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April 26, 2013

Intermediate Unit IV director resigns; investigation ongoing

NEW CASTLE — The Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV solicitor said he is turning findings of the director’s credit card over to law enforcement.

Cecelia H. Yauger, executive director of the intermediate unit that oversees 27 school districts, resigned Wednesday following an investigation into alleged misuse of her intermediate unit-issued credit card.

Solicitor Tim McNickle said yesterday that credit card statements showed purchases from retail stores and expenses from restaurants and other charges including some travel that allegedly were for personal expenses and not for intermediate unit business. He said the charges ranged from 2007 to the present, with more of such charges in recent years.

 He would not say the amount of the alleged misuse. Rather, he has initiated an audit of the funds to determine that, he said.

 “We’re not going to speculate on the amount. We won’t give it out until we have the audit,” he said.

The audit and the amount will be made publicly available, he said, adding, “We’re not going to hide that number.”

McNickle said he anticipates the audit being completed by the board’s next public meeting, which is at 7 p.m. May 22 at the intermediate unit office in Grove City.

He said that Yauger’s credit card apparently is the only one issued by the intermediate unit with questionable charges.

According to a statement issued by the intermediate unit yesterday, the issue came to light when a Pittsburgh law firm submitted a right-to-know request to the unit on March 4 under the Pennsylvania Open Records Act. The request was for specific records relating to the use of Intermediate Unit IV credit cards by Intermediate Unit employees from 2007 to the present.

Since September of 2007, Yauger had possession and use of an intermediate unit American Express credit card. A review of the documents for her use of the card showed a pattern of recurring and regular charges of a highly questionable nature, the statement said.

At its public meeting last month, the unit’s board of directors directed McNickle to investigate the matter with the understanding that he would report back to the members.

McNickle said yesterday that based on the results, Yauger entered her resignation as part of a written, signed agreement, in which she agreed to make full restitution of the amount that the board determines she owes. The board approved the agreement in a 10-1-1 vote Wednesday night.

Member Karen Humphrey, a New Castle Area School Board member who is Yauger’s sister-in-law, abstained from voting. J. Dayle Ferguson, who represents the Mars Area School District, voted against the agreement. Other media reports said Ferguson favored firing Yauger instead.

McNickle said Yauger expressed her deep regret verbally to the board.

The intermediate unit’s statement indicates the matter will be reported to a law enforcement agency.

McNickle said he placed a call to the Grove City police yesterday.

McNickle said, adding it will be up to the police and the district attorney whether they will prosecute.

The board meanwhile is launching a search for a new executive director, and has appointed Angelo Pezzuolo to serve in the position in an interim capacity.

Pezzuolo, former executive director of the intermediate unit, retired in 2007.

In its statement, the board said it “intends to provide a full explanation of the facts and circumstances.”

Intermediate Unit-IV serves Lawrence, Butler and Mercer counties. In addition to providing special education services to students in those districts, it also assists districts through bulk-purchasing at lower rates, contracts and implementation of state-mandated education programs.

The services it provides include free assistance to school districts in searches for candidates for administrative vacancies, by screening applications and assisting in the hiring process and helping to certify four-year degree candidates as emergency substitute teachers.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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