Coal Township woman seemed unfazed by theft charges
SHAMOKIN - Victoria Fortune seemed unfazed by the seriousness of the theft charges she faces while she made her way to district court Thursday.
Fortune, 25, of 1625 Pulaski Ave., Coal Township, appeared aloof at her 11:15 a.m. arraignment inside the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center, where she briefly talked and joked with her husband and friends. She seemed fascinated by the surroundings of the building, the former Shamokin Area High School.
"How did you get in here quicker than me?" she asked her husband, Wayne, and two unidentified friends, upon entering the courtroom. "This is cool. Is this a school?"
Not long afterward, she was experiencing more new surroundings - at the Northumberland County Prison.
Victoria Fortune is charged with keeping approximately $1,240 in donations intended for the family of 13-year-old Missy Pangburn, a Shamokin girl killed in a Dec. 10 fire.
Bail: $10,000 cash
Fortune told Gembic she was born and raised in Stroudsburg and graduated from Pocono East High School. She said she has only lived at her current address for a couple months after previously residing in the 900 block of East Commerce Street in Shamokin for about the same time period.
She said she understood what was going on and the charges filed against her. After Gembic set her bail at $10,000 cash and explained her options for posting it, Fortune said she had no means to post bail.
Her husband, who had arrived with the two friends outside the building about 30 minutes before the arraignment, told Gembic he thought his wife would be released since the alleged charges were her first criminal offenses.
But Gembic said he set bail at $10,000 because the allegations are somewhat shocking and she could be considered a flight risk since she has moved several times and isn't from the local area.
Upon leaving the courtroom, Wayne Fortune, upset about his wife going to jail, stated, "All I've got to say is that this is ridiculous."
The defendant declined comment when asked by the media why she allegedly kept the money from her fundraising effort for the family.
In addition to her other commentary, Fortune complained about having difficulty walking with her legs shackled. She also was wearing a belt restraint.
Coal Township Detective Jeff Brennan, who filed the charges, and Coal Township Deputy Police Chief Chris Williams escorted the defendant from the building to Northumberland County Prison in Sunbury.
Contacted by The News-Item Thursday afternoon, Pangburn's stepfather, Joseph "Wes" Vecchio, said he and Pangburn's family were glad to learn of Fortune's arrest.
"I'm ecstatic. Maybe this will teach her and she'll learn her lesson so she doesn't do this to another family," he said.
Vecchio said he and Pangburn's mother, Barbara Wiley, are glad justice is being served.
"I was very happy. That's Missy doing her work from above," he said.
Vecchio said he prayed for Fortune and has already forgiven her.
"I just hope this experience teaches her and she moves forward from this. I hope she doesn't do this ever again," he added.
Up to 10 years possible
Fortune faces misdemeanors of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and receiving stolen property. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or $10,000 fine.
Police said she raised $1,240 on the crowdfunding website gofundme.com for Pangburn's family, but never gave any of the donations to family members. Fortune admitted to spending $643.04 of the money, police said.
Victoria Fortune closed the online account in January and the Web page was deleted. However, a cached version could be viewed through a Google search. It had asked for donations for Pangburn's family and the other fire victims in the first block of South Rock Street.
Fortune denied any wrongdoing in a January interview with The News-Item, who questioned her about the situation after Pangburn's family alerted Shamokin police and contacted the newspaper with their concerns. Fortune could not explain where the money went, but she pledged to repay the family.
On Jan. 27, three days after The News-Item story, Brennan announced Coal Township had launched an investigation because Fortune is a township resident. The theft complaint was initially investigated by Shamokin Patrolman Raymond Siko II, who was involved in the fire probe.
Brennan said he made arrangements Wednesday for Fortune to turn herself in at the Coal Township Police Station Thursday morning, which she did.
The detective said Fortune acted alone in stealing the funds.
Brennan said members of Pangburn's family may be called as witnesses during the defendant's preliminary hearing, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday before Gembic.