EP woman faces prison for $44K theft from disabled

LISBON – An East Palestine woman is facing prison time for stealing $44,750 from 29 mentally disabled adults indirectly in her care.

Cynthia A. Robb, 53, of North Market Street, is scheduled to be sentenced on March 13 after pleading guilty Friday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court to theft by deception and forgery.

The charges are second-degree felonies because the victims were mentally handicapped, and they carry a maximum possible combined sentence of eight years in prison. The county prosecutor’s office is recommending a two-year prison sentence as part of the plea bargain reached with Robb, who also agreed to make restitution to the victims.

The thefts occurred between February 2012 and March 2013 when Robb worked as program director at Threshold Residential Services in East Palestine, a non-profit business that provides various services for mentally handicapped adults.

As part of her duties, Robb was also in charge of administering the individual client fund accounts, which consisted of money deposited from whatever state and federal government assistance received by the clients. Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart said when a client needed cash, Robb would write a check from the client’s account, cash it and then give the money to the client.

Beginning in February 2012, Robb started forging fund transfer forms for 29 clients, and 139 fraudulent transactions totaling $44,750 occurred over the next 13 months, with Robb keeping the money instead of giving it the clients.

When asked were the money went, Weikart said Robb told Threshold officials she had a gambling problem. At yesterday’s hearing, defense attorney Richard Hoppel told the judge he needed an hour set aside for Robb’s sentencing hearing, and suggested mitigating evidence will be introduced to help explain his client’s actions.

Robb had worked 26 years for Threshold before her crimes were discovered by officials, who contacted the East Palestine Police Department, which conducted the investigation. An audit performed by the Social Security Administration confirmed the amount missing.

Robb entered her guilty pleas by way of prosecutor’s information, which allows someone suspected of a crime to bypass first being charged or indicted, thereby avoiding the lengthy legal process that usually follows. Weikart said they agreed to do this after Hoppel contacted them to say his client was willing to plead guilty to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Weikart said there is no evidence indicating that Robb’s crimes went back further than February 2012. “They (investigators) do not believe there was anything prior to that,” he said.