DANBURY — A Danbury Superior Court judge on Wednesday sentenced the former president of the Newtown Police Union to spend the next six months in jail, among other penalties, for having stolen $95,667 from the union's financial accounts during a three-year period ending in 2010.
Judge John Blawie also ordered Andrew Stinson, 35, of Watertown to serve three years' probation following his jail time. That probation would include 50 hours of community service during each of the three years.
Additionally, as part of a February plea agreement, Stinson has made restitution to the police union for the money that he stole.
Stinson was being held as a prisoner in the Bridgeport Correctional Center on Thursday.
Judge Blawie did not sentence co-defendant and former Newtown police sergeant Domenic Costello, 34, of Stratford on Wednesday, postponing that action until May 9.
Before that sentencing would occur, Costello would need to make full restitution to the police union for the $95,392 that he admittedly stole from the union while he was its treasurer.
As part of his plea agreement, Costello would spend six months in jail to be followed by three years of probation. Additionally, he agreed to make full restitution to the union.
In court, Judge Blawie placed $100,000 bail on Costello. Costello was being held as a prisoner in the Bridgeport Correctional Center on Thursday.
Until Thursday, Costello and Stinson had been free on written promises to appear in court.
Each man had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree larceny under the terms of their parallel plea agreements.
In March 2011, Stinson was charged with six felonies and Costello was charged with five felonies for their embezzlement of police union funds while serving as union officers.
In court, State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III said that the crimes committed by the two former police officers were serious offenses that represented a "breach of trust," especially when considering that both men were police officers, which are "positions of trust."
The police union has stated that Stinson and Costello fired an accountant working for the union when that accountant started to ask questions about the union's financial accounts, Mr Sedensky said. The police union has started rebuilding its financial accounts, he added.
The police union agrees with the terms of the plea agreements that the two men reached with the state, Mr Sedensky said.
Attorney James Diamond, representing Stinson, told Judge Blawie, "This case has taken an extreme toll on my client." Stinson is both embarrassed and remorseful for his actions, Mr Diamond said.
Stinson had had worked as a police officer for nearly a decade, had received police commendations and had never been disciplined as an officer, Mr Diamond said.
However, the theft occurred in light of his need to pay bills and the situation then "mushroomed and snowballed," Mr Diamond said.
"Life will never be the same…His career as a police officer is over…He's paying heavy price," the lawyer said.
With his voice cracking with emotion, Stinson said, "I would just like to personally apologize for what I've done." He offered those apologies to the people at the Newtown Police Department and to his family members. Stinson's family members attended the court session.
Mr Sedensky said that Costello already has made some of the restitution required by his plea agreement.
Attorney John Gulash, representing Costello, said that except for his client's theft of police union funds, Costello is an "exemplary person."
"He had a very favorable reputation in the police department, " Mr Gulash said. The lawyer asked the court to focus on Mr Costello's behavior before and after his wrongful conduct occurred.
Costello now understands himself better as a person, Mr Gulash said. Costello's father attended court.
"I think you will see him do good things in the future," Mr Gulash said of his client.
In addressing the court, Costello said, "I'm truly sorry for what I've done…I've changed my life around."
Mr Sedensky noted that after the two men were placed on paid administrative leave from the Newtown Police Department in October 2010 after their theft had been discovered, Costello and Stinson received approximately $29,000, and approximately $26,000 in pay, respectively, before they resigned their positions in early 2011.
Mr Sedensky acknowledged that the two men were entitled to continue receiving such pay while on administrative leave. But, he added, "They should have resigned right then and there" when they were placed on administrative leave.
Although Costello was not sentenced on Wednesday, Judge Blawie addressed both defendants about their crimes.
"Sadly, the court has [previously] seen this type of crime of opportunity.. Embezzlement is the most serious form of larceny because it involves a breach of trust," he said.
"A lapse in judgment became fraud…It [theft] mushroomed to almost $100,000 for each man," Judge Blawie said, adding that the crimes cost both men their careers in law enforcement.
"We don't need to be reminded that policemen are human beings," he said, adding that when police break the law, there are serious social consequences.
The disposition of the embezzlement case shows that the legal system works, Judge Blawie said. The actions of Stinson and Costello should not be held against the Newtown Police Department at large, he added.
The court hopes that Stinson and Costello will lead productive lives outside of the realm of law enforcement in the future, Judge Blawie said.
Judicial marshals then handcuffed Stinson's and Costello's hands behind their backs and led them from Courtroom 3, Stinson to begin serving his jail sentence.
Neither Police Chief Michael Kehoe nor Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk attended the court session. Both men declined to comment on the matter.
In March 2011, Stinson was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny, three counts of first-degree larceny, one count of second-degree larceny, and one count of third-degree larceny.
Stinson, who was a patrol officer, was the police department's dog handler.
Costello was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny, two counts of first-degree larceny, one count of accessory to first-degree larceny, and one count of third-degree larceny.
Costello, who was a patrol sergeant, conducted the police department's Citizen Police Academy informational course for the public. Also, Costello holds a law degree.
Arrest warrant affidavits in the two cases describe the police union's October 2010 discovery that its financial accounts were thoroughly depleted due to illegitimate withdrawals by Stinson and Costello.
During a police investigation, the two men explained that they had "borrowed" money from union accounts to cover personal expenses and that they intended to pay back the union.
"Both Stinson and Costello admitted that they did take out 'personal loans' to help with personal problems," according to the legal papers.
Following a five-month investigation, Danbury police charged Stinson and Costello with the multiple offenses. Danbury police conducted the probe on behalf of the Newtown Police Department. Both men resigned their police positions before they were arrested.
Location: 5 Fundy Road, Falmouth Maine, 04105