New Niles tax employee has theft conviction

Niles tax office

NILES, Ohio (WKBN) — State auditors continue to investigate the books in Niles after a former city clerk was indicted last week on charges of stealing $72,000.

But she is not the only city worker with a questionable history. An investigation by WKBN 27 First News Trumbull County Bureau Chief Jeff Levkulich discovered that a city worker was recently convicted of stealing from her former employer.

Heidi Salapata Powell has been the tax investigator for the city of Niles for only a week. Shortly before her promotion, she pleaded guilty to stealing $1,3000 from the AT&T store on Elm Road in Bazetta, where she used to be the manager.

Bazetta Police Detective Joe Sofchek said some deposits came up missing while Powell worked at the store and she later confessed to taking it.

A day after Powell was arrested for stealing the money from AT&T, she was hired at the Niles city billing department as a cashier, where she handled taxpayer money. She was still in her 90-day probationary period at the time and was making $11.29 per hour, according to a letter from the mayor’s office dated Sept. 19.

Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said he was not aware of Powell’s arrest when he hired her. He did not know until she was indicted by a Trumbull County grand jury in October.

“We followed the contract. We had a hearing and we placed her on unpaid leave,” Infante said.

Powell was on leave until her case wrapped up. She took a plea agreement, which reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.

Despite Powell admitting to taking the money, Infante said he never believed she should have been fired from her city job.

“On a felony charge, I say yes absolutely and that’s what we were waiting for, the outcome of the court case,” Infante said.

Shortly after her case wrapped up, Powell, who is the daughter of the Niles city nurse, was re-instated. Then she applied for, and got her new job, with a raise, as the city tax investigator.

Powell would not talk to Levkulich, but her boss, City Treasurer Bob Swauger, talked about Powell, saying she deserves a second chance.

“She has worked hard and feels bad for what she did. She made a mistake,” Swauger said.

He said he knows how some people may react to Powell’s hiring since former Niles City Treasurer employee Phyllis Wilson was indicted last week for stealing $72,000 from the city in 2012 and 2013.

“There were some checks and balances that failed and those processes have been added to and improved, so I don’t have any concerns whatsoever,” Swauger said.

According to court records, Powell was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to make restitution to AT&T.

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