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Former fireman to serve jail time for department fund theft in Willmar, Minn.

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WILLMAR -- Chad Michael Johnson, 38, of Willmar, was sentenced Monday to 105 days in jail, 10 years of probation and 100 hours of community service on a felony charge of theft by swindle for taking $15,300 from the Willmar Fire Department for his personal use.

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As part of a his sentence in Kandiyohi County District Court, Johnson was also ordered to pay $8,788.59 in restitution, pay a $50 fine, write a letter of apology to the department, attend victim/offender mediation, not enter the Willmar fire station or grounds and not participate in the handling of money for any organization.

District Judge Michael J. Thompson ordered that Johnson serve 45 days in jail immediately, with the rest of the jail time staggered in 15-day increments over the next two years. The staggered jail time can be deferred if Johnson is in compliance with probation.

Johnson pleaded guilty April 4 to the felony charge and, as part of a plea agreement, two additional felony charges were dismissed. He received a stay of imposition on his sentence. Under the stay, the felony conviction will be reduced to a misdemeanor if he complies with the conditions of sentence.

In a victim impact statement, Willmar Firefighter Paul Cool said that the theft has had a negative impact on the department and firefighters' morale. "The Willmar Fire Department's name has been marred," he said. "That's tough to get rid of."

Fire Chief Marv Calvin said that Johnson's theft "affects both his and my reputation" as many citizens have expressed concerns about funds raised going to Johnson and not the department.

Calvin noted that Johnson's actions had damaged Johnson's family and the fire department family. But, Calvin asked that Johnson be allowed to have work release from jail, that he seek treatment to prevent similar actions -- the type of treatment was not specified -- and he learn from the incident. The chief commended Johnson, noting that he had served the community well and diligently.

Johnson, who retired last year with 12 years of service to the department, said that his actions were wrong and inexcusable.

"If I could turn back time and change things, I would," he said, adding that he is willing to do whatever he can to mend the Fire Department's reputation.

According to the criminal complaint, Calvin notified Willmar police on June 30 that a recent audit of department accounts had revealed several questionable transactions made by Johnson, who was the head treasurer for the department. Included in those transactions was money that appeared to have been taken by Johnson from the department's relief association and the firefighters association accounts.

Johnson was interviewed by a police detective twice and admitted to taking the money, but said he planned to pay it back. He reviewed a number of checks written from the Fire Department accounts to Johnson. The checks were written between August 2008 and April 2010 for a total of $15,300.

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373
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