Charges dropped against former Pa. FF accused of theft after deal reached

Former firefighter Fabian Giovannagelo was accused of using department funds to pay for a federal lawsuit filed against the fire company and city officials

Paul Peirce
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

LATROBE, Pa. — Moments before the start of a court hearing Monday for a Latrobe councilman and a former city firefighter accused of stealing department funds to pay private legal fees, defense attorneys met privately with the prosecutor and resolved the criminal case.

Assistant District Attorney Leo J. Ciaramitaro emerged from the chamber of Unity District Judge Michael Mahady after 25 minutes and announced he would withdraw charges of theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking and misapplication of entrusted property filed against city councilman Robert S. Forish, 59, and Fabian Giovannagelo, 65, a former firefighter.

Details of the agreement were not disclosed.

"All I can tell you is that charges are going to be dropped. We have an agreement. ... The details of the agreement I cannot disclose," said Dennis Charles, an Allentown attorney representing Giovannagelo.

Forish's attorney, Jason Huska of Latrobe, also confirmed an agreement had been reached, saying all charges "would be withdrawn today."

Ciaramitaro also declined to disclose terms of the agreement.

Minutes before Charles and Huska had asked Ciaramitaro to meet, it appeared attempts to settle the matter had failed. After meeting multiple times before noon with the defense attorneys, Ciaramitaro had asked county Detective Randy Gardner to retrieve the numerous checks, minutes of Goodwill Hose Company No. 1's 2020 meeting minutes and fire company by-laws from files he had used as evidence to file the complaints.

Forish and Giovannagelo, who also is a former councilman, were accused of using department funds to pay for a federal lawsuit filed against the fire company, Chief John Brasile, President Charles McDowell Jr., Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford and the city.

Giovannagelo cosigned checks totaling $21,000 for payment of legal fees related to the lawsuit, according to a criminal complaint.

On May 29, 2020, Brasile expelled Giovannagelo and other members of Goodwill Hose Company No. 1 from the city fire department, including Christopher Blessing, Nico Giovannagelo, Cody Giovannagelo and Ryan Jones. They are listed as plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed last year.

The plaintiffs allege Brasile, McDowell and the city conspired to unlawfully expel them for exercising their First Amendment right to criticize Brasile.

Gardner alleged Fabian Giovannagelo on May 30, 2020, cosigned a check from the Goodwill Hose Company account for $5,500 to retain an attorney to represent the plaintiffs in the federal suit. The other signer of the check was Forish, who was the treasurer of the Goodwill Hose Company at the time, Gardner wrote.

According to court documents, Fabian Giovannagelo and Forish signed additional checks for attorney's fees of $5,500 on June 24, 2020, and $10,000 on July 10, 2020.

Gardner filed the charges July 20 after a months-long investigation. According to the complaints, Gardner reviewed months worth of minutes from Goodwill Hose Company meetings and found no evidence of any vote authorizing payments to Charles.

Forish and Fabian Giovannagelo were both free on $25,000 unsecured bond.


(c)2021 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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