2nd suspect charged in scam to steal from Indiana County drilling company

Paul Peirce
| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A second conspirator in the ongoing investigation into the embezzlement of more than $6 million from an Indiana County gas drilling company was indicted this week by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors on Monday charged Daniel Pikel, 57, owner of Pikel Universal Auto Repair in Rayne Township, with laundering $762,450 through his repair shop on behalf of the alleged ringleader in the scam, former Falcon chief operating officer Larry Winckler of Indiana.

On Jan. 23, Cheryl Diane Brooks, 43, of Clymer — Falcon's former controller — pleaded guilty to conspiring to embezzle more than $6 million from the company over the past eight years. Brooks is scheduled for sentencing May 31 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

According to Monday's indictment, Pikel cashed 28 checks that allegedly were forged from Falcon accounts by Winckler, who is listed in the indictment only as “L.W.” Pikel allegedly cashed the checks through his auto repair business bank account.

The individual checks ranged in amounts from $20,000 to $32,000, according to the indictment, and were cashed between June 2009 and Dec. 27, 2011.

When Pikel cashed the forged checks that were drawn against the drilling company's petty cash account, the indictment alleges “Pikel did prepare falsified Universal Auto Service invoices for which he did falsely represent that Universal Auto Service did provide drill bits in exchange for the Falcon checks ...”

The indictment states that Pikel would then front cash “to L.W.”

Pikel did not respond to telephone messages left Tuesday at his repair shop.

Investigators last year served search warrants at the repair shop along Route 119 north of Indiana and at Pikel's residence at 200 Griffith Drive, Indiana, during the 17-month investigation.

In February 2012, state police charged Winckler, 52, of White, Indiana County, with 58 counts of theft and receiving stolen property but withdrew the charges when federal prosecutors took over the case.

Winckler has not been indicted on federal charges.

Previous information released in the case disclosed that Winckler and Brooks wrote themselves company checks and, in some cases, used fake invoices to cover their tracks.

In addition to conspiracy, prosecutors charged Brooks with three counts of mail fraud for allegedly sending false information to the company's auditors and three counts of filing false tax returns for allegedly under-reporting her income by a total of $455,000 for 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Brooks went to the office of Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and confessed to the scheme when she suspected another employee was gathering evidence against the pair, the state police affidavit for Winckler's arrest states.

According to the affidavit and investigators, company officials have traced some of Winckler's expenses to casinos and country clubs.

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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