$1M embezzlement case in Indiana County transferred

Paul Peirce
| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A former Indiana County gas drilling company executive charged in February with multiple criminal complaints related to the alleged embezzlement of at least $1 million will be prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

On Tuesday, state police in Indiana withdrew criminal charges of theft and receiving stolen property they had filed on Feb. 13 against Larry D. Winckler, 52, of 250 Robin St., Indiana, prior to Winckler's scheduled preliminary hearing before Clymer District Judge George Thachik.

“We have been in discussions with U.S. Attorney David Hickton's Office throughout this, and during the last week we received information that they will be dealing with this in federal court,” said District Attorney Patrick Dougherty.

Thefts involving large amounts of money often are prosecuted in federal court instead of state court because federal tax income reporting laws may have been violated.

Winckler is accused of stealing money from Falcon Drilling Co., based in Rayne Township, where he worked as an assistant to company owner Daniel Donahue.

Much of the money was spent in casinos and area country clubs, company officials told police.

Accountants have been combing drilling firm accounts, tallying how much was taken. State police investigators said at the time of Winckler's arrest that the amount could reach $5 million.

“It's my understanding that (forensic accounting) is still ongoing,” Dougherty said.

State police said the scheme began in 2005 and started to unravel when company controller Cheryl Brooks went to Dougherty's office and admitted her role in the embezzlement, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

“Brooks related that herself and Larry Winckler have proceeded to embezzle over $5 million over the past five or six years from Falcon Drilling,” Trooper Robert Worcester wrote in the affidavit.

State police did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

Brooks told the District Attorney's Office she came forward because she had become “paranoid” at work and had trouble sleeping, according to the affidavit. Brooks, who was not charged, was accompanied to Dougherty's office by her attorney, Christopher Welch of Indiana.

Troopers believe Brooks came forward because another employee had discovered evidence of the thefts on Feb. 10 and that Brooks saw images of receipts she allegedly doctored on another employee's computer screen.

“Brooks left (work) immediately. This happened around 12:30 p.m., and she never came back to work,” other Falcon executives told police, according to Worcester.

Worcester said Brooks told troopers the thefts began in 2005 when Winckler, who hired her, went to her office “very upset” and told her he needed money. She told authorities he would not say why but that he needed “thousands.”

“He had tears in his eyes. ... He seemed pathetic,” Worcester quoted Brooks as saying.

Brooks said she wrote a check payable to Winckler, who was supposed to prepare a fake invoice to cover it, but she never received the document. Brooks told authorities she thought it was a one-time deal, but several months later Winckler asked for more money, and the scheme began “snowballing.”

Worcester said Brooks made up fictitious accounts using legitimate area businesses.

Brooks admitted she took money, too, Worcester reported.

Brooks told police the checks initially were under $50,000 each so they would not alert auditors. However, about “two years ago, it was probably around $60,000 to $70,000 at a clip. Then last year, it grew to $150,000 to $170,000 a month,” Worcester wrote in the affidavit.

Winckler initially was charged with stealing $955,000, but that includes only recently issued checks, police said.

Officials in Hickton's office did not return telephone messages seeking comment on the federal investigation.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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