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The former president of the New Castle Area School District's teachers union is accused of using the labor organization's bank debit card to spend thousands of dollars on personal purchases and expenditures.

The Lawrence County District Attorney's office, following a year-long investigation, filed multiple felony charges against Charles Farris Jr., 64, of 912 Adam St., implicating him in the misspending of more than $35,887 that belonged to the New Castle Federation of Teachers Local 3975.

Farris is accused of making 300 unauthorized debit purchases from the federation's bank account between Jan. 1, 2015, and Sept. 9, 2019, according to a criminal complaint. 

Farris is employed as a grade school and physical education teacher in the New Castle Area School District, with a current salary of $97,512 plus benefits.

District superintendent Debbie DeBlasio would not comment on his employment status Thursday as a result of the charges, saying it is a personnel matter.

According to a 37-page criminal complaint filed against Farris, a new board member of the teacher's union alerted the district attorney's office on Sept. 9 last year of a possible theft. When new trustees took over in May of 2019, they reviewed financial statements and noticed questionable transactions from the teacher's union bank accounts, the report states.

The new members had requested that all of the union's finances be turned over to the new trustees, but Farris, who no longer was president, refused to give them the documentation, the court filing states. The new board then hired an accounting firm, Arnett Carbis Toothman, to conduct a forensic audit.

The firm identified suspicious transactions conducted from the general fund of the union at PNC Bank, the court document states, and the union's new president, William Bradley, learned from the bank manager that Farris was the only name on the bank account and had sole signatory authorization.

The union's board of trustees found 10 months worth of bank statements that were turned over to the auditing firm, spanning from March through December 2017. The investigator determined Farris had made 94 debit charges totaling $9,992 during those months at various restaurants, stores, gas stations, motels and department stores in various states, including the city of Detroit, the complaint states.

The board of trustees determined that most of the restaurant purchases and the department store expenditures were not authorized and had nothing to do with union business, the document says.

The district attorney's office obtained a search warrant on Sept. 17, 2019, for the PNC Bank records of the union account. The detective also received an email from the new union treasurer, with a picture of three air fare gift cards that Farris had purchased for a teacher conference in Las Vegas, the report states. 

Documents the detective received from the bank showed 104 Giant Eagle and GetGot debits between Oct. 15, 2015 through July 1, 2019, totaling $23,345, according to the report.

The teachers union also had an account with First Commonwealth Bank that had been under sole control of union treasurer Nick Marmo as the union treasurer. The investigator reviewed a list of expenses that Marmo had logged, but the board determined those were all legitimate expenses, the report said.

The district attorney's detective served a sealed search warrant at Farris' home on Aug. 13 this year, and confiscated six blue storage totes from a trailer on his property. The totes contained the federation's financial records, the complaint said.

The paperwork states that the detective met with the current board members in September to review all of the purchases on the PNC debit card made by Farris, from 2015 through 2019. They concluded that he had made 387 total debit purchases, 300 of which were determined to have been illegitimate expenditures that were not authorized and that totaled $30,924.

The district attorney's office concluded in the court documents that Farris committed theft and access device fraud between 2015 and 2019 when he used the teacher's union debit card for those unauthorized transactions, deemed to be personal expenses, logged  at various retail vendors in various states for expenses that included, but were not limited to: groceries, restaurants, casinos, professional sporting events, gift cards, hotel rooms, fuel and an oil change for his Mercedes Benz while he was traveling through Arlington, Virginia, the complaint states.

The document also states that Farris received a check from Marmo as the union treasurer for $4,961 without providing legitimate reimbursement documentation to justify purchases that were made but never approved or authorized by the members.

Farris is charged with six counts each of theft and access device fraud, and one count of access device fraud. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. 

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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