GROVE CITY —
Cecelia H. Yauger’s credit card expenses started growing three months after she was named executive director of Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, Grove City.
Monthly charges on her Intermediate Unit-issued American Express card between late 2007 and early 2013 totaled more than $2,000 or $3,000 at times.
While some might have been legitimate business expenses and business trips that included other employees, other charges are being questioned by the Unit IV board and a team of forensic auditors it has hired to scrutinize them.
Yauger had worked for Unit IV as director of special education for several years. She became assistant executive director in charge of special education, serving in that position for a few years before being named Unit IV executive director July 1, 2007.
Acting Executive Director Angelo Pezzuolo said she did not have a unit-issued credit card before then.
Yauger resigned as executive director April 24 after her credit card expenses were questioned and scrutinized by the board and solicitor. The bills show she initialed the payment approvals herself regularly.
The board reviewed the bills, then conducted a hearing after Pittsburgh lawyer Antoinette Oliver of Meyer, Unkovic and Scott had submitted a request for information under the open records law, seeking Yauger’s credit card charges.
Yauger has secured Pittsburgh attorney Gene Tempesta, a New Castle native, as her legal counsel.
“I’ve known Cecelia Yauger for almost 50 years,” Tempesta said. “I’ve never known her to do anything wrong, ever. This whole thing is unfortunate for everybody.
“She served that organization 30 years and education for 35 years, and gave her life to all of this,” he continued. “For this to happen at this point, I’m not sure what to think, except that she was doing what the Unit IV board asked her to do and she followed their policies.”
Regarding her having approved her own credit charges, he said, “There’s no policy to say otherwise. She was acting within policy, in my opinion.”
Yauger’s credit card charges for the last quarter of 2007 exceeded $1,500 and increased after that.
In 2008, they totaled more than $14,000. Charges for 2009 totaled $18,500. Those grew to $25,700 in 2010 and $28,300 in 2011. The charges for last year were $24,700.
When the matter was discovered in April, $4,197 had been spent for the first three months of this year.
“If you compare those to charges of any business person working for any business of comparable size, you’ll find charges for a comparable amount,” Tempesta said.
“It’s the cost of doing business. If they did not expect Mrs. Yauger to have any expenses, they would not have given her a card. It’s normal that an executive director would have expenses.”
In more recent months, multiple charges on her bills were from retail and restaurants. Some were out of town, but others were in Grove City, Hermitage, New Castle and Cranberry Township, Butler County. There were multiple charges at chains such as Walmart, Costco, Target, Pat Catan’s, Michael’s, Sheetz, Kirkland’s and TJ Maxx.
There also were several hundred dollars worth of charges at Wendell August Forge, Hallmark card stores, Daffin’s Candies, Hershey’s Chocolate World and other novelty locations and online sites such as Kodak and godaddy.com. In addition, there were charges for out-of-town hotels, airline tickets and rental cars.
The Unit IV board of directors is awaiting the results of a forensic audit by Hill, Barth and King of Hermitage to determine a dollar amount of what might have been personal charges and what were legitimate, and what the Unit IV will assess Yauger as a reimbursement.
The board initially appointed its solicitor, Timothy McNickle, to investigate. The Grove City police and the FBI have since been contacted.
The FBI was notified because the intermediate unit receives federal funds that pass through to the school districts, board member Lynn Foltz of Wilmington School District explained.
Attempts to reach McNickle last week and Monday were unsuccessful.
Yauger signed a written resignation agreement with the Unit IV board on April 24. In it she agreed to pay restitution of amounts Unit IV determines she owes for all claims arising out of her access to and improper or unauthorized use of its resources, property or funds.
Yauger waived any claims for recovery of wages, compensation for accumulated sick days, accrued time off, vacation, benefits and any compensation to which she may have been entitled. She did not waive any claims to her vested pension or retirement benefits.
On May 22 the board discussed a preliminary forensic audit report in executive session, according to Foltz. She said that report has not been made public, pending release of the final audit.
Pezzuolo said Monday the final version should be ready for the board’s public meeting at 7 p.m. June 26. Should it be completed sooner, the board will convene a special meeting, which will be advertised.
Foltz said the credit card matter took her and other board members by surprise.
In looking at the charges, she noted, she saw no receipts to go with them.
“The whole thing makes me ill,” she said. “It floored all of us and we are wondering, how did this go on for so long without someone stopping it? We’re asking a lot of questions, and it’s not going to go away for awhile. It’s sad.”