Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Lehigh County News

$50K to Lehigh County controller's PAC comes from lawyer leading medical child abuse lawsuit

Friends of Mark Pinsley
Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley accepted a $50,000 donation from an attorney selected to pursue potential litigation against Lehigh Valley Health Network for allegedly over-diagnosing cases of child medical abuse. Pinsley highlighted the issue through an unconventional audit he released over the summer.

  • A Philadelphia area lawyer has donated $50,000 to Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley
  • The attorney, Francis Malofiy, has been selected to lead a potential lawsuit against Lehigh Valley Health Network for allegedly over-diagnosing cases of child medical abuse
  • Pinsley, a Democrat seeking his second term, brought the allegations to light earlier this summer

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — An attorney recently selected to prepare a lawsuit against Lehigh Valley Health Network for allegedly over-diagnosing cases of medical child abuse donated $50,000 to Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley, whose unconventional audit of the office of Child and Youth Services sparked a controversy.

The October donation from Francis Malofiy may be a record amount at the county level from a single individual to a single candidate. It more than erased a $36,869 debt Pinsley's political action committee carried over from the last reporting period.

The donation has sparked ethical concerns over the controller's acceptance of the cash. At least two county commissioners said they would be open to revisiting the county's campaign finance laws, which don't limit how much a single donor can provide.

On Wednesday, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Parents Medical Rights Group (PMRG) announced it had selected attorney Beth Maloney and the law firm Francis Alexander LLC to "seek justice for the many families who have been hurt by the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen and her colleagues, the Child Advocacy Center and/or Children and Youth Services."

Malofiy is the owner of the Delaware County-based law firm; Alexander is his middle name.

Kim Stelz, president of Parents' Medical Rights Group, said her organization was comfortable with its choice in attorneys but declined to comment further, citing the potential litigation.

It also was not immediately clear if the Children and Youth Services in the PMRG announcement means the state office or specific county offices that use the same name.

Malofiy is well known in Philadelphia legal circles for leading a lawsuit accusing legendary rock band Led Zeppelin of stealing the opening riff of "Stairway to Heaven" from an obscure band. He also earned a multi-million settlement from the car rental service Hertz for allegedly reporting cars stolen when their owners were still in good standing.

Pinsley's August report found Northeast Pennsylvania had 40% of the state's medical child abuse cases despite only having 14% of the population below the age of 18. Lehigh and Northampton counties amounted for 80% of the larger region's cases, the report found. Social workers take diagnoses from medical experts into account when trying to decide if children need to be separated from their caregivers for their safety.

Pinsley recommended CYS seek a second medical opinion when it's considering removing a child from a family. He later clarified that that opinion can be sought after a child is separated from their caregivers if there are obvious signs of abuse. Lehigh County has since launched an investigation into the allegations.

No lawsuit against LVHN or the other parties has been filed. But the Parents Medical Rights Group, which has protested and called for changes in Lehigh and Northampton counties, has already created a website to collect information for a potential suit.

Parents who have been falsely accused of medical child abuse or physical abuse by the organizations are encouraged to get in contact with the attorneys or fill out an online form.

Pinsley said Thursday he met Malofiy several weeks ago and eventually introduced him to some people he spoke with to compile his audit.

When asked if the donation amounted to a finder's fee, Pinsley said no lawsuit has been filed and that any families that chose to work with Malofiy would be making their own decisions.

"He made the donation well before any of this happened," Pinsley said, referring to the group's selection of Malofiy to handle a possible lawsuit.

Ethics question raised

County Commissioner Geoff Brace, a Democrat, said he will look to strengthen the county's campaign finance laws in response to Malofiy's contribution. Pinsley appeared to be benefitting from potential litigation that could cost Lehigh County taxpayers, he said. It's another distraction as the county attempts to review the operations of the office of Children and Youth Services, he said.

"This raises huge ethical questions about the use of county resources to advance political campaign ambitions. There's a lot about this situation that doesn't smell right," Brace said.

In 2015, Lehigh County passed its own campaign finance laws that bar companies and individuals with county contracts from making donations to county officials. The law also applies to those seeking business ties to the county. Malofiy wouldn't fit in either category.

Brace said he also wants to discuss adding limits on how much donors can contribute to candidates. Past boards did not set limits, arguing it would amount to curtailing free speech. While spending skyrocketed in county races during the 2010s, no donation in recent memory approaches the $50,000 figure Malofiy contributed.

Commissioner Ron Beitler, a Republican, echoed Brace in his own response Thursday afternoon. Pinsley has pressured county officials to take quick action in response to the child medical abuse allegations, but the matter will require a lengthy review and require county officials to meet with all parties involved, he said.

"Bad judgment and poor tact, in my opinion, is proving to be counterproductive towards good faith efforts by the board and administration to undertake meaningful and productive conversations with all stakeholders," Beitler said.

This board, he said, has built a track record of working in a bipartisan manner and finding solutions. He said he would welcome an opportunity to review the county's campaign finance laws.

Pinsley doubled down on his decision to accept the donation, saying the board's outrage should be with families who have been separated from their children, not on the underlying politics.

He asked how the donation could serve as a distraction, arguing the county has taken little action since he released his audit in August. The committee looking into the abuse allegations has met just once, and the county has yet to act on his recommendation that social workers seek a second medical opinion before removing a child from a home on abuse allegations.

"They need to bring in a third-party to evaluate all of this," Pinsley said, adding the board of commissioners lacks the expertise to review the situation itself.

Pinsley said he did not release the audit to further his political career. He said he disclosed the $50,000 contribution to families he introduced to Malofiy.

"I work for the people, not the powerful. Sometimes what ends up happening is there are those in power who notice and care," Pinsley said, referring to Malofiy.

Late Thursday, Malofiy said in a prepared statement he had pledged to donate to Pinsley's campaign in September 2023, nearly a full year before the audit came out. The donation was made before any of the families decided to retain his law firm, he said, and Pinsley was not involved in any of those decisions. He applauded Pinsley for shedding light on an issue that was destroying innocent families.

"Any suggestion that there was anything improper about this donation is absolutely false, irresponsible, and obviously politically motivated—especially given the magnitude of what Mark uncovered," Malofiy said in his statement.

Malofiy said Brace was the one in ethically dubious territory. Brace failed to disclose in his comments that Malofiy's firm brought a lawsuit against Brace's wife, he said.

Malofiy did not immediately clarify which suit he was referring to, but his firm is representing Jason Moorehead in a lawsuit against the Allentown School District. Moorehead was terminated after he attended the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2020; Moorehead contends he attended the political rally but did not participate in the riot at the Capitol.

Sara Brace, a former school board director, was originally named in the suit but is no longer listed in the amended complaint.

"I love my wife dearly. Her term of office has ended. We don't know that she's party to any lawsuit," Brace said.

Stelz, president of Parents' Medical Rights Group, also defended Pinsley. Political contributions played no part when the group decided on its representation.

"This entire subject is a diversion from the serious issues that PMRG has repeatedly brought in front of the Board of Commissioners, all of which hey have consistently refused to address," she said.