NJ firefighter loses $79K job over $7.98 shoplifting conviction
MARGATE — A South Jersey firefighter who was fired for a shoplifting misdemeanor has lost his latest effort to save his career.
An appellate decision this week comes more than seven months after Ashton G. Funk, 34, of Northfield, was charged with stealing sunflower seeds, a breakfast sandwich, Gatorade and coffee. The total cost was $7.98.
The trial was handled by the county prosecutor because it involved a public employee, even though Funk was not on duty. After his conviction, Municipal Court Judge H. Robert Switzer stripped Funk of his jobs with the Margate Fire Department and Beach Patrol. Funk appealed to a Superior Court judge and lost, with the most recent decision ruling on his appeal of that denial.
Funk was charged after Lt. Joseph Baumgardner of the Longport Police Department reported seeing the shoplifting, according to the most recent decision. Baumgardner said he goes to the Margate Wawa every morning and saw Funk at the store, recognizing him from his work with the local fire department. Baumgardner said as he was waiting to pay for his own items he saw Funk leave the store without paying.
The officer testified in court that he confronted Funk in his car and asked how he had left before him. Funk told him that "[the] guy in line let me in front of him," according to the decision.
Funk told Sgt. Jason Kangas from the Prosecutor's Office that someone had offered to buy the items for him, but a review of the store's surveillance video did not back up that claim. A shift manager told Kangas that he recognized Funk as a regular customer but said that if someone wanted to pay for someone else "[t]hey would have to physically bring the items up" to have them scanned.
Funk had been a city firefighter since 2011 and on the beach patrol for 19 years, both positions that are "held in high esteem," the prosecutor said in the application to take away his job for the relatively minor offense.
The prosecutor also noted that Funk "committed the offense minutes before his shift at the fire station was to begin," and "was wearing part of his firefighter uniform."
The panel said the prosecutor "was mindful of the claimed hardships that will be attendant with the loss of the public employment," but said "such hardships [were] not undue under the circumstances."
In his appeal, Funk challenged the credibility of two of the witnesses and the trial judge's finding that he was not a regular customer, among other arguments. The panel disagreed and affirmed the judge's "well-reasoned and cogent opinions."