Becks Run Fire Chief, Deputy Chief Charged with Embezzlement
Novak and Bonetti are accused of misusing approximately $25,000 over approximately five years, including the cashing of checks at a Baldwin bar and beer distributor.
Leonard "Len" Novak and Stephen Bonetti, chief and deputy chief, respectively, of the Becks Run Volunteer Fire Department in north Baldwin Borough, turned themselves in to police on Friday morning at the Wallace Building office of District Magistrate John N. Bova.
Novak, 48, of Churchview Avenue, and Bonetti, 43, of Pleasantvue Drive, are being charged with misusing approximately $25,000 from the Pennsylvania firemen's relief fund over an approximately five-year period, Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott said.
The fund is made up of state money, part of which is set aside for use by Baldwin's four fire companies to purchase equipment and services.
According to an affidavit, investigators believe that Novak and Bonetti misappropriated the money by using it instead for personal expenses, including the cashing of checks at C.J. Chugs bar on Custer Avenue and Dean's Beer Distributors on Joseph Street.
Managers at C.J. Chugs and Dean's Beer denied any knowledge of improper use of the checks, saying that they had no reason to suspect anything. They also could not say for sure if Novak or Bonetti used the money to make purchases at their places of business.
However, both places no longer cash checks for customers.
Obtaining the money illegally worked in many ways for the two men, the affidavit details. Among the different schemes, Novak would create false invoices to bill his fire department and then ask for money from the Baldwin Borough Firemen's Relief Association, which was receiving the aforementioned state fire dollars, to pay for those invoices.
Investigators believe that Novak then forged signatures of the unbeknownst recipient of the payments on checks from the relief association before taking those checks to be cashed for his own use.
Caitlin Foster, a secretary for both the relief association and Becks Run Fire, told investigators that she was instructed by Bonetti to sign "blank checks," even without invoices, according to the affidavit.
Investigators say that Foster told them that Bonetti also instructed her to deny ever signing blank checks, even to police.
The affidavit reads that Bonetti knew that Novak would use the signed checks inappropriately.
Foster is not being charged with a crime in this case.
Novak is charged with three counts of theft by deception; one count of receiving stolen property; two counts of unlawful use of a computer; one count of criminal conspiracy; two counts of forgery; three counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence; two counts of theft by failure to make a required disposition of funds received; and three counts of tampering with records or identification.
Bonetti is charged with two counts of theft by deception; one count of criminal conspiracy; one count of misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions; two counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence; and one count of obstructing administration of law or other government function.
Judge Bova read Novak and Bonetti their charges at around 11 a.m. on Friday before the men left separately on their own recognizance. Bova set specific release conditions for both men. Should one of them violate the conditions of their release, which is acting as a non-monetary bond, he could be taken to jail.
The conditions are: no contact (direct or indirect) with each other; all fire equipment being turned over to the Baldwin Borough Police Department or to the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office; no permission on Becks Run Fire property; and no contact (direct or indirect) with any witnesses listed in their affidavits.
Novak and Bonetti are each scheduled to return to Bova's office for preliminary hearings on Oct. 30 (UPDATE: continued to Nov. 16 at District Judge Robert C. Wyda's office in Bethel Park).
Baldwin police and the district attorney's office worked together on this case.
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