A Pittsburgh-based lobbyist charged last month with scamming at least six small businesses out of hundreds of thousands of dollars faces more charges after additional nonprofits and schools came forward following his initial arrest.
Joseph Kuklis, 48, of Pittsburgh initially was charged in August by the state attorney general with corrupt organizations, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, forgery and theft by deception. He operated a Pittsburgh government consulting firm known as Wellington Strategies.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced additional charges against Kuklis after 14 more small businesses, nonprofits, universities and schools came forward to allege that they, too, were victims of his crimes.
Among the most recent group of accusers were the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township, the Allegheny River Development Corporation in Kittanning and the It’s All About the Warrior Foundation in Pittsburgh.
In total, Kuklis now faces two counts of theft by deception, 12 counts of forgery and eight counts of fraudulent business practices, all felonies.
According to Shapiro’s office, investigators found Kuklis charged small businesses, nonprofits, universities and schools a consulting fee with a promise to obtain grant funding for them through the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development.
Authorities allege that Kuklis forged documents to make it appear as if the businesses applied for grant money and won — even going so far as to send the businesses fake award letters.
But when the small-business owners called to collect their awards, they were informed they not only did not win the grants, but also that Kuklis never submitted their applications.
“I will not allow anyone to take advantage of our small businesses, nonprofits, universities and schools that contribute so much to our commonwealth,” Shapiro said in a news release announcing the additional charges. “My office will continue working to hold the defendant accountable for his crimes and deliver justice for those he harmed.”
The Regional Learning Alliance is listed in the charging documents as paying Kuklis more than $2,000 in fees for him to write grants on behalf of the organization to the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development.
The organization, along with the others, was falsely told by Kuklis that he had secured grant money.
Amounts paid to Kuklis as consulting fees ranged from $2,000 to $60,000 paid by Innovu, a Pittsburgh-based data consulting firm. Other Allegheny County-based agencies and organizations affected by Kuklis include Seton Hill University, Phipps Conservatory and Pittsburgh Technical College.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy across the commonwealth, and they deserve to be supported, not scammed,” Shapiro said after Kuklis’ initial arrest last month. “The defendant falsely promised small business owners that he would obtain badly-needed grant money for them, but instead he used their money to line his own pockets.”
The attorney general’s office said the investigation is ongoing and there might be additional victims. Potential victims of Joseph Kuklis are asked to call 412-880-0464.