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Two former Becks Run firefighters headed to court, accused of stealing $25K

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 3:01 p.m.

A deadbolt remains at the entry of Becks Run Independent Fire Company, as Baldwin Borough officials seek legal advice on how to permanently close the fire station that once serviced the municipality's northern-most end.

“We're kind of in a holding pattern at this point,” borough Manager John Barrett said on Friday. “Our intent is still to decertify. We're waiting for our solicitor to give us the blueprint.”

Baldwin officials in August “deactivated” the 12-member company with a service area of 50 structures, instructing that all calls to the station be rerouted to one of the municipality's three other fire companies, after two of its top leaders were charged with stealing nearly $25,000 over a five-year period from a state funded firefighters association.

Becks Run Independent Fire Company Chief Leonard Lee Novak, 48, and assistant Chief Stephen Joseph Bonetti, 44, both of Baldwin Borough, each waived their rights to a preliminary hearing on Friday in front of District Judge Robert Wyda in Bethel Park on charges filed in August by the Allegheny County District Attorney's office that included theft by deception, conspiracy and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

Novak also waived charges of forgery and several misdemeanors. He and his attorney, Rakeisha Foster, declined to comment. Neither Bonetti nor his attorney would address questions.

A formal arraignment is scheduled for the two on Jan. 8 at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

The charges against Novak and Bonetti followed a sixth-month investigation into actions that the two conspired to take funds from the Baldwin Borough Firefighter's Relief Association, where Bonetti then served as treasurer, officials said.

Checks written to Novak or the Becks Run Fire Company were found to be forged and cashed at local bars, police said at the time. Invoices submitted to the association also were found to be altered, according to the criminal complaint. The thefts occurred for nearly five years, dating until mid-2012, police have said.

Bonetti provided signed checks from the firefighters association to Novak and told others to lie to law enforcement, according to the criminal complaint.

Novak and Bonetti were banned at an August arraignment in front of District Judge John Bova from having contact with each other or any other Becks Run firefighter. The two also were prohibited from being on any fire station property.

If Baldwin officials move forward with a “decertification” of the Becks Run department, one question that remains is what will happen to the equipment.

“That's what we're trying to figure out,” Barrett said. “All of that equipment, we want it to stay in Baldwin.”

Legal advice is being sought from the borough on the future of the independent fire company's equipment, Barrett said.

While the Becks Run station has been locked from outside entry since August, Barrett said, Baldwin officials have ensured that the equipment is started on a regular basis to keep it in working order.

No timeframe has been set for when officials will move forward with a decertification of the Becks Run station.

Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1 has been handling all calls in the Becks Run service area in the mean time, Barrett said.

“It's important for the public to realize, the territory of Becks Run is being serviced,” Barrett said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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