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Man pleads guilty to bank robbery

| Monday, Feb. 17, 2003

North Hills

A resident of Oregon has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to charges of armed bank robbery, prosecutors said.

Douglas Paul Bailey, 29, of Eugene, pleaded guilty to the Feb. 21, 2001, holdup of the Citizens National Bank in Wexford.

Bailey and another man also were responsible for the Jan. 11, 2001, robbery of the El Dorado Savings Bank in Sacramento, Calif., prosecutors said.

Downtown

PULSE Coalition donates defibrillator

A perfect Valentine's Day gift went to the Family Division of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court with the donation Friday of a defibrillator to be used during cardiac emergencies.

Nancy Auman, program coordinator for PULSE Coalition, said the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) was given in the wake of an emergency on Feb. 6 when three Allegheny County deputy sheriffs used a similar machine to save a man who went into cardiac arrest.

Auman said the donation was in the works, but the efforts of Deputy Sheriffs Rachel Katchmar, 37, of Whitehall, Guy Granata, 39, of Whitehall, and Anthony Fratto, 40, of Kennedy Township, made a rapid donation of the machine necessary.

Auman said the coalition hopes to put AED machines in 250 buildings Downtown and 250 other locations around the city. PULSE stands for Pittsburghers United for Life Saving Emergencies.

North Side

Woman pleads guilty to bank fraud charge

A North Side woman has pleaded guilty to a charge of bank fraud, federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh said.

Jean Marie Carey, 39, of Vinceton Street appropriated the identity of another Pittsburgh resident in December 2000 and made unauthorized withdrawals from her bank account, prosecutors said.

Carey is scheduled to be sentenced May 9 before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster.

West Mifflin

Woman pleads guilty to conspiracy charge

A West Mifflin woman has entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, prosecutors said.

Michelle Renee Lucas, 34, of Helena Drive, was accused of devising a scheme with another individual to defraud her employer, Advanced Integration Group, by diverting checks sent by the company's customers to an account controlled by Lucas, prosecutors said.

Lucas made about $135,000 through the scheme, prosecutors contend. The second individual was not identified in a prepared release from prosecutors.

Sentencing was scheduled for May 8.

Westmoreland County

Commissioner won't seek re-election

Saying he was fed up with the constant bickering with his Democratic colleagues, Westmoreland County Commissioner P. Scott Conner said he would not seek another term in office.

Conner, a Republican, made his announcement at a news conference in his courthouse office. Reading a prepared statement, he said frustration with his fellow commissioners and his inability to find a suitable running mate in this year's election led to his decision to become a one-term commissioner.

"Assuming the status quo is the result of the election this November -- and I hope to be proven wrong with this assumption -- I am faced with a choice: Spend the next four years pointing out Commissioner (Tom) Balya's failings or look for new opportunities to serve the community."

Conner, 41, of Hempfield, had continued to raise money for a re-election bid and last month held a fund-raiser for his impending campaign, which now has about $70,000 in the bank.

Hearing scheduled on cleaners facility

A public hearing will be held Wednesday to obtain input into the Department of Environmental Protection's cleanup of the former Superior Cleaners facility in Trafford, Westmoreland County.

The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. at the municipal building, 440 Duquesne St., Trafford.

DEP's emergency response team went to the site in May. They found two abandoned buildings in poor condition, removed 1,171 gallons of flammable liquids and disposed of nearly 500 gallons of chemicals and other wastes.

The hazardous material was left on the site after the business owner died without leaving a will, DEP officials explained. No executor was appointed for the estate.

State seeks taxes from businessman

A former Westmoreland County-based businessman is in financial trouble again with the state.

In December, the state Department of Revenue filed a lien against Charles "Chip" Santone, saying he owes the state more than $375,000 in taxes. Santone claims he owes the state nothing.

Santone was president of St. Clair Supply in the late 1980s and early '90s. The Greensburg building supply firm ended up in bankruptcy after Santone was convicted of using state sales taxes to prop up his ailing company.

There is little chance that the state will recoup the money -- at least in the near future -- because Santone earlier this month filed for bankruptcy under a law that automatically bars creditors from trying to collect debts.

The bankruptcy will prevent a New York City bank from foreclosing on his home in Mt. Pleasant and has delayed a scheduled March 3 sheriff's sale of the property.

State grant to be used for new park

Murrysville will receive a $100,000 state grant to be used in the development of the municipality's new community park.

The funds will be allocated from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and will be used for athletic fields and some park infrastructure.

The municipality purchased the 305-acre Cline farm along Wiestertown Road for $1.35 million to use as a park. It will have 11 athletic fields -- two for softball, three for soccer, one for football and lacrosse and five for baseball.

Defendants charged in robbery reach deal

A Westmoreland County woman and her son who were charged with the robbery of a North Huntingdon convenience store in January have struck deals with prosecutors.

A third suspect waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and a fourth suspect -- a 13-year-old unidentified juvenile -- faces a hearing in juvenile court.

Marjorie L. Bauer, 51, of North Huntingdon, will plead no contest to one count of hindering apprehension. Prosecutors offered a deal calling for her to be placed on probation for one year.

Her 15-year-old son, Jeffrey, now is expected to face juvenile charges.

Washington County

Coroner rules man's death a suicide

The death of a man whose body was found near the Washington City Parking Authority Garage has been ruled a suicide, county Coroner S. Timothy Warco said.

