His fall from grace complete, former Woodstock councilman Dale Hughes on March 13 was led from a Kingston courtroom in handcuffs after he was sentenced to a one-year term in the county jail for the embezzlement of more than $200,000 from a local volunteer fire company.
Ulster County Court Judge Donald Williams delivered the sentence, which included full restitution of the stolen money, totaling about $220,000, to Woodstock Fire Company No. 3. Hughes served as the company’s treasurer during a five-year period in which he committed the theft, mainly by writing checks payable to Cash and depositing the funds in his personal bank accounts, but also by pocketing the cash proceeds of pancake breakfast fundraisers.
Hughes, who is a lawyer, was a member of the Woodstock Town Board from 1992 to 1997, the executive director of the Woodstock Land Conservancy from 1992 to 2005, and the treasurer of Company No. 3, which is based in Lake Hill, from 1997 to 2011. The embezzlement took place from 2006 to 2011, according to an audit and investigation by the state comptroller and the county district attorney, which resulted in Hughes’s arrest last October 11.
Neatly attired in a coat and tie, Hughes, 64, addressed the court before his sentence was imposed. “I fully understand the seriousness of what I did, which was a terrible thing. I fully accept responsibility. Through my actions I have destroyed my career, ruined my reputation in the community, and damaged my health. Next to my Marine service, the one thing in my life that I was proudest of was my service to the fire company, but I violated that trust. I don’t have the words to say how sorry and ashamed I am.”
The sentence conformed to the terms of a prior plea bargain between Hughes and the county district attorney’s office, which was represented in the case by Joshua Povill, an assistant district attorney. The agreement stipulated that Hughes would plead guilty to second-degree grand larceny, which he did, in exchange for a sentence of full restitution to the fire company and “local incarceration” — that is, time to be served in the county jail rather than in state prison.
The agreement was subject to Williams’s approval, which the judge did not immediately grant at the March 13 court session. Unpersuaded that the terms of the deal, particularly the jail sentence, had the support of the crime’s victim, Company No. 3, Williams recessed the proceeding, stating, “My reluctance has ripened into a refusal to go along with the plea agreement.”
Check in the mail
Meanwhile, the fire company’s current treasurer, James Dougherty, who attended the sentencing, informed Woodstock Times before the start of the court session that Company No. 3 had yet to receive an expected check from Hughes for the final installment of the restitution, amounting to $51,626. (Hughes had previously repaid approximately $170,000.) Once the court was in session, however, Dougherty was unable to interrupt the proceeding in order to notify the judge that the restitution was incomplete.