Sheriff: Fake Firefighter Stole Gear At Lower North Fork Fire

Stolen Fire Equipment Found At Michael Maher's Home, Sheriff's Office Says

A man arrested for impersonating a firefighter at the High Park Fire in Larimer County is now being investigated for the same crime at the Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County.

During the Lower North Fork 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 Michael Stillman Maher, 30, 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,

Maher may face charges for felony theft, felony criminal impersonation and misdemeanor impersonating a public servant in the Jefferson County case, Kelley said.

After he was arrested Sunday, 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.

The Denver man has been charged with impersonating a firefighter, theft, obstructing fire officials and attempting to influence a public servant in the Larimer County case.

He is free on $15,000 bond. His bond conditions say he "cannot cross over boundaries of the High Park Fire." Maher must also avoid new violations, cannot possess weapons or use drugs or alcohol, according to bond conditions.

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 fire area road block became suspicious of Maher when they stopped him Saturday night 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.

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

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 says he's an environmental consultant, who attended the University of Colorado in Denver. It also says that he worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and photos show him wearing a Forest Service uniform and driving the agency's trucks.

A Forest Service spokesman told 7NEWS Monday that Maher worked one season as a seasonal employee more than a year ago. Employees are supposed to return any Forest Service identification or uniforms when they leave the agency, the spokesman said.

Yet, 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 Saturday in a Facebook post with the photo of him grinning as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Hickenlooper. The governor was visiting the High Park Fire command center with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

By Wednesday, photos showing Maher in firefighter gear at forest fires, including a "High Park Fire" album, had been removed from his Facebook page.

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

Recht was also Maher's defense attorney in June 2003 when Maher, then 21, was arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls in Eagle County, according to court records.

One girl said she'd had consensual sexual intercourse with Maher about five times, starting when she was 14 years old, an arrest affidavit said. A child cannot consent to have sex with an adult under state law.

The girl said she first had sex with Maher in a car parked on a roadside in Gypsum. The girl said "she bit Michael out of pleasure and he choked her out of anger," the affidavit said.

Another girl told deputies that Maher assaulted her while she was riding in his car in Gypsum, the affidavit said. The girl said he tried to kiss her several times, then he pulled her pants down and put on a condom.

The girl said she told Maher several times to stop, and he stopped and took her home, the affidavit said.

Maher was initially charged with two felony counts, aggravated sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child, court records said.

On Dec. 14, 2005, Maher pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child, court records state. A judge advised Maher that he would have to register as a sex offender.

But, as part of a plea agreement, Maher was given a deferred sentence and judgment, court records state. Under the agreement, Maher was to serve 90 days in jail. He was also ordered to serve four years of intensively supervised sex offender probation and continue therapy.

The probation conditions prohibited him from having contact with anyone under age 18, including family members. He was also barred from using drugs or alcohol and could only access a computer with his probation officer's approval, court records said.

Somehow, Maher was allowed to change his plea to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact on Feb. 27, 2008 – nearly five years after his arrest, records show.

But in November 2009, Maher was arrested for failing to comply with the terms of his probation, records show. His probation officer told the court he was concerned about Maher's behavior. Maher later admitted that he had violated probation, records said.

A prosecutor filed a motion to revoke Maher's deferred judgement deal, but a judge denied it.

In February 2010, the felony sex assault charge was dismissed under the deferred judgement and Maher was sentenced to 18 months in jail, with three months credit for time served, court record said.

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