Chesco township employee busted for embezzling $264,000 to fuel ‘shopping addiction’

WEST CHESTER >> A Valley Township employee has been arrested after the Chester County District Attorney’s office said she embezzled more than a quarter of a million dollars from the township, and used the money to go on a shopping spree.

Donna Groff, 70, of West Bradford, who handled cash payments by township residents for their water, sewer, and trash bills, was arrested Monday. She was fired by Valley officials after the theft was discovered. She worked for the township for 10 years.

A criminal complaint file against her alleges that Groff confessed to the thefts after being confronted with them during an intervew in December.

In a press release issued Wednesday District Attorney Tom Hogan said Groff used the $264,577.87 she pilfered from her employer to go on elaborate shopping sprees for clothes, jewelry, shoes and other items online. When authorities discovered the theft, Groff told them that she had a “shopping addiction.”

“Whether you are a business or a government agency, you are vulnerable to fraud,” Hogan said. “You must have strong oversight and robust systems in place to prevent theft. Valley Township was victimized by this trusted employee, acting merely to amuse herself, and now the taxpayers will foot the bill.”

According to the release, in December another Valley employee, Assistant Secretary Cynthia King, was reconciling the cash payments for water, sewer, and trash bills with the township’s bank accounts. This employee discovered large discrepancies for the year, with incoming cash never making it to the township bank accounts and fraudulent bank deposit slips.

Chester County Detectives were called on Dec. 18 to investigate. Based on an extensive internal audit and review of records, interviews, and other evidence, the detectives discovered that Groff had been systematically embezzling from the township for at least four years.

Groff, Hogan said, stole cash payments for water, sewer and trash bills.

“She simply put the cash into her purse and walked out with it at the end of the day,” Hogan said. “She fabricated fraudulent bank deposit slips and altered bookkeeping records to cover up the crime.”

According to an arrest affdavit filed by investigators, the township’s cash deposits were secured in a bank bag with a deposit slip for the cash amount and delivered to Coatesville Savings Bank for deposit.

In an interview with investigators, Groff allegedly said she committed the thefts approximately two to three times per month, depending on how much currency was taken in by the township, the complaint stated. She estimated she stole as much as $4,700 at one time.

Groff initially used the money to pay for medical and dental bills, Hogan said. However, she claimed a “shopping addiction” and spent the majority of the money in hundreds of transactions with QVC and other shopping outlets. She used the stolen money to buy designer clothes, jewelry, shoes, makeup, decorations for her home, and other items.

Groff faces an array of charges, including felony theft, tampering with records, unlawful use of a computer and other crimes. Bail was set at $100,000.

“This investigation is ongoing,” Hogan said.

Township officials on Wednesday referred questions to Philadelphia attorney Neil A. Morris of the Offit Kurman law firm, who has assisted the township in employee matters for years.

“The township was of course shocked to find out that such a loyal and trusted long-term employee had been stealing from the township,” Morris, who has had past experience with township labor issues in kennett, New Garden, an Valley, said in a telephone interview. He said that as soon as the thefts were uncovered, the township brought in a forensic accountant to review its finances and procedures. Those finding were shared with investigators, with whom the township continues to work. Since then, new procedures have been put in place along with the township’s normal safeguards, Morris said.

“She doctored papers to cover up the thefts, and we are looking into why that wasn’t caught,” he said. “We will be taking legal action against Miss Groff to recover the funds that she stole.”

Anyone with any further information should contact Detective Keith Cowdright at (610) 344-6866. The assigned prosecutor is Assistant District Attorney Alex Gosfield.


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