Testimony begins in theft trial of former Allegheny County councilman
After six years, two attorneys, several postponements and thousands of pages of documents, former Allegheny County Councilman Chuck McCullough took a seat at the defense table Monday, ready to fight charges that he stole thousands of dollars from an elderly widow.
Prosecutors charged McCullough, 60, of Upper St. Clair in 2009 with abusing his power of attorney to steal nearly $200,000 from the $14.7 million estate of Shirley Jordan, who died in 2010 at age 93. McCullough, a Republican who served as county solicitor for a year before he was a county councilman from 2007 to 2011, is charged with two dozen counts, including nine counts of felony theft.
McCullough, who opted for a non-jury trial, whispered in his attorney’s ear and scribbled notes as four witnesses testified Monday — all PNC bank employees. Senior Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus is hearing the case and questioned the bank’s actions several times during testimony. PNC served as a co-trustee with McCullough for Jordan’s money for about six months in 2006.
“I am amazed at the actions of PNC,” Nauhaus said.
PNC employees testified they started to question payment requests made by McCullough to be paid from the trust, including a $10,000 donation to Catholic Charities, which McCullough’s wife headed; invoices billing $60 per hour for McCullough’s sister to be a companion for Jordan; a request to buy a piece of land from another McCullough client; and $500,000 to invest in a Northwest Bank CD.
PNC did not approve the CD and real estate transactions.
“These concerns were brought to me along the way. Usually, a co-trustee doesn’t direct those kinds of activities,” testified Frances Johnston, senior vice-president for wealth management. “Mr. McCullough was her power of attorney and was a co-trustee. Because of the different roles, that raised questions.”
But the judge questioned why PNC paid out any of Jordan’s money, despite McCullough’s requests.
“He didn’t have the authority to request those payments,” Nauhaus said.
The judge questioned whether PNC did anything to determine whether Jordan was mentally competent when McCullough presented the bank with his power of attorney documents.
“I do not think (the bank) did,” Johnston said.
McCullough contends an Orphans’ Court judge approved his actions. Prosecutors say McCullough stole the money from Jordan’s estate in 2006 and 2007. A grand jury said he illegally paid himself and his sister, Kathleen McCullough, and donated $50,000 to Republican election campaigns and to the charity run by his wife, Patricia A. McCullough, now a Commonwealth Court judge.
McCullough’s sister, Kathleen McCullough, 52, of Collier is charged with theft and conspiracy in connection with the alleged theft from Jordan’s estate. She is being tried with her brother.
Thomas Gray, a relationship manager for PNC, testified that PNC first noticed Jordan depositing large, older checks into her account in the early 2000s.
“I reached out to Ms. Jordan to talk about services provided by trusts,” Gray said.
In 2006, McCullough called PNC to say he was representing Jordan. The two met at Jordan’s home and found the house in disarray and needing to be cleaned, he said.
“There were bills, tax notices, checks, bills for social services, gas,” Gray said. “We organized all the bills and deposited outstanding checks.”
Gray said PNC attorneys and McCullough discussed trust options, and later Gray said he and another PNC employee went to a senior living home, where Jordan was living at the time. She agreed to the trust idea and signed documents allowing it, Gray said.
“She thought she was fairly poor. She didn’t think she had a lot of money to pay the bills,” Gray said.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7981 or firstname.lastname@example.org.