Two prominent city leaders involved in an ongoing dispute with the local fire department and its chief were arrested Tuesday by Westmoreland County detectives for allegedly using department funds to pay for a federal lawsuit.
Councilman Robert S. Forish, 58, and former firefighter Fabian Giovannagelo, 65, were arraigned on charges of theft, theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property in 2020. According to court documents, the men are accused of using fire department funds to pay for a federal lawsuit filed against the fire company, Chief John Brasile, President Charles McDowell Jr., Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford and the city.
In documents filed by Detective Randy Gardner, it is alleged Giovannagelo co-signed checks totaling $21,000 for payment of legal fees related to the lawsuit.
Giovannagelo and other members of the Goodwill Hose Company 1 from the city fire department were expelled by Brasile on May 29, 2020. Those expelled members included Christopher Blessing, Nico Giovannagelo, Cody, Giovannagelo and Ryan Jones — all are plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed on Aug. 14.
The plaintiffs maintain that Brasile, McDowell and the city conspired to unlawfully expel them for exercising their First Amendment right to criticize Brasile.
Gardner alleges Fabian co-signed a $5,500 check from the Goodwill Hose Co. account on May 30, 2020, to retain attorney Frederick E. Charles of Allentown to represent them in the federal suit. Forish, who was treasurer of the fire company at the time, was reportedly the other signer of the check.
According to court documents, Fabian and Forish co-signed additional checks for attorney fees of $5,000 on June 24, 2020, and $10,000 on July 10, 2020.
Documents were provided to Gardner from Charles during the course of the investigation of the checks, according to Gardner.
According to the criminal complaint, Gardner reviewed months worth of minutes from fire company meetings and found no evidence of actions taken to authorize payments to Charles.
Forish and Fabian were released on $25,000 unsecured bond each after the arraignment Tuesday before Senior District Judge Joseph A. Cannoni of Somerset County at the office of Magisterial District Judge Michael Mahady in Unity Township.
The case was referred to Westmoreland County detectives by Latrobe police, who were the first agency to receive the complaint due to potential conflicts of interest.
Preliminary hearings for both men are scheduled Aug. 2.