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Man who served as Chief of Air Force Fire Services, accused of stealing money meant for charity pleads guilty

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WASHINGTON — 59-year-old James Podolske of Panama City, Florida — accused of stealing funds intended for charity while he was serving as Chief of Air Force Fire Services has pleaded guilty.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Podolske pleaded guilty Tuesday, November 22nd to one count of wire fraud and a violation of the Procurement Integrity Act.

Pursuant to the terms of a plea agreement, Podolske acknowledged that while an official with the U.S. Air Force, he knowingly disclosed defense department contract bid information to give a competitive advantage to a corporate defense contractor.

Podolske further acknowledged that between 2009 and 2013, he used his position as Chief of Air Force Fire Services to defraud approximately 25 business entities or individuals out of tens of thousands of dollars per year intended for charity.  Podolske organized an awards banquet and “charity” golf outing to coincide with a conference sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.  Podolske admitted that he actively solicited donations for his golf outing from contractors and subcontractors who sought to do business with the Air Force and Department of Defense, including several in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Some of the donations were forwarded to charities as intended; however, many donations were deposited in Podolske’s personal bank account.

He acknowledged using these charitable donations for his personal expenses, including to pay off credit card debt, pay for vacations and for gambling at Gulf Shore casinos.

At sentencing, Podolske faces up to 25 years in prison, $500,000 in fines and three years of supervised release.

The government will also seek the forfeiture of assets equivalent to the proceeds of his criminal activity.

Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement Podolske resigned his position as Fire Chief of the U.S. Air Force effective October 21st.