BY STACI WILSON
A sophisticated scheme of altering books and cutting extra paychecks that netted a former borough secretary $142,000 has now landed her in jail.
The ex-Forest City secretary, Susan Coleman, 54, of Vandling, will serve four months to two years minus one day in the Susquehanna County jail for the theft of taxpayer funds that occurred over a 10 year period. She was sentenced by President Judge Kenneth Seamans on Friday.
In court, Coleman apologized for her crime and the borough of Forest City. “There are no words to properly convey my remorse for my actions,” she said.
“I live with a nagging pain in my gut everyday,” Coleman said, and admitted that it was “part of my own doing.”
“I was a good employee. There’s no excuse for what I did. It was a good town, good people,” she said.
Coleman also told the court she would do her best to repay “every penny.”
Her attorney, David Sofanelli asked that Coleman receive a light sentence and suggested she be placed on house arrest.
He also pointed out that Coleman had been cooperative with the investigation which allowed the borough to recover a significant portion of the funds.
Forest City has received over $88,000 from its bond surety. She was ordered to pay that amount back to the bond company. The judge also ordered she pay back nearly $54,000 still owed to the borough.
Judge Seamans said to Coleman, “You’re right. There is no excuse. No one has an excuse to take anything that isn’t theirs.”
The court received nearly 60 letters of support for Coleman. Judge Seamans said he had read each letter.
The judge said the letters pointed to Coleman being an “asset to the community” with the exception of “this atrocious behavior.”
Judge Seamans said what the former secretary’s theft was a “violation of trust.”
The court had also received a letter from Forest City Council Vice President Barbara Mihelc.
District Attorney Jason Legg said Mihelc’s letter expressed how she was personally affected by Coleman’s actions.
Mihelc’s letter stated that she had trusted an employee “who violated not only my trust but everyone in the borough.”
Legg said this type of crime not only impugns the person who committed it, but also serves to foster public mistrust of everyone in the government.
“One person who would violate that level of trust is disturbing,” Legg said.
He also pointed out that Coleman’s activities were not isolated to one period of time but rather happened over the course of 10 years.
The district attorney went on to say the former secretary continued to attempt to cast responsibility onto others as recently as her meeting with a county probation officer who composed the pre-sentence report.
Legg noted Coleman’s cooperation with the investigation which, he said, allowed for her to receive a shorter prison sentence than could have been handed down.
After sentencing, Legg said he would have liked to have seen her receive more jail time but the sentence fit squarely into the guideline range.
He also said Coleman’s cooperation led to the borough being able to recoup payment from the bond company quickly.
“The taxpayers of Forest City are better off getting their money up front rather than a couple of extra months of jail time,” Legg said.