A trio of former top officials from the Colwyn Borough fire company were charged Monday with theft and conspiracy after a 10-month investigation revealed that they stole more than $52,000 from their own organization.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan announced felony charges against Gary Brice, 49, Station 92's former chief; Betty Cellini, 50, Brice's girlfriend and the company's former president; and Cellini's daughter, Lauren, 26, the company's former treasurer.
On Monday afternoon, Brice was in custody after failing to post $50,000 bail. Outside the Delaware County Courthouse, he offered no comment. Elizabeth and Lauren Cellini were being sought by detectives Monday afternoon, according to Whelan. They could not be reached for comment.
For nearly two years, allegations of unpaid bills, unauthorized spending, and misappropriation of funds have swirled around the volunteer fire company, which has just 20 members.
Borough officials and residents who have harshly criticized the company celebrated the charges Monday as a sign that their concerns had finally been heard. Prosecutors, meanwhile, indicated there could be more findings to come.
With the charges, Whelan's office determined that the three had been writing themselves checks and making unauthorized cash withdrawals from the fire station's bank accounts. In total, unauthorized withdrawals by Betty Cellini totaled more than $21,000, the most of the three.
"We're dealing with individuals who have utilized the volunteer fire company as a tool for embezzlement, as a tool for criminal activity," Whelan said.
Brice and the Cellinis were suspended from the company three weeks ago, according to Maurice Clark, current president.
The findings also came as a validation for Paula M. Brown, Colwyn's former borough manager, who said she first noticed the illegal spending in January 2014. After finding multiple fire company bank statements that looked severely amiss, Brown said, she turned over boxes of documents to the District Attorney's Office nearly two years ago - and waited for an investigation to follow.
"I feel like it's going to be a good Christmas," Brown said Monday. "This is my Christmas present."
The District Attorney's Office began investigating in February 2015. In the fall, two raids were conducted at the fire station in search of documents.
As the district attorney's investigation into "certain issues" within the fire company continues, Colwyn now must decide how to move forward.
Clark said the company plans to continue operating, and focus on recruiting former members who left amid the investigation.
A separate investigation by Whelan's office into the tiny borough's funds and its officials is still underway. He said Monday that his office does not have evidence indicating the mismanagement of government funds sufficient to bring charges.