The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 16, 2010

Ex-chief faces court on $100K theft

Web developer also charged with stealing $19K from town

NORTHUMBERLAND — Former Borough Council President Bryan Wolfe will face six felony-theft charges related to his former workplace this morning in district court in Middleburg.

He was jailed Tuesday in Sunbury on four separate felony-theft charges involving $18,722 allegedly swindled from Northumberland Borough. He was being held at the Northumberland County Prison in lieu of $40,000 cash bond set by District Judge Robert Bolton.

Wolfe, 39, faces District Judge Willis Savidge today in connection with alleged thefts in excess of $100,000 from his former employer, Northway Industries, of Franklin Township, Snyder County.

The charges in Northumberland County relate to alleged misuse of the borough's credit card and fraudulent acceptance of reimbursement checks — all involving apparently nonexistent computer software, court records show.

Wolfe told Milton state police Trooper James Nizinski that, at the Borough Council's request, he was developing a borough website. In August, however, part-time borough clerk Ann August discovered numerous software purchases with the borough's credit card that could not be located on any of Northumberland Borough's computers or found on borough property. August said the purchases were excessive or not needed, and were made from websites owned by Wolfe — PSU Football and Nittany Geeks. They totaled $10,443.

In addition, borough secretary/treasurer Jan Bowman told Nizinski that Wolfe periodically directed her to issue software purchase reimbursement checks to him. Five times between June 2008 and January such checks were issued in amounts of $2,200; $1,199; $1,000; $1,851; and $2,029; a total of $8,279.

Bowman states that when Wolfe asked for a check for a purchase that he made, she would print the check for the amount requested and then she and Wolfe would sign it. Wolfe was one of four borough officials empowered to sign checks.

Bowman told Nizinski when Wolfe asked for reimbursement, she assumed it was for a legitimate purpose and did not question him.

When interviewed by Nizinski, Wolfe said when the website development for the borough became time-consuming, he decided to pay himself $25 an hour for his services.

The programs purchased by Wolfe were not for legitimate borough purposes and would not have been approved by council, nor were "consulting fees," Council President Greg Carl told state police.

In connection with the borough's $18,722 loss, Wolfe is charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, access device fraud, and unlawful use of computer and other computer crimes, all three-degree felonies.

A preliminary hearing on the charges is set for June 23.

Selinsgrove state police Trooper Wayne Ghrist said Tuesday he will charge Wolfe with six felonies and two misdemeanors in connection with the alleged Northway Industries thefts.

Wolfe was a computer/web developer for Northway until he was fired in September 2007. A subsequent internal audit found $100,000 worth of software and purchases missing, according to the search warrant police obtained in November 2008 that allowed them to seize a computer hard drive from Wolfe's residence at 421 Lincoln St., Northumberland.

Wolfe had been in charge of ordering, purchasing and installation of computer-related software and hardware at the firm, as well as ordering general business supplies.

Upon Wolfe's termination, the warrant said, a commercial invoice was found in his office to a private purchaser overseas, where Wolfe had sold product CDs. Records indicate on Sept. 4, 2007, Wolfe purchased three CDs for $651 apiece, or $1,953, acting as Northway Industries, and sold them Sept. 6, 2007, for a total of $350.

According to the warrant, Wolfe was the sole person involved in ordering and installing computer hardware and software at the company between December 2004 and September 2007. Northway Industries brought in a forensic accountant who estimated overall loses in Wolfe's department for that period at $109,632.

Wolfe had served as Northumberland Borough councilman for 10 years by the end of 2009. He did not run for re-election, but was appointed to fill a vacancy created by Jonathan Rees' winning of both two-year and four-year seats and having to relinquish one of them.

He was immediately appointed council president by his peers, who at that time included Cynthia Lark, accused of embezzlement.

Lark, 48, resigned in March after Ann August spotted odd accounting and fraudulent payroll checks at the Northumberland Sewer Authority, where Lark served as secretary/manager.

Lark is charged with stealing about $300,000 from the authority's ratepayers in a consistent program of forgery and deception that lasted about 10 years. Neither the authority manager or treasurer or any other board member ever double-checked her figures or questioned audits that would prove to have been forged. Being out sick was her apparent downfall, as August was called in to substitute.

Lark is expected to make a sentencing plea in county court on an as yet unspecified date.

Wolfe resigned in quick succession, in April, citing "too much work."

n E-mail comments to dianepetryk@dailyitem.com

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