QUEENSBURY — The former director of the Lake George Watershed Coalition on Wednesday turned down a plea deal offer for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds, despite a judge’s warnings that he could face decades in prison if convicted.
David J. Decker would have served a 5- to 15-year state prison sentence for his guilty plea to felony counts of grand larceny and tax fraud.
He also would be required to make full restitution for the money he is accused of stealing, which amounts to an estimated $440,000, and for the state income taxes he is accused of not paying.
Decker had no interest in the plea offer when Warren County Judge John Hall outlined it to him in court on Wednesday, replying “I will not accept the offer.”
Hall then advised him that he faced 25 to 30 years if convicted of the weightiest charges against him, and he would not have a chance to accept the offer going forward.
“That’s off the table,” the judge said.
Decker replied that he understood, and Warren County Assistant District Attorney Ben Smith informed him the offer was then withdrawn.
The case against Decker has been pending for 21 months, but the plea offer represents the first substantive talks to resolve the case without a trial. An offer was made at Hall’s urging.
There had been no indications Decker would admit guilt, as he has steadfastly maintained the charges are the result of a “misunderstanding” about how the grant process worked and he was paid money he was owed.
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The charges allege, however, that some of the money he is accused of stealing was paid to a shell company he created that didn’t do any work or provide materials for any environmental projects. He also is accused of not paying income taxes on the money he claims he was rightfully paid.
Decker’s lawyer, Joseph Brennan, said after the hearing that a trial was anticipated. He made a new motion earlier this month, seeking to dismiss the charges. The motion argues Decker’s “constitutional right to due process” is being violated because prosecutors haven’t detailed the allegations against Decker with enough specificity to allow him to prepare a defense.
The District Attorney’s Office is contesting the motion.
Decker, 67, of Burnt Hills, faces counts of grand larceny, corrupting the government, tax fraud and falsifying business records in a 22-count indictment. He has been accused of diverting state and federal funding to himself over a period going back to 2012.
Decker has claimed the money he received was legitimate payment for his work, but he is accused of tax fraud for not claiming the money on his state taxes in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Lake George Watershed Coalition is a loosely organized group of public and private organizations that helped push projects to protect and enhance water quality on and around Lake George. Decker, an engineer, led the organization as an independent contractor from 2001 until his arrest last year, working much of the time from an office in Lake George Village Hall. He is no longer involved with the coalition.
Questions arose about finances during his tenure, as Warren County awaited state funding reimbursement for a number of projects and a state audit rapped a number of towns for lax oversight of the coalition’s funding.
Jury selection is to begin Jan. 7. Decker is free on bail, pending further court action.