Police: Former Pa. firefighter used FD funds to pay for lawsuit against chief

Latrobe firefighter, councilman allegedly used $21,000 in department funds to pay legal fees for a federal suit against the fire chief and city officials


Paul Peirce
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

LATROBE, Pa. — A Latrobe councilman and the patriarch of a city family involved in an ongoing dispute with the local fire department and its chief were arrested Tuesday by Westmoreland County detectives.

Councilman Robert S. Forish, 58, and Fabian Giovannagelo, 65, were arraigned on charges of theft, theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property in 2020. They are 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.

"It's a day of redemption and vindication for myself as chief and for the whole Latrobe Fire Department," Brasile said. (Photo/Latrobe Fire Hook and Ladder Company #2)

Giovannagelo co-signed checks totaling $21,000 for payment of legal fees related to the lawsuit, according to a complaint filed by Detective Randy Gardner.

On May 29, 2020, Brasile expelled Giovannagelo and other members of the Goodwill Hose Company 1 from the city fire department. Others who were expelled and are plaintiffs in the federal suit filed Aug. 14 include Christopher Blessing, Nico Giovannagelo, Cody Giovannagelo and Ryan Jones.

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

Gardner alleges Fabian Giovannagelo on May 30, 2020, co-signed a check from the Goodwill Hose Company account for $5,500 to retain attorney Frederick E. Charles of Allentown 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, according to Gardner.

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

Charles provided documents to Gardner in the monthslong investigation regarding the checks, according to court papers.

Forish and Fabian Giovannagelo were released on $25,000 unsecured bond each after being arraigned Tuesday before Senior District Judge Joseph A. Cannoni of Somerset County at the Unity office of District Judge Michael Mahady.

Fabian Giovannagelo, a former councilman, declined to comment as he left the arraignment.

"I wish I could say something to you, but I can't talk right now," he said before rushing to a car and leaving with a relative.

Forish could not be reached for comment and did not have an attorney listed in court documents.

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.

Gardner declined comment but said the investigation is ongoing.

Brasile told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday that the funds were discovered missing during an audit. His leadership of the department is criticized in the federal lawsuit, which is pending.

"It's a day of redemption and vindication for myself as chief and for the whole Latrobe Fire Department," Brasile said.

City police Chief John Sleasman, who was at Mahady's office during the arraignments, said the complaints were first brought to the attention of his department but turned over to county detectives because of potential conflicts of interest.

Preliminary hearings are scheduled Aug. 2.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, ppeirce@triblive.com or via Twitter .

___

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

Visit Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) at www.triblive.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2021 FireRescue1. All rights reserved.