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INDICTMENT CHARGES WESTFIELD TEACHER BILKED PEOPLE OUT OF ALMOST $1 MILLION

A longtime Westfield teacher was indicted Monday on charges of bilking friends and colleagues out of as much as $1 million.

Andrew Ponka, 48, of Westfield will be arraigned Monday in Chautauqua County Court on the 34-count indictment.

"Apparently what happened here and what we allege is that he promised people a high rate of return on their investments, claiming he was investing their money in Lake Erie or Chautauqua Lake properties," District Attorney James P. Subjack said.

Ponka, however, never bought the property or made any investments, Subjack said.

"He claimed he was buying the property at very good prices and selling it at an extreme profit," Subjack said. "He pulled in a number of people that way."

Ponka, who taught French for 26 years at Westfield Academy and Central School, faces a single charge of scheming to defraud and 33 counts of grand larceny. They include one charge of grand larceny, 25 counts of third-degree grand larceny and seven counts of fourth-degree grand larceny.

Ponka's victims claim losses of about $600,000 dating back to 1988, but officials speculate the figure is closer to $1 million.

Some told authorities it was Ponka's caring disposition that led them to invest, while others admitted they were greedy and never have expected the kind of profits Ponka promised.

Subjack said that because of the statute of limitations Ponka can be held legally liable for only $300,000 of the money.

"There are many other people who came to us with similar incidents, but the statute of limitations prohibits us from issuing indictments," Subjack said.

Ponka, who also is a real estate agent, has been free on $40,000 property bond since he was arrested in the principal's office on Dec. 19.

Subjack said many Westfield-area residents testified before the grand jury. He also noted the investigation is continuing.

"We would like to hear from others who may have been victimized," he said.

Several civil suits were filed against Ponka before he was arrested in December on five counts of third-degree grand larceny and one count of scheming to defraud. In one suit, he agreed to pay more than $84,000 in restitution.

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