CECIL – John Pushak, the former Cecil Township police chief accused of stealing more than $10,000 from the department’s drug forfeiture funds to gamble, waived his theft charges to court while his lawyer said they are seeking a plea deal with prosecutors.
Pushak, wearing a navy blue suit, politely declined comment after leaving the district judge’s office in Cecil Township for his scheduled preliminary hearing on the charges Thursday morning, but his lawyer said the two sides are in active negotiations on a plea bargain to avoid a trial.
“It makes sense to see if we can work together to find a resolution,” defense attorney Thomas Brown said. “We just want to do the right thing for both the commonwealth and for my client.”
The two sides have been discussing a potential deal in the weeks since Pushak, 64, of Cecil, was charged March 18 with two felony counts of theft and a misdemeanor charge of misapplying government funds. Investigators accused Pushak of siphoning more than $10,000 from a special investigations bank account to gamble at two area casinos from January 2010 to January 2013 while he was chief.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Zupancic did not know Pushak was waiving his preliminary hearing before Senior District Judge Jay Dutton until minutes before it was scheduled to begin. He acknowledged that prosecutors are considering a plea bargain but could not say what it would entail.
“We’re working on an eventual resolution for those charges,” Zupancic said.
Pushak has been cooperating with the investigation since it began in February 2013 after township officials noticed discrepancies with the special police fund account.
According to court documents, Pushak tried to give $5,430 in cash to township Manager Don Gennuso and Shawn Bukovinsky, who was then a police captain, on Feb. 14, 2013, claiming the money was from the department’s overtime budget and needed to be deposited into the special account. Pushak allegedly admitted that he “(messed) up,” and Bukovinsky and Gennuso took the money to the department’s evidence room for safekeeping, court documents indicate.
Township officials began reviewing bank statements and found that 15 to 18 withdrawals, averaging about $500 each, had been made using the special account’s ATM card, some of which were made at The Meadows Casino in North Strabane Township and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, court records show.
A special investigation by the township and an audit performed by Cypher & Cypher revealed that $3,000 was missing from the account and withdrawals had been made using Pushak’s police-issued bank card. A search warrant for state police to view the audit stated that Pushak wrote a check to reimburse the township for the money. Investigators with the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Organized Crime unit in Harmarville took over the investigation in April 2013.
He has been free on his own recognizance since his arrest on the theft charges.