Allegheny County DA begins probe of ICA |

Allegheny County DA begins probe of ICA

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) executive director Henry Sciortino, 67, of Chester County, during a board meeting at the Koppers Building in Downtown on Monday, March 28, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) executive director Henry Sciortino of West Chester.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Henry Sciortino was the executive director of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Henry Sciortino, executive director of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
Brad Bumsted | Tribune-Review
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, was one of the first witnesses in a hearing by a House committee investigating Attorney General Kathleen Kane's misbehavior in office on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Departing Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) board chairman Nick Varischetti, 32, of Downtown, talks during a board meeting at the Koppers Building in Downtown on Monday, March 28, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Henry Sciortino of West Chester is the outgoing director of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, D-Carrick
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. launched a criminal probe into a state watchdog agency overseeing Pittsburgh’s finances, as state lawmakers and city officials called for the ouster of its embattled boss.

During a Tuesday press conference, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, demanded the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority fire executive director Henry Sciortino, 67, a West Chester Democrat and its sole employee over the past dozen years.

“The ICA was accountable to no one; rudderless, led by an individual who had little incentive to help Pittsburgh — other than personal gain,” Fontana said. “… Enough is enough.”

Costa said he was “very disturbed” by findings of a two-part Tribune-Review investigative series that began Sunday.

The newspaper revealed that 92 percent of the ICA’s expenditure receipts over the past five years were destroyed or missing, including all but two invoices for spending between 2004 and 2009. Also gone are minutes and transcripts of ICA board meetings from 2005 through 2009, and an unknown number of contracts, many of them no-bid deals with unnamed vendors.

The Trib also reported that Sciortino has failed to file required financial interest forms with the State Ethics Commission since 2005, a matter under investigation by the commission.

Sciortino sought bankruptcy protection during 2010-11 after he was accused of bilking an ex-business partner and trying to hide millions of dollars in assets from creditors — something ICA board members say was never disclosed to them.

Sciortino did not respond to emails sent Tuesday seeking comment. He has insisted that he always followed ICA board policies and has done nothing wrong.

Fontana echoed Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, D-Point Breeze, and City Council Finance ChairwomanNatalia Rudiak, D-Carrick, who urged ICA board members to begin “forensic” probes into the agency’s financial records.

Costa and Fontana told the Trib that they asked the state attorney general and auditor general to investigate the ICA’s books.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who is running in the Democratic primary for state attorney general, instructed a detective on Monday to begin a criminal case file on the ICA and Sciortino, a spokesman said.

“The initial action on this file will involve reaching out to the ICA and to the City of Pittsburgh to obtain information on how the ICA operates and what responsibilities the authority has had over the years with respect to record keeping on both a macro and micro level. Gathering this information will assist us in determining if we need to use the legal process to further our review,” spokesman Mike Manko wrote in an email.

Peduto spokesman Timothy McNulty said the mayor was “pleased that the DA has opened an investigation” after calling “for months for more transparency by the agency.”

Founded in 2004 when Pittsburgh was $1 billion in debt and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, ICA works alongside a similar state agency organized under Act 47 to approve the city’s budget. The agency often has sparred with city officials over Pittsburgh’s annual budget and is withholding what soon will become $20 million in Rivers Casino gambling revenues earmarked for city coffers.

Rudiak said in a prepared statement that while the city “made great strides toward financial recovery and sustainability in the last decade, the ICA has been opaque and secretive about their own financial footing.”

Costa and Fontana vowed to revamp the 2004 law that created the agency, forcing it to better preserve public documents while making ICA more transparent to the taxpayers who fund it.

“The ICA has operated behind the curtain long enough. It is time to shine light on the operations of the ICA, their finances and the activities of their executive director,” Costa said.

Fontana, a longtime critic of the ICA, added that he was not shocked by allegations that the agency appeared to be in disarray.

“I don’t want to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” said Fontana, who believes that any bill designed to reform the agency should include a sunset provision that eliminates it.

State House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, who sponsored the 2004 legislation that formed the ICA, did not return messages sent to his spokesman on Tuesday.

Carl Prine is a member of the Tribune-Review investigations team. Contact him at [email protected] or 412-320-7826. Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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