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TEACHER INDICTED IN FRAUD AND LARCENY PONKA ACCUSED OF BILKING FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES OF AS MUCH AS $1 MILLION

MAYVILLE -- A 34-count indictment was handed up Monday against a longtime Westfield Academy and Central School teacher accused of bilking friends and colleagues of as much as $1 million.

Andrew Ponka, 48, of Westfield will be arraigned Monday in Chautauqua County Court.

"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. . . . He pulled in a number of people that way."

Ponka, a familiar face in this Chautauqua County village of 3,451, 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 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 confess to being greedy, that they never have expected the kind of profits Ponka promised.

Subjack said 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 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 the French teacher and real estate broker was booked 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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