defense calculated that $216,500 was missing. According to Hicks, Reardon said that $4,500 of the $221,000 found by the commonwealth was spent on legitimate fire department expenses.
After the trial, Mathews Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ricky Tomlinson said he was satisfied with the verdict.
"Under the circumstances, I think it’s the best we could do," he said. "Maybe he’ll get a sentence that fits the crime also."
Asked how fire department volunteers felt to have had one of their own betray them, Tomlinson shook his head and said, "the trust we had in him over 30 years…"
Tomlinson said he hopes the conviction erases any remaining doubt that Mathews residents might have over Reardon’s guilt and that the conviction will "get the trust in us back from the county."
Johnson, a long-time friend of the Reardon family, said the situation was "a sad set of circumstances all around."
"Mr. Reardon is a retired state trooper and a former magistrate who served the community well in those positions," he said. "But there is no doubt whatsoever that a large amount of money was misappropriated from a venerable institution, the Mathews Volunteer Fire Department. There’s just no good way to frame this case."
Hicks said that when the case first began, he expected it to be difficult because of all the paperwork involved, but it didn’t turn out that way. Reardon deposited donations into the account before transferring the money out, he said, then each time deposited the same amount of money into his personal account.
"He wasn’t very smart," said Hicks.
A summary of accounts provided by the forensic investigator shows a near-direct correlation between $221,000 in withdrawals Reardon made from fire department accounts at Chesapeake Bank and Bank of America, and $217,910 in deposits that he made into his own two accounts at Bank of America. Hicks said the difference would have been in cash Reardon kept out.
An analysis of just one of the accounts—a demand money trust account at Chesapeake Bank—shows 45 checks written out to petty cash for either $1,500 or $2,000, annotated with the memo "transfer." Reardon was able to avoid detection by the banks because he made transactions at a variety of different branches throughout the region, said Hicks, including branches in Newport News, Richmond and Fredericksburg.
The thing that made the crime so heinous to the fire department, said Hicks, was that month after month at the board of directors meetings, Reardon would provide dummy financial reports based on what the numbers would’ve been if he hadn’t stolen the money, then he would tell the board how much money they were earning in interest on their bank account.
The Virginia State Police forensic auditor didn’t find any evidence that Reardon purchased "big-ticket items" with the money he stole, said Hicks. It appears that he was just living beyond his means. Much of the money went to pay credit card bills, said Hicks, but the state didn’t examine Reardon’s credit card accounts to determine what he was charging on them.
Hicks said the state didn’t examine records any farther back than 2008 because records become more difficult to find and because "he’ll never pay back anything close to this."
"I’d be curious to know when it started," said Hicks.
As of Monday, Reardon hadn’t made any attempt at restitution.