ANCHORAGE - A Juneau man has admitted forging a check from his grandfather's estate and taking money meant to help the families of fallen firefighters.
As part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Bruce Albert Wright pleaded guilty last week to one count of making and possessing a forged security.
Wright, 48, is an oil spill specialist with the Auke Bay Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service and is chief of the Oil Spill Research Office, established in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Wright forged a check for $126,746.07 in early October 1999, which was intended for the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association, according to court documents. The check was from the estate of Wright's grandfather, Jessie M. Wright, who died in 1998. Wright was a beneficiary of the estate.
The check was sent to Wright after he persuaded the executor of the estate in June 1999 that it would be good if he could formally present the check to the firemen's association, court records said.
The group, however, never received the check. Five months later it asked that a stop payment be placed on the check and that it be reissued.
An investigation revealed the check had been cashed a month earlier. The back of the check was endorsed with a stamp that indicated it had been received by the firemen's association and also had an account number for deposit, according to court documents.
The association told the estate's executor the name of the group was misspelled and the account number was invalid. Investigators found the check had been endorsed with a stamp ordered from the Juneau Rubber Stamp Co.
Further investigation revealed the check had been deposited into Wright's account at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union on Oct. 7, 1999. Three days later, Wright withdrew nearly all the money and placed it in his own investment accounts.
When confronted by the FBI, Wright agreed to return the money and earnings in the amount of $133,707.82.
Wright faced up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release if convicted. The Jan. 18 plea agreement calls for a sentence of between 15 and 21 months with a possibility that it be served on home detention. Sentencing is set for March 12.
Wright's attorney, Louis Menendez of Juneau, refused to comment.
Wright talked on numerous occasions with the firemen's association about the money, said Ted Aquaro, the group's secretary-treasurer.
"We talked and he said he was going to make a donation but it never happened," he said.
The group finally got the money. It has been placed in the Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen's Fund, Aquaro said.