Ex-constable guilty of stealing $1M from Beaver Co. borough, school district
A former constable from Beaver County stole more than $1 million from Baden and the Ambridge Area School District and gambled most of the money away, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Keith Kristek, 57, of Baden pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of filing a false tax return.
His wife, Cynthia Kristek, was the elected tax collector for Baden but, because of personal financial problems, couldn’t get bonded in an amount required for the job. Keith Kristek stepped in and acted as her deputy tax collector for years.
From January 2007 to February 2015, he pocketed about $320,000 in cash and cashed and pocketed another $740,000 in checks, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Karl. Out of that $1,060,000, about $46,000 was supposed to go to Baden and the rest was supposed to go to the school district.
Baden plans to collect about $905,800 in property taxes this year. The school district collects about $2.5 million annually in property taxes from Baden residents and $18.7 million from the district as a whole, which includes the municipalities of Ambridge, Economy, Harmony and South Heights.
Kristek had a good reputation in the community, Baden Mayor Samuel Gagliardi said.
“This was certainly a shock and disappointment,” he said.
While the borough probably won’t recover much from Kristek, it’s hoping that the performance bond he carried as a constable will cover some of the loss.
“We’re hoping we can salvage some of it,” Gagliardi said.
The investigation started when residents contacted the borough and school district because they had paid their taxes, but records showed they hadn’t, Gagliardi said.
“That kind of made the light bulb go off,” he said.
The borough has tightened its scrutiny of tax collections as a result, but there’s not much it can otherwise do since the tax collector is an elected official, Gagliardi said.
The borough has since raised its tax rate by 1 mill, but that had nothing to do with the theft, he said.
Joseph Dimperio, acting superintendent for the school district, couldn’t be reached for comment. School board President Roger Kowal declined to comment.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab scheduled Kristek’s sentencing for Nov. 1 and asked whether the government would seize any of Kristek’s assets to recover some of the money.
An investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service has yet to turn up anything to seize, Karl said.
“A lot of this money was used in gambling,” he said. “A lot of it is gone.”
Kristek and his attorney, Chad Bowers, declined to comment after the hearing other than to confirm that Kristek resigned his elected constable position after the thefts came to light.
The government and Kristek disagree on whether he should get a longer sentence for abusing a position of trust. Kristek contends he wasn’t in a position of trust.
“He really had no title,” Bowers said. “He was not the elected tax collector. He was the de facto tax collector.”
The government contends he was in a position of trust and should spend three to four years in prison.
“Essentially, he was an unpaid employee of the tax collector,” Karl said.
Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer.