Pennsylvania Woman Accused of Stealing from Teachers Union Official’s Trust Fund

Teachers deskGloria Riegel looked like the kind of person you could trust. But in reality she had embezzlement on her mind. That’s what a civil suit filed this March in California is alleging anyway. Riegel allegedly ripped off a large part of a $730,000 trust fund left by a deceased northeastern Pennsylvania teachers’ union official. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of State has confirmed that it is conducting a criminal investigation into whether a notary public conspired with her. Riegel’s husband, for his part, isn’t saying much.

The case originated in 2001 when Tony Kane, an official with the National Education Association-affiliated Wyoming Valley (in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa. area) Teachers Union, died, leaving behind an estate worth about $1 million. His lawyers placed most of that money in the Anthony F. Kane Jr. Charitable Trust, specifying that annual investment earnings be donated to the United Way of Wyoming Valley. But Kane already had taken a fateful step, naming as administrators Gloria Riegel and her husband, Joel, both of whom were colleagues at the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The United Way chapter had received $93,000 from the trust through 2005. But the charity challenged the Riegels in court, effectively stopping further payments. There was a reason for the action.

Apparently, the bulk of the Kane estate – a sum of $580,000 – had been loaned to Kathryn Cubillo, a friend of Mrs. Riegel whose mental competence had been deteriorating. Mrs. Cubillo had put up her home in Placer County, California (northeast of Sacramento) as collateral. She would regret the move. In a civil suit filed this March in California, Cubillo’s daughter, Christine, alleged that Riegel took advantage of her mother, who had received only $42,000 from a trust unrelated to the home. The daughter intends to void the home “loan” from the trust in order to free the property for sale.

So what happened? Gloria Riegel, alleges the suit, tricked the elder Cubillo into signing blank documents “to show collateral for a trust she was managing.” Riegel opened various bank accounts in Cubillo’s name and took out more than $350,000 worth of life insurance policies without her knowledge. In one application, alleges Cubillo’s daughter, Riegel listed herself as Kathryn Cubillo’s sister. Mrs. Riegel, a resident of Exeter, Pa. located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, apparently received outside help from a local notary public, Lucille Trotta. The suit claims the alleged home loan was notarized in Exeter on October 7, 2002, a day in which Kathryn Cubillo was at work, something confirmed by her employer. Yet a copy of the loan, which bore Trotta’s official seal, was not recorded in California until November 2006. Christine Cubillo has filed a separate complaint against Trotta with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Mrs. Riegel wasn’t available for comment. And her husband said that he hadn’t seen a copy of the suit, adding that a court-appointed attorney that now administers the trust should account for the missing funds. A Lucerne County, Pa. judge removed the Riegels from control over the trust in 2007. Tony Kane may have been an honest union boss. But it didn’t prevent certain unscrupulous people around him from scavenging for his wealth. (Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice, 4/20/09).