Somerton civic president surrenders to police, charged with theft

Philadelphia’s police union and a charity dedicated to a slain officer were each among the organizations victimized by a civic association leader’s alleged scheme to pocket thousands of dollars in donations meant for an American flag-raising project in Somerton.

FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby and Pat Boyle, founder of the Officer Daniel Boyle Scholarship Fund, say that they each gave checks to former Somerton Civic Association President Seth Kaplan last summer after Kaplan asked them to help fund the installation of dozens of American flags on utility poles along Bustleton Avenue. McNesby donated $1,500 from the Police Survivors Fund, while Boyle’s charity gave $400 for the flag project.

As first reported by the Northeast Times, Kaplan was arrested on Oct. 27 and charged with three felonies, including two counts of theft and receiving stolen property. He is scheduled for a preliminary court hearing on Nov. 15.

“He was stealing from cops, not only that but dead cops,” McNesby said. “With what he collected, he could’ve furnished every telephone pole in the city with a flag.”

“He came to my house to pick up the check and shook my hand. And then I think he went right down to the check cashing place down the street,” said Pat Boyle, a retired police officer whose son Danny was shot and killed while on duty in 1991.

During the monthly meeting of the Somerton Civic Association on Nov. 1, about 100 members voted unanimously to remove Kaplan as president and oust him from the organization. Vice President Lou DeCree, who chaired the meeting, said that the SCA and police detectives still aren’t certain of the full scope of the thefts.

Kaplan had already repaid $19,714 to the organization as of late last week. But more people continue to step forward claiming that they gave additional money to Kaplan for the flags, DeCree said. The civic association had no record of those donations because Kaplan did not deposit the money into the organization’s bank account.

Kaplan’s attorney, Robert Donatoni, said that his client continues to cooperate with investigators to identify all parties who donated money to the flag project.

“Restitution will be made to the FOP in full very shortly,” Donatoni said. “We’re not done with our cooperation or restitution.”

Donatoni said that Kaplan has already made restitution for the $400 donation from the Boyle Scholarship Fund.

McNesby said that he learned that the FOP’s donation may not have been used for its intended purpose only after reading about Kaplan’s arrest in the Times. At that point, he notified the civic association and detectives who are investigating the case. Bank records show that Kaplan endorsed the back of the FOP check and took it to a local check cashing agency. As president of the SCA, Kaplan was a legal endorser of the check.

Although the flag project didn’t directly support the families of slain police officers, as is the core mission of the Survivors Fund, the union leadership saw it as a worthy community cause, McNesby said. More than 60 percent of union members live in the Northeast. The union hall is on Caroline Road, not far from Somerton.

“That’s why we did it. I thought we were doing something good for the neighborhood. And we saw the flags go up,” McNesby said.

Indeed, Kaplan used $2,070 in SCA funds to purchase 50 flags from a distributor in Huntingdon Valley in August. SCA members had previously approved the expenditure, as well as up to $800 more for hardware and installation. The civic group still isn’t sure who supplied the hardware or installed the flags. Kaplan handled everything, DeCree said.

The thought of putting patriotism on display in Somerton also sold Boyle and his charity’s board members on the project. Boyle and his wife still live in the neighborhood. The local playground is also named after his son.

“I said to the board, ‘It’ll spruce up the neighborhood. It will look good,’ ” Boyle recalled. “I’ve known Seth for a long time and it never dawned on me that this would occur.”

In addition to taking donation money, Kaplan withdrew about $12,000 from the SCA’s checking account at Washington Savings, DeCree said. The withdrawals left the balance at less than $900.

During last week’s civic meeting, the organization’s treasurer, Chris Bordelon, claimed that Kaplan used several pretenses to obtain blank checks from him. Initially, Bordelon gave Kaplan two checks to pay for the purchase of flags and hardware. Kaplan later said he lost the checks, so Bordelon issued two more.

Later in the summer, Kaplan asked Bordelon for two blank checks because several of the flags had been damaged after being hung. Kaplan said he wanted to buy replacements and hire an installer to relocate some of the flags. Finally, Kaplan asked for another check claiming that the installer spilled coffee on the original and destroyed it, Bordelon said.

Bordelon ultimately discovered that all seven checks were used to draw funds from the SCA bank account, even the ones that had purportedly been lost or destroyed. Kaplan was the payee on several of the checks.

Leaders of the civic association and police aren’t sure what Kaplan did with the money. After Bordelon discovered the account discrepancy and questioned Kaplan about it via email, Kaplan wrote back that he had outstanding legal bills related to a divorce. Kaplan also offered to pay back the money and asked SCA board members not to file a complaint with police. But board members called an emergency meeting and agreed to report the suspected theft. ••