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Fraud investigated in Whitehall Township tax office

Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners President Philip Ginder announced the township tax office has gone through a fraud investigation after irregularities were noticed in late June 2019.

In a prepared statement read Jan. 11 at the commissioners meeting, Ginder detailed the board’s involvement after being notified an employee of the tax office had been placed on administrative leave following the irregular findings.

He stated that, in a unanimous decision made by township officials and the township treasurer, the board of commissioners hired a private fraud investigation company, Buckno Lisicky and Company, of Allentown, to complete an investigation alongside the Whitehall Police Department.

Buckno Lisicky and Company revealed $77,992 in Whitehall school taxes and township garbage fees in 2018-19 could not be accounted for. Following this discovery, all current township employees were vetted and the employee that was placed on administrative leave was fired immediately.

Whitehall police will not be pressing charges at this time; however, the township will try to recover the missing tax money and garbage fees.

Furthermore, the letter read by Ginder demanded the tax office comply with Buckno Lisicky and Company’s suggestion on future prevention. According to Treasurer Colleen Gober, these requests resulted in camera installations within the office, individual safes at each drawer that can only be accessed by the drawer’s holder, absolutely no sharing of private login information and strict signoff procedures when deposits change handlers.

The commissioners also provided a list of points they will begin to enforce to strengthen the prevention against future fraudulent activity. One point included the requested resignation of the treasurer, if this were to occur again.

Gober approached the board with a prewritten statement defending herself. She claimed to be constantly short-staffed and said she has “worked very hard getting things done in this township.”

Vice President Joseph Marx Jr. petitioned a motion for the immediate request of the resignation of Gober.

“There are a lot of documented items about this statement [on missing funds],” Marx said.

Gober requested to see the documents to which Marx was referring. Ginder suggested the meeting transition to an executive session due to the document’s sensitive nature.

Board Secretary Thomas Slonaker said the board could move forward with the motion to request Gober’s resignation, but, as the board does not have the power to remove her from her elected position since there has been no proof of unlawful conduct on the part of Gober, “[the request] doesn’t have to be complied to by the treasurer.”

Commissioners Charles Fisher, Randy Atiyeh, Michael Dee and Jeffrey Warren all asked to have the matter move into executive session. Ginder agreed with the majority, saying this was an opportunity for everybody to get all of the information needed.

“This is a mess,” he added.

In regards to the board potentially calling for the resignation, Ginder noted the issue at hand is about whether the job is being done.

Ginder noted they will start the process of scheduling an executive session with all parties involved, including all of the commissioners, Mayor Michael Harakal Jr., Gober, Gross and representatives from the private investigation company.

The meeting, with Ginder’s official announcement, is posted on the Whitehall Township website and YouTube page for public viewing.