QUEENSBURY — The former director of the Lake George Watershed Coalition is to stand trial in early January for alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of state and federal dollars while he oversaw the organization.
Jury selection in the case of David J. Decker is to start in Warren County Court on Jan. 7.
The trial date was set by Warren County Judge John Hall last week, after Hall ruled in favor of the Warren County District Attorney’s Office and rejected a request by Decker’s counsel to dismiss the charges against him.
Decker’s lawyer, Joseph Brennan, had argued that Decker was an independent contractor and not a “public servant,” so a number of the charges against him related to alleged “corrupting the government” — including the weightiest count against Decker — were not viable.
Hall disagreed, and also rejected a request by the defense to hold separate trials on the theft-related charges and tax fraud counts.
Decker, 67, of Burnt Hills, has pleaded not guilty to 22 felony and misdemeanor charges that accuse him of years of diversion of $440,000 that was meant for environmental projects in the Lake George region, some of which was alleged to have been stolen by paying a company he created that authorities believe did no work on any of the projects.
He has claimed the payments he made to himself were legitimate, but the state Department of Taxation and Finance determined he did not claim the money on his taxes, so he faces felony tax fraud and larceny charges related to tax returns as well.
No date had been set for pretrial hearings in the case as of Wednesday.
Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said his office was prepared for trial, and he said he could not comment on whether there had been any discussions of a possible plea agreement to avoid a trial.
Brennan said he did not anticipate a disposition to avoid a trial.
“The expectation at this point is it is headed to trial on Jan. 7,” he said.
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 led the organization 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 organization.
The charges include 21 felonies and one misdemeanor, including counts of grand larceny and a charge of first-degree corrupting the government, a count that is punishable by up to 25 years in state prison. That charge alleges he was a public official and that he “engaged in a scheme to defraud the state” or other municipal entity between September 2007 and December 31, 2016.
Decker, an engineer, was initially arrested in March 2017 after an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office that was spurred by a complaint from local engineer and taxpayer advocate Travis Whitehead, who delved into the finances of the coalition after Warren County Treasurer Michael Swan questioned financial issues with the coalition.
Decker is free on bail, pending trial.