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The show must go on

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Despite embezzlement, July 4 group pushes ahead

BANGOR When theft occurs in most for-profit businesses, it usually is a major setback to the finances that make businesses run. But unless it is so drastic that it cripples the operation's cash flow, most business can withstand a fair portion of it and even recover such funds through insurance proceeds or continuing operations.

For nonprofits and charities, however, embezzlement by those trusted with maintaining the organization's assets sometimes spells doom for those concerns that rely heavily on donations to operate and fund their respective missions. Yet with Independence Day a mere four weeks away, the Greater Bangor 4th of July Corporation has been able to press on despite the theft of the charity's reserves, and has raised more than two thirds of what's needed to fund the area's Independence Day festivities.

It was in July of last year when officers of the area's nonprofit that holds the daylong parade, concert and fireworks discovered that its treasurer, Bruce Fowle, stole more than $100,000 from the organization over a period of several years. Suspicion of Fowle, 62, of Bangor, grew as he was unable to produce bank statements to support the funds he said were on reserve at a local financial institution.

Along with the 4th of July Corporation, Fowle also served as treasurer for the Bangor Breakfast Kiwanis Club and was accused of stealing about $40,000 from that group. The six-month investigation eventually led to his indictment in January and subsequent guilty pleas last month to two counts of Class B theft in connection with the thefts. He is awaiting sentencing after Superior Court Judge William Anderson rejected the plea deal Fowle worked out with prosecutors that would have had him serve nine months in jail and pay $10,000 in restitution.

Since the plea deal was rejected, Fowle still faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $20,000 on each count.

Despite the setback posed by the theft of the corporation's reserves, the group has pressed on the past few months to maintain the popular summer holiday's traditions and ensure the Bangor-Brewer Independence Day parade and fireworks continue.

'It's very important to have the 4th of July celebration it's been around such a long time,' Anthony Bernatche, who chairs the 4th of July Corporation, said of the need to continue to raise funds. 'Some of the past donors have raised serious concerns about continuing on with their donations due to the embezzlement, but a number of other contributors have stepped up to the plate to contribute to this great effort for the community.'

According to Bernatche, this year's goal is $49,000, which will sustain not only this year's festivities but also reboot the organization to meet future needs. With the embezzlement overshadowing this year's fundraising efforts, the organization has put into place several safeguards to ensure against future thefts. Still, this year's show must go on, and Bernatche said the outpouring of support has led the organization to increase the fireworks display and try to put its past troubles behind them.

'We're hoping to increase the size of the show and rebuild our emergency fund,' he said, adding that funds carried over from year to year often help the corporation fund the following year's show in the offseason where deposits are required for necessary permits and by contract for the fireworks display and several parade units. Such reserves also help even out cash flow for those leaner years when donations are tougher to come by.

'It's very common that a great deal of the money comes in the last two weeks, which is often late for those expenses we have to pay up front," explained Bernatche.

Area companies so far have contributed nearly $30,000 toward this year's effort, and several have increased donations to help the organization weather the theft. Also, Bernatche said last year's inaugural Chords for Cure concert event raised nearly $10,000 for cancer care and research and that effort will continue this year, which has also raised the amount needed to prefund not only the parade and fireworks but the concert itself.

Those who would like to help sponsor the 2013 Fourth of July festivities should call Bernatche at Bernatche Auto Body at 941-5686.

[Editor's Note: The Maine Edge has helped the 4th of July Corporation raise funds for several years.]

Donors as of June 5

  • Bangor Federal Credit Union - $7,500
  • City of Bangor - $5,000
  • WABI TV 5 /The CW - $5,000
  • Quirk Auto Group - $5,000
  • City of Brewer - $2,000
  • Bangor Breakfast Kiwanis - $1,000
  • Orono Old Town Kiwanis - $1,000
  • Bangor Kiwanis - $1,000
  • Van Syckle Kia/Suzuki - $1,000
  • Brewer Motor Inn - $500
  • Cornwell Tools - $500
  • Links Online Marketing - $250
  • Hero's Sports Grille - $125

Total raised thus far: $29,875

Needed to reach goal: $19,125

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