Former Cecil police Chief Pushak's cash from casino ATMs probed

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 10:35 p.m.

An investigation into a former Cecil police chief's possible misuse of public funds shows he withdrew money from a federally funded account under his control at two Western Pennsylvania casinos, according to unsealed court documents.

John Pushak, 64, resigned in April after working for nearly four decades for the Washington County municipality. Neither he nor Cecil officials could be reached for comment on Tuesday. State police opened an investigation in May at the request of District Attorney Gene Vittone.

“I have not received any information back,” Vittone said on Tuesday.

Charges are pending the outcome of the investigation.

“The case is still open,” said Trooper David Bayer of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Organized Crime Task Force.

A search warrant obtained in August and unsealed last week shows that Cecil officials in February found money from a township account connected to the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture program was withdrawn repeatedly from ATMs in The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in South Strabane and Rivers Casino on the North Shore.

A debit card for the account was used 15 to 18 times between August and December at the casinos. Most transactions were between $400 and $500, according to an affidavit.

Some deposits were made back into the account, but it was unknown where the money came from because Pushak deposited money from police officers' off-duty work details, the investigation revealed.

When questioned by township officials, Pushak said he took money out to pay for undercover drug buys. He said he deposited work detail money to buy department equipment.

Both statements raised red flags because township and police department officials told investigators that the department makes few controlled drug purchases and township funds pay for equipment.

In a meeting with township officials, Pushak turned over an evidence bag that contained $5,430 he said came from overtime payments, which he had put in the federal account.

Township supervisors hired an attorney to investigate and an accounting firm to audit the federal account. They put Pushak on administrative leave.

The internal investigation revealed that all but $3,000 had been returned to the account. Pushak wrote a check for $3,000 and resigned effective April 1, the affidavit stated.

He joined the Cecil police department in 1974.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936.

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