Ex-official convicted of defrauding mental health clinic

A member of a local politically connected family was convicted Friday of defrauding a nonprofit mental health clinic out of about $1 million for her personal benefit through a pattern of self-dealing when she was its landlord.

Renee Tartaglione was indicted last year and charged with taking $1 million from the Juniata Community Mental Health Clinic between 2007 and 2012, when she was the clinic’s landlord and president of its board of directors. Prosecutors say she charged the clinic exorbitant rent and as president of the board ensured the rent was approved.

Tartaglione, 61, is a former city elections official. She is the daughter of former City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione and sister of state Senator Christine Tartaglione.

A U.S. District Court jury convicted her of conspiracy, theft, fraud and tax evasion.

One trial witness, a real-estate expert, testified that Tartaglione charged the clinic $75,000 a month for a 16,000-square-foot space in a poor, drug-infested section of the city. That was more than landlords charged for “A-class trophy buildings” in the city’s business district, he said.

Tartaglione’s lawyer William DeStefano argued it was no crime to raise rent and attacked the credibility of witnesses.

Tartaglione also was accused of running a kickback scheme in which two clinic employees, Sandy Acosta and her daughter, Leslie Acosta, received supplemental paychecks, cashed them and turned over the money to Tartaglione so she could avoid paying taxes.

Both Acostas pleaded guilty to charges involving the scheme and testified against Tartaglione.

DeStefano said he plans to appeal.

“We have not given up pursuing her defense,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer .

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said the verdict “sends a very important message to the people on the board of a nonprofit corporation that they should not be benefiting at the expense of the nonprofit.”

Judge Joel Slomsky said he would set a sentencing date next week….

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