UPDATE: On Tuesday, Oct. 21, former Schuylkill County Clerk of Courts Steve Lukach was sentenced to 27 months in prison plus a fine. You can read about the sentencing (for free) via the Times-News: Former Schuylkill Clerk Lukach sentenced in federal court
BELOW: Read a Victim’s statement submitted to the US Dept. of Justice by current Clerk of Courts Maria Casey which hints at systemic corruption in Schuylkill County government.
Former Schuylkill County Clerk of Courts Steve Lukach will be sentenced in a federal courtroom today.
Lukach could end up in prison for his part – the lone wolf – in a scheme to defraud Schuylkill County and his elected office. In the end, Lukach pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of falsification of records.
But those charges, on the face, don’t really tell you what Lukach did to deserve to end up in a federal court facing a federal prison sentence.
And while it’s easy to say, “Oh, such and such politician is corrupt,” very few actually know how a politician is corrupt. What do they do to earn such a dubious honor?
Luckily, just before leaving office earlier this year, former Schuylkill County Controller Christy Joy joined Schuylkill County Watchdog Scott Thomas on a Facebook Live broadcast and spelled out just how corrupt Lukach was and what he did to end up where he’ll be today.
Detailing the Corruption of Schuylkill Clerk of Courts Steve Lukach
Joy equated Lukach’s corruption to a “bad Monty Python joke” during his interview with Thomas.
He said he’d just hired a bright CPA by the name of Ashley Graver to work in the Controller’s office. And between the two of them, they were having a hard time getting the audit of Lukach’s office off the ground.
Joy had been working to “clean” the Courthouse since taking office, he said. He detailed how some things piled up in his own office from his predecessors that literally were under piles of dust.
“We asked Steve, ‘How many bank accounts do you have?’,” Joy said, when he first approached Lukach for an audit. “He said, ‘Three’.”
Lukach said the three bank accounts that received money collected from his office covered:
- Court costs and fines
- Court fees
- Bail money collected
But Joy knew that wasn’t right. He confronted Lukach about another bank account that he knew existed.
So then Lukach admitted there were 4 bank accounts connected with his office. But Joy knew that was wrong, too.
It wasn’t 5, either. But Lukach pretended to forget about that one, too. And again, Joy knew that wasn’t right either.
The sixth account? That was known as an “automation account” but Lukach apparently said to Joy, “But you don’t audit that one.”
“Me and Ashley and the State Police”
As the audit progressed, Joy eventually got Pennsylvania State Police involved in an investigation into Lukach’s conduct. The former Controller remembers when he first met the police to discuss the investigation.
It was at a County employees picnic at the Courthouse. Joy said he was flipping burgers. Lukach, coincidentally, was receiving the cooked burgers from Lukach and handing them to County employees.
Joy remembers wearing a suit to cook the burgers. He said, at one point, he took off his apron and went inside to meet the police.
“In the middle of the picnic, it’s me and Ashley and the State Police,” Joy said.
The two sides exchanged information on the amount of bank accounts that Lukach actually “managed” through the Clerk of Courts office.
“There wasn’t 3. There wasn’t 4. There wasn’t 5. There wasn’t 6,” Joy said. “There was 16! After a while, we figured out there was actually 17.”
“Things Just Didn’t Add Up.”
So, what’s the significance of all these bank accounts? It’s where Lukach basically hid money collected by his office for his own personal gain.
“We had taken a look at the bank statements that he had and the bank statements that he gave us versus the bank statements we got from the bank and things just didn’t add up,” Joy said.
For instance, one account was labeled “Sch Co Staples” and it’s where Lukach kept money to spend at Staples, presumably for County office supplies. But checks to Staples weren’t the only checks written under that account.
Joy says several were written out to Best Buy. And the amount of the checks, a flat $500, alarmed Joy.
“It’s really hard to spend $500 at Best Buy,” he said.
Now, everyone knows it’s really easy to drop that much money at Best Buy, but it’s never a round figure like that. But it was on Lukach’s checks, from the County account, to Best Buy. He presumes Lukach was using County money to purchase gift cards in that amount from Best Buy.
That wasn’t the only brazen act perpetrated by Lukach.
Another alarm bell went off when Joy saw checks made out to “Avenues”. The local non-profit has several business operations going in the county and one of them is running the Canteen at Schuylkill County Courthouse.
“He was paying for his lunch tab. And he was paying for his girlfriend’s lunch tab,” Joy said.
There was another …
“Why would there be a check to Roma Pizza from the Clerk of Courts office,” he said. “That was the bill for the Christmas party.”
Joy said that money came from that automation account that Lukach said wasn’t subject to a local audit, just a state audit.
The worst part about that Christmas party was that Lukach apparently went to each of the office’s employees and collected $35 from each to “pitch in” for the cost of the food. Lukach pocketed the cash and used County money to pay for it.
That wasn’t all.
Check out the full video below to find out how Lukach used Wite-Out and snips of paper to forge letters from Wells Fargo to pull off his scheme. It was that action that eventually led to him getting busted for mail fraud, Joy said.
Lukach could be sentenced up to 40 years in prison and hit with a fine of up to $500,000.
Victim’s Statement Submitted in Steve Lukach Case
This letter was submitted in federal court Tuesday at Lukach’s sentencing by current Clerk of Courts Maria Casey.DOC101920-005
Lukach Photo: Via OurCampaigns.com