Retired colonel accused of stealing $2M from National Guard fund

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said a retired colonel has been charged with stealing $2 million from a fund to help families of National Guard members deployed overseas.

A state grand jury indicted James Eugene Burnes, 66, of Tempe, on one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices, five counts of theft of an amount over $25,000, and two counts of forgery.

The state alleges that while working as a resource manager with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), Burnes diverted more than $2 million in cash from accounts in the name of the Arizona National Guard Family Emergency Fund and the Arizona National Guard Emergency Relief Fund.

The state alleges the money was diverted for his personal use.

"This is a very disturbing alleged abuse of a financial trust," Horne said. "This money was meant to assist needy service men and women and their families. My office will pursue this case vigorously to ensure that justice is served."

Burnes' case is set for trial on April 3.

The Arizona National Guard Emergency Relief Fund and Arizona National Guard Family Assistance Fund are the Arizona Army National Guard's emergency financial assistance organizations dedicated to “Helping the Arizona National Guard take care of its own,” according to information from Horne's office.

Both funds are private non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. Their sole mission is to help service members and their dependents. They provide emergency financial assistance in the form of loans or grants to soldiers and their dependents when there is a valid need. These funds assist needy service members and the families with rent and mortgage payments; food and utilities; essential transportation and vehicle repair; emergency travel expenses; medical expenses; and personal needs when pay is delayed or stolen.

The charities were forced to stockpile requests for assistance between Aug. 1, 2011, and Dec. 15, 2011, due to Burnes' alleged actions," Horne's office said. The charities are now back in business offering assistance to service members and their families.