Browne’s cam­paign trea­surer charged

Nearly $600,000 taken since 2007 state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral al­leges

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily Opilo

State Sen. Pat Browne’s long­time cam­paign trea­surer has been charged with steal­ing nearly $600,000 from the se­na­tor’s cam­paign fund.

Michael P. Ell­wood, 55, of Sal­is­bury Town­ship, was ar­raigned Tues­day on felony counts of theft and re­ceiv­ing stolen prop­erty and more than 100 mis­de­meanor counts of cam­paign vi­o­la­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint, Ell­wood is ac­cused of writ­ing 74 checks to­tal­ing $578,050 from the Cit­i­zens for Pa­trick Browne cam­paign fund to his busi­ness be­tween May 2007 and June 2018. The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice al­leges Ell­wood de­posited the money into his busi­ness bank ac­count and used it to pay bills and him­self.

The checks, made out to Ell­wood & Com­pany, P.C., ranged from $5,000 to as much as $25,000. At least one check was writ­ten each year, and as many as 13 checks were writ­ten in 2014, to­tal­ing $129,356, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments. Browne was run­ning for re­elec­tion that year against Demo­crat Walt Fel­ton.

In an at­tempt to re­turn some of the money, Ell­wood al­legedly made 29 de­posits to­tal­ing $308,050 into Browne’s cam­paign fund and failed to record the trans­ac­tions on cam­paign fi­nance forms, court doc­u­ments state. Twenty-nine mis­de­meanor cam­paign vi­o­la­tions were filed against Ell­wood as a re­sult.

Browne and his staff told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Ell­wood was not au­tho­rized to write him­self checks from the cam­paign fund other than a fee,

rang­ing from $687 to $3,775, for his ser­vices as trea­surer.

In a pre­pared state­ment, Browne said he was “dev­as­tated” to learn that Ell­wood, whom he has known for most of his life, was ac­cused to mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing funds. Ell­wood and Browne at­tended Al­len­town Cen­tral Catholic High School to­gether and both played on the bas­ket­ball team, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports.

Browne said he alerted the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and has been co­op­er­at­ing with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I have come to learn that his ac­tions were per­pet­u­ated by sub­stan­tial men­tal chal­lenges that es­ca­lated over time,” Browne said of Ell­wood. “Notwith­stand­ing that fact, they still in­volved se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of cam­paign fi­nance laws and needed to be dealt with ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Ell­wood could not be reached for com­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to an af­fi­davit filed in court:

Ell­wood told Browne in Novem­ber that he “bor­rowed” $250,000 from the ac­count. A foren­sic au­dit re­vealed the full amount re­moved as well as the money Ell­wood re­turned. Aware that charges against him were pend­ing, Ell­wood re­paid Browne’s cam­paign fund a $270,000 bal­ance.

Ell­wood used the money, the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice says, to pay rent, child sup­port, taxes, util­i­ties, credit cards and loans, and wrote checks to him­self for nearly $40,000.

Ell­wood was ar­raigned be­fore District Judge Michael D’Amore in Al­len­town. He was re­leased af­ter post­ing $25,000 bail, and is sched­uled to ap­pear in Le­high County Court on Nov. 5.

Ell­wood op­er­ates an ac­count­ing prac­tice in East Al­len­town, but he hasn’t been li­censed as a cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant since 2004, ac­cord­ing to state records.

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