KITTANNING - A woman with a criminal history of scamming people into showering her with attention and money by pretending to be pregnant or telling other sob stories is on the lam again, this time accused of staying at a battered women's shelter in western Pennsylvania under false pretenses.
Amy Slanina, 33, was charged with theft of services after staying at the Helping All Victims in Need Shelter in Kittanning Dec. 4-30 of last year and claiming to be married to a Pittsburgh police officer who abused her.
Slanina was supposed to stand trial or plead guilty in September, but, as she has other times when she's perpetrated other scams in several states in the past, she's disappeared.
A court summons for that appearance, mailed to the Ohio Reformatory for Women, was returned to sender with the word "Released" written in bold, black felt-tip marker. How and why western Pennsylvania authorities lost track of Slanina isn't clear, and the man most responsible for tracking her down, Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi, hasn't talked.
He did not respond to repeated telephone messages, nor a request for comment made at his office Thursday in this rural county seat some 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
HAVIN's executive director, Jo Ellen Bowman, said she's concerned that law enforcement officials don't take scammers like Slanina seriously enough because their crimes seem relatively minor. Slanina's free stay cost the shelter $1,250 and is considered a misdemeanor theft in Pennsylvania because it involved less than $2,000.
"But what may be insignificant to some may be a significant amount to others," Bowman said, noting her shelter's state funding increased by $2,000 for the first time in nine years. But there's more than just money at stake.
"You can't put a dollar amount on the emotional impact that woman inflicted and the pain she inflicted," Bowman said.
While staying at HAVIN, Slanina struck up an online friendship with an Idaho couple whom she convinced to fly to Pennsylvania so they could adopt the baby she claimed to be carrying. Kittanning police initially charged Slanina in that case too, only to withdraw the charges because no money changed hands, so her tall tale wasn't a crime under Pennsylvania law.
Try telling that to the Idaho couple, Barry and Rebecca Vest, who wonder what makes Slanina tick. "Are you that miserable that you have to make other people miserable?" Rebecca Vest said this year.
Or ask Jen Asbury, a Morgantown, W.Va., woman Slanina befriended and lived with last year. Slanina had convinced Asbury, a former Army reservist, that she was pregnant and wanted to marry Asbury and raise the child.
Police and Slanina's targets say she gets away with the pregnancy claims because of her convincing line and her 5-foot-4, 175-pound build. The last time Asbury saw her in November 2011, Slanina said she was leaving to visit her newborn in a neonatal intensive care unit where, Slanina claimed, she had given birth prematurely during a trip to Pittsburgh weeks before.
A few weeks later, Slanina was busted for her stay at HAVIN and Asbury was recounting her story to the AP.
"It just amazes me that she does these terrible things and while it may not be a crime, per se, she emotionally rapes people," Asbury said this week. She continues to scour the Internet for clues as to where Slanina might be.
Slanina was jailed in Kittanning until March, when a judge reduced her bond so she could be released and return to Ohio where she was wanted on a parole violation.
She had met a Fredericktown, Ohio, woman online and persuaded the woman and her elderly mother to let her move in with them in 2010 and to lend her money to pay child support for children she doesn't have.
Slanina promised to repay the women from "millions of dollars" she claimed to have inherited but said the money was frozen in a bank account due to red tape. The Fredericktown women believed her, right up to the day in February 2010 that Slanina borrowed the elderly woman's car to "run some errands" and never returned.
Slanina served a few months in prison and was paroled in July 2011, before she was sent back to the Ohio prison in June because her Pennsylvania arrest violated her parole there.
Slanina was released again in August, but authorities in Pennsylvania hadn't gotten a court order that she be returned, and she hasn't been heard from since. She's not in touch with Ohio correctional authorities who list her as a "violator at large," and she's a fugitive in Pennsylvania, where a judge issued a bench warrant in September after she missed a court appearance.
Bowman has contacted every battered women's shelter in Pennsylvania to ensure Slanina won't find a home in any of them if she does come back.
"To misuse a system that is here to help people - in this type of way - is just really offensive," Bowman said. "I just hope she gets stopped. ... I hope at some point, someone considers the cumulative effect of what she's done and makes her pay for it."
Slanina's public defender, Preston Younkins, wouldn't comment on the HAVIN charges, except to say he had been hoping to work out a plea bargain before Slanina skipped.
As to her whereabouts, "At this point, you have about the same information I have," he said.