by Sam Levin
Update below: Two former St. Louis Parks Division officials have pleaded guilty to defrauding the city of approximately one-half million dollars by submitting false invoices for materials and services supplied to the agency.
Joseph Vacca, former deputy commissioner of the parks division, and Thomas Stritzel, former chief of the St. Louis park rangers, were indicted on these fraud charges in May, when federal prosecutors alleged that they both embezzled funds from the city for many years.
From January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2012, Vacca and Stritzel pocketed city money by submitting false invoices of approximately $464,722, according to court documents.
They used the funds for their own personal use, authorities say, including for lease payments on personal vehicles, fuel costs, payments on personal credit card charges, living expenses unrelated to their jobs and more.
The two apparently set up a sham company called "Dynamic Management" and then funneled city funds through false invoices to this company's bank accounts. They then used these fraudulently obtained funds for their own personal expenses.
Both appeared before U.S. District Judge Jackson in St. Louis.
The charges carry a penalty range of twenty years in prison and potentially up to $250,000 in fines. Sentencing will take place in December.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
A city spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment today, but in the past the city has emphasized that both men were placed on immediate unpaid leave when the allegations surfaced.
"If the allegations are true, they deserve everything they get for betraying the public trust," a spokeswoman told Daily RFT when we first reported on the charges, adding, "We'll be looking at how this happened to minimize any risk of it ever happening again."
Update, 3:07 p.m.: Daily RFT heard back from city spokeswoman Maggie Crane who reiterates that both individuals are no longer working for the city. She says the city would like to see the judge send a clear message that this kind of criminal behavior will not be tolerated.
"As part of the sentencing, we hope the judge will order full restitution to the city of St. Louis," she adds.