LAWRENCE COUNTY TREASURY DA requesting audit to determine if more county money is missing
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA STAFF
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- In the wake of criminal charges accusing Lawrence County Treasurer Gary Felasco of stealing taxpayer dollars, the county district attorney is calling for a full audit of the past four years to see if any more money is missing from county coffers.
But the commissioners aren't sure if that's a good idea.
"The larger the scope of the investigation, the larger the cost to the county," said Commissioner Dan Vogler.
Pa. attorney general
Vogler said he would like to discuss the idea of an expanded audit with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office -- the agency handling the criminal charges against Felasco.
Commissioner Ed Fosnaught agrees. "We need to see if the benefit is worth the cost," he said. "I think if the attorney general tells us in order to prosecute the case they need more information, I would consider it very seriously."
Fosnaught estimates a detailed audit of county finances could cost more than a half-million dollars.
Felasco faces charges of theft and embezzlement among other crimes. He is accused of stealing more than $40,000 from the treasurer's office in an elaborate scheme in which he would take money from cash payments taxpayers made to his office. Taxpayers would later show up as not having paid their bills on the county tax rolls, and Felasco would delete their names from that list, according to court papers.
Removed from bureau
The scheme came to light after county commissioners removed Felasco from his appointed position as county tax claim bureau director. He was removed in March 2004 when county officials learned Felasco has not paid property taxes on his Cunningham Avenue home since 2000 -- the same year he became tax claim director.
The criminal charges are based on three months in late 2003.
Mangino believes the county should look at the entire 49 months when Felasco was in charge of the bureau.
"I think we owe it to the taxpayers to find out the total amount of the losses," he said.
But commissioners wonder if that will change anything in the criminal proceedings.
"How do you get restitution from somebody whose house is being foreclosed?" Fosnaught asked. Court records show that Felasco had not paid the mortgage on his Cunningham Avenue home since last October and the bank is proceeding with foreclosure.
Fears tax increase
Fosnaught said he also would like to know if more money is missing, but worries that a tax increase will be needed to pay for any extensive audit. The three-month audit that resulted in the criminal charges cost slightly more than $40,000.