No guilty plea to be expected in theft case
SHAMOKIN - A Coal Township woman charged with keeping money she raised online for the family of a teenage fire victim waived her case to court Tuesday while declaring she's "not pleading guilty to anything."
Victoria Fortune, 25, of Pulaski Avenue, appeared before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III for her preliminary hearing, but chose to waive misdemeanors of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and receiving stolen property.
The defendant, who told The News-Item she has received threats over her alleged actions, complained to Coal Township Detective Jeff Brennan about the charges and amount of money she reportedly kept, and also accused the local newspaper of defamation of character in an editorial cartoon published Monday.
She was then advised by public defender Melissa Norton not to talk with anyone about her case, especially the media. Fortune took her attorney's advice and filled out the proper paperwork to waive her hearing.
She was ordered by Gembic to appear for plea court April 28 at Northumberland County Courthouse in Sunbury.
Fortune is free after posting $10,000 cash bail through a bail bondsman Friday.
Police said she raised $1,240 in donations intended for the family of 13-year-old Missy Pangburn, a Shamokin girl killed in a Dec. 10 fire. But police said she never turned any of the money over to Pangburn's family and allegedly spent $643.04 on herself.
Fortune, a native of Stroudsburg, can plead guilty or no contest or plead not guilty and seek a trial at her next court proceeding.
After the hearing, Fortune came to The News-Item and said gofundme.com provided a breakdown of the amount raised. She provided a copy of what appears to be a Facebook exchange with a GoFundMe customer service representative dated Saturday that shows a total of $705 raised. With $61.96 in fees deducted, a balance of $643.04 is shown.
Pangburn noted a total of $700 raised when first questioned by The News-Item about the issue for a story in January.
Fortune said she's provided the same information to police in disputing their claim of $1,240.
But police, in an affidavit of probable cause, said search warrants obtained for Fortune's GoFundMe site show that $1,240 was raised and that $643.04 was deposited into Fortune's bank account from GoFundMe. That amount was later withdrawn and never turned over to the victim's family, police said.
A Dec. 10 post on Fortune's Facebook page said, "Please donate to the family that have lost their daughter for funeral expenses and other expenses. RIP MISSY." It included a link to gofundme.com, a crowdfunding site where money is raised from a large group of people who each give a modest sum. The page couldn't be found Jan. 22 after Pangburn's family brought the issue to the attention of The News-Item after also contacting police.
It's believed Fortune deleted the page shortly after Pangburn's mother, Barbara Wiley, contacted Fortune on Facebook that day.
But a cache search showed a version of the page from Jan. 19.
The family said Fortune visited them shortly after the fire and said she'd do what she could to help. But after six weeks, none of the donations had made their way to the teen's family.
In an interview with The News-Item, Fortune said GoFundMe wouldn't allow her to suspend the fundraising page in the beginning, but she successfully canceled it completely Jan. 22. According to the website, a page can be canceled at any time by clicking the "Turn off donations" button in account settings.