SHARON – Federal agents visited the Primary Health Network and its PHN Charitable Foundation on Wednesday, serving subpoenas to both organizations.
Neither federal officials nor officers of the non-profit health organizations would provide the purpose of the federal inquiry or information sought by the subpoenas.
Thomas Burich, president of the PHN Board, said he was told two subpoenas were served — one at each facility. He said nothing was removed from the PHN building at 100 Shenango Ave. or from the foundation's office, which is located around the corner on 55 Pitt St.
Primary Health Network, which is headquartered in Sharon, operates health centers in 17 counties in Pennsylvania and in Ashtabula County in Ohio. They provide health care services to underserved areas. The PHN Charitable Foundation is the fund-raising arm of the network.
Burich said he learned about the subpoenas around 3 p.m.Thursday.
The Herald called Dan Bell, PHN board secretary, at 4 p.m. Thursday for information. He said he knew nothing about the federal agents’ visit. Bell is the superintendent of Hermitage School District.
Burich responded to the Herald's email request for comment a few minutes after 4 p.m. Thursday. He said he would be meeting with a number of individuals that evening. He did not indicate with whom he was meeting.
He communicated again late Thursday, reporting the number of subpoenas. He apologized for PHN officials' lack of communication and later said he urged them to be forthcoming as more information comes to light.
Multiple attempts by the Herald on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to reach PHN Chief Executive Officer Drew Pierce and PHN Marketing Director Sara Rupp for details about the federal inquiry were refused. Officials at the foundation referred all inquiries to Pierce.
Herald reporter Quinn Schwartz visited the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh Friday to check for documents related to the investigation.
The court clerk was asked for applications requests for the subpoenas or any other documents available in the case. The clerk was not familiar with the matter but phoned a supervisor, who informed her such information could not be released in an ongoing investigation.
Melissa Melewsky, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association counsel, said there is no language in the Western District of Pennsylvania's policy to indicate that records for an unsealed document cannot be released
But she added that a lawyer would likely have to file a lawsuit claiming the information falls under the judicial open records law before the federal agency would agree to release the information.
The non-profit status of the PHN and its foundation requires the organizations to file annual reports of their activities with the Internal Revenue Service because they are exempt from paying income taxes.
In 2017-18, the last fiscal year for which a return is publicly available, Primary Health Network had total revenue of $86,285,794 and expenses of $81,348,558 for net revenues of $4,937,236.
The non-profit agency’s revenues for 2017-18 included $10,845,642 in grants, gifts and contributions, a category that includes federal funding.
An audit by the Pittsburgh-based accounting firm of Arnett Carbis Toothman indicated that Primary Health Network owned $1.4 million in land, and $52.5 million in buildings as of Aug. 31, 2018.
The audit also showed that Primary Health Network had $39,587,275 and PHN Charitable Foundation had $9,784,199 in net assets.
Pennsylvania counties served by PHN, in addition to Mercer, are Beaver, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mifflin, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Venango, Warren and Westmoreland.
Herald staff writers Eric Poole, Melissa Klaric, David Dye and Nancy Ash contributed to this report.