Former Bethlehem CFO’s robbery scheme involved cellphones bought at city expense, cops say

The former budget and finance director of Bethlehem is accused of using city money to buy smart phones and electronic devices and then selling them or using them for personal gain.

The Northampton County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday filed five charges of theft and possession of property against Mark Sivak, 44, of Lower Saucon Township.

Sivak surrendered to Bethlehem police on Thursday. He was arraigned this afternoon in the case and released on an unsecured $25,000 bond.

Defense attorney James Burke said Sivak was cooperating and cooperating with police and the investigation.

“He acknowledges it was wrong…and is prepared to make full restitution,” Burke Saud said. “He made an error in judgment and he shouldn’t have done it.”

When news broke that Sivak was being investigated in the case, Bethlehem human resources director Michelle Cichocki said Sivak had been formally fired for violating numerous city policies uncovered during a city survey.

Mayor J. William Reynolds thanked city employees, the comptroller, city police and the district attorney’s office for their “tireless work” during the investigation.

“We have and will continue to assist with the investigation in any way requested. If the charging document is proven to be factual in court, I don’t know how Mr. Sivak slept that night,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement. “We are angry at the town hall, but we have only been here for a few months. Among the city hall employees who have worked with him for years, the breach of trust and the level of anger are much higher. We’re building a different kind of community, and there’s obviously no place for people like him in city hall or anywhere else in a position of authority.

The city began its investigation in January, when Reynolds took office. City Comptroller George Yasso turned himself in to city police in April, according to court documents.

The PayPal account was created for an initiative by the Bethlehem Health Department involving a local farm, and money from the PayPal account was transferred to an escrow account in the city, police said. Sivak was one of three people who had access to the PayPal account, investigators said.

Sivak instructed Yasso to transfer the PayPal funds to another city account for medical expenses, an account that would issue checks, police said.

While reviewing the accounts, Yasso’s office discovered “unusual activity” involving the city-owned PayPal account and Sivak’s personal bank account.

During an interview with police on April 28, Sivak allegedly told officers that he would sell used electronic equipment to a third-party dealer as a personal side business.

To avoid paying income taxes, Sivak said he asked the third-party seller to send his payments to the city’s PayPal account instead of his personal account, because the city is a government organization exempt from tax. tax, according to court records.

However, when police searched the city’s email archives, they discovered emails indicating that Sivak was ordering new iPhones through the city’s Verizon account, and he was able to get the phones at the discounted rate of the city, according to court documents. Some of the phones were apparently ordered for city employees, but employees told police they never received them.

An employee reported that Sivak told them the wait was “too long” and they couldn’t get an iPhone, police said.

The records linked new phones paid for with city money and shipped to Sivak at City Hall, to phones sold through the third-party website, city police said.

Police initially questioned Sivak on May 19 where, when shown emails from the dealer, he allegedly requested an attorney, city police said.

In another May 24 interview with his defense attorney present, Sivak admitted to selling 31 city cellphones between November 2019 and April 2022, and making $12,630 from those sales, according to court records.

One of the phones sold was an iPhone confiscated from Bethlehem police in connection with a child pornography case in Lehigh County, police said.

Sivak also admitted to using the city’s Verizon account to pay for electronics for his personal use, including two Oculus VR headsets, a JBL soundbar and subwoofer, a Sony speaker, an iPhone12 Pro Max and phone batteries, police said.

Sivak gave the items, which cost around $2,500, to the police.

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Sarah Cassi can be reached at [email protected].