Husband of Pennsylvania high court candidate begins prison sentence

Charles McCullough's incarceration comes as voters decide whether to back his wife, Commonwealth Judge Patricia McCullough, in her bid for an open seat on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court.

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press

(Harrisburg) — The husband of a Pennsylvania appellate judge who is running for the state’s highest court began serving a prison sentence Tuesday in a long-running case involving taking money from an elderly woman’s trust fund to benefit several political campaigns and a charity connected to his wife.

Charles McCullough’s incarceration comes as voters decide whether to back his wife, Commonwealth Judge Patricia McCullough, in her bid for an open seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Patricia McCullough is seeking the Republican nomination in May 18′s primary election against two fellow Republican judges, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson and Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick.

Her husband’s criminal case has yet to emerge publicly as a campaign issue in a significant way — if at all — even though Patricia McCullough’s name surfaced in court testimony and newspaper stories about it going back more than a decade.

But state Republican Party committee members raised the case during closed-door endorsement meetings earlier this year and it weighed on their decision, said one.

Many Republicans contend electing appellate judges by districts rather than in statewide partisan contests — as is currently the process — will ensure that the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court reflect the state’s diverse geography.

Kent M. Wilhelm / Spotlight PA

Many Republicans contend electing appellate judges by districts rather than in statewide partisan contests — as is currently the process — will ensure that the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court reflect the state’s diverse geography.

“No question about it,” said Dick Stewart, who is co-chair of the party’s central caucus. “She got next to zero votes at the full meeting.”

The state party went on to endorse Brobson.

In a 90-minute candidates’ forum held last month, the subject of her husband’s case did not come up.

The moderator asked McCullough and other candidates why they want to leave their current judicial post for one on the state’s highest court.

“I think I bring a different perspective to the court,” McCullough said. “I believe in restorative and equal justice and I’ve worked with many, many programs to improve the system of justice, and I find that it’s most advantageous to be working at it from the very top down, although you can be very influential at this level.”

McCullough, 64, has served on the Commonwealth Court for 11 years, first elected to a 10-year term in 2009, the year her husband was charged. She did not return messages left at her office Tuesday.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court denied Charles McCullough’s latest appeals. He is currently representing himself.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office said Charles McCullough reported as ordered Tuesday morning and was taken into custody to begin serving a state sentence of 2 1/2 to five years in prison.

The 66-year-old former Allegheny County council member was convicted of theft and misappropriation of funds in 2015 for using his power of attorney to take $50,000 from an elderly woman’s trust fund.

He had argued at his trial that he had the widow’s approval to use the money and had remained free on appeal since his sentencing. Asked if Patricia McCullough had ever intervened on her husband’s behalf, Zappala’s office said it knew of no evidence presented in court to indicate that.

People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Charles McCullough spent the money in 2006 and 2007, using $40,000 for campaign contributions and sending the other $10,000 to a charity, according to court records.

That charity was Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Patricia McCullough was the executive director and the organization was lagging behind a fundraising goal, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in 2007.

“She said to keep quiet about it,” Mary Ann Krupa, who had worked in the charity’s development office, told the newspaper. “I said ‘I don’t understand.’ She said ‘You don’t have to understand. It’s a total secret.’”

Catholic Charities gave back the donation and Patricia McCullough’s alleged attempts to keep the donation a secret later came up in trial testimony.

In the endorsement meeting with the state party’s central caucus, Stewart said he raised the matter with Patricia McCullough.

“I quoted from the (court) opinion, asked her directly about it and she did not really give any kind of satisfactory answer,” Stewart said. “She dodged it, which is why she received zero votes from the central caucus.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

Italian Americans sue over Columbus holiday name change in Philadelphia