12/21/15- Colwyn Fire Co. members arrested for conspiracy theft
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Dec. 21, 2015
CONTACT PERSON: Emily H. Harris, 610.891.4163
Today District Attorney Jack Whelan announced that three Colwyn Borough Fire Company members are facing theft charges for writing themselves checks and making cash withdrawals, totaling more than $50,000. The announcement comes at the conclusion of an investigation into missing funds at the Colwyn Borough Volunteer Fire Co., Station 92, conducted by Det. Michele Deery of the District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Economic Crime Unit.
Lauren Marie Cellini, 26, who is the Colwyn Borough Fire Co. treasurer, Elizabeth E. Cellini, 50, mother of Lauren Cellini and president of the Fire Co., and Gary Rodney Brice, 49, chief of the Fire Co., are all charged with conspiracy to the following charges: theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, and receiving stolen property, all felonies of the third degree.
On February 25, Det. Michele Deery received information from Paula Brown, Colwyn Borough manager, regarding unpaid bills of the Colwyn Borough Fire Co., Station 92, located at 300 S. 3rd Street in Colwyn Borough. Brown advised that she forwarded the bills to the firehouse yet it became clear they were not being paid as vendors were contacting the borough for payment. Bills including PECO, Verizon and numerous vendors for firehouse equipment such as radios and fire truck maintenance.
Det. Deery was provided with numerous checks written from the Colwyn Firehouse general fund, where Lauren Cellini, the treasurer and authorized signatory on the account, wrote checks to her mother, Elizabeth Cellini, also known as Betty, who is the president of the Firehouse, with no second signature which is required by the bylaws. Checks were also written to Gary Brice, Chief of the firehouse. In direct violation of the Colwyn Firehouse bylaws, the spending of these funds was not approved at any general meeting and no receipts were found to explain the expenditures.
On March 31, Det. Deery obtained a search warrant for Colwyn Firehouse’s Beneficial Bank accounts for 2012 to August, 2015. According to bank documents, Elizabeth Cellini made $21,579.17 in cash withdrawals and additionally cashed $19,176.35 in checks authorized by Lauren or herself. According to bank records, Gary Brice cashed $8,987.59 in checks signed by Elizabeth or Lauren Cellini. Bank records also show that Lauren Cellini withdrew $2,808.71 in cash.
In total, all three are charged with conspiracy to theft totaling $52, 892.14.
On Aug. 12, Det. Deery along with other members of the Criminal Investigation Division executed a search warrant at the Colwyn firehouse to retrieve documentation including minutes, receipts, and bank records related to the firehouse. During the search warrant, Elizabeth Cellini was at the firehouse. When asked whether she would use firehouse funds for anything other than firehouse business, she replied no. She told detectives that some vendors would not accept checks from the Colwyn firehouse, so occasionally she would pay a bill with her own money and then get reimbursed. When asked whether documentation of those transactions was recorded in firehouse meetings and board meetings, Elizabeth replied yes. Although numerous documents, receipts, bill stubs, and bank statements were located in the firehouse, they were not in any kind of order. There was also sporadic documentation of minutes from general and firehouse meetings. Detectives were unable to locate neither any minutes containing any information regarding financials or reimbursements nor any information about specific bills being paid, contrary to Elizabeth Cellini’s statement to detectives.
After Det. Deery made numerous requests for documentation regarding the spending of firehouse funds, Elizabeth Cellini came to the Criminal Investigation Division headquarters on October 30. On that day, she handed Det. Deery a pile of loose receipts with no supporting documentation, including a significant amount of duplicated receipts that had already been retrieved from the prior search warrant of the firehouse. In addition there were receipts for dog toys and dog food, however, Det. Deery confirmed the firehouse did not have a dog.
On Dec. 14, the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General announced the findings of a compliance audit of the Colwyn Firehouse finances which began on March 31, 2015. The compliance audit was of records from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2014. As a result, there was a failure to produce documentation to the Auditor General’s Office regarding spending which is required. Auditors discovered that financial records for the Colwyn firehouse are either nonexistent or in complete disarray. According to the state report, there was a total of $88,610 in undocumented or unauthorized expenses.
Through the course of the investigation it was determined that from 2012 to 2015, Elizabeth Cellini and Lauren Cellini wrote numerous checks to themselves and Gary Brice made numerous cash withdrawals. Det. Deery has been unable to obtain any documentation supporting spending on the search of the firehouse and Elizabeth Cellini has not provided any documentation to date. For this reason, Elizabeth Cellini, Lauren Cellini and Gary Brice have been charged conspiracy of theft to the total of $52,892.14.
“These individuals stole from the tax payers of Colwyn Borough, the very people they were appointed to serve, taking advantage of their position of authority,” said District Attorney Jack Whelan. “I want to commend Det. Michele Deery for her exemplary work on this difficult and complicated case.”