KENNETT SQUARE—Kennett Township residents found out Tuesday night that not only had their municipality lost $3.2 million from embezzlement, but township officials have spent more than $350,000 in legal costs to date on the case.
And they were told that even though the thefts took place over a 6 ½-year period, it could have been much longer but records had been destroyed in an attempted cover-up.
Lisa Moore, 46, former Kennett Township manager, was arrested last week and charged with 115 felony crimes of embezzling more than $3.2 million of taxpayer funds, and has been released on $500,000 unsecured bail. She was ordered to surrender her passport, but she took a vacation to Puerto Rico after posting bail.
The standing-room-only crowd demanded answers on how supervisors could let such a large theft go unchecked for many years.
“The buck stops here,” Scudder Stevens, supervisors’ chairman told the crowd. “It is our job to do everything possible to fix this mess. This meeting is just one part of the rebuilding process.”
But some in the crowd wanted all three supervisors to resign.
“Are all of you going to resign?” asked Leon Spencer, a former Kennett Square mayor. “It seems that you should resign right now. Some of the things we heard tonight suggest incompetence, and that you do not deserve to be here right now.”
Supervisors said the theft took place over two administrations, and that the deceit was so clever it was hard to detect.
“She destroyed township records and computer files older than the seven years required to be preserved, which prevented forensic examiners from examiners previous year,” Stevens said.
Supervisor Whitney Hoffman said Moore kept close guard of the township’s documents. She was the only one who could open credit card statements, bank statements or IRS letters.
“She kept staff away and they were not allowed to open the mail,” Hoffman said.
Stevens said Moore, who was hired as township manager in 2010, began stealing from the township in 2013 as far as records indicate, but it could have dated back even further.
“Investigators documented that Lisa Moore secretly circumvented all township safeguards established and reviewed by colleagues, township auditors, outside service providers, tax collectors, state auditors, township oversight committee and the supervisors. For years she concealed information about her alleged manipulation of township accounts reporting at audits. As far as we know, she acted alone.”
Residents were told that Moore took tax deductions she was not entitled to, and used the township credit card for personal purchases such as clothing, beauty treatments, makeup, shoes, jewelry, theater tickets, travel to Europe and charitable contributions, where she personally took tax deductions.
Richard Leff, township supervisors, said officials locked down and changed accounts after they were informed of financial irregularities in April. They upgraded computer systems, changed financial software and put other safeguards into place.
“She betrayed us all,” Leff said.
Joseph Poluka, a defense attorney with extensive experience in representing clients in the investigation and defense of a wide variety of criminal, civil, and regulatory matters, including complex fraud, assured residents he will try to recover as much money as possible for the township.
He said there are three possible paths. Moore can plead guilty and be sentenced; plead guilty and cooperate and try to pay some of it back, or she can take her chances at trial, which may not happen for more than a year.
He said civil action against Moore is a possibility, and he is also pursuing potential insurance coverage.
“In many of these cases, there is a zero chance of recovery,” he said. “But there are sources of recovery here.”
Eden Ratliff, newly hired township manager, said that while the financial hit to the township is severe, the township is financially solvent. He said it is too soon to determine how the embezzlement will affect next year’s budget.
“Will taxes go up? If we don’t’ have to we should absolutely not raise taxes,” Ratliff said. “This is a really good community we have. Really good things are happening here. We have the resources. We have good revenue we can work with. Our EIT (Earned Income Tax) is something many townships would die for. We need to work with what we have.”
Ratliff told the crowd that many municipalities use credit cards. Moore is accused of using credit cards to buy personal items and vacations for herself.
“Credit cards are not the problem, it’s the controls around the credit card,” Ratliff said. “The person using the credit card should not be the person doing the accounting, or evaluating the credit card bill.”
Following that statement, the crowd gave a rousing applause.
“Looking for someone to blame in all of this is understandable,” Stevens said. “Personally I believe Lisa Moore knew exactly what she was doing when she allegedly committed these crime over years and years.”
Supervisors did not answer a question about whether they would consider a 5-person board of supervisors to give more insight into the financial business of the township.
Supervisors assured residents that many safeguards have since been put in place to ensure this type of crime never occurs again in Kennett Township.
Ratliff asked the crowd to have faith as the legal process continues.
“What happened is heartbreaking, but it’s not the end of Kennett Township,” he said. “We have the tools to facilitate positive community outcomes. We will not let you down.”
At the meeting, supervisors refused to address the status of Kennett Township Police Lydell Nolt, who has been on paid administrative leave for quite some time.