WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. - Two women are accused of draining thousands of dollars from the life savings of two elderly Derry Township sisters since 2012 to pay expenses related to exhibiting their St. Bernards at dog shows and their personal lives, state police said.
Jessica S. Skacel, 30, of Derry and Ashley M. Giovannagelo, 22, of Greensburg were released on signature bonds last week. Both were charged with criminal conspiracy, theft and dealing in proceeds of illegal activities.
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Trooper Robert Harr reported in court documents that Skacel was hired in 2011 as a $20-per-day caretaker for the sisters, now ages 85 and 83, in their home and started stealing cash from them in early 2012.
Harr said Skacel later brought in Giovannagelo, who shares an interest in St. Bernards, to assist with caring for the elderly women, and she benefited from the thefts.
Skacel declined comment on the complaint on Monday but said some allegations in the complaint “were not true.” Giovannagelo did not return calls seeking comment.
In August 2013, the man who has power of attorney for the sisters, who is not identified in court documents, told state police that both had bank accounts with balances exceeding $100,000 when Skacel was hired in 2011. The man, who was not identified in court documents, told Harr he went to police when he found that both “bank accounts were basically empty,” according to an affidavit of probable cause.
“The bank records showed that both victims were making regular, large cash withdrawals from their accounts in amounts such as $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and even $20,000 at a time,” Harr wrote.
Harr said the victims often stored their large cash withdrawals in purses and metal cans around their home.
Both victims initially told investigators that they didn't believe either “Jessica or Ashley would have taken their money.”
However, Skacel and Giovannagelo admitted in later interviews to “deliberately taking money from the victims that they were not authorized to do so.”
Skacel's former husband, Kyle Squib, who is not connected with the crime, told Harr he had questioned her about the source of more than $2,500 she was carrying in late 2011. Jessica Skacel said “she found it in one of the victim's rooms and they hadn't paid her in a while, so she took it,” Squib told Harr.
“Kyle Squib stated that (Skacel) purchased a pull-behind trailer for $1,800 and a car hauling trailer for $3,500-$4,000. Squib stated that Skacel was going to dog shows on a regular basis because she had show dogs, and she was paying all of the expenses,” Harr wrote.
“... At the time, Squib said he was not sure where the money came from. ... But at the time, they could not afford to buy the things (Skacel) was buying or spend the money that the defendant was spending,” Harr said in the affidavit.
Skacel admitted to police that she started taking the money when she began working for the women.
“I asked (Skacel) how much cash she thought that she stole from the victims over the period of time and (Skacel) estimated that she stole between $40,000-$50,000,” Harr wrote.
Though each victim told police she had a separate bank balance exceeding $100,000 at one time, Skacel and Giovannagelo are charged with taking “currency with a minimum value of $2,000.”
Giovannagelo told investigators she knew Skacel was stealing from the women but didn't say anything because “(Giovannagelo) was benefitting from the money Skacel was stealing,” according to the affidavit.
“Giovannagelo stated that Skacel provided her a free place to stay, bought her food, paid her expenses for dog shows, and bought her alcohol and illegal drugs they were using at that time,” Harr wrote.
Both Skacel and Giovannagelo have social network pages indicating they are St. Bernard enthusiasts; Skacel lists her occupation as a dog groomer. Multiple photographs of Giovannagelo competing in dog shows since 2012 are posted to her Facebook page.
Skacel and Giovannagelo were fired in September 2013, shortly after the investigation began, police said. Both face preliminary hearings Sept. 3 before Derry District Judge Mark Bilik.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.