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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Clovis Firefighters Association Official Charged With Felony

 CLOVIS, Calif. -- The Fresno County District Attorney's Office on Monday filed one count of felony embezzlement against John Morton Watson, 37, of Visalia. He remains free until his arraignment, which is pending.

The District Attorney's Office said that Watson is accused of taking more than $100,000 from the Clovis Firefighters Association from late 2004 to 2011.

Authorities say Watson has acknowledged taking $56,000 for a personal hardship, but said he borrowed money from his parents to repay the union's treasury.

His attorney, Joe Altschule, said he and Watson proposed a plan to pay additional funds back to the union, but they have not heard from union officials.

Watson worked as a Clovis Fire Department training officer and was a Clovis firefighter for 12 years. He has admitted to embezzling union funds and resigned in January, when the case came to light.

Clovis police say Watson confessed to taking $56,000 from the firefighters association over six of the 10 years he served as treasurer.

Police said the association lost $80,000 to $150,000.

Watson told investigators that he took the money because of personal hardship but borrowed about $60,900 from his parents to repay the union's treasury.

His lawyer, Joe Altschule, said he and Watson offered a payback plan to the union. He estimated the payback was between $75,000 and $100,000.

"We have tendered a proposal of what Mr. Watson believes is the total amount that is owed and we haven't heard back from the union," Altschule said. "The ball is in their court."

The legal case against Watson does not take into account any money he has already paid back, Altschule said.

Previously, Altschule said that Watson's wife had been hospitalized without income, which created financial problems for the couple.

The union's lawyer, Tom Sharpe, said he was unable to comment on the case.

According to city records, Watson earned nearly $108,000 in 2010.

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