Ex-water clerk sentenced

ST. CLAIRSVILLE Former Bellaire Water Clerk Lisa Thai Flaherty, 38, was sentenced Monday for theft in office and tampering with evidence, felonies of the third degree, and tampering with records, a felony of the fourth degree.

Judge Jennifer L. Sargus presided.

Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter said the total figure of the theft provided to him by the state and private auditors came to $19,623, including the money actually stolen and the amounts Flaherty, 4158 Franklin St., Bellaire, should have been paying in her own water bill. Minus a paycheck, the total amount owed is 18,952.54.

She will serve a sentence of 18 months with the last six to be spent in EOCC. She will forfeit her PERS account of $11,466.16 to offset some of the funds owed.

In October she pleaded guilty to the crimes.

On April 6, the state auditor’s office was contacted to investigate the suspected theft of utility payments. One day afterward, Flaherty disappeared from the area. Records on the computer system also vanished.

An emotional Flaherty offered apology.

“I do take full responsibility for what I did,” she said, adding that she regrets the violation of trust and the disappointment she caused the village officials, her family and the community.

“What I did was wrong,” she said. “I made a horrible choice.”

“I believe justice was served,” said Bellaire Mayor Vince DiFabrizio, adding that an increasing number of questionable auditor’s reports first clued village officials that something was wrong.

“The administration first saw an irregularity,” said Chief Michael Kovalyk. “We’re very grateful to the state auditors fraud investigating unit for bringing this all to light.”

Kovalyk added that while the auditors determined the amount that was missing the police kept track of Flaherty as she fled to New York, to Houston and back. She was eventually arrested in New York.

“Everybody played a part,” he said.

“She committed theft against the citizens of Bellaire,” said Berhalter. “Had it not been for some alert village officials, this would not have been stopped and could be continuing today. It was a well-thought-out and carefully planned theft involving creating false records, changing utility bills, and it involved the destruction of records.”

Both the state auditors and the private auditing firm Rea & Associates worked on the case.

“It involved determining not only how much she actually stole, but how much she should have been paying in her utility bills that she manipulated.”

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com