By Cindy Scharr, Delaware County Daily Times and Rose Quinn, Delaware County Daily Times
ASTON — James S. Bryan, a former Republican Collingdale councilman and longtime borough volunteer firefighter, has until today to report to the county’s bail office to begin arranging electronic home monitoring.
The overnight reprieve was a condition of his $500,000 unsecured release set by Magisterial District Judge Diane Holefelder at his preliminary arraignment on felony theft and forgery offenses Wednesday afternoon — a move that stunned a pair of veteran officers who were in the courtroom on unrelated matters.
Holefelder’s court is located less than a half-mile from Wescott Electric Co., a family-owned business where Bryan began working at the age of 18 and rose to the rank of project manager, a former position authorities say he used to steal more than $2.9 million between 2003 and 2013 to support his gambling addiction.
Earlier Wednesday, Bryan, 45, of the 800 block of Spruce Street in Collingdale, surrendered on criminal charges resulting from an investigation that began in June 2013. Though Bryan had no comment following arraignment, defense attorney Michael Diamondstein said his client was “extremely remorseful” and noted his cooperation with authorities.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said Bryan’s actions against Wescott not only “severely handicapped” the business, but he spent so much money playing cards at Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack and Casino in Chester, betting on sports games and buying lottery tickets “it was almost a full-time job” just for him to keep track.
Given the severity of his alleged crime, Whelan said Tuesday night he was “disappointed” Holefelder did not follow the recommended bail for Bryan, which was set by the bail interviewer at 10 percent of $100,000.
Bryan “knowingly and fraudulently stole from his employer, depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars into his personal accounts,” Whelan said. “He took advantage of his position of authority and employer’s trust.”
According to charging documents, Jim Wescott, business owner, and Joe McColgan, business vice president, met with investigators in July 2013, after Theresa Davidson, Wescott’s purchasing agent, “discovered a fraudulent invoice for copper wire that was never used or needed.”
Davidson told management she had been receiving similar invoices for an extended period of time, all without a purchasing order, which were submitted by Bryan, according to the affidavit of probable cause, penned by Detective Michele Deery of the Delaware County Economic Crime Unit and Detective Joseph Nardone of the Aston Police Department.
The missing copper wire led to further internal investigation by Wescott, revealing additional thefts. Davidson reportedly located fraudulent business transactions that involved two companies. Though the companies were legitimate, the affidavit states, the “checks were made out to those businesses for supplies on jobs that did not exist.”
Checks disbursed on those jobs, the affidavit states, were all cashed at a check-cashing agency in Philadelphia.
The investigation found that additional checks were made out to Christa Supply, a bogus business Bryan and his ex-wife owned, based on fraudulent invoices, the affidavit states.
“Bryan, upon leaving Wescott every day, would take the outgoing mail with the checks enclosed, and cash those checks associated with the fraudulent invoices,” the affidavit states.
When Bryan arrived at work on July 1, 2013, he was confronted by Wescott, McColgan and Davidson. When shown their findings, Bryan “admitted to the theft, stating that he had a problem with gambling,” the affidavit states. He was terminated from his position at that time, and his vehicle, computer and cell phone were returned to Wescott.
According to the affidavit, Wescott subsequently turned over all checks and invoices to investigators, as well as his work computer. Found on the computer was documentation regarding personal transactions by Bryan at Beneficial Bank. Investigators obtained a search warrant for Bryan’s accounts at Beneficial, which revealed numerous transactions at Harrah’s in Chester.
Investigators visited Bryan at his home on Aug. 7, 2013. Though he was told he was not under arrest at that time, Bryan reportedly said he wanted to cooperate with the investigation. At that time, he said he began gambling five or six years ago, about the same time the thefts began. He also said he was currently in treatment for a gambling addiction.
Bryan told investigators he started stealing by writing fraudulent invoices for nonexistent jobs. He said Davidson would write the check for the invoice and he would take the check from the outgoing mail and cash them, unbeknownst to Davidson or other Wescott management.
Bryan told investigators he chose a particular check-cashing spot in Philadelphia because he’d heard they did not require identification. He could only recall having to show ID on one or two occasions.
According to the affidavit, Bryan said over the last two years he took money by creating fraudulent purchase orders to a Glenolden business for bare copper wire. He said he would pick up the wire at the Glenolden site and then sell it for scrap.
According to the affidavit, the total theft from Wescott amounted to $2,919,361.50. At the press conference, Whelan said the actual amount is likely higher, since Wescott could not provide all invoices for 2006.
Bryan arrived at district court to find a roomful of supporters, including two friends, his sister-in-law, ex-wife and his mother-in-law. He stood alongside Diamondstein as Holefelder ran through the list of charges, rocking on his heels the entire time.
Diamondstein successfully sought nonmonetary bail, noting his client was a lifelong county resident, a 20-year councilman and a 25-year firefighter with no previous history who cooperated with investigators.
“He is not a danger,” Diamondstein said.
Outside the court, Diamondstein said Bryan’s goal is “to get healthy” and to win back all the trust he’s lost.
A registered Republican, Bryan resigned Collingdale Borough Council on Oct. 7. Two weeks later, Whelan confirmed Bryan was the focus of an ongoing investigation.
Bryan was elected to borough council in 1994 and served as chairman of Collingdale’s finance committee for almost 13 years. He also served as the finance chairman of the Collingdale Republican Party and had been running unopposed for the borough’s magisterial district judge seat last May until this criminal investigation began to unfold. Prior to the November election, Bryan withdrew from the Republican ballot. Republican Gregory Loftus won the seat in a two-to-one margin over Bryan.
Bryan was also affiliated with Collingdale Fire Co. No. 2, serving as chief, and was involved with the Luke Bryan Foundation, a charitable organization named in memory of Bryan’s late son who died in 2005 at the age of 16 months.
Whelan said Wednesday that investigators found no reason to expand the probe beyond Wescott.
At the press conference, Whelan commended Deery and Nardone “for their exemplary work on this complicated case.”
Bryan’s preliminary hearing is listed for Feb. 12.