(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Jim Deeghan walked into a Burlington, Vt. courtroom Monday in civilian clothes, after disgracing the Vt. State Police uniform he used to wear.
Deeghan admitted to picking the pockets of Vermont taxpayers for several years by claiming he worked overtime while he wasn't actually on the job. That faked overtime for hours supposedly spent as a barracks supervisor and doing road patrols added up to well over $200,000, an investigation revealed.
"I took advantage of an honor system," Deeghan told Vt. Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson as part of Monday's plea change and sentencing hearing. "And it was wrong."
Deeghan told Judge Grearson he stole because he was under extreme financial pressure, and when he got away with it, the lying became routine.
"I knew it was wrong and I knew it was false," Deeghan said.
A plea deal called for Deeghan to serve two years in prison and several more on probation. He also must pay back $202,000 from his pension in installments over a several-year period.
"This was a betrayal of trust," said T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County, Vt. State's Attorney. "Mr. Deeghan stole from the people he's sworn to protect."
Judge Grearson approved the deal and called it an appropriate punishment.
"This is a sad day," Grearson said, acknowledging how many people were impacted by Deeghan's crimes.
Deeghan's bosses said the former sergeant, who resigned in July 2012 after the allegations against him were made public, wrote fake traffic tickets to make it look like he was working when he really wasn't. They said he entered more than 900 fake tickets into a system, naming 600 real people.
"I want to publicly apologize to the taxpayers of the state of Vermont," said Col. Tom L'Esperance, the commander of the Vt. State Police.
L'Esperance said those bogus tickets have been deleted and will not impact the folks named on them when it comes to their insurance or ability to drive in Vermont.
Deeghan also admitted to neglect of duty. Prosecutors outlined allegations Deeghan would investigate cases but never send prosecutors the files. That means people could have essentially gotten away with crimes, the Chittenden County State's Attorney's office said.
"The responding officer should not influence whether or not a specific individual comes to court or not," said Deputy State's Attorney Mary Morrissey. "That is the role that Mr. Deeghan took on when he was working as a Vermont State Trooper."
Morrissey indicated the cases Deeghan failed to forward to prosecutors for review included traffic violations and assaults.
L'Esperance promised new safeguards are in place to block fraud. He and Donovan also said they are certain Deeghan was the only thief on the force.
"It's a lesson learned for us," L'Esperance said. "I think moving forward, we'll all be a better and stronger police agency as a result.
The ex-officer was taken to prison Monday morning to start serving his sentence immediately. His defense attorney said he plans to move away from Vermont after serving his prison term, following the attention this case has generated. A lien placed on his Colchester, Vt. home during the investigation has been lifted, Donovan said.
Vt. State Police leaders say they're dedicated to fully earning back the public's trust.
"We're already getting there," L'Esperance said.