Tim Matthews’ journey from cop to con, which began more than a year ago with allegations of payroll fraud, ended in county court Tuesday morning when the highly decorated 26-year veteran of the Kingston Police Department was, like so many of the people his work had helped to convict over the years, led away in handcuffs.
Matthews is heading for state prison after pleading guilty to two counts of felony grand larceny. Acting County Court Judge Andrew Ceresia, brought in from Rensselaer County to hear the case, sentenced Matthews to three to nine years in state prison. According to state law, Matthews must serve at least seven-eighths of the three-year minimum before he can be considered for parole.
With his voice breaking, the 50-year-old former head of the KPD’s Detective Division offered apologies to his family and his former colleagues. He also acknowledged that he deserved to be punished for his misdeeds.
“All the people I arrested, they did wrong,” said Matthews, standing before a courtroom full of tearful friends and family. “And they went to jail.”
Under the terms of a plea deal worked out with Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright and Senior Assistant District Attorney John Tobin, Matthews pleaded guilty to two of 13 counts contained in a June 2011 indictment. One count charges Matthews with stealing $122,000 from the city of Kingston between January 1, 2001 and February 3, 2011. For the second count, Matthews admitted that between March 1, 2007 and December 31, 2010, he stole $80,000 for Ulster County in his role as commander of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team. Matthews also admitted to bilking $10,000 out of Ulster Savings Bank in his role as security coordinator for a foreclosed property held by the bank — the former Friar Tuck resort in Catskill.
The plea deal requires Matthews to pay back all $212,000 he admitted taking. According to Matthews’ attorney, Michael Kavanagh, Matthews planned to pay $7,000 of the restitution order immediately. The remainder, Kavanagh said, would be paid out of Matthews’ $28,000-a-year pension. Kavanagh said the bulk of Matthews’ pension money, at least while he’s incarcerated, would go to pay child support and alimony to his ex-wife and six children. The remainder will go into a joint account held by the District Attorney’s Office. Kavanagh said that he expected the entire tab to be paid off within about 10 years.
More time than expected
As for the prison sentence, Matthews faced a maximum of five to 15 years in state prison on the grand larceny charges. Carnright said that his office had argued for the stiffer sentence imposed by Ceresia. Kavanagh argued for a sentence of six months in the Ulster County Jail followed by five years probation, something he acknowledged was “shooting for the moon.” Kavanagh noted that Matthews’ pre-sentencing report indicted that his client was deeply remorseful and that a non-prison sentence would not be objectionable under the circumstances. Kavanagh said that he and his client both expected prison time, but not the three to nine years handed down by Ceresia.
“I understand the public attention this case has drawn and the difficult position that put both the judge and the district attorney in,” said Kavanagh. “But honestly, I didn’t expect the judge to give him the max [allowed under the terms of the plea deal].”
Carnright said in pushing for a significant prison sentence, he had to balance Matthews’ violation of fiduciary responsibility and the public trust with his apparently genuine remorse and first-time offender status. Carnright also took into account the fact that, as a former police officer, Matthews would likely face harsh conditions in jail and would be unable to participate in shock incarceration or other programs that require him to be in the general prison population.
“Any prison sentence for a person who has been in law enforcement as long as he has is a very severe sentence,” said Carnright.
How he did it
Carnright, who has remained silent about particulars of the case since Matthews was suspended without pay based on allegations of payroll fraud back in January 2011, spoke for the first time about the scope and method of the theft.
According to Carnright, the scam began at least as far back as 2001 when Matthews was made head of the KPD’s Detective Division. It spread to the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office in 2007 when URGENT set up shop as a countywide drug and gang task force, with Matthews serving as co-commander.
Carnright said in both capacities, Matthews stole money that had been seized as evidence or suspected drug proceeds as well as “buy money” used to pay informants or make undercover drug purchases. According to Carnright, the thefts were aided by the fact that Matthews was the only one with access to safes at KPD headquarters and the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center where the funds were kept. He was also the only one with access to logbooks which recorded deposits and withdrawals from the safes.
In some cases, Carnright said, Matthews took custody of money seized by detectives working under him, but would only log and place in the safe a portion of the funds. Other times he would make up phony withdrawals of buy money for operations which never took place. To throw off suspicion, Carnright said, the disgraced detective would remove large-denomination bills from a stack of seized drug money and replace them with singles.
Carnright said the fraud extended to the U.S. Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture program. The program, run by the U.S. Marshals Service, allows local police agencies to get back a portion of seized money once federal attorneys prove the cash was the product of illicit activity. Often, Carnright said, Matthews would tell fellow cops that he had passed along seized money to the asset forfeiture program to be processed, and eventually returned to the department to pay for operations, while in fact pocketing the cash. If questions arose when the seizure money would be placed into the operating budget, Matthews would use his dual role at KPD and URGENT to allay suspicion. Sheriff’s officials would be told that the money in question had been allocated to the KPD while Kingston police commanders would be told that the money went to URGENT.
How the case was made
Carnright said that unraveling the fraud took a significant effort on the part of his office and an outside auditing firm contracted to establish the paper trail. Carnright said that investigators were able to find discrepancies between records kept by detectives working under Matthews — primarily photocopies of buy money and seized cash — and logbook entries made by Matthews. Other evidence included grand jury testimony by fellow police officers who established that Matthews had sole custody of the funds, thus heading off a potential defense that the thefts were carried out by others. To demonstrate the fraud against Ulster Saving Bank, auditors created a matrix of time that Matthews claimed he had worked either for the KPD, the Kingston City School District or at the Friar Tuck under the terms of a contract between the bank and the KPD’s Gold Shield Society (which Matthews headed). The matrix established that on a number of occasions he could not possibly have worked all of the hours he claimed.
Carnright said throughout the investigation, he received full cooperation from Matthews’ erstwhile colleagues.
“Their reaction was universal,” said Carnright. “It was, ‘Hey, this is wrong and this is a stain on all of us.’”
Carnright said he was satisfied that no other police officers were involved in Matthews’ thefts and that the investigation had uncovered the full extent of the misdeeds. An audit of departmental records by the State Comptroller’s Office found much the same thing. Other than a retired detective who was indicted on larceny charges for submitting phony college transcripts to receive reimbursement through an educational assistance program, no one at the KPD has been accused of wrongdoing in the probe.
As for Matthews, he expressed deep regret for his crimes prompting Ceresia to refer to the disgraced detective as the most remorseful defendant he had seen in 10 years on the bench. Kavanagh claimed that his client was motivated not by greed, but by desperation. According to Kavanagh, alimony and child support payments to his ex-wife and six kids at one time totaled $6,500 per month, a sum he likened to “a mortgage payment on a mansion.”
“The motive was survival,” said Kavanagh.
Kavanagh also spoke about Matthews’ state of mind, which he said he had watched evolve from one of shock when charges were first filed, to denial and finally acceptance of his crime and his fate.
“He is one of the strongest people I know,” said Kavanagh. “The inner strength and peace that he has is remarkable.”
Matthews, dressed in a plain blue blazer, remained composed throughout the hearing. When it was over, he leaned in to hug Kavanagh. Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum and a Sheriff’s Office sergeant were standing next to the defense table. After whispering a few words to the sergeant, apparently about the contents of his pockets, Matthews, unprompted placed his hands together in front of him. With a glum expression on his face, the Sergeant encircled Matthews’ wrists with shiny steel cuffs and, accompanied by Van Blarcum, led the prisoner from the courtroom.++