Department of Justice placed lien on Tafner's property
HARRISBURG - The federal government is going after Thea Tafner's property in Rush Township in order to satisfy the court-ordered restitution for her embezzlement of $1.8 million from the Mount Carmel American Hose and Chemical Fire Company.
According to Northumberland County court documents dated July 27, the Department of Justice has placed a lien on a property at 498 Elysburg Road, Danville, located on Route 54 between Elysburg and Danville, near Union Corner Road.
A lien is defined as the legal claim of one person upon the property of another person to secure the payment of a debt or the satisfaction of an obligation.
The house has an assessed value of $115,000 and has a fair market value of $170,000, said county chief assessor Albert Bressi.
However, he said, this amount only applies to the outside of the house. Any work done inside the house would not be applicable to a fair market value determined by the assessor's office.
County records show the 2,300-square-foot, six-room, one-story house was built in 1931, completely remodeled in 1990 and had other renovations in the last 21 years.
The 2.35-acre property was purchased by Tafner in 2000 for $170,000 from W. Charles Gustafson.
The address is the location of Creations By Carter, a flower nursery and gift shop operated by Tafner's brother, Carter Tafner.
In addition to the Rush Township property, Thea Tafner also owns 100-102 W. Saylor St. and a 6,350-square-foot empty lot on the same street.
According to tax records, Tafner still owes 2010 taxes on all three properties, totaling $3,748.17 in back taxes.
It is unclear whether this move is a response to Tafner's attorney, Laurence C. Kress, Duncannon, filing a June request to strike his client's obligation to pay an initial lump sum of $124,869 in restitution. She was initial ordered to pay the lump sum within 60 days of her May 16 sentencing, but a federal judge ordered her to deposit the money into a court registry, where it will remain untouched until the federal Court of Appeals makes a determination.
Tafner was sentenced in May to 30 months in prison for embezzling more than $1.8 million from the organization over a 10-year period. Although she signed a plea agreement not to appeal, she and her attorney did so, requesting the lump sum be eliminated and she continue restitution on the schedule of no less than $250 a month once she is released from the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va.
As part of the plea agreement, the government agreed not to force Tafner to use money from her Pennsylvania Public School Employee Retirement System account in exchange for her waiver of any appeal rights.
Tafner, employed for 35 years in the Line Mountain School District, spent the last seven years as elementary principal before she resigned in January. She was making $80,538 and contributing 6.5 percent of her salary to her pension fund, while the district contributed another 5.64 percent.
Kress has argued the court's order violates the agreement and does what the government agreed not to do, since the initial lump sum is equal to the amount Tafner received in January from her retirement fund.
During the 14 years in which Tafner was American Hose ambulance chairwoman, she opened a fraudulent bank account where she directed $3,712,203 in Medicare payments between Oct. 23, 2000, and Nov. 2, 2009, and used $1,816,045.13 for personal gain, federal prosecutors said when they charged her on Dec. 23 with embezzlement of health care benefits.
Her actions eventually resulted in the closing of the ambulance portion of American Hose.
A call to the Heidi Havens, media and community outreach consultant in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania, went unreturned Wednesday. It is unclear what amount of the restitution the property is expected to cover.