CLEARFIELD – The trial for former Children, Youth and Family Services Director Lisa Dohner got under way Tuesday morning.
Dohner faces five counts of theft by unlawful taking; criminal attempt; five counts of theft by deception; 18 counts of criminal attempt; 18 counts of tampering with public records or information; criminal attempt; five counts of conflict of interest and forgery
The charges stem from an investigation that began in March 2006, which was initiated by the Clearfield County Commissioners’ office, then the Pennsylvania State Police.
The Attorney General’s office began by stating the case broke down into two parts: first, six mileage reimbursement sheets that Dohner turned in with alleged errors on them, and second, cards that the allegedly forged and presented as being from non-profit groups. Defense attorney Lance Marshall opened asking why she would steal around $500 from the county. Marshall said that she did go to the places the commonwealth alleges that she did not visit for work, and that she is entitled to some of the money. He also indicated to the jury that it was possible that she made an error filling out her mileage/expense sheet. Marshall conceded that she did not attend one meeting she marked down, but did attend two others without asking for reimbursement. He stated that workplace stress was starting to get to Dohner, and that she started making mistakes.
“We’re going to spend the next four days together over about $500,” said Marshall.
He also touched on the forgery charge, which involves Dohner allegedly forging thank-you cards form various organizations in relation to a dress-down day fund.
Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken took the first stand for the prosecution. He testified that as a required part of county government operations, employees or elected officials who use their own vehicles for work purposes must fill out a mileage/reimbursement sheet. He said they began investigating a trip on Dohner’s reimbursement sheet in early 2006 for various reasons. The trip was to Pittsburgh.
McCracken said the commissioners had become aware that Dohner did not attend a hearing in Pittsburgh through an attorney, Cynthia Stewart, who was also slated to be there. McCracken also indicated that Dohner admitted to not going on the trip. The reimbursement amount for that trip was disallowed.
McCracken said it came to the commissioners’ attention that there were discrepancies in other mileage/expense forms of Dohner’s. He said they requested expense forms going back several months and began an investigation.
One such trip was noted on her January 2006 expense sheet. It was for a CYFS administrator’s conference in Harrisburg on Jan. 19, 2006.
“As were reviewing various expense sheets, this one stood out,” said McCracken. “Because on Jan. 19, 2006, we had safety committee meeting for the county.”
He said Dohner was in attendance at that meeting. He also said that further investigation into the conference revealed that attendees had to register and pay a fee. He said that she did not register for the event, and that on the day in question, a banquet was being held.
“I said it would not have made much sense to go to a banquet, but not the informative part,” noted McCracken.
He added that Dohner had told them that her husband, a Lawrence Township Police officer at the time, had attended with her. They checked the 911 Center’s log book to see who was on duty and discovered that he was scheduled to work that evening.
McCracken also testified that during Dohner’s deposition for a civil case against himself, former Commissioner Rex Read and Clearfield County, Dohner admitted that her husband did not go and that she had lied about going to the Harrisburg conference.
The civil suit became a subject of the criminal trial at different points. Dohner was suing the above named for sex and age discrimination. The topic was brought up during cross-examination by Marshall, and contested at times by the commonwealth. The Honorable Timothy Searer, president judge of Mifflin County, allowed some discussion of the civil suit, but noted that they were there to try a criminal case.
McCracken testified that the civil suit had been settled between the county’s insurer and Dohner in the amount of $10,000. He said it was his understanding that Dohner would receive $5,000 while her attorney received the other half. There was also no admission of wrong-doing on McCracken’s or Read’s part. McCracken said the multi-year case cost Clearfield County over $120,000.
During and prior to the testimony about the civil suit, McCracken was provided with memo’s between himself and Dohner. He read part of one aloud, which was sent to him by Dohner, in which she responded to the Harrisburg trip. According to the memo, she told him that she had a meeting with administrators.
McCracken was also asked about other dates, including Dec. 17, 2004 to Erie, and reimbursement. Marshall asked about the possibility of Dohner going to Erie on business Dec. 18 or 19, 2004, instead of Dec. 17, 2004. McCracken said he would need proof.
“She would be entitled to reimbursement if she could prove she had been there,” said McCracken. He added at another point that she needed to be at these places as part of her job duties.
McCracken also testified that Dohner was fired near the end of March 2006. He said it was due to a number of issues, including her performance, staff discord, report to the Department of Public Welfare, complaints by CYFS workers, mismanaged cases, mileage reimbursement issues and dishonesty.
Also called to testify was Lisa Rauch, who served as deputy controller in the timespan of 2003 through 2006. She went over the mileage reimbursement sheets as well as reimbursement checks that Dohner had cashed. At the preliminary hearing, she pointed out a Dec. 17, 2004 trip to an Erie clinic that Dohner marked down. The amount reimbursed was $135. A January 2005 trip was entered, a trip to the same destination, this time Dohner was reimbursed $155.12. Dohner was reimbursed $55.78 for an Oct. 6, 2005 trip to Clarion for a PATSIS meeting. A Dec. 1, 2005 trip to Clarion was reimbursed to Dohner in the amount of $53.35. Dohner was reimbursed for a Jan. 19, 2006 trip to Harrisburg in the amount of $124.
Marlene Dexter, director of corporate compliance and nursing at the Sarah Reed Children’s Center in Erie testified as to the facility’s security measures. She testified that a visitor would have to sign in and then be escorted to whichever area they were visiting. She said that aside from the sign-in log, visitors were also monitored in patient progress notes and treatment records. She stated that she checked the sign in log of Dec. 17, 2004 and found no record of Dohner at the center.
Under cross-examination she was asked if a person could enter the lobby without signing in. She said yes. She was asked if a person dropping something off, such as paperwork, would need to sign in, and she answered no.
Elaine Phillips of Community County Services testified on the Oct. 6, 2005 date in question. She said there was no meeting on Oct. 6, 2005, but that Dohner did attend meetings on Oct. 13 and 14, 2005.
Mary Lee Stoops, an RN and director of quality management and risk management at the Clarion Psychiatric Center testified as to her facility’s security procedures. She said to enter the facility on the date in question, Dec. 1, 2005, a person would need sign in and indicate who they wanted to see or where they wanted go. She said that she could find no record of Dohner’s signature on Dec. 1, 2005.
Stoops was also asked under cross-examination if a person could enter the lobby without signing in, to which she answered yes. She also indicated that a person did not have to sign in if they dropped off a package or items or paperwork to be signed.