HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania state lawmaker was secretly charged nearly a year ago by federal prosecutors with helping to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from a taxpayer-funded mental health clinic in Philadelphia.
Records in Philadelphia’s federal court show a money-laundering conspiracy charge filed last November against Democratic Rep. Leslie Acosta, and quietly unsealed in March when a plea document was filed. The plea document is under seal and its contents are not public.
The charge against Acosta was first reported Friday by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Acosta’s lawyer did not return telephone calls to The Associated Press, and would only tell the Inquirer that “we look forward to addressing this matter in much greater detail in the future.”
Neither Acosta nor prosecutors returned calls requesting comment.
At the time of the alleged embezzlement, Acosta worked at the publicly funded Juniata Community Mental Health Clinic, which offers mental health services to Medicaid patients.
Acosta is running uncontested for re-election to a second term in the November election. If she pleaded guilty to a felony, she would have to resign upon her sentencing. In 2014, Acosta beat her predecessor in the seat after he was charged in an unrelated corruption case revolving around circumventing state ethics rules to hire and pay his sister. He later pleaded guilty.
Acosta is the daughter of a former state representative and her case is connected to the prosecution of Renee Tartaglione, a member of a politically connected Philadelphia family who is the former board president of the Juniata Community Mental Health Clinic.
Tartaglione, whose sister is a state senator and a former chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, was charged in January with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the mental health clinic for her personal benefit. Acosta was not accused of benefiting personally. Rather, her role was outlined as cashing fraudulent checks made out to her from the clinic and returning the money to Tartaglione.
In a case management conference in Tartaglione’s case earlier this week, assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben told the judge that the guilty pleas of cooperators in the case remained sealed because witnesses have expressed concern over their security, the Inquirer reported.
Acosta’s lawyer, Christopher Warren, told the Inquirer that anything sealed was done at his request, and that elaborating on it might hurt the ability of Tartaglione to receive a fair trial.
At least 10 current or former Pennsylvania state lawmakers have been charged since the beginning of 2014.
Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg contributed to this report.