The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

August 31, 2010

Former clerk sentenced to state prison for embezzlement

SUNBURY — The former clerk of the Northumberland Sewer Authority will spend one to three years in state prison, plus face four years of probation for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the authority over nine years.

In addition, Cynthia Jo Lark, 48, of 625 King St., will have to pay almost $475,000 in restitution to the sewer authority and its insurance company, as well as up to $500,000 in penalties that could be levied by the Internal Revenue Service.

On June 28, she pleaded guilty to charges of forgery with intent to defraud, a second-degree felony; theft by deception, a third-degree felony; and forgery, a misdemeanor. She received jail for the first charge and probation for the other two.

The sentences will run consecutively, Northumberland County President Judge Robert B. Sacavage said during a hearing Monday.

She is to report to jail at 9 a.m. Oct. 4, as well as forfeit almost $20,000 in her state pension account accumulated since she started working for the authority in 1994.

Lark told state police she stole $474,906 by forging the signatures of authority President Jack Fasold and authority Treasurer Jack Snyder. She also failed to file payroll taxes for the authority’s employees, totalling about $420,000, plus interest.

To hide her crimes, she created a fake audit, using the letterhead of a Hummels Wharf accountant.

Lark’s attorney, Joseph Nahas Jr., of Frackville, had sought to have Lark placed in a home-detention program. He cited several medical conditions — including an aneurism that happened in January. Ironically, her time off for the medical problem ultimately led to the discovery of her embezzlement.

Nahas also indicated there were other “ongoing” medical conditions Lark was dealing with, calling them a “ticking time bomb.” He declined to elaborate.

Authority solicitor Gene Brosius spoke on behalf of the authority board and asked that Lark be given the maximum sentence.

“She used sophisticated methods of embezzlement,” he said, noting that Lark lived and worked with the board members and had their trust. “This was a cold, calculated operation.”

In his sentencing, Sacavage stated he had many different factors to weigh, including Lark’s health as well as the damage done to the reputation of public officials and the need to deter future crimes.

“There are a large number of public officials, elected and appointed, to carry out the business of the people,” he said. “A state correctional institution indicates the gravity of the harm done, ensures the medical needs are met, and can act as a deterrence to others.”

Between sobs, Lark said she could not excuse her actions, but explained she began taking the money to help meet bills. She said as a single mother with minimal income and little child support, she found money tight and she became desperate.

“I wanted to pay it back, but then something else would come up,” she said. “Then it just became easier to take.”

Sacavage questioned how Lark spent the money. She said she took out a mortgage to buy a house worth $93,000 and paid other bills over the years. However, she said some of the money was used to pay bills related to the soccer teams to which her three daughters — ages 19, 17 and 16 — belonged.

“They’re the ones I hurt the most,” she said.

Her daughters were seated in the courtroom and were heard sobbing throughout the sentencing. Aside from the girls, other family members and a minister were at the hearing, Nahas said.

Lark also read a letter of apology she sent to the authority board, in which she said she was “deeply sorry” to the board, her family and the entire community.

“I’m aware there’s a chance that you will never forgive me,” she said.

In her plea for leniency, Lark told Sacavage she wanted to do what she could to help others facing a similar situation, preventing them from going down the same path she did.

Reached by phone after the sentencing, Fasold, the authority president, said borough clerk Ann August, who has filled in part-time as clerk since Lark’s illness, would continue until the books are back in order. The board has no plans to hire another clerk at this time, he said.

Fasold said he had mixed feelings on the ruling.

“I am glad that she got at least some jail time,” he said. “House arrest, that’s one thing I don’t think is right.

“Who am I to say that’s not enough or too much?”

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