Judge rules McCullough guilty of taking money from elderly woman’s estate
Six years of legal wrangling ended with a conviction Friday that could bring jail time for former Allegheny County solicitor and Councilman Charles McCullough.
McCullough, 60, of Upper St. Clair, the husband of an appeals court judge, could lose his law license because a judge found him guilty of taking money from an elderly woman’s estate for his own uses.
“Greed drips all over this case,” Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus said in delivering his verdict during a 15-minute hearing: guilty of five felonies and five misdemeanors.
McCullough’s nonjury trial took place sporadically over three months, after nearly six years of delays. He did not testify in his own defense.
Nauhaus determined that McCullough abused his power of attorney to take more than $50,000 from the $14.7 million estate of Shirley Jordan, a dementia patient who died in 2010 at 93.
The judge said Assistant District Attorneys John Fitzgerald and Aaron McKendry presented enough circumstantial evidence to find McCullough guilty of 10 counts, but failed to prove 14 others.
Stone-faced, McCullough said nothing after the verdict and was among the first people to leave the courtroom. He could not be reached.
“My heart goes out to Mr. McCullough and his family,” said his lawyer, Jon Pushinsky.
Whether Nauhaus will impose jail time at a Nov. 9 sentencing is “a complicated calculus,” said Bruce Antkowiak, law professor at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. The maximum for a third-degree felony is 3 1⁄2 to seven years in prison, Antkowiak said, but the judge might show leniency because McCullough has no criminal record.
“It’s a serious conviction. It would not surprise me if the guidelines would suggest some term of incarceration,” Antkowiak said. McCullough’s law license is “in jeopardy,” Antkowiak said, “particularly because the offense involved an individual who was a client.”
McCullough, a Republican, was county solicitor for a year during former Republican Executive Jim Roddey’s term. He was a County Council member from 2007 to 2011.
Pushinsky argued that an Orphan’s Court judge approved McCullough’s actions with Jordan’s estate and that PNC Bank, a co-trustee on one of her accounts, could have rejected his requests for money.
A grand jury recommended charges against McCullough in 2009. Prosecutors said he enriched his family and political allies by donating $40,000 of Jordan’s money to Republican candidates for council and $10,000 to Catholic Charities, where his wife was executive director.
Now a Commonwealth Court judge, Patricia McCullough did not return calls.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a statement that he established an Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit in 2004, telling staffers that “any type of abuse involving our older citizens as victims, be it by family members, caretakers, or those with power of attorney, would not be tolerated.”
Zappala said he’s pleased that McCullough “is being held responsible for what I consider an egregious misuse of trust.”
Candidates who received money from Jordan’s estate included county Councilwoman Jan Rea, Councilman Vince Gastgeb and Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen. Rea and Allen did not return calls. Gastgeb declined to comment. All three and candidate Susan Caldwell returned the money.
McCullough’s case muddled through four defense attorneys, two judges, numerous delays and conferences, and two appeals since his arrest on Feb. 19, 2009.
The verdict disappointed Councilwoman Sue Means, who sat through most of McCullough’s trial to support her friend of nearly 30 years. McCullough and his wife “are really nice people,” Means said. “They’re very caring, and they help people all the time.”
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who served on council with McCullough, declined to comment.
Nauhaus in June dismissed charges of theft and conspiracy against McCullough’s sister, Kathleen McCullough, 52, of Collier. She could not be reached.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].