Former health department administrator blames bosses | News, Sports, Jobs
STEUBENVILLE — The former Jefferson County Health Department administrator who allegedly gave herself a raise and then falsified official records to cover it up, insisted a jury in the County Court of Common Pleas Jefferson on Wednesday, she just did what she was told.
Annette Stewart, charged with theft of office, falsification of documents, tampering and unlawful interest in a public contract, said it was her bosses, the late Dr. Frank L. Petrola, longtime chairman of the board of administration, and Dr. Frank J. Petrola, former health district commissioner, who told her to change her minutes from the April 25, 2017 board meeting to say she received a big raise from salary of $12 an hour.
Prosecutors allege Stewart was able to pocket just over $63,000 in ministry funds to which she was not entitled.
According to the indictment, Stewart “falsified records to increase his salary, without knowledge or approval” of the board of health. Prosecutors also allege she used her administrator position to get her son a job in October 2017.
“I was asked to correct the minutes and insert the information”, Stewart told the jury. “I even asked where to put it.”
Stewart said she was at that board meeting on April 25, 2017, but she was nervous and had a bathroom emergency, so she left the room without anyone coming. notice it. She said she was unaware of the increase until she prepared to send out the meeting minutes just before the May board meeting, adding: “When the chairman of the board tells you to do something, you do it.”
“Frank L…asked me why my (pay raise) wasn’t there,” she says. “I told him I wasn’t there and…that I didn’t know. I don’t think people knew I left the board meeting, I just got up and left.
There was no mention of a raise for Stewart in the Herald-Star’s coverage of the meeting, although the selection of Frank J. Petrola as commissioner was covered in depth.
Frank L. Petrola died in 2020, two years before Stewart was charged, and his cousin, Frank J. Petrola, is unable to testify, “So all we have is your word,” Assistant Attorney General Anthony Cillo insisted, getting Stewart to admit that she never thanked the board members for the pay raise nor did she draw their attention to the changes she had brought to the record.
Cillo also pointed to discrepancies in the amount he said Stewart paid himself, listing it as “$40.01” in some notes and “$42.01 in others”, but she suggested the discrepancy was someone else’s clerical error, as was her son’s designation as “approved health”.
“A $25,000 raise didn’t make me perfect, and it wouldn’t make anyone perfect either.” Stewart responded and admitted that his son had no degree or experience in the field and was an unclassified seasonal employee, although his hours had doubled and he had been given paid time off. Prosecutors say he shouldn’t have.
“I didn’t approve of it,” said Stewart.
She also said it was not her idea to bar other employees used to being available for council meetings from attending, telling jurors she sent that memo. “as I was instructed by Dr. Petrola.”
Defense attorney Dennis McNamara asked Stewart if she ever knowingly took money (you) weren’t entitled to it or falsified records, to which she replied, “Nope.” She also insisted that she “never hired my son, never asked anyone to hire my son”, telling the jury that it was Frank J. Petrola who made that decision before she even knew she was being considered.
Earlier in the day, McNamara had asked Carla Gampola about the unrest within the staff following Stewart’s rise to power, and asked her if she had just been upset because she had discovered that other members of the staff were entitled to an out-of-state conference, but she was told she couldn’t go because “someone has to stay behind.”
“You do what the boss tells you to do” Gampola responded, telling the jurors Stewart “was not my day-to-day supervisor, but if she told me to do something, I did it.”
After reviewing time sheets, department payroll and other documents, auditor Melissa Barnett told jurors there was no record of Jesse Cook, her son, even applying for a job.
“They have no (documents) to show that he has ever interviewed or applied” for a job at the health department, she said. “The only thing we (find) is a letter submitted to the auditor” announcing that he was joining the staff.
“It was (of) Annette Stewart, it was her job,” said Barnett, who testified via Zoom due to illness.
Prosecutors questioned Stewart’s husband, Carl, about the couples’ debt before his wife’s pay rise. Stewart, an SVRTA bus driver before being diagnosed with advanced COPD, told them, “We had a normal life. I don’t know what you mean by a lot of debt.
“We had credit cards with which we made payments”, he said, admitting he had to quit his job due to ill health and had no health benefits or personal income until his disability was granted a year later. He also admitted that his stepson, who died two years ago aged 35, suffered from a substance abuse disorder, but told jurors that no drugs were found in his system.