Sharon J. Mink, the controller of the Sports and Exhibition Authority, is facing criminal charges for forging checks and misappropriating funds from her previous job.
An affidavit released by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office Wednesday morning says that while working for the commercial insurance firm Research Underwriters, Mink “misappropriated approximately $319,819.18 of Research Underwriters monies for her own personal benefit,” and spent the money on payments to or purchases from designer labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton as well as cruise lines, airfare, and resort stays.
The Sports and Exhibition Authority is a joint city-county authority that owns and finances Heinz Field, PNC Park, PPG Paints Arena and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Mink’s duties as controller, according to the authority’s website, include producing financial reports, managing accounts payable and receivable, and developing budgets and financial controls.
Mink, of Plum, did not respond to a voicemail or email sent to her work. Her attorney, Phil DiLucente, confirmed that Mink had been put on unpaid leave as a result of the charges. But he said that while "it is premature to comment on the allegations ... I can tell you she is perplexed by these charges."
Sports and Exhibition Authority executive director Mary Conturo did not respond to a phone message from WESA, which was the first to report Mink's ties to the SEA, on Wednesday morning. But in the late afternoon the agency released a statemnet confirming that Mink "has been placed on administrative leave, without pay, pending resolution of the criminal matter.
"While our financial operations reqiure several sign-offs to ensure the integrity of our process, an investigation will be conducted with the help of the certified public accounting firm, Maher Duessel, to confirm that our finacial processes and internal controls performed as intended and were not compromised."
State Senator Wayne Fontana, who chairs the authority's seven-member board, said Maher Duessel "will be coming back in and making sure nothing happened at the SEA."
Fontana said he didn't know Mink, and couldn't speak to the hiring procedures used to vet her. But he praised Conturo and the authority's chief financial officer, Rosanne Casciato. "I can tell you that Mary and Rosanne are very hands-on."
Mink faces a Sept. 4 preliminary hearing on nine counts of forgery, one of theft by unlawful taking, and one of receiving stolen property.
According to an affidavit filed by the district attorney's office detective Jessica Von Voight, Mink was hired as an accountant by Research Underwriters in 2004. She later became the firm’s controller, and held that position for roughly a decade, during which was responsible for handling payroll and retirement contributions and paying bills.
But the firm later transferred some of those responsibilities to an outside firm, which in January 2017 discovered Mink had taken out a $15,150 loan from her 401k in 2015, but had not been making the scheduled monthly payroll deductions to repay it. Mink began making payments, but turned in her two-week notice in February of 2017. She joined the Sports and Exhibition Authority that same month, according the authority's online biography.
The affidavit suggests her departure was precipitous. During a meeting at which she was supposed to train other employees in her duties, it says, she left for what her boss assumed was “a smoke break, however she never returned.”
After her departure, the affidavit says, Research Underwriters “started to receive phone calls from insurance carriers stating that there were outstanding bills that needed to be paid, however the accounting system showed the companies were paid.”
Subsequent investigation revealed evidence that there were transfers that included payments made to a non-company credit card as well as a series of checks – in amounts ranging from $8,569 to $25,085 – that included Mink’s signature and signatures of other company officials, who said the signatures were forged.