Beaver County charity founder sentenced to 18 months for stealing donations
February 26, 2016 3:44 PM
Steve Wetzel in 2008.
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A former Beaver County baseball coach who set up a charity for terminally ill children was sentenced today to 18 months in federal prison for ripping off contributors by stealing donations for himself.
U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer imposed that term on Steven Wetzel, 39, of Beaver Falls, and ordered him to pay $91,000 in restitution to the victims and another $17,000 to the IRS.
Wetzel pleaded guilty in September to mail fraud and filing a false income tax return.
The former baseball coach at Freedom Area High School set up the Hero Program in 2009 and asked for donations from local businesses and foundations to help kids with terminal illness.
The U.S. attorney's office said he used about $10,000 on the children but spent $91,000 on himself for restaurant meals, Pirates baseball tickets, doctor bills and remodeling his house.
The IRS said he also didn't report the money he stole as income on his returns from 2010 through 2013.
Wetzel had been the co-founder of the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation, a program established to encourage terminally ill children to play sports in tribute to John Challis, a Freedom baseball player who died of cancer in 2008 at age 18.
Wetzel left that program in 2009 and created his own charity, the Hero Program, for which he was executive director.