Ex-President of Erie, Pa. Council Gets 366 Days for Raiding Own Charity for Gambling

Posted on: May 26, 2021, 04:20h. 

Last updated on: July 19, 2021, 03:06h.

The former City Council president of Erie, Pennsylvania will serve a year and a day in prison for plundering a charity she founded, using its funds to go gambling.

Sonya Arrington
Sonya Arrington arrives at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh for her sentencing Monday. (Image: Your Erie)

On Monday, a federal judge in Pittsburgh said he was concerned that Sonya Arrington had eroded public trust in government and charitable organizations. Senior United States District Judge David S. Cercone said he had to impose a sentence that promoted “respect for the law.”

Between 2012 and 2018, Arrington embezzled $70,000 from Mothers Against Teen Violence, which she largely blew at the tables of the Presque Isle Downs & Casino in the city.

She also fraudulently claimed nearly $30,000 in Social Security disability payments while in office.

Refused to Resign

Arrington was indicted in April 2018 on 33 felony counts that included 31 counts of wire fraud. But because Pennsylvania law did not require her to resign, she remained council president, serving out her four-year term, which expired in January 2020, while free on bond.

Prosecutors argued her refusal to resign, even after she had confessed to the FBI, was evidence of a lack of remorse.

Ms. Arrington treated her non-profit organization like it was her personal bank account,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “Her greed and selfishness shortchanged the community’s efforts to help prevent teen violence.”

But Arrington apologized to Cercone through tears on Monday, insisting she “accepted accountability.”

Solace in Slots

Arrington founded MATV following the fatal shooting of her 19-year-old son, Steve Arrington, in 2010.

She said this, and the loss of her mother four years earlier, had caused her to seek solace in slot machines.

It was a peace,” Arrington said, as reported by Go Erie. “I didn’t have to listen to anyone — all I had to do was push a button.”

She also used the money to pay for a family trip to Disney World and other personal expenses, such as clothing, groceries, restaurants, and paying bills.

Feds Tipped Off

The US Attorney’s Office said in a statement it had been tipped off about possible financial irregularities at MATV by a bank employee. The employee  spotted ATM withdrawals at the Presque Isle from accounts controlled by the nonprofit.

Last October, Arrington pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of falsely claiming Social Security.

On Monday, Judge Cercone ordered her to receive treatment for a gambling addiction and serve two years of supervised release once she gets out of prison. The day added to her one-year prison sentence makes her eligible to be released early for good behavior.