Theft charges dismissed against Uniontown American Legion official

Mary Pickels
| Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 12:32 p.m.

A Fayette County magistrate on Tuesday cited a lack of testimony against a former financial officer of American Legion Post 51 in Uniontown, and dismissed theft charges against Joe T. Joseph.

Joseph, 75, of 322 Dixon Blvd., Uniontown, had been accused of stealing more than $60,000 from the organization over a three-year period.

Known as an advocate for Fayette County veterans, Joseph was charged by Uniontown police last year with theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received.The charges arose after members of the post found that a substantial amount of money was missing from the Legion's bank account.

An audit by accounting firm Kisiel & Rudnik determined that $62,127.89 in funds weren't deposited into the account between 2006 and 2008, including more than $53,000 in 2007 alone, according to a criminal complaint.

During that time, Joseph was a member of the post and the financial officer who had responsibility to take control of various funds and deposit them in the post's bank accounts, according to the complaint.

Over the course of the two-hour hearing, defense attorney Sam Davis repeatedly asked District Judge Mike Metros to dismiss the case.

Owen Rodgers, American Legion Post 51 steward, said that during the time in question, Joseph was responsible for taking the day's receipts to the bank.

After Rodgers acknowledged that some of the American Legion funds came from club poker machines, Metros advised him of his right to not incriminate himself.

Rodgers declined to testify further.

"I move his entire testimony be stricken. I get to ask two, three questions and he takes the Fifth. I was going to ask about bookmaking at the club," Davis said.

"You let me fight with one arm, judge, or they (prosecution) have. That's not right," he said.

Davis questioned how there could be a "proper, full accounting" if all of the sources of income were not known.

"If he's able to testify he gave money to (Joseph), which he's already done. ... We've heard where the money came from. The commonwealth's point is that if money is missing, it doesn't matter where it's missing from," said Deputy Attorney General L. Todd Goodwin.

Post home association president Michael Gaydos testified that after Joseph left the club, he could not find any reports, bank receipts or statements.

In 2008, Joseph was forced out of the post after a fellow member questioned his membership eligibility. The Legion's state and national headquarters determined Joseph was ineligible because his discharge paperwork showed no evidence of active federal service during wartime.

When Davis asked if board members ever questioned Joseph about the finances, he said Joseph would ask if he was being called a thief and threaten to get an attorney.

As Davis showed Gaydos a photograph he said was of the club's interior and asked, "What's that?" Goodwin interrupted.

"You have the Fifth Amendment right not to answer," Goodwin said.

"I'll take the Fifth Amendment then, because I'm not getting prosecuted," Gaydos said.

Davis stipulated that a certified public accountant would have testified that daily financial reports Joseph allegedly provided to Gaydos did not match up with bank deposits. He also stipulated that such testimony would have shown a difference of approximately $62,000.

"What did they prove? Do we actually know that any money was taken from the club?" Davis said.

He urged Metros to disregard the testimony from the two witnesses.

Without it, he said, there was no case.

Goodwin argued that two witnesses testified that it was Joseph's responsibility to make daily bank deposits of club receipts, and that money was missing.

Metros pointed to a lack of testimony against Joseph and dismissed the charges.

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