County Councilman Charles P. McCullough was arrested last week and charged with 23 criminal counts.
The most disturbing allegation from the grand jury was that he improperly took $40,000 from an elderly widow's trust fund over which he had power of attorney and gave it to four political candidates. Shirley Jordan, 91, said she never approved the donations.
The 52-page presentment accused the attorney from Upper St. Clair of taking more than $154,000 from the trust, including $40,000 for services rendered. His sister Kathleen, who also was charged in relation to the trust account, faces accusations in a separate embezzlement case.
It will be up to a jury of Mr. McCullough's peers to decide whether the councilman is guilty. His attorney said he is innocent and will fight the charges vigorously. And so he should.
In the meantime, he should relinquish his seat on the 15-member County Council. He will need to be free of his public obligations to wage an adequate legal defense and his constituents deserve to be represented by someone whose service will not be compromised by time spent huddled with a defense lawyer.
As one of only two council members elected countywide, Mr. McCullough's constituents are the 1.2 million residents of Allegheny County. With government trying to respond to the economic downturn and people concerned about taxes and services, all of council needs to focus sharply on the issues of the day.
The grand jury's charges, unfortunately, cast a cloud over his work and could pose distractions for his council colleagues. Mr. McCullough should resign and, if vindicated, seek a return to public service later.
First published on February 23, 2009