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Feds take over corruption case against embattled Pa. city manager

Herm Suplizio, the suspended city manager of DuBois, has been charged by federal authorities with conspiracy and federal program fraud.

  • Min Xian/SpotlightPA
  • Angela Couloumbis/Spotlight PA
Herm Suplizio in a campaign video

 Screenshot via YouTube

Herm Suplizio in a campaign video

This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday arrested and charged suspended DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio with theft and conspiracy, alleging that he diverted hundreds of thousands in public dollars into secret bank accounts he then used to pay for personal vacations, utility bills, jewelry, and more.

The city’s former administrative secretary Roberta Shaffer was also charged, according to a statement by federal authorities.

The new federal charges from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania further complicate Suplizio’s already mounting legal troubles. The politically connected city manager was charged earlier this year by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in a sweeping political corruption case.

Thursday’s federal charges closely mirror many of the allegations contained in Pennsylvania’s case and “will supplant” the state’s criminal allegations, Brett Hambright, a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, told Spotlight PA in an email. Hambright said the state will drop the 23 criminal counts — including 13 felonies — it has brought against Suplizio.

Like state prosecutors, federal authorities allege Suplizio diverted money that belonged to the city into secret bank accounts that only he and Shaffer controlled — and over which the city had no oversight. City Council did not approve the accounts, according to the federal indictment. The money they allegedly diverted included about $60,000 in annual fees that DuBois was supposed to receive under its waste management contract with a private company.

Those accounts, according to the indictment, were associated with DuBois’ annual summer festival called Community Days, which celebrates the city’s storied volunteer fire department.

Neither Suplizio nor Shaffer could be reached for comment on Thursday. Suplizio’s lawyer also did not respond to requests for comment.

Suplizio was instrumental in the fundraising efforts for Community Days, Spotlight PA previously reported. In addition to serving as the city’s chief administrator, he was also the longtime executive director of the DuBois Area United Way. The newsroom found he leveraged these positions and was often in a decision-making position on both ends of deals, despite potential conflicts of interest.

State investigators allege that when they reviewed several years’ worth of budgets for Community Days, they found that administrative fees from the city’s waste disposal contractor, then called Advanced Disposal Systems — which is not named in the federal indictment — were deposited into bank accounts for the event instead of DuBois’ general fund and penciled in as being in much lower amounts.

Federal prosecutors allege Suplizio and Shaffer made large cash withdrawals from these accounts, wrote checks to themselves and others, and obtained cashier’s checks with themselves listed as payees. The pair also allegedly spent more than $450,000 from the accounts toward payments on Suplizio’s personal credit card.

Federal prosecutors also noted in the indictment four withdrawals Suplizio made to make political contributions to three “local elected officials,” but did not disclose their identities.

The state’s criminal complaint noted the involvement of Suplizio’s secretary but did not name her. Shaffer resigned in September after working as the city’s administrative secretary for about 14 years, according to the Courier Express. She also served as an assistant director for the DuBois Area United Way in 2015.

“Our communities entrust public officials like Suplizio with tremendous authority, and when that trust is violated — as is alleged here — this office and our federal and state law enforcement partners will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan wrote in a statement. His office declined to comment for this story.

Suplizio and Shaffer each face five counts total of felony conspiracy and federal program fraud charges. They could face up to 45 years in prison, up to $1.25 million in fines, or both.

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