24 February 2006

Congrats Sasha Cohen

I was looking on the internet for the phone number of the Perryopolis Area Joint Authority when I found this article from around the same time we were first moving here. I had no idea this was going on in this small quiet town:

Ex-district court clerk faces criminal charges

By David Hunt
For The Valley Independent
Friday, December 5, 2003

BELLE VERNON - Authorities have uncovered a trail of altered court records they say shows that more than $10,000 missing from a Fayette County district court office went into a former clerk's pockets.
The accused, Rebecca E. Gira, of 326 Cemetery Road, Perryopolis, may find herself in additional trouble pending the outcome of a separate probe into the Perryopolis Area Joint Authority, where she worked for about five years.

Police arrested Gira Thursday morning at the Perry Township municipal building, where she works as the township's secretary.

According to the affidavit of probable cause supporting the 216 criminal counts against Gira, she resigned from Perryopolis District Justice Michael Rubish's office during a routine state-required audit.

Authorities realized that $10,378.32 had been taken sometime between March and November 2002, after Gira's successor pointed out irregularities she'd found in the computerized court records.

A comparison of office records to police records showed that at least 107 citations had been altered. After people pleading guilty to the offenses paid their fines, Gira changed the records to show the citations were either withdrawn or dismissed, the affidavit states. Then she kept the money, authorities contend.

Perryopolis police Capt. Steven Kontaxes, an accountant for 20 years, said the differences in the documents built a strong case.

"This is probably one of the best-documented cases I've been involved with," he said. "This was a very clear-cut case."

Records at the Fayette County Human Resources office show that Gira was working in Rubish's office at the time of each theft. Computer records at Rubish's office showed that Gira was operating the system when the fraudulent entries were made.

In addition to two theft charges, Gira faces 107 counts each of tampering with public records and obstructing administration of law.

She was visibly distraught when police took her to District Justice Jesse Cramer's office in Belle Vernon for her arraign-ment.

Gira's charges are not related to a federal case against former Perry Township supervisor Richard M. Uhrin, Kontaxes said.

Uhrin, 46, pleaded guilty last week to embezzling $381,000 in township funds several years ago. He faces a Feb. 18 sentencing date and is free on recognizance bond.

Gira was released Thursday after her father posted $5,000 in cash -- the required 10 percent of the $50,000 bond Cramer imposed.

After the arraignment, she lay her head on a table in Cramer's courtroom as her parents comforted her. She'd been crying all morning. The judge indicated Gira is married with three children.

She and several others are the subjects of a separate embezzlement investigation involving the Perryopolis Area Joint Authority, which serves customers in Perry Township and the borough of Perryopolis.

Gira worked for the sewage authority from 1997 to 2002, Kontaxes said. He declined to say how much money is missing, describing the amount as "substantial."

In August, police served a search warrant at the authority office. Concealed within hundreds of seized files is the story of how thousands of dollars worth of sewage payments went missing, Kontaxes said. The investigation is continuing.

Kontaxes said his department joined forces with the state police, the state Auditor General's Office and the Fayette County District Attorney's Office to investigate Rubish's missing money.

Gira faces a preliminary hearing on the charges Wednesday before Cramer.

David Hunt can be reached at dhunt@tribweb.com or 724-837-0240.

Last night, I stayed up until midnight watching the Olympics on television. I am so proud of Sasha Cohen. She fell in the first 10 seconds of her routine to pick herself back up and perform an exquisitely beautiful performance. She showed incredible grace and character. She definitely deserved the silver medal.

I liked that our athletes had the courage to take bigger risks even though many of the "safer" athletes went on to take home the gold. I am thinking of a skiing event as I type this. The "Hurricane" was incredibly impressive and deserved a lot more credit than it received.

Is the president an idiot? He talks about "War on Terror" in one breath then he turns around and wants to hand over 6 of our ports to people who funded the terrorists of 9/11. Now, why would these people want the ports? Simple. The structure of our security is in a transition process. With them having control of 6 ports, they can see how our security works and establish what our weaknesses are. It also makes it easier to bring people into our country without suspicion. It is a lose/lose deal for us, and whoever agreed to this definitely needs their head examine, or declare an end to this war. Cannot have it both ways.

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