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.

This article was originally published on Aug. 25, 2012.

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 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, 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 at 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.

Baldwin police and the district attorney's office worked together on this case.

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Robert Edward Healy, III August 24, 2012 at 08:05 PM
A reminder that your comments cannot contain accusations without proof.
NB resident August 24, 2012 at 08:21 PM
But in all honesty that department should have closed years ago, The department at Baldwin number 1 could handle their calls, and the money could be saved and used for something else. The department at Becks run has low membership and probably the least amount of coverage in the Boro. This mis management should be investigated, and someone in management needs to be held accountable
FF19 August 24, 2012 at 09:30 PM
To educate the readers.... Volunteer fire companies receive funding allocations from the State of Pennsylvania through the Foreign Fire Insurance Act. The funding allocation is based upon the population the volunteer fire department serves. The funding, and rightfully so, is subject to periodic auditing by the PA State Auditor General's office. The audits will normally take place within each two to three year period. When a fire company is audited they must provide a proper justification (i.e. paper trail) on how the funding was spent since the last audit. There are specific rules and regulations that govern how the funds can be used. For example you can use the funds to purchase life insurance policies for the fire department membership to protect the memebrships' families. However, if a member were to die in the line of duty the funds would not be allowed to go directly to impacted member's family. Mostly these funds go toward the purchase of fire equipment and gear. The audits go as far as taking a physical inventory to verify assets purchased (i.e. firefighting gear and equipment). If necessary, after an audit is complete, the fire company is mandated to take corrective action. If the fire company does not take corrective, they risk losing future funding from the State.
FF19 August 24, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Please correct my grammar and spelling :(
cc August 25, 2012 at 12:13 PM
These are the fine firemen that want business to put KNOCK BOXES on places of business. How many business would of been robbed because these fine fire people embezzled money.
cc August 25, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Doesn't this fire dept send envelopes every year to people that they serve to send them money? I know I get them from Whitehall Fire Dept every year and always send them 500 a year.
cc August 25, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Skip - there is only one person that i know that gets on others about spelling. Most people know how to read typonese. As this person thinks they are politically correct and a expert on all subjects but plagiarizer writings and uses as their own.
Robert Edward Healy, III August 25, 2012 at 12:58 PM
In fairness, no representatives from the Becks Run Fire Department were pushing to have these boxes (to my knowledge).
cc August 26, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Baldwin's Fire Dept are all tied together in one way or another and all of the Fire Depts in Baldwin Borough wanted Knock Boxes.
Robert Edward Healy, III August 26, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I wouldn't say that. Unless you know something that I don't, Becks Run's fighters were not pushing for this.
John Linko August 27, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Heard that the Baldwin PD has padlocked the station, and that the borough has ordered Becks Run not be dispatched to any calls. Sounds like the end of the line. Also, they're called KNOX BOXES, after the company that manufactures them.
Robert Edward Healy, III August 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM
John is correct all around, but we'll soon see for sure about the nail in the coffin for Becks Run Fire.
FF19 August 27, 2012 at 02:03 PM
CC- We receive about $60,000- $70,000 a year from the State. We use this money to pay for life insurance policies for our members ($42,000 annual cost) as well as the purchase of SCBA, gear and other firefighting equipment. To gear up one firefighter costs us about $7,000 with gear and SCBA ($3,000 and $4,000). We have 40 active members. If you do the math, $60,000 will not cover it. To offset the balance we have our annual fund in which we request a $50 a year annual donation. Currenty we receive donations from about 1/3 of our residents (there are 6,500 households in Whitehall) and I want to thank you cc for being a part of this generous third. Most of the other 2/3's, until something happens, do not realize we are 100% volunteer and that we receive no compensation for the hours dedicated to protect lives and property.
bd August 27, 2012 at 04:59 PM
You actually get contributions from 100 percent of the taxpayers, not just 1/3. Every VFD is sudsidized by the borough which means that every taxpayer is providing some support. It may not be what you want, but everyone is contributing.
FF19 August 27, 2012 at 06:05 PM
