- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The former chief of park rangers for the city of St. Louis was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for a fraud scheme that cost the city nearly half a million dollars.

Thomas Stritzel, 44, was sentenced in U.S. District Court. He and deputy parks commissioner Joseph Vacca pleaded guilty in September to mail fraud. The men must also pay restitution of $473,000.

Vacca, 58, also received a three-year sentence in December.

Federal prosecutors say that from January 2005 through the end of last year, Stritzel and Vacca used false or inflated invoices to funnel the pilfered city funds through a sham company known as Dynamic Management, spending the money on vehicles, paying off credit card debt and other expenses.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay, said neither the U.S. Attorney’s office, Slay “nor the taxpayers have any sympathy for anyone who violates the public’s trust. Mr. Stritzel got what he deserved.”

At the time of the indictment last year, spokeswoman Maggie Crane said Stritzel had worked for the city since 1996 and Vacca since 1989.

Crane said both were placed on unpaid leave at the time of the indictment. Since the arrests, the city has said it has instituted new safeguards to ensure a similar crime won’t occur again.

Court records show that Vacca filed for bankruptcy in late 2009, saying he had liabilities - largely in the form of mortgage payments and credit card bills - that were hundreds of thousands of dollars more than his assets.

A message seeking comment on Monday from Stritzel’s attorney was not immediately returned.

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