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May 7, 2014

Judge tosses 2 felonies against ex-firefighter

SHAMOKIN — Two felony charges against a former firefighter accused of stealing more than $2,000 from the Rescue Hose Fire Company were dropped after a two-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday morning before Shamokin District Judge John Gembic III.

Although charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property were dismissed, Rick Sinko, 47, of Northumberland, must answer in Northumberland County Court to a felony charge of access device fraud and a misdemeanor charge of misapplication of entrusted property of government or financial institution.

“We are pleased the judge dismissed half the charges,” said attorney Timothy Bowers, who with attorney Kymberley Best is representing Sinko. “We are confident that the courts will dismiss the other half when we file a writ of habeas corpus.”

Sinko is scheduled to appear in county court at 9:15 a.m. July 11 for a pre-trial conference.

Firehouse officials appear befuddled

Sinko, who had served as a volunteer firefighter for more than three decades, was accused of pilfering money and making unauthorized purchases from the fire company, where he served as treasurer.

The total amount missing is $2,308.37, police said.

However, President Stanley Wirth and trustee Ronald Underkoffler, who appeared befuddled during their testimonies, went through a stack of invoices that were allegedly unaccounted for.

After nearly 20 minutes each, both men either could not definitively say whether the purchases had been used for the building, or they admitted they could account for some of the purchases.

“The testimony indicated that they (Wirth and Underkoffler) could not identify a single item my client has taken,” Bowers said in his closing statements.

No evidence was presented that supported any of the charges, Bowers said.

“My client was clearly entrusted with property, but no testimony today shows that he used it for anything other than the fire company,” Bowers said.

Bennick testifies

City police officer Stephen Bennick testified that he had been informed by the Rescue board that it was suspicious of Sinko.

City police began investigating Sinko, who was banned for life from the Rescue Hose Fire Company for “improper behavior,” in 2012.

The accusations include charging merchandise not authorized by the fire company at Cole’s Hardware, Your Building Centers and Moyer Electric Supply Co. in 2011; writing two checks worth $200 to his personal business R&C Sinko in 2012; and withdrawing $1,000 from the firehouse account at a Sunbury bank.

Bennick testified that Sinko was authorized to make purchases and withdraw money for the fire company, but was not authorized to do so for his own personal gain.

The officer said he did not read the bylaws or review policies on how purchases and money are handled at Rescue.

Underkoffler testified that any purchases under $300 do not need the approval of the trustee board, but anything over that amount would have to be passed by vote at a meeting.

He did not know whether receipts under $300 are submitted to the board.

Underkoffler and Wirth said they could not say for certain whether the purchases were not approved during meetings nor could they say for certain whether they were not used for the firehouse.

In addressing Underkoffler, Bowers said: “You originally said three to four of these bills you didn’t know about. That number has grown today.”

Following Gembic’s order, Sinko referred all questions to his attorneys.

Assistant district attorney Michael Toomey declined comment.

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