PORT CARBON, PA – A Pottsville woman charged with stealing more than $50,000 over a three-year period while employed by Goodwill Fire Company, Minersville, and Minersville EMS surrendered to authorities Friday afternoon, walking into district court with her head completely covered by a coat and escorted by her mother.
Brenda S. Shuman, 47, of 382 N. Second St., was charged with two felony counts of forgery; seven felony counts each of theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property; two felony counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds; and five felony counts of access device fraud.
Shuman was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko and released on $50,000 unsecured bail pending her preliminary hearing that is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday in his Port Carbon courtroom.
Prior to Plachko setting bail, Minersville police Chief Michael Combs told the court that bail is necessary due to the seriousness of the crimes.
“We’re not looking for outlandish bail but these are serious charges,” Combs said.
Shuman’s attorney, Anthony Urban, said his client lives with her 17-year-old son, is a longtime county resident and surrendered to authorities as requested.
He said Shuman will appear for all court proceedings and is not a flight risk.
Minersville police Patrolman Jeffrey Bowers charged Shuman with the thefts totaling $50,067 that occurred between August 2008 and November of last year while she was treasurer and billing-office manager of the company and EMS organization.
Shuman’s responsibilities included office operations, payroll, making purchases, billing customers for services rendered by Minersville EMS and collecting and depositing monies received, Bowers said.
The thefts, he said, came to light in November when two employees found that Shuman had given herself a pay raise that was not authorized by the company.
Company officials confronted Shuman about the raise and in November, the woman resigned her positions and turned in her office keys.
In April or May of 2011, Shuman had relocated her office from the company headquarters to her then-home at 625 N. Second St., Minersville, citing too many distractions.
As the company investigated the incident, a lack of income was noticed along with difficulty in making payroll, Bowers said. Company officers then suspected Shuman was failing to bill patients for services and was also making unauthorized purchases on company accounts or credit cards and contacted the Schuylkill County District Attorney’s office.
Bower said that a subsequent investigation by the state Office of the Attorney General determined in February that Shuman made unauthorized purchases on an American Express Card totaling $3,236.79 for her personal use and that the total taken, including late fees and finance charges, was $4,210.75.
On the company’s Discover card, it was determined Shuman made $17,986.56 in unauthorized purchases that after costs and fees totaled $19,13132.
Bowers said on the company’s Visa debit bank card, Shuman made unauthorized purchases totaling $6,624.18 that came to $7,126.65 after fees and costs.
On yet another card, a Staples (Citi Corp) card, Bowers said, it was learned Shuman made $2,787.74 in unauthorized purchases that after fees and more totaled $2,952.37.
As the investigation continued, Bowers said it was learned that Shuman received an hourly salary of $10.90 until September 2010 when she, without authorization, increased that amount to $11.40, resulting in an overpayment of $502.24, Bowers said.
The company also investigated the misappropriation of fuel purchases for the fleet between 2008 and 2011 and determined Shuman would write checks for cash in order to reimburse employees for purchasing fuel and in April or May did not pay the Wright Express fuel credit card, rendering it inoperative.
Bowers said that in 2011, Shuman wrote checks totaling $11,566.75 to Wright Express and checks totaling $16,000 were written to “cash” with the notation “fuel at Fuel On.” Company employees were interviewed and confirmed the credit card was not working and that they did not use $16,000 in fuel.
The fuel log was compared to Wright Express and Lehigh Gas for 2011 and showed that only $818.50 of fuel was paid for with cash, leaving a balance of $15,181.50 unaccounted for, Bowers said.
He added that Shuman cashed every check that was written to “cash” and received the money prior to reimbursing the employees.
After the credit cards were reactivated, Bowers said, records show Shuman made 11 purchases at one business totaling $664.84 and one purchase for $36.04 at another business.
In addition, a review of the company’s checks showed 43 checks were written between February and September of 2011, many of which had signatures of Goodwill Fire Company officers Allen Reber and Bruce Rutecky.
Both men told authorities they never signed their names to checks written out to “cash,” Bowers said, adding that the backs of each document were endorsed by Brenda Shuman.
Following the hearing, Combs said a great deal of time and effort went into the investigation that led to Shuman’s arrest.
“It is a serious matter, we take this very seriously,” he said. “We’re confident there will be a successful prosecution.”
Among the items Shuman purchased with company money included shoes, items from gift shops and airline tickets, Combs said.
In cases like this, the chief said the thief usually starts off small, taking $20 dollars or so because they are short on cash.
Once the person realizes how easy it was to take a few dollars, the amounts increase as do the frequencys of the thefts.
“It gets easier and easier and soon they get in over their head as in this case, over $50,000,” Combs said.