Former Air Force fire chief sentenced to 14 months for fraud

In a 2013 file photo, Air Force fire chief Jim Podolske poses with a fire services vehicle at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.


By JOHN DIEDRICH | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 21, 2017

The former chief of fire service for the U.S. Air Force received 14 months in federal prison for mishandling a defense contract and stealing more than $100,000 raised for charity and using it for gambling, vacations and to pay off credit cards, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

On Wednesday, Chief U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Milwaukee sentenced James E. Podolske Jr., 59, of Panama City, Fla., and him to pay a $5,000 fine and almost $50,000 in restitution to the charities, according to court records.

Podolske pleaded guilty, admitting that while an official with the U.S. Air Force, he knowingly disclosed Defense Department contract bid information to give an advantage to a corporate defense contractor, the release said.

Podolske also admitted that between 2009 and 2013, he used his position to defraud about 25 businesses and individuals out of tens of thousands of dollars per year intended for charity. He organized an awards banquet and “charity” golf outing to coincide with a conference sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

During the months surrounding the conferences, Podolske solicited donations ranging from $100 to $5,000 that were intended for five charities: Toys for Tots; Parkland Foundation Burn Camp; Military Firefighters Heritage Foundation; The First Twenty; and IAFC Scholarship Foundation.

Some donors wrote checks directly to the charities; others, including at least one from Wisconsin, wrote them to Podolske. He forwarded checks written to the charities to those group but deposited the others into his personal bank account. Those checks totaled more than $164,000. Of that, he kept more than $133,000.

Griesbach described Podolske’s crimes as “as a very serious breach” of the public trust, said a release from the U.S. attorney's office.

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