RUTLAND — A former captain in the Wallingford Fire Department was sentenced to 13 months in jail Monday for his role in the setting of more than 20 wildfires in town in 2008.
Federal Judge Christina Reiss said the crimes committed by George Allen were “truly outrageous,” but she sentenced the 30-year-old to less than the 15- to 24-month prison term sought by the prosecution.
“How can you be on a volunteer fire department supporting the community and be engaged in this kind of activity?” the judge asked during Allen’s sentencing in U.S. District Court in Rutland.
Allen was convicted by a federal jury in July of conspiring to set wildfires on U.S. Forest Service land. Two of the 23 fires intentionally set in Wallingford between January and April 2008 were in the Green Mountain National Forest.
No one was injured in the blazes, which were set in remote areas. But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow said the lack of injury was more a product of luck than design.
“Given the number of fires and the number of firefighters rushing to get to these scenes it’s only by good fortune that no one was hurt,” he said.
Allen’s attorney, Mark Furlan, argued that the former firefighter deserved a probationary sentence based on the argument that Allen played only a limited role in a fire-setting scheme that involved a number of other firefighters. During an interview with Vermont State Police, Allen told investigators that the fires were set as a result of boredom.
Other members of the department previously convicted of charges related to the grass fires include Matthew D. Burnham, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge in 2011 and was sentenced to six months of home confinement.
In 2009, Burnham was given a one- to two-year suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to a state charge of fourth-degree arson.
Another former firefighter, Charles Woods, who was charged with felony accessory after the fact, eventually settled his case and was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
In arguing for a probationary sentence, Furlan said that unlike with Burnham there is no evidence that Allen started any of the fires, and he said some of the firefighters involved were starting fires before Allen became aware of their activities.
“The idea that he had influence over these kids when they had already been starting fires doesn’t make sense,” Furlan said.
But Darrow said that Allen, a 25-year-old captain at the time, had both the authority and the influence to put an end to the illegal activities if he had wanted to.
“He was a command member who encouraged and directed teenage members of the department to set fires,” Darrow said.
Reiss said she agreed.
“Mr. Allen was head of a clique in the department and in charge of juveniles who looked up to him as a role model,” the judge said. “Had he put a stop to this the juveniles would have followed suit.”
Allen, who apologized for his actions before he was sentenced, was ordered to begin serving his prison term Jan. 14.
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