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Investigative Reporting

Debit card spending by former head of Pittsburgh ICA scrutinized

| Monday, June 27, 2016, 11:36 p.m.
Former Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) executive director Henry Sciortino of West Chester.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) executive director Henry Sciortino of West Chester.

The ousted director of a state watchdog agency overseeing Pittsburgh's finances used a government-issued debit card to make a small cash withdrawal at a Harrisburg ATM, buy gas and a train ticket, and to buy hundreds of dollars of office supplies in the Philadelphia suburbs where he lives, documents show.

The Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority turned over PNC Bank documents revealing more than $2,700 in spending by its longtime director, Henry Sciortino, between Jan. 1, 2015, and May 25, 2016 — the day officials closed the account at the urging of detectives for the Allegheny County District Attorney's office.

Working alongside state and federal officials, the detectives are probing ICA for evidence of government corruption. Detectives served search warrants on ICA and PNC Bank to seize the agency's computer system and any financial records on April 20 — days after an investigative series by the Tribune-Review first revealed that missing were: all ICA bank records and all but two invoices showing the agency's spending between 2004 and 2009, minutes and transcripts of public meetings by the ICA's appointed five-member oversight board from 2005 through 2009, and an unknown number of ICA contracts, many of them no-bid deals with unnamed vendors.

Sciortino, 67, did not return messages placed Monday to his Chester County home, but he has previously denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Thomas Farrell, declined to comment.

“The ICA cannot comment on the specific issues in question because the district attorney is currently conducting a criminal investigation,” said G. Reynolds “Renny” Clark, the director who recently replaced Sciortino at the helm of the agency.

Nearly 70 percent of ICA's debit card spending went for recurring monthly charges at the agency, including Sciortino's cellphone, digital storage space and Internet domain rights for the ICA's webpage. However, a total of $2,701.90 was spent on other purchases, and that's a key concern for investigators, according to the affidavits backing the April search warrants.

In those affidavits, former ICA board treasurer Ann Dugan said that she neither knew about Sciortino's control of the agency debit card nor that he used it at a Staples store in Chester County near Philadelphia.

Sciortino racked up $632 on office supplies there — twice as much as he spent in Pittsburgh, where the ICA is headquartered, according to a Trib analysis of the banking records.

Although ICA board members told the Trib in February that the agency did not reimburse Sciortino for commuting to Pittsburgh from his West Chester home, his goverment-issued debit card shows $158 in purchases from gas stations and convenience stores in Chester and Westmoreland counties, plus a $37.40 payment to Amtrak.

On Oct. 14, PNC recorded a debit card withdrawal of $22.25 from an ATM in Harrisburg. The bank later refunded the $2.25 ATM fee, but neither the ICA's board president nor its secretary in 2015 know why Sciortino would have taken the cash from the state authority's banking account.

ICA board members Nicholas Varischetti and Michael Danovitz, who were on the board then and remained so after a March reorganization, said that they are not allowed to discuss anything about the bank statements because of the investigation.

It's unclear whether Sciortino reimbursed the agency for the ATM withdrawal or provided an invoice to explain it. His final day of work was May 31 after a unanimous decision by the ICA board to scrap his employment contract.

“We don't have many documents,” Clark said Friday after he provided the latest PNC documents to the Trib. “The detectives took them.”

No ATM invoice was found in a Feb. 9 release of ICA documents to the Trib following a Right to Know Law request. The newspaper had sought all business records for ICA operations between 2010 and late 2016, but the ICA failed to find 92 percent of its spending receipts over those years, a Trib investigation determined.

Carl Prine is an investigative reporter for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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