The founder of a local charity that purported to raise money to help dying children has pleaded guilty to fraud in federal court.

Steven Wetzel, 39 of Beaver, pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of mail fraud and filing a false tax return for using money raised for terminally ill children to pay for his own personal expenses and leisure activities.

According to a press release by U.S. Attorney David Hickton’s office, Wetzel faces a sentence of up to 23 years in prison, a fine of $500,000, or both. He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 14, 2016.

According to prosecutors, out of approximately $100,000 raised by Steven Wetzel’s “Hero Program,” only about $10,000 was actually spent on the terminally ill children his charity was founded to serve. The remaining $90,000, say prosecutors, went to pay for Wetzel’s personal expenses including $3,600 on Pirates tickets, $5,000 on meals at various restaurants that included extravagant dinners, and $1,500 on drinks at Starbucks.

Prosecutors also say Wetzel miscategorized expenses to make them look like money was being spent on ill children, in one instance reporting that funds were used to pay for a child’s dental bill when the money was spent on his own dental work instead.

In January 2014, the Beaver Countian published the results of a yearlong investigation into the Hero Program and an associated charity called the Frontline Initiative. Those investigative reports raised serious questions about the monies being raised and how they were being spent.

At the time of the Beaver Countian’s reporting, the “Hero Program” was one of the most visible charities in Beaver County and was being widely supported by the local law enforcement community. Steven Wetzel had just been nominated for a KDKA Hometown Hero Award when this publication’s investigation was published.

Beaver County District Attorney Tony Berosh met with officials from the Pennsylvania State Police after reading the Beaver Countian’s findings, which eventually led to a federal investigation into the charity.

Read The Beaver Countian’s Original Investigative Reports:

Investigative Report: IRS Revokes Hero Program’s Nonprofit Status
Hero Program’s Nonprofit Spun Core Initiatives Into For-profit Company
KDKA Remains Silent About Beaver County Hometown Hero Award
District Attorney Confirms Criminal Investigation Into “Hero Program”

John Paul
John Paul is the founder of the Beaver Countian. He reports full-time for the site, specializing in investigative journalism with an emphasis on public corruption.

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Chad Benatti
Chad Benatti

This POS is going to be big bubbas new girlfriend in federal prison. Good luck Steven Wetzel.

Jim Ernst
Jim Ernst

Quite honestly, I wonder why this guy is considered a criminal when other nonprofits do the same thing entirely, all the time. Many politicians divert thousands to nonprofit entities, owned by family members and friends, all the time, and large nonprofits pay their CEOs huge sums all the time. I’m not defending this guy, but simply pointing out that it happens more often than many people realize.


The fine would make no sense considering he doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay it. That said, the jail time should be substantial! Raising funds on the names and faces of innocent sick kids and then treating yourself to a lavish lifestyle all while bragging about your many connections (Neil Walker, Michael Ohr, and many others) makes you an absolute asshole.

Chad Benatti
Chad Benatti

Jim, he filed a false tax return for a few years. That is a crime.

Stephanie Mcquiston
Stephanie Mcquiston