Kennett Township investigating suspicious bank account transactions
● By Richard Gaw
Kennett Township supervisors Scudder Stevens, Whitney Hoffman and Dr. Richard Leff, with township manager Lisa Moore, at a December 2017 township meeting.
By Richard L. Gaw
On Saturday, May 11 at 10:15 a.m., the Chester County Press received an email from a Kennett Township Supervisor, with a headline that read “Important Kennett Township Announcement,” informing the Press that the township is currently exploring suspicious transactions discovered in its bank accounts.
At noon that day, a letter was sent to township residents that began, “The Board of Supervisors pledged to you to have an open and transparent government. In keeping with that pledge, we are writing today to inform you about a serious situation. Rest assured, the supervisors are taking every step to safeguard the Township and our residents.”
The second paragraph read, “On Thursday, April 25, 2019, the supervisors were notified by the Fraud Department of our bank that they had found a number of suspicious transactions on Township accounts.”
In an official Kennett Township press release sent on May 11, the supervisors wrote that they carefully reviewed the findings with the bank, legal and law enforcement representatives and immediately referred the matter to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office. Also, steps were taken to make sure no further unauthorized transactions take place.
Mike Noone, First Assistant District Attorney, confirmed to the Press that there is an investigation in place, and that the Kennett Township authorities are cooperating.
A township supervisor confirmed to the Chester County Press on May 14 that township manager Lisa Moore has been placed on paid administrative leave.
In addition to cooperating with the District Attorney’s office, Kennett Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Scudder Stevens said that the township has also hired a forensic accountant to investigate the case at the maximum level,” he said, “by combing through every transaction from the past eight years, to assure us that everything is authentic.”
The release also said that the amount of money involved is still under investigation, but the amount of the transactions in question are expected to be within township insurance policy coverages if a determination is made that the funds were improperly withdrawn from the accounts.
While the supervisors and Kennett Township staff cooperate with the investigation, they are not at liberty to discuss the specific details of the investigation, the release said, which includes the name(s) of any individual(s) involved. “First, we don’t want to hinder the investigation,” Stevens said. “Second, we don’t want to damage the reputation of innocent persons.”
The letter also stated the supervisors “have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the Township, its citizens, its employees and every part of our government. We take that responsibility very seriously and we are working to do our duty quickly and in a fair and even-handed way. We want to assure everyone that Kennett Township’s finances are secure.”
The supervisors informed their constituency that they promised to keep residents fully informed within guidelines provided by counsel; yet, as they prepare for their May 15 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Township Building, the township’s three supervisors – Stevens, Dr. Richard Leff and Whitney Hoffman – are likely to face a barrage of questions from the general public in an effort to piece together the facts of a story that potentially threatens to tear down the very platform of transparency that Stevens, Leff and Hoffman all campaigned on.
As Stevens first campaigned for supervisor in 2011, he did so on a pledge to restore transparency to a government that he believed was manipulating the township’s assets. A major part of his platform was his suspicion that the township had assigned a fictitious auditor to prepare the township’s 2009 and 2010 audit reports.
When asked why he believed the township may have concocted a fictitious auditor, Stevens said that the Township did so to protect public access to the financial records of two items: the healthcare coverage of the township board and the financial picture of open space funds.
According to Stevens, the township supervisors illegally took healthcare reimbursements for their Medicare co-pays and are not in the township's health plan which Stevens said is a violation of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors code.
On Nov. 8, 2011, Stevens, a Democrat, defeated his opponent, Republican incumbent Alan Falcoff, and in 2012, took his place on the board with Republicans Robert Hammaker and Michael Elling, who both decided not to campaign for additional terms. Leff was elected to the board in 2013, and Hoffman was elected in 2016.
Stevens, who is now in his second term as board chairman, said that he, Leff and Hoffman will address the investigation with the general public at their May 15 meeting.
“I have never attempted to prevent people from expressing their concerns, and I’m trying to be prepared for that eventuality,” he said. “There is most likely going to be a lot of discussion related to this, but it will mostly be an explanation of what we’re doing now, rather than what’s happened in the past.
“The fact is that we are all deeply saddened that there is any hint of anything going on, and we are anxious that the investigation can be completed, as exponentially and as thoroughly as possible,” Stevens added. “We have worked as assiduously as possible to open up the dark corners of the township and to be sure that everything was open to review and open to consideration. And to the extent that it wasn’t sufficient -- which we don’t yet fully know -- is sad.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.