Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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Aug. 14, 2008

Attorney General Corbett announces theft charges against former Executive Director of Beaver County nonprofit

LaValle photoHARRISBURG - The former executive director of a small nonprofit organization in Beaver County to aid the poor was charged today by the Attorney General's Public Corruption Unit with stealing thousands of dollars from the organization, inflating her salary and denying employees pension benefits.

Attorney General Tom Corbett identified the defendant as Darla LaValle, 68, 612 Farm Lane, Rochester.  LaValle served as executive director  of the Voluntary Action Center, 169 Brighton Ave., Rochester, between 1987 and March 2007.

Corbett said the Voluntary Action Center is a nonprofit organization that assists low income residents in Beaver County through donations of toys, unwanted furniture, clothing and medical equipment.

The three member staff included, LaValle, an outreach coordinator, and a secretary, who is LaValle's sister.  Additionally, the Voluntary Action Center has a nine member volunteer board of directors.  

Evidence and testimony regarding the case was presented to a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended the criminal charges being filed today.

The grand jury found that LaValle was in complete control of paying bills and writing payroll and benefits checks.  By 2001, LaValle's salary was $78,000, which was considered a large amount for such a small Beaver County non-profit agency.

According to the grand jury, between 1990 and 2000 the Voluntary Action Center received approximately $40,000 a year from the United Way. Due to the high cost of Lavelle's salary, the United Way cut their funding to the Voluntary Action Center in half from $40,481 in 2000 to only $20,240 in 2001.

The executive director of the United Way testified before the grand jury that he was stunned at LaValle's $78,000 salary.  He said that as the head of a small nonprofit in Beaver County, LaValle's salary should have been in the $40,000 range.

By 2004, based on continuing suspicions, the United Way reduced their funding to the Voluntary Action to approximately $12,000 annually, which is a 70 percent decrease in just four years.

The grand jury found that instead of addressing the United Way's salary concerns, LaValle hid the issue and recommended to the Voluntary Action Center board that they withdraw all together from the United Way.

Corbett said that by withdrawing from the United Way, LaValle ultimately cleared the way for her to pay herself as she wished.

According to the grand jury, LaValle told her board members that their funds had been reduced to $5,000 because of budgetary problems within the United Way and convinced them that it was pointless to fill out the large amounts of paperwork for such a small fund.

The grand jury found that in 2005, after withdrawing from the United Way, the Voluntary Action Center began regularly relying on credit.  A month after withdrawing from the United Way, the Voluntary Action Center was in serious financial turmoil and by October 2005 accounts were in the negative.

Corbett said that despite the financial troubles of the organization, LaValle's salary compensation was not affected.

The grand jury found that in 2005 LaValle earned more than $102,000 and in 2006 she earned more than $122,000.  Between January and March 2007, LaValle also earned an additional $23,296.

According to the grand jury, LaValle also made sure that the Voluntary Action Center contributed to her pension plan and often took in excess of the seven percent approved by the board.

From 1993 to 2007, LaValle allegedly misappropriated and contributed at least $30,000 more than she was entitled, to her pension plan.

Corbett said that in order to inflate her pension, LaValle allegedly excluded two of her employees from the Simplified Employee Pension by telling them they were not entitled to benefits or a pension plan.

LaValle is charged with four counts of misapplication of entrusted property and property of government, two counts of theft by unlawful taking, three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and two counts of theft by deception.  Each count is a third degree felony and carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

LaValle surrendered today and was preliminary arraigned before Ambridge Magisterial District Judge Mark Schulte, who released her on her own recognizance.  A preliminary hearing is scheduled for August 21, at 9 a.m. courtroom 3 of the Beaver County Courthouse.   

The case will be prosecuted in Beaver County by Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter of the Attorney General's Public Corruption Unit.

(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)

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