Records reveal withdrawals from police account

Published Dec 31, 2013 at 10:55 am (Updated Dec 31, 2013 at 10:55 am)

An ATM card linked to a special Cecil Township police account controlled by longtime chief John Pushak was used to withdraw thousands of dollars through multiple transactions in 2012, with some of the withdrawals occurring at ATMs inside two area casinos, court records show.

A state police search warrant requesting information regarding an independent audit performed in March alleges that Cecil Township officials noticed irregularities with the account and that it was running a $3,000 deficit.

Pushak allegedly wrote a personal check for $3,000 to cover the discrepancy in the department’s federal asset forfeitures account, according to the affidavit, and promptly resigned from his position as police chief.

An Observer-Reporter request to unseal the affidavit supporting the Aug. 5 search warrant was granted Dec. 27.

State police asked to review the audit performed by Cypher & Cypher Certified Public Accountants in Canonsburg and took possession of a thumb drive from the firm Aug. 6. The audit was released to the Cecil Township supervisors in March, but has never been made public despite multiple requests by the Observer-Reporter. State police also requested account information from Citizens Bank in Canonsburg.

The investigation began in mid-January when a Cecil Township resident, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted authorities about money potentially missing from the police department’s evidence room.

A week later, Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone met with Shawn Bukovinsky, who was then a captain with the township police department but is now its police chief, and he denied knowing of discrepancies with evidence or the special account. However, the meeting prompted Bukovinsky and township Manager Donald Gennuso to look through the special account’s bank records.

On Feb. 14, Pushak allegedly called Bukovinsky and Gennuso into his office and handed them $5,430 in cash that he wanted to be deposited into the special account. He claimed the money was from the department’s overtime budget, according to the affidavit, but Gennuso and Bukovinsky reportedly found his explanation troubling. Pushak then allegedly admitted that he “(messed) up,” and Bukovinsky and Gennuso took the money to the department’s evidence room for safekeeping, according to the affidavit.

Gennuso began reviewing bank statements and found that 15 to 18 withdrawals – averaging about $500 each – had been made using the special account’s ATM card from August to December 2012, according to the affidavit. Gennuso “began to feel uncomfortable” upon learning that some of the withdrawals were made at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, court records show. He also found that large deposits were made back into the account in an attempt to balance it, the affidavit states.

Pushak told township officials that he made numerous withdrawals from the federal asset forfeitures account so officers could use cash to conduct undercover drug buys, the affidavit states.

“(Gennuso) found a number of transactions which caused him to question whether or not there could be that many sting operations conducted in the police department,” said the affidavit.

Meanwhile, Vittone spoke with Pushak over the phone about the same time and told the chief his office would be willing to audit the evidence room. According to the affidavit, Pushak asked Vittone to send him a signed letter stating he was not under investigation. When Vittone refused, Pushak rebuffed the offer for the evidence room audit, the affidavit states. Later, Bukovinsky had the DA’s office conduct an audit of the evidence room, and no problems were found there.

But Gennuso’s preliminary findings regarding the special account prompted him to persuade the township supervisors to launch an independent investigation and audit. During a special executive session Feb. 27, the supervisors assigned special counsel Phillip Binotto to investigate and hired Cypher & Cypher to review the financial records.

The audit revealed $3,000 was missing from the account and that the withdrawals were made with Pushak’s bank card.

“Pushak later wrote a check and reimbursed the township for that money,” the affidavit states.

Pushak was placed on administrative leave during the audit and formally resigned from his position April 1, just hours after Cecil Township solicitor John Smith and Binotto met with Vittone. Pushak’s career with the police department spanned 38 years.

“The township has been fully cooperating with this investigation,” Smith said Monday.

State police Trooper David Bayer, who requested the search warrant, took over the investigation after meeting with Vittone and other county investigators April 29.

Bayer, based in Harmarville and working for the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Organized Crime, said he expects to finish the investigation next month and turn over his findings to Vittone. He did not know if charges would be filed in the case.

Pushak could not be reached for comment Monday.

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