RANSOM TOWNSHIP — A former township secretary who served for almost twenty years in Lackawanna County surrendered to police Tuesday after being charged with stealing close to $100,000 in taxpayer money.
Kathleen Zielinski was Ransom Township’s secretary for 18 years. The last few years of her tenure, other township officials started suspecting her of stealing.
A state audit done earlier this year revealed $98,000 missing from township accounts. Zielinski was arrested for stealing that taxpayer money Tuesday.
Ending seven months of investigation and years of speculation for people in Ransom Township, longtime township secretary Kathleen Zielinski turned herself in at a magistrate’s office near Clarks Summit.
According to court papers, during her last few years as Ransom Township secretary Zielinski started paying her electric bills with township money and writing phony paychecks to herself. Investigators also believe Zielinski used a township credit card to rack up more than $80,000 in personal charges.
“When you put your trust in someone and they do this to you, it hurts, it really hurts. It hurts us as supervisors and it hurts the township,” said Ransom Township Supervisor Bud Brown.
Two of the township’s current supervisors sat in on Zielinski’s arraignment hoping for some sort of explanation. They say since state police started investigating in March, they’ve learned just how the township’s finances have been affected.
The missing money amounts to more than half of what Ransom Township takes in each year in taxes. The township had to put some road projects on hold this year because officials weren’t sure if the money would be there.
“We were looking at over $300,000 in road work and we didn’t do any of it, only because we didn’t know where we stood with the audits,” said Supervisor David Bird.
“We don’t want to see what happened now happen again. It will ruin our township and we can’t afford it,” Brown added.
The supervisors call what happened with Zielinski a betrayal of trust. State police say the township puts too much trust in its employees in general.
“There should be more checks and balances in situations like this so someone doesn’t have open access to funds like this,” said Trooper Connie Devens.
According to court papers, Kathleen Zielinski admitted to police that she used township money to pay her bills and used the credit card for personal expenses. But, Zielinski said she had no idea the theft amounted to $98,000. Because she’s cooperated with police, the magistrate released her without bail after her arraignment Tuesday.