CLEARFIELD – The Girard Township tax collector accused of stealing more than $50,000 in Earned Income Tax from the Clearfield Area School District waived her right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday during Centralized Court at the Clearfield County Jail.
Lucinda Ann Cardinale, 58, of Frenchville has been charged with theft by unlawful taking and theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds. Both charges are third-degree felonies. Cardinale’s bail was set at $10,000 unsecured at her preliminary hearing.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, Trooper William Mostyn, a criminal investigator with the state police at Clearfield, was assigned to investigate the Girard Township Tax Collector, Cardinale. She collected the Earned Income Tax and allegedly took money that was to be turned over to the CASD.
On Nov. 20, 2013, Mostyn interviewed Sam Maney, CASD business administrator. He explained that when the state passed Act 32, all counties selected one tax collector to collect the Earned Income Tax. Prior to that, he said the district had seven tax collectors for eight municipalities. Maney said when he prepared the current-year’s budget he recommended that the school board hire an independent company to check its accounts to ensure all money had been turned over properly.
According to Maney, the CASD hired Walter Hopkins & Co. to carry out the audit procedures. “Every tax collector had willingly turned over their records, except Lucinda. She was very evasive,” he said. “She kept giving us excuses.” In September, Maney said he called Cardinale and left her a message, explaining the CASD had received all the tax records, except hers.
Further, Maney told Cardinale if she didn’t turn over the tax records, he would divulge the school board and alert its members she wasn’t being cooperative. He gave Cardinale a deadline of about one week to turn over her tax records. Cardinale, Maney said, brought in her tax records the next day for 2011 and 2012, as well as a check to the CASD for $5,581.89 to close out the account.
Maney subsequently took the records to Walter Hopkins & Co. to perform the audit procedures. After that he received a call that the tax records only went through 2012. The 2013 tax records were still needed and the last bank statement turned over showed a balance of $1,035.93 in Cardinale’s account on Dec. 31, 2012. Maney said it was noted that apparently Cardinale had collected more money in 2013, as she turned over more than she had in the bank.
As a result, Maney contacted Cardinale and advised that he needed her 2013 tax records to prove that the bank account was closed. Within days she had provided the January through August of 2013 records, along with a deposit ticket dated Oct. 15, 2013 for $5,500 and which showed a balance of $5,581.89. This, Maney said, coincided with the check she wrote the CASD the same day and started to make him wonder where the $5,500 came from.
Maney called Cardinale and asked her for verification of what made up the $5,500 deposit. He received a handwritten letter from Cardinale with a copy of the September of 2013 bank statement. Cardinale also provided a copy of the verification that the account was closed.
While at Walter Hopkins & Co., Maney commented that he didn’t believe the CASD had received any money from Cardinale. He could tell by reviewing her cleared checks on the bank statements. In 2013, he pointed out that every check up to the final close-out was made out to cash.
At that point, Maney requested that Walter Hopkins & Co. check through all of the records they had for 2011 and 2012. The checks, he said, made out to cash for 2011, 2012 and 2013 totaled $52,000. Maney believed the claims portions represented money Cardinale paid to other tax collectors.
According to Maney, all tax collectors were collecting 1 percent Earned Income Tax. He said they would give 50 percent to each the school district and then the township or borough they collected for. Maney called Girard Township and inquired about how much money had been received from Cardinale for Earned Income Tax for the past few years.
Maney learned that Cardinale didn’t collect Earned Income Tax for the township. Additionally, he learned that Girard Township’s Earned Income Tax had been collected by Berkheimer for the past 10 years. When asked by Maney, Girard Township provided figures for the amount turned in by Berkheimer.
Girard Township, Maney explained, operates under a calendar year and the school district under a fiscal year. Keystone Collections, he said, now collects the Earned Income Tax for the CASD. He noted that Keystone Collections was supposed to start collecting Jan. 1, 2012; Cardinale was only to collect until Dec. 31, 2011.
On Dec. 12, 2013, Mostyn interviewed Cardinale, who advised she’d been the Girard Township tax collector for eight to 10 years. At the time of the interview, she only collected Real Estate Tax for Clearfield County, Girard Township and the CASD. She’d stopped handling the Wage Tax in 2012, and January or February was the last they had received any Wage Tax information.
According to Cardinale, Berkheimer collected half for the township. She collected half for the CASD, and she would put it in the Wage Tax account. When the CASD was provided with reports, she said it depended on the amount of collections, but most checks were for $5,000 or more.
Cardinale said she was aware the CASD had requested an audit. She figured “there must have been some missing money somewhere along the line.” She said it was “hard to say” where some of that money might be, and there was quite a bit she couldn’t collect over her tenure as the tax collector.
Then, Cardinale related that some payments were “mixed into the wrong account.” She wasn’t sure how to correct it other than to write checks for cash and then deposit them into the Real Estate account.
According to Cardinale, sometimes she would get 1 percent and send half to Berkheimer. Other times she’d get money from people who didn’t live within her district and she’d send it back. She explained that sometimes a company would pay 0.5 percent to the township and the individual was responsible for paying the other half. When she sent out the Wage Tax cards, Cardinale said she was “lucky” to get half of them back.
During her interview, Cardinale admitted that she had taken maybe $10,000 for her own personal use. She had been taking money off-and-on for two years while she was in between jobs. She explained she was using this money for household expenses, and it was only $10,000 to $15,000 at the most.
Cardinale admitted that part of the $5,581.89 was her own money. She estimated that there was $100 in the Wage Tax account. Cardinale said she saved the rest of the money and added to it to put back in what she had used personally.
In a written statement, Cardinale told state police that about three years ago, she lost her job when the CASD closed the Girard-Goshen Elementary School. She started her new job on April 1, 2013. Cardinale noted that Keystone Collections wasn’t supposed to take over until Jan. 1, 2012, and some of the 2011 money got sent to them.
Cardinale also related she could have taken more than $15,000. However, she didn’t think it was more than $50,000.