Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the power to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania. Sign up for our free newsletters.
HARRISBURG — An embattled City of DuBois official was slapped with additional charges Wednesday in a sweeping political corruption case alleging he stole hundreds of thousands of public and nonprofit dollars.
Suspended City Manager Herm Suplizio now faces a total of 23 criminal counts — including 13 felonies — filed by prosecutors with the state Office of Attorney General. He was arraigned Wednesday in Clearfield County on $100,000 unsecured bail.
The charges Wednesday replace and add to the 15 counts of theft, conflict of interest, and other crimes that prosecutors filed earlier this year against Suplizio, one of the city’s most politically connected officials.
At the time, prosecutors alleged Suplizio had stolen more than $600,000 from DuBois — a small city about two hours northeast of Pittsburgh — as well as from nonprofit and other bank accounts over which he had signatory control. They also said he lied on his tax returns to snag a bigger refund from the government.
In the updated charges Wednesday, prosecutors unveiled new information about a bag of cash that had allegedly been stashed at a DuBois nonprofit organization that Suplizio ran. Court documents Wednesday also revealed previously undisclosed allegations that Suplizio had improperly tried to help the city’s former mayor escape shoplifting charges.
“Instead of acting in the best interests of the community he was supposed to serve, the defendant used his position to line his own pockets and abused his authority for personal gain,” state Attorney General Michelle Henry said in a statement Wednesday. “This arrest is a reminder that no one is above the law, and that everyone who holds public office in Pennsylvania is accountable to the people.”
Neither Suplizio, 63, nor his lawyers returned requests for comment.
Many of the new charges relate to a bag containing nearly $94,000 in cash that was delivered to City Hall in early May.
At the time, city officials said the money had been dropped off in a gift bag by the city’s solicitor, Toni Cherry. Cherry has not said publicly where or how she got it — only that it belonged to a fund associated with the city’s annual summer celebration, called Community Days. Suplizio had a key role in organizing the festival and managed bank accounts associated with the event.
The money, it was later discovered, had been stored at the DuBois Area United Way, where Suplizio separately had served as executive director.
According to the new charges Wednesday, the money was discovered in September of last year by United Way employees; it had been wrapped in a green zippered bag and placed inside a safe inthe building. When one of those employees accessed the safe two months later, the bag was gone.
Then, in March of this year, while cleaning and removing exposed television cables inside the United Way, that same employee discovered three metal lock boxes fastened to the walls above the ceiling tiles in one of the building’s offices, prosecutors claim. Several days later, the employee noticed “ceiling tile debris” on the floor, leading to the discovery of a fourth lock box above the ceiling tiles.
The four keys corresponding to those lock boxes, according to investigators, were found in Suplizio’s United Way desk.
Cherry, according to investigators, told DuBois City Council members during a closed-door meeting in May that Suplizio had brought her the money six weeks earlier, but that she had held onto it “to keep the PA OAG from confiscating it.” When interviewed by the attorney general’s office, however, investigators claim she said she did not remember when Suplizio had brought it to her.
Cherry could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. She does not face any charges.
Separately, Suplizio faces charges in connection with efforts he allegedly made to shield the former mayor of DuBois from shoplifting charges in 2020. Court documents Wednesday revealed the details of the shoplifting incident for the first time.
According to prosecutors, employees at a Sheetz store in DuBois reported that former Mayor Randy Schmidt was stealing food. Employees said Schmidt would come into the store, order a sandwich, and then collect other items like chocolate milk and fruit snacks while he waited. He allegedly would pay for the sandwich and put the other items in a bag without paying for them.
Schmidt had allegedly done so 16 times before being confronted by a store employee, who called the police.
Suplizio, according to prosecutors, approached a Sheetz manager to ask her if there was anything that could be done to “make this go away.” When the manager told him she couldn’t, Suplizio allegedly told her the store had had a good working relationship with the city, and that it would be a “shame” if something happened to change that.
The alleged scheme did not work: Schmidt, who resigned his position as mayor, was later charged with theft. He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Additional details about Suplizio’s alleged crimes were contained in a presentment released Wednesday alongside court papers. The Office of Attorney General had previously refused to release the document to the public for months.
In mid-August, Spotlight PA and three other news organizations petitioned a county judge to unseal the presentment. The judge denied the request.
The attorney general’s office declined to discuss the matter.
Spotlight PA’s Min Xian contributed reporting.
BEFORE YOU GO… If you learned something from this article, pay it forward and contribute to Spotlight PA at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.
https://www.spotlightpa.org/statecollege/2023/10/pennsylvania-dubois-fraud-theft-charges-herm-suplizio/ PA AG brings more corruption charges against DuBois official
· Spotlight PA State College