QUEENSBURY — A Warren County grand jury is scheduled to begin hearing testimony Tuesday in the case of the former Lake George Watershed Coalition director who is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from funds he administered.
David J. Decker, 67, was arrested in March on three felony charges that accused him of stealing $69,156 of federal grant money meant for a watershed protection project and instead diverting it to his own bank account. The arrest came after an inquiry that began when some Warren County officials and residents expressed concerns about lagging state reimbursement for a number of projects.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office and state investigation of Decker continued after his arrest, as investigators sifted through boxes of documents, and worked with the state Comptroller’s Office to complete a “forensic audit” of documents.
Warren County Sheriff Bud York said his agency has uncovered evidence that seems to show the amount of money stolen was significantly greater and additional charges are justified.
“We believe the evidence shows the amount will be a lot higher,” York said.
In addition to a grand larceny charge, Decker also faces two felony counts that allege he filed falsified business records.
Travis Whitehead, the Queensbury resident whose complaint to police spurred the investigation, has said he believes evidence shows Decker stole significantly more than the $69,000 for which he was charged. He has reviewed reams of documents that he received through Freedom of Information Law requests and has estimated the theft could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Decker will be given the opportunity to testify before the grand jury, if he wishes. Most defendants choose not to testify. The grand jury proceeding could stretch over a period of weeks.
Decker’s lawyer, Joseph Brennan, said he was not aware of any grand jury action scheduled in the case. He said his client was “cooperative” and ready to exonerate himself.
“His position is there was no falsification of any records and absolutely no larceny of any type,” Brennan said.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said she had no comment on the matter Thursday.
Decker, an engineer from Burnt Hills, who formerly worked for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, had run the coalition since 2001, helping guide the finances of projects to keep invasive species out of the lake and the transformation of the former Gaslight Village amusement park into a manmade wetland and park.
He worked closely with town boards in Queensbury, Lake George and Bolton and the village of Lake George and regional environmental groups as he guided dozens of grant applications to pay for the projects. Some have questioned whether elected officials scrutinized his activities as closely as they should have.
The coalition cut ties with him after the arrest. Decker is free on bail, pending further court action, and faces up to 15 years in state prison.