The former president of the Somerton Civic Association pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges on Wednesday for his theft of more than $21,000 from the organization and the city’s police union, including thousands that had been earmarked for a public American flag display.
As part of the negotiated plea, Common Pleas Court Judge Robert P. Coleman sentenced Seth Kaplan to serve three years’ probation. Kaplan, 32, could have faced nine months in prison or more for each of two felony counts under state sentencing guidelines, according to Assistant DA Lauren Stram.
Kaplan gave no explanation or apology in court, Stram said. But previously he confessed to police detectives that he took the money to pay expenses related to a divorce, according to the prosecutor.
Kaplan used a series of misappropriated checks to pilfer about $11,000 from the civic association’s bank account from last June through October. He also solicited and pocketed donations totaling about $10,000 from businesses, organizations and individuals on the premise that the money would support an effort to hang dozens of American flags on utility poles along Bustleton Avenue.
Board members of the civic association discovered the thefts in early October upon a review of bank statements. They called police. Kaplan initially itemized the nefarious transactions and repaid about $19,800 to the association, according to SCA Vice President Lou DeCree Sr. Authorities charged him criminally on Oct. 27.
Later, detectives learned that Kaplan had not told them about a $1,500 donation from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 that he had also pocketed. Authorities rearrested him on Dec. 6 and charged him with additional thefts. Kaplan repaid the FOP, too.
In court on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to two counts each of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. Two of the charges were graded as third-degree felonies based on the amount involved, while two were graded as misdemeanors.
Kaplan has not contacted the civic association since his arrests. Members of the group voted him out of the presidency and revoked his membership in November.
“I think the members were hoping (the sentence) would have been more — I don’t know — more years probation or jail time,” DeCree said. “We never voted on that. But we’re glad to see it’s closed and done with. We think we got 98 percent of our money back. We’ll never know if it’s 100 percent.”
“We wish (Kaplan) well and hope he gets straightened out,” said FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby. “He paid everything back. He got probation. Jail time wasn’t suitable for him. He’s a good-hearted guy but for whatever reason he got screwed up.”
Kaplan’s defense attorney did not reply to a request for comment.
At the time of the thefts, Kaplan worked as development and public relations coordinator for the Isaac Newton Foundation, the financial entity that supports MaST Community Charter School in Somerton. Kaplan resigned from Newton after the thefts were discovered. MaST officials do not believe he misappropriated any school-related funds.
Kaplan had been president of the SCA since June 2014. His oversight of the civic association’s finances was first drawn into question in fall 2015 when he wrote a $900 check on the SCA’s account and kept the money. When members questioned the transaction, Kaplan said it was a reimbursement for his out-of-pocket expenses. He said he had spent his own money to consult a lawyer after someone threatened to sue the civic group. In response, members voted to require a cosigner on all SCA checks. DeCree said that Kaplan repaid the $900 as part of his restitution.
Kaplan began raiding the SCA’s account again last June and throughout the summer when the organization does not meet regularly. He convinced another board member to pre-sign a series of checks to pay for various expenses related to the flag project. Later, he told the other board member that checks had been lost or damaged and had to be re-issued. After the flags were up on the poles, Kaplan said that several were getting snagged in utility lines or trees and needed repositioning. He solicited more money for that.
Since last fall, the SCA has enacted stricter financial protocols and increased the size of its executive board to improve oversight, DeCree said. Any expenditure over $150 must be approved by the members.
Although many donors to the flag project contacted the civic association to submit documents such as cancelled checks for the investigation, none have asked for reimbursement
“Nobody really asked for a refund,” DeCree said.
Both DeCree and Stram credited donors for helping investigators sort out the paper chase. Police Detective Anthony Krebs coordinated the investigation.
“I’m satisfied that (Kaplan) took responsibility for his actions and thankful that we had willing participation from the victims, who saw the case through to the end, and for the work of the Northeast Detectives, especially Detective Krebs,” Stram said. ••
William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or email@example.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.