South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Overbrook council wants to know what happened to all their money

 


When officials of the Overbrook Community Council read in the newspaper in December that their president, Jean Zupanek, had been arrested for theft related to three youth organizations she served as treasurer for, they decided to check their own books.

Discovering that no financial records had been kept by Ms. Zupanek, who served as president from 1999 to 2005, they scoured bank records for the past six years.

That's when they learned that $15,000 in savings the organization had in 2000 had dwindled to $500 today, with the biggest chunk, $9,000, disappearing during the summer of 2003.

Of that $9,000 amount, $3,602 was written to cash or petty cash, with no record of how it was spent. There were also two checks totaling $3,067 in the name of the Overbrook Athletic Association to purchase trophies. Ms. Zupanek was treasurer of that organization.

“Everyone is innocent until guilty in a court of law,” said former president Carol Anthony, who chaired the February 28 meeting of the OCC, held in the Overbrook fire station.

About 20 people attended the gathering, including District 4 city Councilman Jim Motznik, and Thomas W. Brown, an attorney working with Ms. Zupanek's attorney.

Ms. Anthony read a letter from Ms. Zupanek, dated February 28, in which she resigned as president. She also said she would make arrangements to return unspecified items in the next 10 days.

But OCC secretary/treasurer Kelly Cummings said she sent her a certified letter, dated January 5, in which she was informed she was no longer president, and that items must be returned.

Also unaccounted for is about $4800 of a $5000 state grant awarded to the OCC, and which requires reporting on how the money was spent. Because the organization cannot do that, it has been “red-flagged,” said Ms. Cummings, meaning they cannot receive any more state money until the matter is resolved.

“It's a long tedious process to find out what happened to these monies,” said Ms. Anthony of all the missing funds.

In published reports, Ms. Zupanek has admitted to mixing money from the various youth groups' accounts, but said she was confused due to illness resulting in a liver transplant last summer.

While Ms. Zupanek was held over for trial on six counts of theft, none involves the OCC. However, the district attorney is investigating, said Ms. Anthony, and charges could be filed in the future regarding theft from the OCC.

OCC officials also cannot locate a new digital camera with starter kit totaling $509, or an identification card related to the group's 501(c)(3) non-profit status. If the latter is not secured, the group must find a pro bono attorney to represent them as they begin the process anew for acquiring non-profit status.

To an attendee's question of why the cancelled checks don't reveal how the money was spent, Ms. Anthony said they are made out to cash or petty cash. “Without receipts, we have no idea where this money went,” she said.

To a question of why the requirement of two signatures on checks wasn't an effective safeguard, Ms. Anthony said OCC officials trusted Ms. Zupanek. “She was supposed to be our friend. You trust your friend,” she said.

Ms. Cummings said she never saw any bank statements as Ms. Zupanek handled all financial business.

“A lot of it will be explained,” said Mr. Brown. “We ask that you try not to be judge and jury for the commonwealth. Try to hold off on judgment.”

When he raised the possibility that the stress of the liver transplant caused this, an attendee said it didn't explain the years of missing money. “She put herself in this situation,” said the attendee.

Ms. Anthony said for the immediate future the group needs to straighten out its 501(c)(3) non-profit status, hold elections, and prove to the state that they are not responsible for the missing grant money.

Mr. Motznik said if they need help with the non-profit status his office will assist, including trying to find a pro bono attorney.

Next, Mr. Motznik, whom Ms. Anthony called the “guest speaker,” spoke on other matters relevant to Overbrook, where he lives.

He said there are problems with teens and graffiti, and other increased crime activity from Carrick to Route 51. An on-going problem is Carrick High School students who hang out at nearby Carrick Shopping Center after school and cause trouble.

He is working with District Justice Richard King, new police chief Dominic Costa, the Mayor's Office, and other officials on local crimes, including drug dealing in the vicinity of the liquor store at the top of Maytide St.

On another matter, he said he is compiling a “wish list” of streets which need paved.

To a question on the status of the fire station in which the meeting was being held, Motznik said the building is still a city facility, and not on the block to be sold, as are some fire stations.

If it is the community's intent to keep the station, he will need the help of the OCC to try to save it. He will tell the Mayor's Office that the group uses the top floor for its meetings.

To a question about the Rts. 51—88 corridor, Mr. Motznik said the state Dept. of Transportation has a plan to end the flooding problem, but that it could be 10-years before it is implemented.

Creating a partial interchange at the Rts. 51—88 intersection, similar to that at the Liberty Tunnels, would reduce the flooding. But raising Rt. 51 adds about $300 million to the cost.

“It's a PennDOT thing,” he said, “and nothing that moves real fast.”

He also said he would like to volunteer for office on the OCC, but cannot as he is a public official. But he could serve on an advisory board.

In news of upcoming events, the Pittsburgh Citiparks' Brookline Recreation Center is offering “Yoga for Weight Loss” on Tuesdays, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call 412-571-3222 for more information.

The center will also be holding a dart tournament for ages 14 and over at a time and date to be determined. A $5 fee and pre-registration is required. Participants should bring their own darts or use the center's — soft-tips only.

The next meeting of the OCC will be on March 28 at 7 p.m. at Fairhaven United Methodist Church, 2415 Saw Mill Run Blvd.

No monthly newsletter will be forthcoming as there is no money for it, said Ms. Cummings.

 

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