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West Newton mayor under investigation for handling of money collected from fundraisers

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

West Newton's mayor Monday acknowledged she is under investigation for how she handled money collected from fundraisers she has conducted over the past two years.

Mayor Mary Popovich said outside a council executive session that she is being investigated by the Westmoreland County Detectives for her handling of money raised during the 2011 and 2012 Rocktoberfests at Vine Street Park and a St. Patrick's Day fundraiser for the West Newton Fire Department. She denied any wrongdoing and said no charges have been filed.

Popovich provided information to Detective Tom Horan to show how the money was raised and distributed, and plans to give to Horan this week the receipts from the three fundraisers, she said.

Horan could not be reached for comment.

“This is a political vendetta. I feel (the accusations) was political in a nature and was public knowledge,” Popovich said.

Popovich, a first-term Democrat, did not have opposition in the May primary for nomination for a second term.

Popovich told council that she had given the borough $1,500 from the $3,000 in proceeds from the 2012 Rocktoberfest, which had a car, motorcycle and truck cruise, along with food and music. The proceeds are to be used to pay the borough for improvements to Vine Street Park, Popovich said.

When questioned by Council President George Molovich why she did not turn over the entire amount, she said she would wait until the borough did the work, then turn over the remainder of the money.

“I was told to give (the money) to the borough because of the investigation,” Popovich said outside the meeting.

The mayor said she had kept the $3,000 from the 2012 Rocktoberfest in an escrow account she opened at a credit union in the hope of getting an organization to undertake improvements at Vine Street Park. Her website states she has been an assistant professor in the Department of Health Science since 1988.

Popovich said she had hoped to raise additional money to have a fence installed around Vine Street Park, install solar-powered lights, pave the park with a mixture of blacktop and crushed recycled tires, but was told by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that it would cost $75,000. She said the borough estimated it would cost $15,000 to repave the park, which has a basketball court.

Popovich said she deposited $4,009 in proceeds from a St. Patrick's Day fundraiser for the West Newton fire department to Commercial Bank & Trust for a mortgage payment for the fire department.

Rick Wagner, West Newton fire company president, could not be reached for comment.

The mayor said that a West Newton Girl Scout troop received $2,500 from the 2011 Rocktoberfest.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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