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Lehigh Co. DA: 2 execs charged with theft in Coplay streetlight case

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 31 2013 11:37:28 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 01 2013 04:41:57 AM CST

Two Pennsylvania executives are now facing theft charges in Lehigh County, accused of swindling the borough of Coplay over streetlights.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Two Lackawanna County businessmen are accused of stealing $160,000 from the borough of Coplay in Lehigh County.

The charges stem from a deal to help Coplay buy street lights from PPL. Coplay officials said the alleged theft has left a huge hole in their finances.

In 2009, the borough thought it was saving money by paying Municipal Energy Manager Inc. $160,000 to negotiate the purchase of street lights from PPL.

Other municipalities, like Allentown and Whitehall Township, also in Lehigh County, had already done it..

"Through the investigation, it was revealed that MEM never entered into any formal negotiations with PPL on behalf of the borough of Coplay for the purchase of those street lights," said Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.

Instead, Martin said MEM CEO Robert Kearns and secretary Patrick McLaine pocketed $160,000 of the borough's money. They are now charged with theft.

But, this isn't the first time the two men have had trouble with the law. In January, Kearns and McLaine were convicted of similar charges after they took $800,000 from Bethlehem Twp., Northampton Co., to purchase street lights and failed to deliver.

Charges are also pending in Schuylkill and Carbon counties.

"I just wish there was a way that we can get our money back. I mean, it's critical for us," said Coplay Mayor Joe Bundra, adding that the alleged theft has left a huge hole in the borough's finances. "This is a very small borough and money is pretty tight. It really hurt us and really put the burden on our taxpayers."

Getting that money back will be difficult as MEM has filed for bankruptcy and is facing several lawsuits.

Kearns and McLaine are expected to be sentenced for the Bethlehem Township matter in March.