BD- not every VFD is subsidized through the borough. By law, the borough has to cover a VFD with workman's comp insurance which is covered by the taxpayers. That is the ONLY thing the borough has to provide/subsidized. As a provider for my family like many of our member's are, would you be willing to provide our services without the backing of workman's comp? If you feel you are contributing to us through your taxes is enough support for us in your mind, that is your opinion. We never force anyone to contribute.
cc August 27, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Skip I know it is very expensive to run a volunteer fire Dept. My oldest is one down in VA and told me about how expensive things are and that is when I upped money to send to Whitehall and send a $100 to the fire dept that my son volunteers at. At the station where my son volunteers at, most of the fireman had to purchase most of their own equipment as people don't want to donate to a volunteer fire dept. I agree with you about people not donating until something happens at their place and that is totally wrong. Down in Va at the station my son volunteers at if you don't make a yearly donation and their Volunteer Dept comes out to put out a fire, they bill the home owner for them to come out and he says the minimum bill is around 10,000. I might not agree with Knox Boxes but I have always supported sent money into the Fire Dept and the Ambulance Service. Skip and all the fire men in Whitehall thank you for putting your lives on the line for us.
cc August 27, 2012 at 06:57 PM
bd I think Skip meant when they send out envelopes to the people in Whitehall about 1/3 of the people actually send in a donation to them out of their own pockets. Which a donation to the Fire Dept and Ambulance is also deductible off your income tax. Wonder how many people take this deduction but don't send money in.
cc August 27, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Skip, I have to agree with you that people do need to support their Volunteer Fire Dept and the Borough/Township should be paying for their Insurance for Workman's Comp in case they do get hurt putting out a fire. If you can't make a donation and they come out to your place to put out a fire then the home owner should be charged for use of the truck and the water they use to put out the fire.
FF19 August 27, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Thanks CC. For my work, I have to travel down to the DC area (Frederick, Loudon and Fairfax Counties in VA). I have found out that they do things much differently than we do as you have learned from your oldest son. We are grateful for the support we get from our residents.
Michael Stelmasczyk August 27, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Mr. Brown, I respectfully disagree. The VFDs in Baldwin receive $160,000 per year in taxpayer subsidies. I agree with you that the borough taxpayers' also pay for your workman's comp insurance in addition to the $160,000. Currently, the $160,000 is distributed equally among 4 VFDs similar to the way you divvy up the firemens' relief fund. While I agree with you that people should voluntarily contribute, you are receiving a subsidy from the Borough. There is also a state law and a local ordinance which allows you to bill the insurance companies for your costs in responding to emergencies but I understand that there are complications with the collections and many VFDs no longer even try to bill. I think that should be looked at again by the VFDs.
Mike August 27, 2012 at 10:07 PM
knox boxes are a Baldwin ordinance that's been in place for several years just never enforced
Michael Stelmasczyk August 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Mike - Not quite. The borough has an ordinance that simply recognizes the international fire code and the international building code as our standards. The international fire code (and therefore, Borough code) DOES NOT specify Knox boxes to be used. The only device it describes is a "rapid entry system" and by no means does it mandate the usage. It simply describes the requirements of such a system if you plan to use it. So, to say that the borough has an ordinance that was "just never enforced" is not a factual statement.
FF19 August 28, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Michael- I was not talking about Baldwin in my posts. I was making a general statement that all the borough's or local governments in the State of PA do not have to subsidize their Fire Departments EXCEPT for workman's comp insurance. In Whitehall (where I am a member of), we receive generous support from our borough as well as fund drive contributions from many of our residents and businesses. In Whitehall, we will not consider billing unless it is a hazardous material incident (as it involves costly materials used in cleanup) or if our sources of revenue decline to a point where we are unable to continue safe operations.
cc August 28, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Skip, when he started only 20-25 percent of the families in the town were supporting the fire dept and they were almost place out of business as a volunteer company. That is when they started to charge. He says right now enrollment is up to 47% for people supporting them. If they didn't charge they would be out of business, as the fire company has to pay for workman's comp insurance themselves.
Mike August 28, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Michael, ty for the information. i was misinformed and retract my last statement. My apologies .
Robert Edward Healy, III August 29, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Thank you as always to Mr. Stelmasczyk, borough councilman, for sharing and participating in our conversations.
10-4GB October 08, 2013 at 02:48 PM
Bonetti has a "save option fire company" sign in his front yard, oh the irony


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