Pittsburgh lobbyist faces additional charges in unfolding fraud investigation
Authorities filed additional felony charges Tuesday in an unfolding fraud investigation into a Pittsburgh lobbyist who cast himself as “the Robin Hood” of Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said agents from his office have filed 22 new counts of theft by deception, forgery and fraud against lobbyist Joseph V. Kuklis of Upper St. Clair. Prosecutors claim Kuklis bilked 14 clients ranging from the Allegheny River Development Corp. to Seton Hill University out of more than $182,000 and forged state grant agreements to make it appear they were in line to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The new charges come on top of 17 similar criminal counts filed against Kuklis last month in connection with the theft of more than $100,000 from six other clients from the Pittsburgh area.
Kuklis, 48, remains free on his own recognizance. His lawyer, William Difenderfer, did not immediately return calls for comment.
Kuklis, a one-time aide to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, became a lobbyist after leaving government employment and boasted of representing everything from one-man start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.
State records show he incorporated Wellington Strategies out of his home in 2015. He quickly assembled a roster of more than 50 clients, including universities, nonprofits and small businesses that he represented in Harrisburg.
This summer, Kuklis announced Wellington was opening an office in Washington, D.C.
The announcement, carried in a technology trade publication, said Wellington is “led by renowned entrepreneur and author of ‘The Robin Hood of D.C.,’ Joseph Kuklis.” It boasted that the firm had helped secure more than $900 million in grants and “won countless legislative victories.”
Even as Kuklis was making those claims, agents from the Attorney General’s Office were investigating allegations from Wellington clients in Pittsburgh who said Kuklis took their fees and showed them purported contracts for grant awards from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development that never materialized.
The criminal complaint filed against Kuklis in August listed Digital Dream Labs, Pittsburgh Technical College, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, Black Concrete and Supplies, Innovatus Imaging and IRA Logix among the clients he allegedly defrauded.
Kuklis is charged with 12 counts of forgery, eight counts of deceptive or fraudulent business practices and two charges of theft by deception in the most recent filing.
Clients listed in the new complaint include: Seton Hill University, Phipps Conservatory, It’s About the Warrior Foundation, Allegheny River Development Corp., Steel Bridge Consulting, Rapid TPC, RE2 Robotics, Alung Technologies, Innovu, Glen Montessori School, Mount Nebo Development, Schell Games, McKeesport Preservation Society and the Regional Learning Alliance.
Seton Hill paid Kuklis $36,000 over four years, according to the complaint. Officials at the Greensburg school declined to comment on his arrest.
Shapiro said the investigation is continuing and urged clients who believe they may have been victims to call his local office at 412-880-0464.
“I will not allow anyone to take advantage of our small businesses, nonprofits, universities and schools that contribute so much to our commonwealth. My office will continue working to hold the defendant accountable for his crimes and deliver justice for those he harmed,” Shapiro said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .