Ex-Secretary Charged with Bilking Funds From Pa. Fire Company

Dec. 10--HAZLE TWP. -- The former executive secretary for the Independence Fire & Rescue Company No. 1 was charged Monday with five felony counts alleging she stole more than $30,000 in department funds by pocketing charity money and taking out loans to cover her tracks.

Gina Tombasco, 30, of 7026 Horizon Village, Wright Township, is charged with two counts of theft and one count each of forgery, receiving stolen property and access device fraud.

Tombasco, a lieutenant who joined the department in June when her brother Kevin Tombasco was named chief, is accused of writing checks to herself and using debit cards to steal from the department since August.

"Investigators learned that two loans were taken out, and that's where a lot of the money came from," said Luzerne County Detective Chaz Balogh, who investigated the case along with Rice Township police. "She was spending the money as she felt, as needed."

According to a police affidavit, Tombasco stole $30,131 from the department between August and Dec. 6, including $1,133 from a charity spaghetti dinner and $901 from a Memorial Day boot drive.

Police began investigating after a Citizens Bank branch manager noticed some "red flags" regarding the department's bank account, the affidavit says.

Police say Tombasco applied for and received an unauthorized debit card that she used to withdraw more than $5,600 from the account, and that she also wrote herself several checks for more than $3,700 from the Citizens Bank account.

The bank refused to cash a $3,118 check made out to Tombasco in October, which prompted a heated discussion and a decision to close the account, the affidavit says. The closing balance of $14,181 was deposited into a new account at First National Bank of Pennsylvania, police said.

The affidavit says there were 27 checks from that account made payable to Tombasco for a total of $17,743.

During the thefts, Tombasco kept the accounts in the positive by applying for two $20,000 loans from Fairway Consumer Discount Co. in Luzerne, according to the affidavit.

Police say Tombasco admitted during questioning to using department funds so she could shop for herself, her family and friends. Her transactions included multiple withdrawals at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and a $3,053 check written to the Luzerne County Housing Authority for Tombasco's back rent, the affidavit says.

Tombasco declined to comment as police led her into court in handcuffs. She told Magisterial District Judge James M. Dixon that she is currently unemployed and on disability for a mental condition.

She choked back tears as she answered the judge's questions. Dixon sent her to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with bail set at $30,000 and a preliminary hearing set for 10 a.m. Dec. 18.

Fire Chief Kevin Tombasco did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Messages posted on his Facebook page after the news of his sister's arrest broke Monday afternoon indicated he had resigned from the department and was "going out the woods to be alone."

"I'm as shocked as everyone else, I wasn't around much due to working, I was under impression all was good, no one ever approached me in or out of dept with concerns!" Kevin Tombasco wrote. "Yes I'm her brother and I will be there for her, BUT if this is true, then like many others who have done this she must pay her dues!! I'm not standing up for her as I myself am in the dark about this!!"

Gina Tombasco is the second official at the department to be charged criminally this year. Former acting treasurer Donald Leo Bly, 32, of 224 Cherrywood Drive, was charged in March with theft for writing $4,400 in checks for equipment the department never received.

He was sentenced in September to pay more than $1,600 in fines and restitution and to spend six months in the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program, which could allow his record to be expunged.

When Bly was charged, the department was known as the Rice Township Volunteer Fire Department. But in June, two weeks after the Tombascos joined up, the department was stripped of its certification by the local government.

Now known as the Independence Fire & Rescue Company No. 1, the department remains on-call in Butler Township, Conyngham, Dennison Township, Fairview Township, Laurel Run and Newport Township. But it has not been on a single call for service since September.

Rice Township police Sgt. Harold Ehret said Tombasco's alleged thefts took place since the decertification but that the two are not connected. He was hopeful the township could move forward after this case.

"Hopefully now once we get this all taken care of, we can put this whole thing to rest," Ehret said. Hopefully "there's not going to be any more problems there, the fire department can move on and do whatever it is they have to do."

jhalpin@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin

Copyright 2013 - The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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