Faces 23 criminal counts in misuse of widow's trust fund
February 20, 2009 5:00 AM
Charles P. McCullough
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Allegheny County councilman accused nearly two years ago of improperly making $40,000 in political contributions from an elderly widow's trust fund has been charged with 23 criminal counts, including theft, misapplication of property, criminal conspiracy and making false reports.
Charles P. McCullough, who was elected in 2007 after some of the allegations had come to light, was arrested yesterday and released on $20,000 straight bond.
Also charged was Mr. McCullough's sister, Kathleen, who is named in relation to the trust account in the jury presentment. She also was charged in a separate embezzlement case.
According to the 52-page grand jury presentment, Mr. McCullough is accused of taking more than $154,000 from Shirley Jordan's trust.
Mr. McCullough's attorney, Clifford Levine, said his client has no intentions of stepping down from County Council.
"He feels very strongly that he is innocent of the charges, and we will fight them vigorously," Mr. Levine said.
Yesterday, County Executive Dan Onorato called it "a sad day for council."
A number of Mr. McCullough's colleagues on the 15-member council said they will withhold their judgment about his future on County Council until the case against him is settled.
"It's a sad thing that this would occur. I feel bad for his family, but this is uncharted water for us. We have never had to deal with a situation like this," said Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill.
The investigation involves Mr. McCullough's handling of the trust account of Mrs. Jordan, a 91-year-old widow in Upper St. Clair. The investigation began in April 2007, following the publication of a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealing that Mrs. Jordan had been the single largest donor to four local Republican candidates even though she hadn't voted in seven years.
Mrs. Jordan, who resides in nursing home, told the Post-Gazette in an interview that she never approved the $40,000 in donations. She attributed the checks to her attorney, Mr. McCullough, who had power of attorney over her financial affairs and represented her in her trust fund.
"'He's a dirty crook, if you want my opinion,'" Mrs. Jordan told a detective investigating the case.
As for the $40,000 in political donations Mrs. Jordan claimed not to have made, Mr. Levine said: "There are explanations for a number of matters, and we'll present those at the appropriate time."
But according to the grand jury, Mr. McCullough had his secretary modify the donation checks from Mrs. Jordan's account to include the words: "Shirley H. Jordan care of Charles P. McCullough."
Officials say another $10,000 donation -- this one without Mr. McCullough's name on it -- was made to Catholic Charities at the last minute to ensure the organization met its fund-raising goals. Mr. McCullough's wife was the executive director of the charity at the time.
Court papers accuse Mr. McCullough -- who met Mrs. Jordan in his capacity as solicitor for Upper St. Clair during a dispute with her over installing sidewalks in front of her home -- of inappropriately using a power of attorney dated Feb. 15, 2006.
The document states that Mr. McCullough would be permitted to act on Mrs. Jordan's behalf should she "be incapacitated."
However, the grand jury found that Mrs. Jordan, at the times in question, was not incapacitated
The form, which an expert before the grand jury called "a scissors and paste job," goes on to say that Mr. McCullough, as her agent, "shall not receive compensation for serving under this power of attorney."
But, the grand jury found that he collected money for "personal agency" fees, legal fees and for services rendered. He charged the trust account, which was at the time being administered by PNC Bank, $4,000 per month.
Thomas Gray, a relationship manager at PNC, testified that Mr. McCullough made a number of unusual requests and suggestions on how Mrs. Jordan's money should be spent, including one to use $500,000 to buy a piece of real estate from one of Mr. McCullough's clients. The bank refused to allocate the money.
Eventually, the trust fund was moved to Northwest Savings Bank at Mr. McCullough's request, according to the grand jury. There the presentment says, administrators did not question the attorney's spending requests.
The grand jury also concluded that Mr. McCullough set out, with attorneys from his then-law firm, Eckert Seamans, to establish a foundation in Mrs. Jordan's name, even though her will specified that that was to occur only upon her death.
"This grand jury finds that the overriding reason McCullough initiated the startup and funding of the Jordan Foundation during Shirley Jordan's lifetime was to ensure his own control of her assets," court papers say.
Upon Mrs. Jordan's death, Mr. McCullough's power of attorney would have ended.
The grand jury found that Mr. McCullough, who charged about $300 per hour for his foundation work, billed for nearly $15,000 in legal fees. Another $79,000 was billed to the firm.
In detailing how the foundation was set up, the grand jury explained that Mr. McCullough recruited a number of people to serve on the advisory board, including former county Executive Jim Roddey.
Mr. Roddey testified to the grand jury that Mr. McCullough offered to pay sitting members $1,000 per meeting.
"'I felt that the amount was excessive,'" Mr. Roddey said, noting that the board's make-up included only Republicans. "'I just had a very uncomfortable feeling about checks from her trust of this magnitude going to people that normally would not receive that kind of largess.'"
The charges against Mr. McCullough for making false reports to law enforcement stem from the initial story written on the matter.
Five days after the article ran in the Post-Gazette, Mr. McCullough went to the Upper St. Clair police and filed a complaint against reporter Dennis Roddy, who wrote the initial story.
Upper St. Clair Police Chief Ronald J. Pardini testified to the grand jury that Mr. McCullough alleged that Mr. Roddy had agitated Mrs. Jordan, forcing her to hide in a bathroom, and requiring her caretaker to run and get help. Mr. McCullough also said that Mr. Roddy failed to identify himself as a reporter or sign in to the nursing home.
However, a police investigation determined those allegations were not true.
The grand jury specifically noted in the presentment that some good has come of the investigation and the initial article.
All of the political contributions and money donated to Catholic Charities have been returned. In addition, Mr. McCullough returned $40,000 paid to him for services he rendered, and Eckert Seamans returned all of the fees it had been paid and forgave any outstanding bills.
The allegations involving Kathleen McCullough, 46, of Collier, revolve around her being hired to serve as a companion to Mrs. Jordan at a rate of $60 per hour, even though she had no medical background or geriatric certification. She was paid $4,575 to spend time with the elderly woman for July and August 2006. Included in that fee were additional services where Ms. McCullough charged $120 for going out to purchase birthday gifts for Mrs. Jordan and for $360 for spending six hours wrapping gifts and attending the woman's party.
Testimony during the grand jury proceedings revealed that the typical pay rate for such a companion would be $14.78.
Ms. McCullough is also charged with theft by deception for allegedly taking $1.25 million from her former employer, Mackin Engineering. Court documents show that during the investigation involving Shirley Jordan, detectives discovered evidence at Ms. McCullough's home related to her former job.
According to the grand jury presentment, Ms. McCullough, who was the controller, wrote checks from Mackin totaling $872,118 to pay her American Express card. She rang up $47,000 worth of charges at Polo Retail in just one month in 2005, authorities said. In that month, her purchases exceeded $94,000, police said
However, Ms. McCullough's attorney, Steven Townsend, said that it's "preposterous" she could have run up $800,000 in expenses on her credit card.
"She's done nothing wrong here," he said. "These expenses can all be justified."
She is already facing separate counts alleging that she embezzled $148,000 from Radiance Surgery Center.
Staff writers Karamagi Rujumba and Daniel Malloy contributed. Paula Reed Ward can be reached at