Unavailability of money scuttles guilty plea

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Blair County judge refused Thursday to consider a guilty plea from former Roaring Spring Fire Chief Gary Dennis because he didn’t have the money to make restitution for the more than $17,000 he embezzled from the organization over a three-year period.

Dennis faces several counts of theft of fire company money, which he allegedly took while serving as chief and treasurer.

Dennis, 58, and his attorney, Donald J. Byrnes, told Judge Daniel J. Milliron that the money would be available as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Milliron set aside time Tuesday afternoon to review the plea agreement and to hear from fire department representatives who want to make statements.

Several department representatives were in court Thursday morning for the expected guilty plea, but the judge made it clear there would be no plea because the restitution money wasn’t available.

The judge said, “I’m not going to consider it [the plea agreement] unless he has the money in hand.”

Milliron added another condition, stating there has to be an agreement in place to repay another $10,000 Dennis will owe the borough, which came up with money to make payments on a fire truck that the company couldn’t make.

The fire company is being represented by Hollidaysburg attorney Ed Zang, who met with members after the hearing in Milliron’s courtroom.

Milliron wanted to know how much money would make the fire company whole and was told the amount agreed upon was $17,461.

According to the charges, Dennis was in charge of the money from fundraisers that the fire company sponsored. He counted, documented and reported the results.

Suspicions that something was wrong developed after a file was found in his office that included various documents, including tax documents and bank statements.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio authorized a search warrant for any bank accounts under Dennis’ name at First Commonwealth Bank.

The charges indicate that Dennis used some of the money to pay a $1,869 tax claim bill to the county and that a fire company credit card was used to pay for a stay at Homewood Suites, a hotel in Lexington, Ky., during a NASCAR racing event.

When state police and Roaring Spring Chief Milton Fields first interviewed Dennis about the situation, he explained that he was a poor record keeper, according to the charging documents.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.