Former South Greensburg borough secretary to repay stolen money, avoids jail sentence
The man who oversaw South Greensburg’s finances for nearly three decades avoided a jail sentence Wednesday when he agreed to repay more than $155,000 stolen over five years from government coffers.
Dennis Lee Kunkle Jr., 54, pleaded guilty to six counts including theft and tampering with public records in connection with what investigators said was a systematic effort to divert borough money for his private use.
The plea bargain approved by Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway was contingent of Kunkle’s payment two weeks ago of more than $101,000 that was turned over directly to South Greensburg.
The sentence imposed Wednesday calls for Kunkle to serve five years on intensive probation and one year on house arrest. In addition to the money he previously repaid, Kunkle also is required to turn over another $9,100 to the borough to replace the remainder of the stolen cash and another $21,346 to cover the town’s legal fees and costs associated with a forensic audit that discovered the thefts. The judge also ordered Kunkle to pay $45,000 to two insurance companies that reimbursed a portion of the borough’s lost money.
“We want restitution paid to the borough. If you are incarcerated you won’t be able to do that,” Hathaway said in explaining why she approved Kunkle’s probation sentence.
Kunkle’s guilty plea was delayed several weeks after the judge said she was concerned about the source of the money being used to repay the borough. Kunkle’s 77-year-old wheelchair-bound father testified Wednesday his money was not used for the settlement. His son serves as his power of attorney and controls his finances.
“I cashed in my retirement and will pay a penalty because I am underage,” Kunkle told the judge about the source of the repayment money.
Kunkle served as the secretary for South Greensburg for 29 years. Investigators said he diverted money paid for garbage fees and other government services for his own use. Kunkle did not comment when leaving the courtroom Wednesday.
South Greensburg Mayor Kevin Fajt said the small borough has yet to recover from the thefts.
“It certainly set us back, especially during this long legal process. Things had to stop in 2016,” Fajt said. He declined to offer further specifics.
Officials said as the borough’s paid secretary, Kunkle controlled the town’s bank accounts and finances. Fajt said Kunkle earned about $60,000 when he left the job days before criminal charges were filed against him in 2016.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, South Greensburg listed about 2,100 residents. It operates with an annual budget of about $1.15 million, Fajt said.
“We’re looking to move forward now that this process is over,” Fajt said.
In addition to his duties as borough secretary, Kunkle previously served as a member of council and on the Greensburg Salem school board. He also worked as an operative for a number of Republican political candidates throughout Westmoreland County.
“I am very sorry, obviously, for what has happened,” Kunkle said in court.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.