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July 31, 2023

Upper Darby parking director allegedly stole meter money to pay for office parties, D.A. says

Sekela Coles, 45, also is accused of wiping out parking violations issued to her relatives and mismanaging thousands of tickets

Investigations Theft
Upper Darby Parking StreetView/Google Maps

Meters are shown outside the Upper Darby Township building where the Parking Enforcement Department has an office. Sekela Coles, the director of the office, is charged with stealing coins from the meters and related offenses.

Upper Darby's director of parking enforcement was charged Monday with stealing the coins deposited in the town's meters and using the money to pay for staff parties and other petty expenses, the Delaware County District Attorney's Office announced.

In February, Sekela Coles, 45, allegedly directed her staff to break the office's procedure for collecting meter payments, which are normally placed in a designated bank account. Instead, Coles directed her employees to give six bags of coins, totaling $4,314, to an administrative assistant to be converted into cash and kept at the office as a petty cash fund, prosecutors allege. The money was allegedly used for birthday cakes and trips to restaurants, among other purchases.

Coles also is accused of wiping out at least eight parking violations that were issued to her relatives and letting 18,000 parking tickets languish, prosecutors said.

The months-long investigation began when two witnesses told police they saw the administrative assistant, Nikita Barnes, placing bags filled with coins into her car. The witnesses also told investigators they saw receipts on Barnes' desk showing coin deposits of $2,290 and $581 that had been taken out as cash. An envelope on her desk had $1,730 in cash in it, authorities said.

Police obtained a search warrant for the bank accounts of Barnes and her husband to confirm the transactions. They also reviewed surveillance video from the bank showing the husband and wife carrying bags inside the branch and exchanging them for paper currency, prosecutors said. 

In April, Barnes told investigators she acted on direction from Coles, who became the parking enforcement director in 2020. Coles allegedly had Barnes keep the money at her desk.

Coles initially denied in April that she had stolen the meter coins for the office to use, but later told investigators she chose to keep the money for her staff. In one instance, when Coles saw a transaction of more than $2,000, she allegedly told Barnes to deposit the coins in smaller increments to avoid the suspicion from the township's tax office.

Of the total that was taken, prosecutors said $2,037.81 was returned to the township.

Coles is charged with theft, receiving stolen property and related offenses.

"This kind of behavior erodes public trust and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.