White Oak animal shelter's former VP ordered to trial on theft charges
Frank Sabolcik's attorney is confident that his client will be found not guilty of stealing thousands of dollars from White Oak Animal Safe Haven.
“I think something stinks in this case, and it is not a wet dog,” attorney Ryan Tutera said Monday, when Magisterial District Judge Beth Scagline Mills ruled that Sabolcik, 32, of Elizabeth Township be held for trial on three felony charges.
Sabolcik is accused of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception and receiving stolen property because of his alleged misuse of a debit card and his handling of proceeds from a car raffle and a recycling program while he was the no-kill shelter's vice president.
In a 45-minute preliminary hearing in Forward Township, Tutera and Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Lee Goldfarb exchanged objections and dueled over the propriety of Sabolcik's actions between May 2011 and September 2012.
Goldfarb called the shelter's founder and president Ina Jean Marton and treasurer Victor DiLullo to testify.
Sabolcik started out as a volunteer at the shelter, Marton testified.
“Frank came to me and asked if he could make some money,” she said. “It seemed to me a good idea.”
When auto dealer Bob Massie offered to provide a car for a fundraiser, tickets originally were marked for sale at $10. Marton said a misprint caused the shelter to decide on a sale price of $5 instead.
Tutera zeroed in on that misprint in his cross-examination and in his closing argument.
“They can't even offer a raffle ticket with a specific fixed price,” the defense attorney claimed.
Marton did not waver from her contention that “there was at least $10,000 that we never received” in ticket sales.
She said Sabolcik collected the money for tickets sold at Giant Eagle in Oak Park Mall.
“I asked him where the money was,” she said. “He said it was in a bank account earning interest.”
Marton testified regarding $1,200 supposedly earned by taking aluminum cans collected at the shelter to Mon Valley Recycling.
Marton said she saw Sabolcik take cans two or three times but did not see him bring back cash.
On cross-examination, Tutera asked Marton if she kept records of what salary Sabolcik was paid.
“Yes, I did take note of what he was receiving and when he received it,” Marton said.
Tutera asked if her relationship was good with Sabolcik.
“Not always,” Marton said.
“Was it good between Frank and the other board members?” Tutera asked.
“Sometimes, but not always,” Marton said.
DiLullo was asked about the PNC Bank debit card for which he, Marton and Sabolcik were signatories.
DiLullo testified that use of the debit card drained the shelter's general account, which he said had contained “$80,000 or more.”
He said money had to be transferred from the “$45,000 to $50,000” in the shelter's fundraising account in order to maintain a balance.
A county detective and a woman identified by investigators as Sabolcik's former girlfriend were in the courtroom but Goldfarb rested her case when the two animal shelter executives testified.
“The commonwealth cannot show that my client had any specific criminal intent to take any money,” Tutera said in his closing statement.
Mills found that the commonwealth did make a prima facie case and ordered Sabolcik to face formal arraignment on Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. at the county courthouse in Pittsburgh.
Sabolcik was returned to County Jail in lieu of $5,000 bond.
Tutera asked for a non-monetary bond with a condition of no contact with witnesses, but Mills said, “$5,000 is not excessive.”
“We'll put in a motion (with the county court) for the reduction of bond shortly,” Tutera said moments later.
The hearing was moved to Forward because White Oak Magisterial District Judge Thomas Miller Jr. voluntarily recused himself. Tutera said he would seek a change of location for the hearing had Miller not taken himself off the case.
Among those in attendance were Sabolcik's parents and Marton's husband Robert Zitcovich. Zitcovich was called out twice by Mills for talking in the back of her courtroom, and then was escorted out by a constable.
Zitcovich declined comment.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.