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Lebanon councilman says he'll resign after fraud charges

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Aug 16, 2016 2:58 PM
tonymatula.JPG

Photo by Lebanon Daily News File

Tony Matula on left takes the oath from Judge Samuel Kline on Jan. 2, 2014.

(Lebanon) -- Lebanon City Councilman Tony Matula said he plans to resign from office after being charged on Monday with falsifying an accident report by the Office of the Lebanon County District Attorney.

Matula, 59, is accused of reporting to Lebanon police on the morning of June 28 that his 2014 Volkswagen was struck while parked in front of his home in the 100 block of South Ninth Street where he also operates a hair salon.

Based on evidence at the scene, including damage to his car and a utility pole across the street, investigators questioned Matula's initial report.

The following day, June 29, Matula gave police a different story, telling them he had been contacted by a friend who claimed her husband had fallen asleep while driving and struck his car.

Matula, however, told police he did not want to provide that person's identity and the investigation remained open, according to the criminal complaint.

"I am 100 percent, fully responsible for my actions and I was wrong. I am disappointed in myself and I apologize to my constituents - all 27,000 of them."
Tony Matula, upon resigning from City Council after being charged with insurance fraud
Later the same day, Matula contacted police a third time to tell them that he had learned a friend of his had moved the car without his knowledge and struck the utility pole across the street.

Police interviewed the friend who initially corroborated Matula's version of events, but then quickly recanted, telling investigators that Matula had asked her to lie to police by accepting responsibility for the car's damage, police said.

The woman, who was not identified in the county Detective Bureau's report and is not facing charges, told police she had also provided the false version of events to Matula's insurance company.

When presented with this information by police, Matula acknowledge he had been at the wheel when the car struck the utility pole across the street from his home and moved it the next morning, prior to making his first hit-and-run report, according to the criminal complaint.

Matula also admitted to making a fraudulent hit-and-run claim to his insurance company, which paid $5,600 to a body shop for repairs.

Because of his position as a councilman, city police turned the case over to the county Detective Bureau, which continued the investigation and on Monday filed charges against Matula of insurance fraud; unsworn falsification; false reports to law enforcement; and hit and run. He was arraigned by District Judge Marie Dissinger and released on $10,000 unsecured bail.

In an interview inside his hair salon Monday afternoon, Matula took full responsibility for what he called a lapse in judgment motivated by a desire to get one over on the insurance company for the high rates he is paying after having had two previous accidents.

"I accept the fact that I made a false report. I understand the implications that go with it, and I accept them. I regret doing it. There was no malice or intent to hurt anyone," he said.

Although not required to resign unless convicted, Matula said it is the right thing to do. He added that he will still try to make the city better by doing things like continuing to organize the policeman's ball in December.

"I am 100 percent, fully responsible for my actions, and I was wrong. I am disappointed in myself, and I apologize to my constituents - all 27,000 of them," he said. "I made a mistake but I will live with it, and I will not leave my passion on making the city better. I must resign because I owe my constituents more."

Matula personally delivered the news to Mayor Sherry Capello, who said she was saddened and disappointed.

"I don't even know what to say," she said when reached by phone Monday afternoon. "He indicated to me it was a lapse in judgment."

Capello noted Matula did many positive things in office, including leading a campaign that raised more than $50,000 to restore the city's K-9 unit.

"I think his heart is in the right place," she said. "Tony has done some very wonderful things that have benefited the city and the community. It's disappointing, and I think Tony is disappointed in himself. Unfortunately, people make mistakes. He is accepting full responsibility for his, and I think that says a lot about him, as well."

The mayor said Matula plans to resign in writing on Tuesday and his resignation would become official upon council acceptance of it, possibly as early as Thursday's workshop session. That will then initiate a 30-day period in which council would select his replacement.

Messages left with City Council Chairman Wiley Parker were not returned.

Matula has been a member of council since 2010 and is in the middle of his second four-year term. He has two previous convictions for driving under the influence. One in 1988 and the other in 2000.

This story comes to WITF through a partnership with the Lebanon Daily News.

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