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Latrobe law firm's secretary pleads guilty to income tax evasion

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

A longtime secretary-bookkeeper at a Latrobe law firm faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to failing to pay income taxes on at least $150,000 she embezzled.

Debra J. Feather, 63, of Latrobe — who worked at McDonald Snyder & Lightcap for 41 years before she was fired in July 2010 when the thefts were uncovered — will be sentenced on Dec. 5 by U.S. Judge Arthur J. Schwab in Pittsburgh.

Feather was indicted in the spring by a federal grand jury on an income tax evasion charge.

The embezzlement was not disclosed publicly until Aug. 13, when she pleaded guilty, according to court documents. Authorities pursued the case under Internal Revenue Tax codes because of potential criminal statute of limitation concerns, documents show.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo M. Dillon told Schwab that Feather admitted to stealing about $150,000 from the firm from 2007 through 2010.

He said Feather paid personal bills, including more than $2,000 for her cellphone bill, from law firm accounts. Some of the money was used to buy season ticket plans for the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh Panther football games.

Feather, who remains free on $30,000 bond, did not return telephone calls left at her home.

She told investigators she did not report the income on joint tax returns filed with her husband, Jim, who was not indicted. Jim Feather denied any knowledge of the thefts when questioned by IRS agent David McKinzie, according to court records.

Accountants who reviewed the law firm's books discovered shortfalls totaling about $300,000 in accounts Feather handled, dating back to 1998, Dillon told Schwab.

“In July of 2010 ... (Feather) could not come into work in order to write payroll checks because she was in traction at home due to a broken leg,” Dillon told Schwab, according to a court transcript of the guilty plea proceeding.

Attorney Donald Snyder came in to complete the payroll, noticed discrepancies in Feather's bookkeeping, and the investigation began.

Snyder initially contacted Latrobe police Patrolman Joe Angus, but the case was referred to the IRS.

Snyder declined to comment, saying the case is in litigation.

Snyder had “complete trust” in Feather until he discovered the discrepancies, Dillon told the judge.

Feather wrote checks to third-party recipients, including several of her relatives, who denied cashing any checks from the law firm, court records show. Dillon said Feather admitted cashing the checks.

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

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