Former Denbo-Vesta 6 fire department officers charged with taking more than $100K

December 16, 2014
Former Denbo-Vesta 6 Fire Department officers Thomas S. Yuratovich and Rachel Lynne Sargent leave district court Tuesday after being charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from the fire company. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A couple who once controlled the bank account of a volunteer fire department in Centerville enjoyed vacations on cruise ships, trips to casinos and making thousands of dollars of other purchases at the expense of the organization, police allege in court documents.

The accusations led to the Tuesday arrests of Thomas S. Yuratovich, 42, and Rachel Lynne Sargent, 40, on charges they embezzled $105,000 from the Denbo-Vesta 6 Fire Department from February 2013 to March, Centerville police stated in the criminal complaint and affidavit supporting the charges. Yuratovich served as fire department president at the time, while his girlfriend was its treasurer.

“It is vitally important for volunteer organizations to have in place control mechanisms to prevent one individual or two related individuals from having complete access to the group’s assets,” Washington County District Attorney Eugene A. Vittone said, adding it wasn’t the first time this type of theft had occurred at a fire department in the area.

The department’s secretary, Rosalie C. Paci, told borough police Feb. 18 she “suspected that funds were being siphoned, embezzled and, or stolen” from the department’s account at a PNC bank branch. She also said she discovered Yuratovich and Sargent were making bank withdrawals and expenditures at casinos on the account and none of the transactions was for the benefit of the fire department, police claim in court records.

A month later, Paci reported to police the fire department at 415 Lowhill Road removed Yuratovich and Sargent from their offices and dropped them as members.

The department also hired a retired postal inspector, Andrew F. Richards, to conduct a fraud audit of the fire department’s financial records.

Richards later discovered many purchases on fire department debit cards in the couple’s possession were made at restaurants, for entertainment and at stores including Best Buy, Home Depot, Game Stop, Lowe’s, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, and to pay an account at Mon Valley Hospital and for airline tickets at Qantas Airlines, police stated in the affidavit.

The audit findings prompted police to obtain a warrant to obtain the couple’s gambling records at The Meadows Casino in North Strabane Township.

Richards also accused the couple of completing 66 withdrawals from the fire department’s bank account totalling $80,046, and 97 other purchases in the amount of $25,552, court records show.

A Washington County court official said the alleged thefts crippled the fire department’s ability to meet its expenses.

A man who answered the department’s telephone Tuesday afternoon said fire company officials had no comment on the case.

Police said in court records Yuratovich and Sargent “failed to turn over documents, such as bank records, to the management” of the fire department, as well as its rank-and-file membership.

Police charged both Yuratovich and Sargent with felony counts of theft, unauthorized access device use and conspiracy, and a misdemeanor count of tampering with evidence.

They were arraigned by District Judge Larry Hopkins, who placed them in Washington County jail, each on $250,000 straight bond.

Their attorney, David DiCarlo, said Yuratovich’s parents were expected to post the bonds Tuesday night.

He said he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to discuss the case with his clients or read the affidavit before the arraignment.

DiCarlo said he was “more intrigued” by how the small fire department didn’t miss $105,000.

Hopkins set a preliminary hearing in the case at 1 p.m. Jan. 7.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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