TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE -- A chief of the U.S. Air Force Fire Service remains in his position as authorities investigate accusations of him stealing $133,000 intended for charities and putting those funds toward vacations, gambling and credit card debt.
However, Defense officials have appointed an acting chief while the Department Of Justice (DOJ) looks further into the allegations against James Podolske, 59, of Panama City. He is accused of using his position in the Air Force to defraud about 25 businesses' funds that were meant to go to charity. Podolske, who is currently stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, is still listed as an employee as the indictment proceeds through the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin, according to Air Force officials.
U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad announced Podolske's indictment Thursday in a news release.
"The DOJ is leading the investigation," said Armando Perez, spokesman for the Air Force's Civil Engineering Center. "So until we receive information from them, his employment status will not change."
Podolske has been chief of the U.S. Air Force Fire Service at Tyndall for about three years, Perez said. The two fraud charges he faces carry up to 25 years in prison and $500,000.
Despite his residence at Tyndall, Podolske's alleged scheme reached donors across the country, although it was unclear Monday if any businesses were native to Bay County.
Between 2009 and 2013, Podolske organized charity banquets and golf outings in association with an annual conference put on by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. According to the release, Podolske took donations from contractors looking to work with the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon. While he sent a portion of the funds to charities, he allegedly directed the vast majority of the donations to his Tyndall Federal Credit Union bank account. He then "converted these charitable donations for his personal use to pay off credit card debt, pay for vacations and for gambling at Gulf Shore casinos," the release said.
Podolske allegedly solicited donations that ranged from $100 to $5,000 and said they were intended for five different charities, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, including Toys 4 Tots and the Parkland Foundation Burn Camp, and made wire transfers from a "John Doe" account in Wisconsin to a Florida bank account in his name.
In addition to the fraud charges, he also was charged with showing disclosed bid information to a company to give it an edge in the bidding process, the Journal-Sentinel report noted.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigation Service and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, according to the Justice Department release.