Former Hazle Township Solicitor Charged With Theft Of $105,000 Escrow Fund
SCRANTON - The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that the former Solicitor for Hazle Township, Luzerne County, has been charged with the theft of $105,586.80 from the Township, a local government agency which receives federal funds.
According to United States Attorney Peter Smith, Charles Pedri, age 64, of Hazleton, is charged with theft from a program receiving federal funds in a Criminal Information filed today in United States District Court in Scranton. Pedri was the Solicitor for Hazle Township at the time of the alleged theft.
The government also filed a plea agreement with the defendant which is subject to the approval of the court.
As set forth in the Criminal Information, Hazle Township required a company which was developing a project in the Humboldt Industrial Park in the township to complete certain specific improvements to the property, pursuant to land development ordinances. As security for the completion of the improvements, the company and Hazle Township entered into an escrow agreement.
Pedri, in his capacity as Township Solicitor, signed the agreement as escrow agent. The company then paid to Hazle Township the sum of $105,586.80 to be held in escrow as security for the completion of the improvements. Pedri, as escrow agent, deposited the funds into his law office account. Thereafter, Pedri allegedly began withdrawing the funds held in trust and converted the money to his personal use. The investigation revealed that, between December 2012 and November 2013, Pedri allegedly wrote checks payable to himself, drawn on the Township funds. By November 2013, the funds were gone.
Upon completion of the improvements in May 2014, the company requested that Hazle Township return the escrowed funds. Over a period of approximately eight months, Pedri allegedly made misrepresentations to representatives of the company regarding the status of the funds and failed to make payment. In January 2015, after the company informed Pedri it intended to file a law suit, Pedri allegedly admitted that he had converted the funds to his own use.
Pedri was subsequently terminated from the position of Township Solicitor, restitution was paid and Pedri agreed to a voluntary suspension of his license to practice law for a period of at least five years.
The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Robert J. O’Hara.
No date has yet been scheduled for the entry of Pedri’s guilty plea.
Indictments and Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.
A sentence following a finding of guilt is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
In this case, the maximum penalty which can be imposed under federal law is ten years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a $250,000 fine.
Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Judge is also required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant's educational, vocational and medical needs. For these reasons, the statutory maximum penalty for the offense is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specific defendant.
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