Judge OKs deal for tax collector who stole
By Mary Pickels
Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 7:33 p.m.
A Fayette County judge on Friday accepted a guilty plea from the former Fayette City tax collector and warned that a sentencing deal hinges on her making some payment on restitution for the money she stole while in office.
Joanne Marie Kushnar, 53, of Fayette City was charged by county detectives in January with stealing more than $50,000 owed to Fayette City Borough and Belle Vernon Area School District.
She was charged with two counts of theft and one count of receiving stolen property.
Common Pleas President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. told Kushnar that a sentence of five years' probation and restitution requires that she make restitution “or a substantial portion” by her October sentencing.
District Attorney Jack Heneks said after the hearing that if Kushnar does not make a satisfactory restitution effort by sentencing, she will face six to 23 months of intermediate punishment, in addition to being required to pay back the money and to serve the probation term.
Intermediate punishment can include house arrest.
“When are we going to know what the amount of restitution is?” Wagner asked Heneks.
Heneks said the exact number is still being determined, but the total amount stolen exceeds $50,000.
Kushnar, who served as the elected tax collector in Fayette City for a dozen years, is accused of exploiting flaws she discovered in the control system for tax collections.
County Controller Sean Lally's office noted discrepancies in a 2011 audit of Kushnar's accounts, prompting the investigation.
Kushnar failed to remit $33,900 of real estate taxes collected to Fayette City from 2008 to 2012, county detective Steven G. Kontaxes testified during a preliminary hearing in February.
An analysis by Belle Vernon Area's auditor showed a shortage of $18,600 for the July 2011-12 fiscal year, according to Kontaxes.
Kushnar was interviewed in November at the Perryopolis police station, where “she acknowledged that she did take cash from the trust fund bank account unlawfully,” Kontaxes said.
In a statement, Kushnar wrote in November: “It was up to me to deposit the money in the tax account and to pay the taxes to the county and borough. Some of the cash money did not get deposited in the account. I personally stole the money and used it for me personally to pay bills. ... I know that what I did was stealing the taxpayer money, which is wrong.”
Kushnar remains free on recognizance bond.
She faces sentencing before Wagner on Oct. 3.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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