MOOSIC -- Officials with the Greenwood Hose Company, that serves Moosic, went to State Police back in February to report a large amount of missing money. Now we know it was one of the department's own, the former board president, who's accused of stealing almost $400,000 from the hose company over the past several years.
Bill Sweeney is a Moosic councilman and a business owner, and is often described as a genuine guy and a good volunteer. He walked humbly into a magistrate's office in Carbondale.
Sweeney was arraigned on charges of theft and forgery for crimes he admits he committed over several years while serving as board president at the Greenwood Hose Company in Moosic.
"This, in all honesty, resulted from a gambling issue. Casinos came into town, property tax relief for a lot of people but a lot of addictions for a lot of people, and this is one of them," said Sweeney's attorney Bill Peters.
Peters explained why Sweeney took almost $400,000 from the hose company's main bank account. But, authorities still don't know how the missing money went unnoticed for seven years.
Earlier this year, other volunteer firefighters noticed hefty checks written out to Sweeney and to his business Bitty Bill's ice cream shop on Birney Avenue in Moosic.
According to court papers, Sweeney funneled money from the hose company to Bitty Bill's and even opened up a credit card in the hose company's name.
Newswatch 16 spoke to many people in Moosic who said Sweeney is a prominent member of the community, a business owner and a borough councilman.
Borough Council President Joseph Mercatili said Sweeney is still a councilman. But, they'll discuss his status at the next council meeting.
An attorney for Greenwood Hose Company said the fire department is audited every few years by the state. But Sweeney's accused of forging signatures on checks and that may be why the theft wasn't caught sooner.
The money was taken from the department's main checking account where donations from the public were deposited.
"You really don't know where the money goes, you hope it goes there but you really don't know where the collections go when they take money for different things, you really don't know," said Catherine Drost of Moosic, who regularly contributes to Greenwood Hose Company.
Even though there are still a lot of questions about why the theft went on for so long, prosecutors say they don't expect anyone else to be charged.
Bill Sweeney was released on bail, he's expected back in court later this month.