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DA will not intervene in missing funds probe

At the March 13 meeting of Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners, board President Joseph Marx read a letter from Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, dated Nov. 16, 2022, stating the DA’s office has no basis to intervene in an investigation of nearly $78,000 of missing township money.

It was announced during a January 2021 meeting of township commissioners that the township tax office had gone through a fraud investigation after irregularities were noticed in late June 2019.

An employee of the tax office had been placed on administrative leave following the irregular findings, it was reported. 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 and the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office.

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, according to a report from the meeting.

In a January 2021 statement, the township board of commissioners said the tax office records indicated “certain real estate tax, per capita tax and garbage fees were received but not immediately deposited as required by the township charter.”

At this same January meeting, the board took a narrow vote of “no confidence” in Colleen Gober, the township treasurer at that time.

An audit was delayed until July when business consulting firm RKL attempted to complete an audit of the tax office. RKL was ultimately unable to complete an audit because of missing files and noted the tax collector did not maintain any such documentation for many of these documents.

Following that report, the township board of commissioners authorized Solicitor Jack Gross to start a new investigation that could be turned over to Martin’s office.

In the letter read at the recent meeting, Martin suggested commissioners refer to the first class township code, which outlines the penalty for failure to perform duties as a treasurer.

Those penalties included paying the township an amount equal to the financial loss, if any, that occurred from not performing the duties of the office and being disqualified from further holding the office of treasurer or deputy treasurer.

Gross said it would be in the best interest of the township to not pursue civil litigation. He felt it is impossible to come up with the township’s complete loss. It would also cost the township further time and money to do this.

In other business, Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong gave a brief report to the board.

The county, he said, was able to save the Minor League Baseball team IronPigs and help renovate Coca-Cola Park to meet new standards.

Also, a $22.5 million grant for trail expansion awaits letters in favor of the project from the township, Lehigh County and the city of Allentown, Armstrong said. These letters would not mean the project is a go but would put it forward for environmental and engineering studies.

The trail expansion, called the Freedom Trail, would connect 3.5 miles of missing trails between Allentown and Whitehall.

Finally, commissioners unanimously approved two land development plans. Outback Steakhouse is bringing a 5,000-square-foot location to 1300 Grape St.

The other approval went to Take 5, a quick-change oil company. The three-bay building will be located at 2603 Mickley Ave.

Commissioners will next meet 7 p.m. April 3 in the municipal building, 3219 MacArthur Road.