The body of Thomas Michael Wilt of Washington was found Friday afternoon near the facility on East Chestnut Street, about a block from the courthouse.

Erie County

Five charged in vehicle title scam

The security director at Erie International Airport, a police sergeant and the owner of a towing company were indicted for allegedly helping the towing business illegally take vehicle titles, some of which were resold, police said.

Security chief David Bagnoni, Erie Sgt. Mark Sanders and West End Auto Body owner Daniel Strong were charged with unsworn falsification, tampering with public records or information and related charges. Strong also was charged with operating a corrupt organization.

The charges stem from 13 cars and trucks and one motorcycle for which West End obtained, or tried to obtain, ownership between 1996 and 2000, using state Department of Transportation documents.

Strong's ex-wife, Julie A. Grehl, and son, Christopher D. Strong, also were charged.

Judge seeks to have subpoena dismissed

Erie County President Judge William R. Cunningham wants a subpoena requiring his testimony in a homicide case dismissed. Tim Lucas, who represents James Fleming, wants Cunningham to explain why he didn't charge Fleming in the Janine Kirk case years ago, when Cunningham was Erie's district attorney.

Tourists found Kirk's body partially buried in sand on June 25, 1988, at Presque Isle State Park, but Fleming wasn't charged until August 2000 following a grand jury investigation. Lucas contends that the delay harmed Fleming's case.

In his motion to have the subpoena dismissed, Cunningham said he has no "legally relevant information" that would require him to take the stand and any information he might have could be agreed upon in advance and submitted to the court without his testimony.

Blair County

Judge rules against use of confession

A judge in Maryland ruled that prosecutors cannot use the confession of a Blair County woman -- that implicated herself and her husband in the slaying and dismemberment of two Ocean City tourists last Memorial Day weekend -- as direct evidence at her trial.

Still undecided is whether the state may use Erika E. Sifrit's statements to police to challenge any testimony she may give from the witness stand.

Sifrit and her husband, Benjamin, both 25-year-old residents of Altoona, are each charged with first-degree murder, burglary and other offenses.

Region

Man indicted on conspiracy charges

A resident of Woodland Hills, Calif., has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on charges of conspiracy for his role in a scheme to swindle Internet users, prosecutors said.

Dzmitrycq Kruhloucq, 22, conspired with others to access accounts from an on-line auction service to advertise sale items that did not exist, prosecutors said.

The conspirators would cash the checks using phony identification cards and use credit card numbers of victims to make unauthorized purchases, prosecutors said.

N.C. resident pleads guilty to drug charge

A resident of North Carolina has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a charge of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, prosecutors said.

James David Hoffman, 39, of Rocky Point was accused of participating in a scheme to distribute 31,100 doses of prescription painkillers in southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere between January and October 2001, prosecutors said.

Hoffman also distributed some 31,800 doses of various prescription sedatives during the same time, prosecutors said.

Rep. Shuster seeks transportation list

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Blair County Republican, has asked local leaders to draw up a list of their transportation needs. Shuster said he will begin reviewing road construction needs from the 14 counties in the 9th Congressional District next week.

Federal lawmakers have approved $31.8 billion in transportation spending for 2003. Shuster's office said money will be tight and assessing the district's road needs is important.

Somerset County commissioners said the request from Shuster is welcome and that work has begun to detail what is needed most.

Fayette County

Man sentenced for counterfeit bills

A Fayette County man has been sentenced to five months in prison followed by five months' home detention for his conviction on manufacturing counterfeit U.S. currency, federal prosecutors said.

Michael L. Smith Jr., 24, of Uniontown, also was sentenced to three years' supervised release by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry.

Prosecutors said Smith made 15 counterfeit $20 bills and then was joined by others in using them to make various purchases in and around Uniontown in October 2001.

Housing Authority to get car allowance

The Fayette County Housing Authority's executive director will get a car allowance in lieu of a company-paid Ford Explorer. The housing authority board voted to provide Thomas Harkless with an allowance of $650 a month. On the surface, the move saves the authority $6,400 annually over what was paid for maintenance, payments, insurance and gas for Harkless' SUV.

"It should eliminate controversy," he said.

Harkless had been criticized for using the Explorer and authority gasoline for occasional personal use. He said he drove about 24,000 miles last year and estimated that about 35 percent of that was for personal use.

"I don't think employees should use authority vehicles for their personal use," said Angela Zimmerlink, a member of the authority.

Erie County

Mayor set to insist on wage-tax revenue

Mayor Rick Filippi said Erie will not accept a compromise on what could be millions of dollars in wage-tax revenue he believes the city is owed by Millcreek Township.

Erie County's two largest municipalities have clashed repeatedly over wage taxes that date back to the early 1990s.

Millcreek asked Filippi in August to cap tax payments to five years, between 1997 and 2002. Erie officials said an illegal accounting system led to underpayment.

Millcreek supervisors said the municipalities can avoid expensive litigation only if Erie agrees to the five-year cap.

Cambria County

Westmont starts private endowment

The Westmont School District has taken a page from the private school notebook and started a private endowment.

The school district in Cambria County is asking parents and alumni to shell out money, though officials have not decided exactly what to do with it yet.

Other school districts have used privately funded endowments to pay for student scholarships and other student incentives.

Westmont officials said they have raised about $5,000 and acknowledge they have a long way to go.

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