Accused firefighter impersonator's trial scheduled for May

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - A man arrested for impersonating a firefighter during the High Park Fire in Larimer County appeared in court Monday, where a judge set a May trial date.

The judge scheduled the six-day trial for Michael Stillman Maher, 30, to begin on May 6.

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

Army National Guard military police officers at a fire-area road block became suspicious of Maher on the night of June 16 when they stopped him as he left the fire area in a silver Toyota Tacoma truck with government license plates, an 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.

Deputies found a handgun and other items in the Tacoma, sheriff's officials said.

Maher's defense attorney, Dan Recht, issued a statement in June 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.

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