Erie City Council President Sonya Arrington has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

The 51 year old was named by the Department of Justice Wednesday in a 33-count indictment for wire fraud, theft of government property and false writing or document to the government.

The indictment accuses Arrington of using money donated to her non-profit organization, Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV), for her gambling and personal expenses. 

Arrington defrauded MATV of at least $70,000 from December 2011 to March 2018, according to the indictment.

It alleges she used a MATV credit card on 113 occasions from April 2012 to January 2018 to withdraw MATV funds at Presque Isle Downs and Casino.

The indictment said Arrington sustained gambling losses at Presque Isle Downs & Casino of at least the following approximate amounts:

  • $11,893 in 2012
  • $22,136 in 2013
  • $21,042 in 2014
  • $15,871 in 2015
  • $18,598 in 2016
  • $21,984 in 2017
  • $3,087 through February 2018

She allegedly solicited donations from individuals and entities, received donations to MATV in cash and checks payable to MATV, and deposited part of the donations into MATV bank accounts while keeping a portion in cash for herself, the indictment alleges.

Investigators said she used a debit card for the MATV bank accounts to make purchases unrelated to the organization's purposes. It was reportedly used for things like personal items of clothing, groceries, car washes and food at restaurants and to pay personal bills for T-Mobile, State Farm, First Energy and others.

Arrington also fraudulently received approximately $29,558 in Social Security disability benefits and submitted a document to the Social Security Administration that contained a false statement, the indictment said.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady requested a summons, instead of an arrest warrant, for Arrington to appear before the Court for arraignment, post bond and file an appearance of counsel. He asked for bond to be set at $10,000 unsecured.

She could faces up to 635 years in prison, a fine of $7,750,00 or both if convicted.

Arrington never commented after FBI agents raided her home March 1.

Erie News Now reporter Chris Carroll went to the door of her east Erie home Thursday, but no one answered the door.

Arrington's Attorney Responds

Arrington's defense attorney Leonard Ambrose spoke to Erie News Now Thursday about the indictment.

"She is innocent until proven guilty," said Ambrose. "We intend the vigorously contest the indictment. We haven't received any discovery at this point in time as to what the basis is for these charges, documents, records, etc. I have to review them and move forward."

Arrington hired Ambrose shortly after the FBI raid.

City Hall on Indictment: Should She Resign?

Arrington was elected to a four-year term on Erie City Council in 2015 and appointed council president in January 2018.

Councilman Casimir Kwitowski was surprised by the indictment.

"[I'm] kind of shocked, stunned," said Kwitowski. "It is never good news when you hear stuff like that."

Kwitowksi said the decision to resign is up to Arrington.

"Number one: She has to do what is right for herself and her family and friends," said Kwitowski. "Number two: She has to do what is right for the city as a councilperson."

Councilwoman Liz Allen thinks Arrington should consider remain on council but not as president.

"I think stepping down as council president would ease up some time to be able to concentrate on personal things she has to deal with right now," said Allen.

City of Erie Mayor Joe Schember said he will respect the legal process, and it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

Schember said he is not ready at this time to ask Arrington to step down.

"I just don't feel like I am ready," said Schember. "At this point, I don't understand enough. I need more information. I need to talk to a bunch of people, including Sonya."

Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV)

Arrington formed and started Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV) in January 2010 to help prevent violence among teenagers.

Articles of Incorporation for the nonprofit were filed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in February 2010.

The paperwork included the following language:

"No part of the earnings of this corporation shall inure to the benefit of or be distributable to its directors, officers, or any private individual, except that the corporation shall be authorized and empowered to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the purposes set forth in these articles."

She also filed with the IRS in January 2010 to request non-profit status for MATV "as an organization whose property would be dedicated to charitable purposes," according to court documents.

Arrington typically holds three primary MATV events each year. They include an anti-violence march and rally, a talent show and a community picnic.

MATV operates at the Booker T. Washington Center at 17th and Holland. It was also raided March 1. Booker T. Washington Center leaders then told Erie News Now agents were looking for payroll, written and received donations and accounting information related to Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV) when they served the subpoena.