Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that the former treasurer of the Seaville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, whose dismissed chief was accused in September of stealing funds from the fire company, pleaded guilty today to charges that he stole approximately $19,000 by using company funds to reimburse himself for personal expenses.
Michael Petrella, 26, of Seaville, pleaded guilty before Cape May County Superior Court Judge John Porto to one count of third-degree misapplication of entrusted property. As part of the plea agreement, the Division of Criminal Justice recommended 364 days of jail custody. Petrella will pay restitution in the amount of $19,308.18 to the fire company, and he also will be permanently barred from holding public employment. Sentencing for Petrella is scheduled for February 27, 2015.
Petrella joined the fire company as a member in 2006 and was made treasurer in 2010. He admitted that from 2010 to 2013, he fraudulently used fire company funds to reimburse himself for personal expenses, including beer, diapers and assorted personal items. Petrella had purchased these items, kept the receipts and then issued fire company checks to himself to cover the cost.
Petrella’s crime was discovered during an internal investigation started in January by the fire company, which found that its chief, Eugene Spegiel, 51, had allegedly been reimbursing himself for expenses totaling approximately $45,000 that he had not incurred. Speigel also allegedly signed off on and sought reimbursement for fraudulent expenses for his son, Jacob Speigel, a Seaville firefighter, in the amount of $1,275. Eugene resigned on January 15 shortly after being confronted with the allegations; Jacob, 20, stayed on and served a 30-day suspension, but was later terminated in April.
The Division of Criminal Justice believes the evidence compiled in both cases suggests that the crimes were unrelated.
“Public corruption comes in many forms, but this particular case is concerning because it was possible that Petrella’s scam could have gone undetected for a long period had the fire company not become suspicious of its chief and then stumbled onto its treasurer’s misdeeds,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Petrella betrayed the trust of his community and fellow volunteers by using the public safety organization’s funds as a personal checking account.”
“As treasurer, Petrella abused his position to steal fire company funds by writing checks to himself,” said Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig. “We will continue to prosecute public corruption in all its forms to ensure that those entrusted to protect the public’s safety faithfully execute their responsibilities.”
The elder Speigel was charged in a September 24 indictment with second-degree official misconduct, second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct, two counts of third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree falsifying records. Jacob was charged with second-degree official misconduct, second-degree conspiracy to commit official misconduct and third-degree theft by deception.
Deputy Attorneys General Jon Gilmore and Peter Lee presented the case to the grand jury on behalf of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. New Jersey State Police Corruption Bureau Detectives Laura Wheeler, David Feldstein and David Engelhard assisted with the investigation.