TRENTON - Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that the former treasurer of the Mine Hill Fire Department was sentenced to prison today for embezzling approximately $330,000 from the fire department over a period of six years.
Lisa Ayers, 40, of Mine Hill, was sentenced to three years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Stuart A. Minkowitz in Morris County. Ayers pleaded guilty on Oct. 17 to an accusation charging her with second-degree theft by unlawful taking. Ayers admitted that she stole roughly $330,000 from the Mine Hill Fire Department by writing unauthorized checks and making unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the fire department’s checking account for her personal use. Ayers was ordered to pay $228,631 in restitution, representing the full amount stolen minus amounts previously paid back, and to forfeit two vehicles for which she made car loan payments using stolen funds. She is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. She was immediately taken into custody after the sentencing.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, Chief of the Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Matthew Lafargue handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Perry Primavera prosecuted the case. Ayers initially was charged by complaint on Feb. 19, 2013 as a result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau and the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Sgt. 1st Class Lisa King and Detective Sgt. Kenneth Lutz conducted the investigation for the State Police.
“The sense of betrayal that exists in any case of embezzlement is magnified when the money is stolen from a public service organization like this fire department, which is dedicated to protecting lives and property,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Ms. Ayers was trusted by the members of this volunteer fire department, but she callously chose to serve herself, instead of the community.”
“This defendant had her hand very deep in the till, but she was able to conceal her thefts for years because she was the person minding the store,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This prison sentence fits the seriousness of her crime.”
The Township of Mine Hill partially funds the Mine Hill Fire Department and also reimburses it for utility bills and other operating expenses. As treasurer, Ayers was responsible for paying most bills by check from the fire department’s bank account and then submitting copies of the bills to the township for reimbursement. The state’s investigation began after a bank alerted the township that it had received questionable payments made by Ayers using the fire department’s checking account.
A township official subsequently examined the fire department’s checking account and discovered that Ayers had written numerous inexplicable checks to herself and other parties with no apparent ties to the Mine Hill Fire Department.
The State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice subpoenaed numerous records from banks and finance companies, uncovering the following unauthorized checks and ATM withdrawals that Ayers issued and made against the Mine Hill Fire Department checking account between January 2007 and February 2013, when she was charged in this case:
- 53 checks totaling $77,661 that Ayers used to make payments on the mortgage loan for her home;
- 26 checks totaling $9,556 that Ayers used to make payments on her car loan;
- 32 checks totaling $13,915 that Ayers used to make payments on her husband’s car loan;
- 167 checks totaling $50,676 that Ayers issued to herself;
- 64 checks totaling $33,860 that Ayers issued to cash and endorsed;
- 60 checks totaling $22,696 that Ayers issued to her husband but endorsed herself;
- 11 checks totaling $12,092 that Ayers used to make payments on a personal loan;
- 147 checks and e-checks totaling $56,217 that Ayers used to pay various personal bills; and
- 224 ATM withdrawals by Ayers totaling $68,186.
Ayers was entitled to receive a stipend as treasurer of $14,800, which was subtracted in calculating the total theft of just over $330,000.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the Division’s web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.