Upper Darby parking director faces theft charges related to funds collected from parking meters

The Delco DA’s Office alleges the official used a portion of parking meter funds to pay for “food, birthday cakes, office parties, and restaurant trips” for herself and staff.

Welcome to Upper Darby sign

(Upper Darby Township)

Got a question about life in Philly’s suburbs? Our suburban reporters want to hear from you! Ask us a question or send an idea for a story you think we should cover.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer is charging Upper Darby Township’s director of parking enforcement Sekela Mungai Coles with unlawful taking, theft by deception, and receiving stolen property.

In Monday’s press release, the District Attorney’s Office said these felony and misdemeanor charges relate to the “diversion of funds collected from parking meters.”

“The defendant was entrusted with one of the basic functions of government – collecting parking meter money and depositing the cash. However, rather than acting in the best interest of the citizens of Upper Darby, the defendant is alleged to have taken a portion of the parking meter cash and used it for the purchase of food, birthday cakes, office parties, and restaurant trips for the defendant and her staff. This kind of behavior erodes public trust and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Stollsteimer said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The District Attorney’s Office is also accusing Coles of voiding eight parking tickets of family members as part of its months-long investigation into Upper Darby Parking Enforcement.

According to investigators, unnamed citizen informants told detectives in February that they witnessed an employee take six Brinks Dunbar bags used for collecting coins from meters and place them in her vehicle. They also saw paper conversion receipts on her desk.

“The receipt indicated that a deposit of coin in the amount of $2,290 had been converted to paper currency. An envelope of cash in the amount of $1,730 was located on [the employee’s] desk,” the press release said.

An informant also told investigators that parking staff was directed to give all coin bags to the employee — against UDPE policy. After obtaining a search warrant and gathering more evidence, detectives questioned the employee in late April.

“[The employee] admitted that under the direction of the defendant, she took coins to her personal bank, the PFFCU, and converted them into paper currency,” the press release said. “She stated that she then took the money to the defendant who would count the money and [the employee] would store the money in her desk.”

Investigators interviewed Coles as well.

“Although initially denying the allegations, the defendant did admit to using the funds from the parking meters for the purchase of food, birthday cakes, office parties, and restaurant trips for her and her staff,” the press release said.

According to the criminal complaint, Coles also admitted to directing the employee to transmit the money in smaller increments to avoid being caught by the tax department. A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said the other employee will not be charged and that she is a cooperating witness.

WHYY News reached out to Coles for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

In a written statement, the Upper Darby Office of the Mayor said it regards the accusations with the “utmost seriousness and [they] are fully cooperating with law enforcement.”

“The Township has already taken several steps to ensure stronger internal controls to immediately address this situation and alter our parking accounting procedures,” the statement read. “We would like to assure the Upper Darby community that we take our fiduciary duties to the residents and taxpayers of Upper Darby seriously. Ms. Coles has been placed on administrative leave, pending the Township’s investigation of this matter.”

Before taking on the role to lead the parking department, Coles previously served as a township council member from 2014 to 2020. Under her watch, township parking enforcement changed its kiosk system to allow for online payment.

A CBS Philadelphia investigation in January raised serious concerns over Upper Darby’s handling of parking tickets — 18,000 tickets never made it to district court. The result? A federal class action lawsuit hangs over the township.

There’s also a yet-to-be-released audit of the parking enforcement department led by Interim finance director Donna Stilwell of Brinker Simpson — which the District Attorney’s Office used to help with its investigation.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal