The former head of a regional public education agency stole $5,500 in taxpayer money and spent it on meals and entertainment because she was distraught over the death of her mother, the woman’s attorney told a federal judge who handed down a sentence Friday of mostly probation.
Cecelia H. Yauger, 56, of Grove City pleaded guilty to stealing from a federally funded program in August.
As the executive director of the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV covering Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties, Yauger used an agency American Express card to make about $114,000 in purchases between August 2007 and April 2013. An audit labeled about $73,000 of the purchases as “undocumented/questionable.”
Yauger resigned in April 2013 after a citizen’s Right-to-Know request exposed that she used the card to buy restaurant meals, rent DVDs and make department store purchases.
She told U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti on Friday that she spent 35 years making a difference for children and thinks she still can do that.
“I severely regret any wrongdoing I participated in,” she said.
Conti sentenced Yauger to three years of probation, including two months in a halfway house.
Yauger’s attorney, Eugene Tempesta, said a psychiatric report shows that the death of Yauger’s mother about seven years ago triggered the thefts.
“It is her psychological condition that has caused her aberrant behavior,” he said.
Yauger and Tempesta declined comment after the hearing.
Brenda Marino, human resources director for the intermediate unit, asked Conti to send Yauger to prison.
“The IU services the most needy in our society,” she said. “This was an incredible breach of trust.”
Marino and Michael Brungo, an attorney for the intermediate unit, said that Yauger stole more than $5,500 from the agency and did so at a time it was furloughing people because of a lack of funds.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar said the $5,500 figure represents what the government could prove beyond a reasonable doubt and covers only one of the seven years Yauger admitted to stealing from the agency.
Tempesta argued that the $5,500 was the total amount she stole and she has repaid it.
Conti said she based her sentence on the government’s evidence and a report compiled by federal probation officers. She rejected Yauger’s request for home confinement instead of a two-month stay at Renewal Inc.
She sentenced Yauger to 150 hours of community service during the next three years and fined her $2,000.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or [email protected].