York man guilty of lying about college, past crimes to work with troubled kids

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City man has pleaded guilty to falsifying his credentials and failing to disclose his "extensive" criminal history before being hired to work with troubled children.

Kenneth Vernon Banks remains free on his own recognizance while awaiting sentencing, set for March 11, according to York County court records.

Banks, 69, of the 200 block of West Cottage Place, pleaded guilty Wednesday, Jan. 30, to the third-degree felonies of tampering with public records and Medicaid fraud. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of forgery and one count of making a false statement; all six offenses are misdemeanors.

He committed Medicaid fraud because the job in question is funded by Medicaid, according to the state Attorney General's Office, which investigated and filed charges in the case.

According to charging documents, Banks worked as a mobile therapist and behavioral special consultant for T.W. Ponessa & Associates Counseling Services between Oct. 3, 2017, and Oct. 23, 2017 — a total of 20 days. Ponessa, at 2485 Eastern Blvd. in Springettsbury Township, provides comprehensive treatment for children and adults who have a variety of mental-health concerns, according to its website.

Kenneth Vernon Banks

Troubled children: Clients include children with serious emotional disturbances and those on the autism spectrum, according to the attorney general's office. Court documents state Banks was hired to work with such children.

The AG's office began investigating Banks after a Ponessa attorney sent a referral to the office that stated Banks had billed the company for more services than he provided; lied about having two master's degrees and three other college degrees; and failed to disclose his full criminal history, the affidavit states.

He was hired pending verification of his credentials and a criminal-history check, then fired once the company determined he had lied, according to the affidavit.

Banks claimed to have two master's degrees, two bachelor's degrees and an associate's degree from five colleges and universities, but those institutions told investigators that Banks didn't graduate from their programs, according to the AG's office.

When applying at Ponessa, Banks had to disclose his criminal history. On an employment application, he wrote that he was convicted of a crime "29 years ago (for) misuse of a credit cards,"  the affidavit states.

Multiple arrests: But a criminal-history check showed Banks had multiple misdemeanor and felony arrests, including being charged with felony-graded theft of leased property, for which he was convicted in 2008, according to the affidavit.

The form on which he misrepresented his credentials and criminal history is a standardized one from the state Department of Education and notes that failing to be truthful could lead to a charge of unsworn falsifications to authorities, the affidavit states; Banks signed the form.

In March 2018, Banks was interviewed by a special agent with the DA's office who asked him why he failed to disclose his full criminal history, documents state.

"The defendant responded by saying, 'I served my time and my time was up, so I didn't put it down,'" according to the affidavit.

When the agent asked to see Banks' college degrees, he claimed they were in boxes and he didn't want to dig them out. He then said perhaps they were under the name "Vernon Banks" and not "Kenneth Vernon Banks," the affidavit states.

No graduation records: Charging documents note that the five institutions searched their records not only by name but also with Banks' Social Security number and date of birth, and they found no records.

Banks also told the agent that he "retired" from Ponessa after having a stroke, and that Ponessa staffers were "understanding when he told them he was going to retire," the affidavit states.

Banks' guilty plea was an open one, according to defense attorney Bill Graff, meaning it will be up to presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock to determine the proper punishment.

Graff declined further comment until after sentencing.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.