by Anthony Hennen
Mayors of Pennsylvania’s small towns and large cities have fallen afoul of the law with varying reasons.
Meadville Mayor Jaime Kinder is the latest added to the list.
Larger cities tend to have trouble with bribery, corruption, and the abuse of public funds, while small town mayors tend to violate the law outside the mayor’s office.
In the case of Kinder, the Office of State Inspector General has filed a criminal complaint alleging she fraudulently received almost $1,000 in SNAP benefits in 2019. The complaint accuses the mayor of welfare fraud for knowingly underreporting or failing to report household income that allowed her to receive $966 in SNAP benefits from August to October 2019.
Kinder, 44, made history – first woman, first Black – in winning the election. She took office in January, two years after the time she’s accused of wrongdoing. Meadville, in northwestern Pennsylvania, is home to about 13,000 full-time residents; about 2,000 are enrolled at Allegheny College, the city’s website says.
The complaint, obtained by The Center Square, notes that Maxwell Brown was a member of Kinder’s household while working for the city of Meadville from July to October 2019. Kinder had completed an application for SNAP benefits in June, which required her to report all employment and income changes for her household.
However, she did not report the employment change in July during a phone interview with the Department of Human Services.
“Kinder would have not been eligible for these benefits if she had reported household member, Maxwell Brown’s, income from employment with The City of Meadville to DHS,” the complaint noted.
If convicted of the first-degree misdemeanor of welfare fraud, Kinder could face a maximum of five years in jail and $10,000 fine.
A number of Pennsylvania mayors have had troubles in the last half of a decade or so.
For example, in 2015, longtime Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed faced a federal indictment of 499 counts that ran the gamut from bribery and corruption to theft and receiving stolen property. While most counts were dropped due to the statute of limitations, Reed was sentenced to two years of probation.
In 2017, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was charged with corruption concerning pay-to-play schemes and was later convicted on 47 corruption charges. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. While under indictment, however, he was reelected mayor.
Also in 2017, Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer was charged with 10 counts relating to corruption and bribery. He was later convicted and received an eight-year prison sentence.
In 2019, Scranton Mayor William Courtright was indicted for public corruption and then sentenced to seven years in prison. An undercover investigation “captured the former mayor accepting cash payments from vendors doing business with the city,” the Department of Justice noted, and was an example of a “corrupt pay-to-play culture.”
While not related to a culture of bribery, Bloomsburg Mayor Eric Bower was charged with patronizing prostitutes in 2018. He pleaded no contest and received one year’s probation.
Mayor Lorraine Durnan Bell of Oxford Borough in Chester County was charged in 2020 for driving under the influence after a car crash. She was also placed on one year of probation.
Mayor Kevin Gross of Derry Borough in Westmoreland County was arrested in 2019 for pointing a gun at a number of minors in a park and then resigned from office. However, he was acquitted of all charges in 2021.
And in 2020, Mayor Randy Schmidt of DuBois in Clairfield County resigned after he was charged with theft. Schmidt stole $80 worth of chocolate milk, tea, Mountain Dew, Welch’s fruit snacks, Beer Nuts, and Twizzlers from a Sheetz on 17 separate visits.
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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
Photo “Jaime Kinder” by Vote for Meadville.