A former longtime tax collector for Aldan Borough and the William Penn School District was arrested Thursday after admitting he stole $1.3 million from both, said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan.
Robert H. Park, 77, of Aldan, was charged with theft by deception, receiving stolen property, and other offenses related to money taken between 2003 and 2012, according to the affidavit of probable cause. Whelan said Park has admitted that he took the money.
The financially struggling school district lost $960,841.26 during that period, police said, and Aldan, $377,529.74. While that money is gone, it's likely the district and the borough will be reimbursed since tax collectors in Pennsylvania are bonded, Whelan said.
"Certainly, it is an outrageous breach of public trust," he said. It's hard enough for taxpayers to write out that check every year, "only to be slapped in the face to find out this money has not been utilized for its intended purposes."
It was no pyramid scam à la Bernie Madoff, but the thefts might have been a Delaware County version of a scheme to invest other people's money with the goal of repaying what was taken.
Elected at least five times to four-year terms as tax collector of Aldan, Park's duties also included handling tax money for the William Penn School District.
Whelan explained how the job is supposed to work:
Usually, people in Park's position receive residents' tax checks or mortgage company checks and deposit them into a tax collector's bank account. After the check clears, the collector is supposed to send the money on to the municipality or school district.
Instead of one account for Aldan and one for William Penn, Park established 14 separate tax-collector accounts, Whelan said.
He did, indeed, deposit the money into one of those 14 accounts, but instead of sending the proceeds along to the borough or the schools, he allegedly played the stock market with some of the tax dollars.
"He was gambling in the market with the hope he could return the money to the taxing authority and then take the excess money he made for himself," Whelan said. "But it went horribly wrong."
The borough and school district did audit the money yearly, Whelan said. But initially, he said, Park was taking "relatively insignificant amounts of money that would be difficult to pick up because of the fluid nature of how these moneys came in and out."
In the last 18 months he was in office, Park allegedly got bolder and took larger amounts of money, Whelan said.
In 2012, A. Jeff Cuff, the director of finance and technology for the William Penn School District, was getting ready for an audit when he discovered a significant amount of money was missing.
Park allegedly offered excuses and partial answers when Cuff asked him for information on the money. Even then, "no one suspected him of stealing this money," Whelan said.
It was Park, knowing his dirty dealing had been uncovered, Whelan said, who resigned in November 2012, hired a lawyer, and went to the District Attorney's Office to confess his crimes.
"He was doing it to make money for his own retirement, is what we're told," Whelan said, to compensate for money that his own nest egg lost in the stock market.
Park was arraigned Thursday in front of District Judge John J. Perfetti, who set bail at $250,000. Park waived his preliminary hearing and was released on his own recognizance.