Landers, 64, declined comment yesterday as she was charged before Harrisburg District Judge Joseph Solomon on three counts of theft and one count of tampering with public records, all felonies. She was released on her own recognizance.
"I just tend to think it's a case of bad bookkeeping," said Daniel D. McCaffery, Landers' attorney.
Landers, president of Concerned Black Leaders of Lower Tioga/Hunting Park, is accused of pocketing more than half of three grants awarded to the group between 2000 and 2003 and trying to cover up by submitting false documents to state officials.
Landers has worked for Rieger (D., Phila.) since 1989. She makes $30,706 annually as his legislative assistant in Philadelphia.
Officials said Rieger, 82, the longest-serving House member, is not implicated in the case.
"I have nothing to say," Rieger said in a brief interview on the House floor. "I don't know anything about it."
In 2000, Landers provided the state with one invoice for 401 gallons of paint, reportedly from Venango Hardware in North Philadelphia. Landers signed the invoice for $7,290. The typed date of purchase was Aug. 8, 2000 - several months after the store had closed. In an interview with The Inquirer in 2003 and later with state agents, the former owner of the store, Ron Marcinkowski, said he never sold that amount of paint in his four decades in business.
Landers had also submitted four receipts totaling $919 reportedly from a landscaping business at 3629 N. 15th St., in 2000 and 2001, according to the criminal complaint filed yesterday. The address has been a vacant lot since 1985.
Another document purported to be an invoice for $3,056 for fencing supplies. Actually, it was only a price quote on which Landers acknowledged writing "paid."
Landers had written herself and cashed 101 checks totaling $68,112 from two bank accounts of Concerned Black Leaders. The nonprofit is based in Landers' home on the 3800 block of North Ninth Street in Philadelphia.
Thomas Louis, the group's treasurer, told investigators that Landers occasionally had him endorse blank checks. Louis refused to help Landers fabricate invoices to cover the spending, he told investigators.
In interviews with state agents, Landers admitted fabricating several invoices, including those for the paint and fencing. But she said that often she wrote checks to herself because her vendors only accepted cash. She also told authorities she had misplaced some invoices. She repeatedly assured agents that she would locate them but never did, the criminal complaint said.
Landers waived her right to a preliminary hearing and is expected to be formally arraigned in Harrisburg on May 26.
The grants were part of the Community Revitalization Program, a $52 million fund controlled by the General Assembly. Rieger secured the grant money for Landers' group.
The state investigation focused on three grants awarded after 2000, totaling $115,000, for which Landers was required to provide invoices. Concerned Black Leaders had received three earlier grants, totaling $40,000, but at the time the state did not require spending reports on smaller grants.
The state had awarded a seventh grant to the group in 2003. But state officials refused to send a $45,000 check to the group because of questions raised by the paper, said Kevin Ortiz, press secretary to the Department of Community and Economic Development.
State economic development officials acknowledged at the time that its system for monitoring grants was lax. The agency had only one person reviewing hundreds of grants and thousands of invoices. Ortiz said the agency now has a monitoring division with three workers.
"The department has become increasingly diligent in monitoring these grants to make sure that taxpayer money is being used the way it was supposed to be used," he said.
This is not Landers' first run-in with the law. In 1994, she was convicted on 30 misdemeanor counts of misleading absentee voters in a race that involved the state Senate candidacy of Bill Stinson, Rieger's nephew. Landers got a suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine.
Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or email@example.com.