- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A father of seven who resigned as constable and acknowledged gambling away more than $1 million he stole while working as an unpaid deputy for his tax collector wife was sentenced Tuesday to more than three years in prison.

Hitting a casino slot machine jackpot was the worst thing that ever happened to Keith Kristek, he told U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab at his sentencing hearing.

“I always had this glimmer of hope that, one day, I’d win that big jackpot,” the 57-year-old Baden man told the judge. “I continued going (to the casino), I continued losing, and it snowballed.”

Kristek stole more than $1 million in taxes starting in 2007 that should have gone to the relatively poor Ambridge Area School District and nearly $46,000 that should have gone to Baden borough, where his wife, Cynthia, was the elected tax collector.

“I was desperate to win the money back because I knew something like this was going to happen,” Kristek said.

Kristek was in a casino when the Beaver County district attorney’s office called to ask him about an audit that turned up the missing money last year. Federal prosecutors took over the case and charged him with mail fraud and filing false tax returns. He pleaded guilty in June.

Defense attorney Charles Bowers III argued for leniency, citing Kristek’s otherwise clean record, military service and lifetime spent working as either a local police officer or elected constable in Baden. But Schwab ordered him to spend 37 months in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Karl argued that the financial damage to the borough and school district warranted prison.

The district put off buying textbooks and making technology improvements and even cut personnel and ran budget deficits, Karl said.

“And ultimately, they raised taxes to compensate for that loss,” Karl said.

Although the borough lost far less money, it spent “a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy and money” trying to recreate tax records that were destroyed to cover Kristek’s tracks, Karl said. And hundreds of taxpayers received delinquency notices for payments they had made that weren’t properly recorded.

Cynthia Kristek had past financial problems and wasn’t able to get a bond large enough to cover the taxes she collected each year. As a result, Keith Kristek served as the borough’s de facto tax collector, Karl and Bowers said.

During that time, Kristek pocketed $320,000 in cash payments made by taxpayers, then forged his wife’s name on $740,000 worth of checks so he could deposit them in his bank account, too.

Cynthia Kristek wasn’t charged.

Keith Kristek was ordered to repay the stolen money at a rate of 10 percent of his gross wages once he’s out of prison. He’s working as a street sweeper for the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, making about $9 an hour, so he’ll likely never repay everything he stole.

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