A former employee of the Jewish Association on Aging was arrested on charges of stealing almost $60,000 from the organization.
Marc Peagler, a former facilities manager at Weinberg Terrace, is being held in the Allegheny County Jail, awaiting his arraignment, which is scheduled for Dec. 8.
Court documents show that while Peagler was employed by the JAA, he hired third-party contractors to do maintenance and approved invoices. He is accused of billing the JAA for work that never was done and cashing the checks for personal use.
Peagler was hired in January 2019 and was charged with “keeping things up to date” at Weinberg Terrace, including contracting with vendors to prepare the apartments for residents, according to Lou Plung, chair of the JAA’s board of directors.
On May 10, 2022, the JAA’s director of human resources received an email from “an employee indicating behavior inappropriate — behavior bordering on sexual harassment by Mr. Peagler,” Plung said, stressing that no allegations of physical assault were made.
Because the JAA has a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, the JAA’s HR director “immediately called Mr. Peagler and had a meeting with him,” Plung said. Per JAA policy, Peagler was placed on immediate suspension as an investigation ensued.
Three days later, while Peagler was still on suspension, he resigned from his position.
“We obviously accepted that resignation,” Plung said, “because based on what we had been hearing, or at least finding out, we thought that there was, at least at that point in time in the investigation, enough information that we were going to continue the investigation and consider terminating him.”
Shortly after Peagler resigned, it was brought to the attention of JAA management that over about two years, the organization had paid invoices to a vendor for work that was not done.
“We believe that [Peagler] may have had a relationship with this vendor,” Plung said. “Somehow or another, he was receiving payment for that. This will all come out at the trial, we believe, when this progresses. But what we found out is, over a couple of years’ time, and really commencing with the start of COVID most heavily, he began submitting invoices — or invoices were submitted — which he OK’ed. He had the right to OK those invoices as the director of facilities, but they were for work that was not actually performed.”
Those invoices, which totaled about $50,000, constitute the most substantial part of the alleged theft from JAA, Plung said. Additionally, there were $6,000-$8,000 worth of charges to Lowe’s on a JAA credit card that “were not to benefit JAA but would have benefited [Peagler] personally.”
The JAA has taken steps to strengthen its internal controls, Plung said. Those measures include limiting access to JAA credit cards for facilities managers and a stricter review of vendors.
“We have used this as a lesson to strengthen our internal financial controls to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Plung said. “We’ve talked to our outside CPA firm, and they’re going to be coming in with a list of these relatively common low-level fraud maneuvers, and we are re-educating our team on exactly what to be looking out for and strengthening all of our internal controls.”
Plung said that JAA leadership is “disappointed and saddened that we had a trusted employee who was hired as a director of facilities in a trusted role, who, at a time we were most focused on taking care of our patients or residents — because there’s all sorts of demands with the start of COVID — used that opportunity to take advantage of the organization.”
The JAA filed an insurance claim for the sums it lost due to the alleged theft, and expects to be reimbursed for most, if not all, of it, Plung said.
Before hiring Peagler, the JAA conducted a criminal background check, as is the organization’s standard procedure, Plung said.
“That background check revealed nothing that would have prevented him from being an employee at JAA, nothing of any significance” or that was included on a prohibitive list under the Older Adults Protective Services Act, Plung said. The Older Adults Protective Services Act prohibits certain senior living facilities from hiring anyone convicted of a variety of specific crimes, including criminal homicide, kidnapping and sexual assault.
But last year — after the JAA hired Peagler — he was charged with sex crimes he allegedly committed against a minor several years ago. His trial on those charges is scheduled for next month.
Plung said it is his understanding that the alleged sex crimes occurred in 2014. The JAA hired Peagler in 2019.
“When we did the criminal background check, this was not in the record,” Plung said. “It does not appear anywhere. My understanding is when the minor became an adult, she opened and filed the complaint. That happened subsequent to 2019. We weren’t aware of it at the hire date. We were not aware of that during the course of his employment at all.”
Plung said that regarding the charges against Peagler for sex crimes, the JAA leadership feels “troubled, and actually, if these allegations turn out to be true, horrified by the fact of having person like that inside of our community. But there was never an allegation of that [prior to his hiring] and his role was not to interact with residents and patients on an ongoing direct basis. He wasn’t in patient care.”
“We were doing everything we thought we needed to do, including background checks, including making it very open for people to come to us when there were problems, and that’s in fact what happened here,” Plung added. “The question we have to look at is how can we even improve upon that and be more proactive?” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.