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Greensburg attorney accused of theft

A Greensburg attorney who worked for nearly 20 years as a Westmoreland County assistant public defender is accused of taking nearly $75,000 from two private clients.

James Barnett Gefsky, 52, of 510 Ridgeway St., was arraigned Tuesday before Greensburg District Judge James Albert on charges of theft, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and misapplication of entrusted property.

Westmoreland County Detective Paul Burkey alleges Gefsky took $71,527 from Ellen Cindric and $3,293 from Eduardo Alvendia of Wheeling, W.Va., in late 2008 by using the money from their settlements for personal reasons and by failing to promptly forward their awards to them from an Interest On Lawyers Trust Account -- an account attorneys use to pay clients.

At times, after the settlement amounts were forwarded to the trust account, the account had a negative balance, according to court papers.

Cindric received a $74,000 payment for her November 2007 divorce settlement in Indiana County in early 2009 from the special account, investigators said. Alvendia told investigators he hired Gefsky to represent him in a civil action connected to a 2002 vehicle accident. "Gefsky, without Alvendia's authorization, agreed to settle the claim for $5,000," Burkey wrote. Alvendia said he received his award payment from the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Board, Burkey wrote.

On Jan. 2, 2009, the same day Gefsky wrote Cindric a check for $74,000, he removed $98,411 from his retirement account with the county. The retirement money was put in the special trust account the same day the check was written to pay Cindric, court papers indicate.

Gefsky, who operates a private law office on South Main Street in Greensburg, worked from July 1990 to December 2008 as a public defender, handling mostly mental health cases, according to the county human resources office and Public Defender Dante Bertani. Bertani described Gefsky as a good employee while working for the public defender's office.

In late July, investigators seized 14 pages of photocopied records that involve the retirement funds from the county payroll and retirement office, according to affidavits.

The investigation is partly based on a probe done by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board, court papers show. Cindric filed a complaint with the board, which investigates lawyers for alleged misconduct. Cindric contacted the county District Attorney's Office in March.

A hearing committee of the disciplinary board recommended in May that Gefsky be suspended for three years and then be placed on probation for two years after reinstatement, according to board records. A final decision by the state Supreme Court is not expected until the end of the year.

Gefsky did not return calls left at his home and office yesterday.

He is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

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