Newspaper story prompted suspicion of McCullough – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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It took just five days for officials at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to return a $10,000 donation they received from an elderly widow after learning she had complained publicly that she did not want to make such a contribution.

John Goetz, the former president of the charity’s board of directors, testified Tuesday against Charles P. McCullough, a former Allegheny County councilman accused of stealing from Shirley H. Jordan when he served as her power of attorney and co-trustee of her trust fund.

Mr. McCullough’s nonjury trial on charges of theft, misapplication of funds, false reports and related counts began on Monday before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus. The case has been pending for six years and includes as a co-defendant Mr. McCullough’s sister, Kathleen McCullough, who was hired to serve as a companion for Ms. Jordan at a rate of $60 per hour.

Witnesses on Tuesday included employees at PNC Bank, which initially administered the Jordan trust fund in 2006, as well as an employee at Northwest Savings Bank, where the trust was moved in early 2007 at Mr. McCullough’s request.

It was Northwest that approved and issued four $10,000 checks to political candidates that brought Mr. McCullough’s actions out in the public.

Mr. Goetz testified that his concerns began after reading a newspaper story on April 13, 2007.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report revealed that Ms. Jordan was upset by a number of political contributions that had been made in her name to Republican candidates — county council members Vince Gastgeb, Jan Rea and Susan Caldwell, and Cheryl Allen, then a candidate for Superior Court. In the story, she said the donations were orchestrated by Mr. McCullough.

“The donor was saying it was against her will to give such a donation,” Mr. Goetz testified.

At the time, Mr. McCullough’s wife, Patricia, was serving as the executive director of Catholic Charities, and just before the annual Bishop’s Dinner in May 2006, she announced that their fundraising goal of $600,000 had been met after a $10,000 donation was made by one of her husband’s clients.

When Mr. Goetz saw the newspaper story, he said he immediately wanted to begin an investigation to find out what happened. He asked Patricia McCullough for a written chronology, and held a meeting on the Monday after the newspaper article appeared.

“The summary was very brief and caused us to ask more questions,” Mr. Goetz said.

He wondered if Patricia McCullough, now a Commonwealth Court judge, had ever met with Ms. Jordan, or if there was a conflict of interest in making the donation.

“She may have mentioned her husband was the trustee of the trust and Ms. Jordan was giving the donation voluntarily,” Mr. Goetz said.

By Tuesday, April 17, 2007, the money was returned to Ms. Jordan. That same day, Mr. Goetz said, Mr. McCullough left him a voicemail in which he said that the donation had been approved by orphans’ court.

Patricia McCullough resigned as executive director in the fall of 2007 at the board’s request.

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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