Judge Philip Kirk sentenced Jim Ash to three years in state prison Wednesday, June 29.
Ash, the former Waupaca Parks and Recreation director, will also spend five years on extended supervision after his release.
Ash was charged and convicted of felony theft at a single hearing on April 21.
He was accused of stealing more than $200,000 in funds from the city of Waupaca and from donors to park and recreation programs.
After pointing out that many in the community considered Ash an altruistic friend and community asset, Kirk told Ash, “You stole over and over and over and again and again and again.”
He continued with “you stole and you stole and you stole again and again and again” for nearly a minute.
Then Kirk noted that as irritating as his long litany had been, Ash’s conduct had been far more than irritating.
The judge said that while several prominent people in the community had written letters of support for Ash, he questioned the “quote-unquote wonderful characteristics” of someone who continued stealing over such a long period of time.
Kirk said a judge is required by law to look at three criteria when sentencing: the severity of the offense, the character of the defendant and the protection of the public.
“The length and breadth of what you did is the measure of the severity of the offense,” Kirk said.
Kirk observed that Ash had been approached by co-workers regarding their suspicions, but he continued stealing for several more years.
“It’s just unfathomable,” Kirk said.
Kirk also discussed the apparent plea bargain that resulted in the quick resolution of Ash’s case, adding that a deal had been worked out before the case had been filed.
“The fact that you made a wise decision to hire competent counsel to do these things for you … doesn’t justify what you did or the depth of your criminality,” Kirk said.
Kirk said that other criminals probably would have faced multiple felony counts and longer prison terms.
Prior to Kirk’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Vicki Clussman had argued that Ash did not have a prior criminal record and that he has done a lot of good things for the community.
She asked that the judge impose and stay a prison sentence, then place Ash on four years of probation with one year in jail.
Clussman asked Kirk to order a restitution hearing at a later date. She said the district attorney’s office had received information from Liberty Mutual Insurance that it had estimated it would pay the city $170,000.
Ash’s defense attorney, Tom Johnson, also asked that Ash be placed on probation, noting that probation, rather than prison, would be “in the best interests of the city.”
Johnson argued that Ash could not pay any restitution to the city if he was incarcerated.
“You can say, ‘prison,’ or you can say, ‘I want my money back,’ but you can’t say both,” Johnson said.
Pointing to all the letters on Ash’s behalf, Johnson asked the judge to consider his decades of service to the community and to give Ash a chance for redemption.
Kirk questioned whether Ash himself, as opposed to the city’s insurance carrier, would ever be able to make full restitution.
The judge also took issue with the attorney’s portrayal of Ash’s character.
“Every time you stole, you did it with the intent to do so,” Kirk said. “It not only shows the severity of the offense, it reflects on your character.”
Kirk also discussed Ash’s personal finances. He said the pre-sentence investigation found that Ash had $42,000 in credit card debt even though he had refinanced his home in 2009 to pay off prior credit card debt.
“Where the hell did the money go?” Kirk asked.
Kirk said he received numerous letters regarding how Ash’s conduct had negatively impacted the public’s trust of the city. He did not take that issue into account when determining Ash’s sentence.
“I really loath that concept of a breach of trust, especially when it involves a public official,” Kirk said, adding that it implied a double standard for public and private employees.
“Everybody needs to be held to only one standard and that is the law,” Kirk said. “I don’t believe you violated anything else than the offense for which you are sitting here.”
As a condition of his extended supervision, Ash must ask local high schools for the opportunity to speak to students about his experience serving time in state prison.