Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer on Monday announced charges against Sekela Coles, Upper Darby’s director of parking enforcement, accusing her of theft, unlawful taking, and other felonies as the months-long parking scandal that has enveloped the sixth-largest municipality in the commonwealth continues to expand.

“The defendant was entrusted with one of the basic functions of government — collecting parking meter money and depositing the cash,” Stollsteimer said of Coles in a press release. “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.”

Stollsteimer also alleges that Sekela Coles, a Democrat and former member of the town council, used an administrative assistant, Nakita Barnes, to skim money from coins collected at parking meters by enforcement officers to enable the office spending. He said witnesses told detectives that Barnes would take coin bags, use her own personal vehicle to go to the Police and Federal Fire Credit Union, and have the coins converted to cash. She would then take the cash back to Coles.

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In one instance, an informant told investigators Barnes had a receipt from the PFFCU on her desk in the amount of $2,290. The receipt “indicated that a deposit of coin in the amount of $2,290 had been converted to paper currency,” according to the district attorney. Later, an envelope of cash in the amount of $1,730 was located on Barnes’ desk. Subsequent to that, “A second receipt in the amount of $581 from the PFFCU was also observed on Barnes’ desk,” the press release said. 

Stollsteimer said at a Monday press conference that the office was not pressing charges against Barnes because she was acting on Coles’ orders and cooperated with the investigation. “We’re not charging her in this scheme because we’re obviously going after the public official who abused her authority. [Barnes] was told to do this and she did it,” Stollsteimer said.

Investigators also say Sekela Coles used her authority to void “at least eight” parking tickets incurred by her family members.

A parking kiosk near the Upper Darby Township building. Photo: Olivia DeMarco

Although there are minor differences, the accusations by the district attorney essentially independently confirm an earlier report from Broad + Liberty that said Sekela Coles and an administrative assistant were not following cash handling procedures meant to ensure accountability and security. At that time, Broad + Liberty reported that Coles was using an administrative assistant to have some coins collected at kiosk locations taken to the PFFCU for counting, noting that this was a violation of township procedures, and also highlighting that the township did not do business at that bank.

When presented with those allegations at the time, Sekela Coles lashed out.

“Be advised any article mentioning my name, allegations against me, and my business reputation are defamatory per se,” she said in an emailed response to Broad + Liberty. “All rights and remedies available to me legally under Pennsylvania law will be pursued against you individually and your media outlet.”

An attorney for Coles indicated she planned to fight the charges, according to a CBS News Philadelphia report.

“This case is there may have been some sloppy accounting or sloppy recordkeeping and sloppy policy that when it was discovered, it was ceased,” Edelberg said.

Stollsteimer said the original amount believed to have been stolen or misappropriated by Sekela Coles was about $4,400. However, as the scheme progressed and more parking kiosks came online, Coles became concerned she would be caught. She ordered Barnes to send more money to the township’s tax department, trying to cover her tracks. Doing so lowered the amount alleged to have been taken and misspent by Coles to about $2,000.

“We call that, in prosecution speak, consciousness of guilt,” Stollsteimer said. “[Sekela Coles] knew what she was doing was wrong.”

A request to Mayor Keffer’s office was not returned. Keffer did issue a press release earlier in the day. (Broad + Liberty was not a recipient of the press release.)

“The township has already taken several steps to ensure stronger internal controls to immediately address this situation and alter our parking accounting procedures,” Keffer’s office said in a statement, as reported by the Delco Daily Times.

“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. Meanwhile, our unwavering focus remains on serving the residents and taxpayers of Upper Darby. We will continue to work diligently to serve the Upper Darby community.”

Keffer, a Democrat, is not running for re-election this year in the wake of a DUI scandal from the winter.

Council President Brian Burke, a Democrat-turned-Republican running for mayor, was critical and questioning of many of the elements of the fallout.

“In my opinion, I believe the administration has known about this [for a longer time],” Burke said. “It’s just another problem this administration has had over the past four years.”

He also chaffed that he was getting updates through secondary sources.

“I did hear that Dr. Coles was put on administrative leave through a press release. Council has not received that press release,” he said.

Our unwavering focus remains on serving the residents and taxpayers of Upper Darby. We will continue to work diligently to serve the Upper Darby community.

Upper Darby’s parking scandal first erupted in January after CBS News Philadelphia investigative reporter Joe Holden reported that tens of thousands of parking tickets had not been properly routed through the courts.

As a result, those persons may have been deprived of their constitutional right to due process to challenge the accusations in court. A class action lawsuit has since been filed against the township.

After Holden’s report was published, the township council quickly approved an audit of the parking department. A source contributing to the previous Broad + Liberty report indicated at the time that Coles abruptly stopped having coins taken to the PFFCU for counting when the audit was approved.

Much of the criminal activity also came under Vincent Rongione’s tenure as chief administrative officer for Mayor Keffer. Rongione left office about a week before the Holden report started the cascade of events. 

Although Rongione’s departure is close in time to the Holden report, there’s currently no indication that the impending report had anything to do with his leaving office. At the time, he said he was intending to spend more time with family as his wife had just had another child.

A request for comment sent to Rongione on Monday was not returned.

By the time of the Holden report, Keffer and Rongione had been locked in a year-long battle with a bipartisan group of six members of the township council who were accusing the township of improperly moving federal monies received from a pandemic-related bill.

But it was that bipartisan group that Stollsteimer praised on Monday.

“I want to thank the members of township council on Upper Darby who have brought this to our attention and the majority on that council board,” Stollsteimer said. ”It’s a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans who came together about a year and a half ago because they were concerned with some of the financial dealings of the administration. So they’ve been asking questions and they’ve been taking a lot of flack, politics being what it is today, and you can understand why. But that is the first line of defense, as we all learned, I think in the third grade, that our system is built for checks and balances.”

The district attorney’s investigation was likely the last hurdle in getting the full parking audit officially released to the public.

But some elements of the audit have already been reported. Both Holden and the Delaware Valley Journal published elements of the audit, which, still in its unreleased version, was highly critical of the execution of a software change for the parking department.

“Our findings suggest that a lack of communication and centralized oversight, restrictive access to IT support, and lack of internal controls and documented procedures led to the failure of parking tickets being filed timely with the state,” the audit said, as reported by Delaware Valley Journal. “Evidence suggests that there was not a clear understanding of the complexities of the administration of the department that relied on consistent communication with (the courts), police, and IT, especially when adding new software.”

Burke, presumably like other council members, is eager that the council will soon have access to a full and final audit.

Update: This article has been modified from its original version to include a statement from the attorney for Sekela Coles.

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at, or use his encrypted email at @shepherdreports

2 thoughts on “Delco district attorney files charges against Upper Darby parking manager as scandal widens”

  1. “We will continue to work diligently to serve the Upper Darby community.” Mayor Keffer

    If this is diligence, I wonder what ineptitude looks like.

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