Former Braddock official repays $30 of $170,000 owed

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Ella Jones, Braddock's former borough manager, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to stealing nearly $170,000 from the financially strapped community and was sentenced to nine years of probation and ordered to pay $167,896 in restitution.

Since then, the borough has received $30 from Jones -- three $10 checks; additional payments totaling $80 went to court fees -- a fact that has rankled Mayor John Fetterman.

"If she can't pay Braddock back in dollars, she should pay it in community service," Mr. Fetterman said.

"What kind of example does that set?" he said. "Steal [$170,000] and send in a check for $10 a month for the rest of your life?

"If Ella is unable to make restitution, she belongs in flame orange," he said.

But Jones and her lawyer, Phillip DiLucente, say she is in compliance with the restitution order.

"In my opinion, she has complied with Judge [Jill] Rangos' order, and she's going to continue to make payments at the will of the court," Mr. DiLucente said, adding Jones has "found it difficult to find gainful employment because of her felony convictions."

He said Jones has "actively pursued" job leads.

"The ability of people to receive gainful employment when they have felony convictions is very difficult and disheartening," Mr. DiLucente said. "For a nonviolent offender, it's very sad."

Jones pleaded guilty to theft and forgery charges in March 2011; she forged the names of three borough council members and misappropriated 153 borough checks made out to herself and to the borough, prosecutors said. She used more borough money to pay off credit card bills.

During a sentencing hearing in June 2011, Judge Rangos said it would be "counterproductive" to sentence Jones to jail because she would be unable to work and pay restitution.

But Mr. Fetterman said, "If she's not paying restitution, it would be logical to incarcerate her at this point."

The borough has recouped $50,000 from one of its insurers, according to borough Manager Maria McCool, who said borough officials are "working hard to make the borough whole."

Ms. McCool said Jones' payments are "meaningful and necessary," but the restitution payments won't be as significant as payments from the borough's insurers.

Council President Tina Doose said she's "never taken [her] eye off the ball" and is pressing banks and insurance companies to repay the borough because the checks were fraudulently cashed.

"I never anticipated ... that she was going to be able to pay back this amount of money," Ms. Doose said of Jones' restitution order.

Ms. Doose said she would likeJones to either make meaningful restitution payments or perform some sort of community service.

"If she's able to clear her slate differently, through community service, I'm fine with that," Ms. Doose said.

Ms. McCool said the borough has contacted Jones' parole officer and requested a hearing before Judge Rangos.

"This is in no way a forgotten issue," Ms. McCool said.

Jones' parole officer and a supervisor with the Allegheny County Probation Office declined to comment, but Mr. DiLucente said no hearing date has been set.

Jones, 60, of Turtle Creek, called Mr. Fetterman's concerns with her restitution payments "a witch hunt" and said she's paying as much as she can every month and plans to continue to do so.

"When I am able to pay more, I will pay more," she said.

"The mistake that I made is regrettable," she said.

"I'm sorry about it. I'm not going to apologize. ... I have a life to live and I'm going to live my life."

Mr. Fetterman questions how Jones could steal more than 10 percent of the borough's annual budget with "no consequences."

"She got away with everything," he said.

neigh_east

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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