Accused firefighter impersonator at High Park Fire wants to leave town to find new job

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - A Denver man accused of impersonating a firefighter at the High Park Fire is asking a judge permission to leave town to get a new job.

Michael Maher faces multiple felonies after being accused of sneaking into the burn area using a stolen government license plate and phony credentials.

According to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, prosecutors want to know what kind of job Maher wants now.

Maher faces charges of attempting to influence a public servant, theft of more than $1,000 and criminal impersonation.

He faces similar charges in Jefferson County in connection with the Lower North Fork fire.

During that fire in March, a "firefighter" was issued a chainsaw, two Pulaski firefighting tools, a portable radio, a portable fire shelter, goggles, MREs -- or meals ready to eat -- and other items. At the conclusion of the fire, the items, valued at $2,400, remained unaccounted for, said Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley.

A theft report was taken in April by the sheriff's office.

When Maher was arrested at the High Park Fire on June 18, four portable radios were found inside of his truck, Kelley said. One of the radios had been stolen from the Lower North Fork Fire.

The next day, Jefferson County investigators searched Maher’s home and recovered the stolen chainsaw, the Pulaski tools and multiple MREs that were issued to him at the Lower North Fork Fire, Kelley said.

Also recovered at his home were several fire-resistant Nomex pants and shirts, miscellaneous U.S. Forest Service clothing, a USFS qualification card and a red-and-blue light bar typically used on emergency vehicles, Kelley said.

After he was arrested, Maher admitted that he was fired from the U.S. Forest Service two years ago, according to a newly released arrest affidavit obtained by 7NEWS.

Maher has an extensive criminal history in Colorado, including convictions for sexual assault, illegally discharging a gun, false reporting of a crime, violating a protection order and driving while ability impaired, court records show.

Army National Guard military police officers at a High Park Fire area road block became suspicious of Maher when they stopped him as he left the area in a silver Toyota Tacoma truck with government license plates, the affidavit said.

Larimer County sheriff's deputies later found Maher, who was wearing a wildland firefighter uniform, leaving the Swing Station Bar in Laporte. The Tacoma pickup was parked across the street.

Maher told deputies he used to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, until he was fired two years ago, the affidavit said.

After being read his rights, Maher admitted that he used his old Forest Service identification to gain access to the fire area, the affidavit said.

Asked how he obtained the government plates on his truck, Maher told deputies a friend gave them to him. Sheriff's officials said the government plates turned out to be stolen from the Glenwood Springs area.

Of the four fire radios found in his pickup, Maher said he had kept two of them after being fired from the Forest Service, the affidavit said. Deputies also found food that was stolen from the fire command center.

Maher's Facebook page had photos showing him in a yellow-and-green wildland firefighter uniform, posing with Gov. John Hickenlooper at the High Park Fire command center and sitting in the pilot seat of a giant helicopter."Me with the Governor!!!" Maher wrote in a Facebook post with the photo of him grinning as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Hickenlooper. The governor had visited the High Park Fire command center with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Maher's defense attorney, Dan Recht, issued a statement saying his client was trying to help fight the wildfire without proper authority.

"Michael Maher has always dreamed of being a fireman," Recht said. "He has a degree in Fire Science Technology from Colorado Mountain College, has been certified in many aspects of firefighting, has been trained as a firefighter, and has previously been employed by the U.S. Forest Service here in Colorado. Unfortunately, he has not been able to obtain employment as a fireman."

"Late last week, Michael tried to help fight the High Park Fire without appropriate authority. He knows this was ill advised, foolish and regrettable," Recht said in the statement. "However, he never meant to hurt anyone, loot anything, impede the firefighting effort in any way, or do anything but naively and immaturely attempt to help fight the High Park Fire."

"Michael was not in possession of fraudulent IDs, his firearm was legally owned and possessed, and he has never been convicted of a felony," Recht said.