The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 5, 2012

Former fireman accused of theft

JOHNSTOWN — A former Richland fire company officer has been charged with stealing from the volunteer organization.

Jason C. Ober, 35, of the 200 block of Alvin Street, is accused of accepting two $12,000 checks from separate accounts for the same three-year-old truck that he sold to Richland Township Fire Department in December 2007.

Richland Township police charged Ober after a forensic audit showed discrepancies in the fire company books, Detective Thomas Keirn said during a press conference Wednesday.

“The fire department ended up paying double for the vehicle,” Keirn said. “They weren’t aware of the second check.”

Additional charges are expected as the audit is completed and the police investigation continues, Keirn said.

Ober was assistant chief and a full-time employee of the fire company at the time of the alleged theft, Keirn said.

“Mr. Ober had access to write checks from a separate account besides the main account,” Keirn said, explaining that the department’s treasurer issued one check. Ober arranged to have a second check issued from a second account. It was made payable to his wife, court documents said.

Ober was arraigned Wednesday before District Judge Max Pavlovich in Richland and released on unsecured bond.

He is charged with theft by deception, receiving stolen property and dealing in proceeds from illegal activity. At least two are third-degree felonies.

For several years, Ober was the face and the voice of Richland Volunteer Fire Department, serving as spokesman after fire calls and during special projects. He often spearheaded those projects.

But Ober also became a source of conflict within the fire department in personality clashes that erupted during Thunder in the Valley in 2010.

Ober scuffled with another fireman after a Thunder-related event outside the fire hall on June 27, 2010.

Police said some of the firefighters were “having a water battle by throwing water at each other and also picking people up and putting them in the tub of ice that held the beer.”

Some of the firefighters were trying to dump Ober in the ice tub when he allegedly punched one of them in the face, police said at the time. He was originally charged with misdemeanor assault, but was later allowed to plead guilty to summary harassment.

Keirn said Ober remained active in the department after the incident, but was later eased out by the personality conflicts. Keirn said he did not believe Ober’s expatriation was related to suspected financial mismanagement.

It is a familiar story for investigators, Keirn said. Volunteer fire companies, churches, civic organizations and youth sports organizations have fallen victim to thefts from within.

“These folks were allowed to have too much authority in one person,” Keirn said. “That’s how these things can happen. Everybody trusted one person. That’s how these things happen.”

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