An elected official in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been charged with child endangerment for allegedly taking a runaway teenager to a homeless camp when the young person sought help, the county district attorney said.
City Councilwoman Cecilia "Ce Ce" Gerlach, 35, came in contact with the 16-year-old through her job as a homeless outreach caseworker with Valley Youth House, a non-profit.
The teenager called a "street outreach" hotline called the Synergy Project, which is run by Valley Youth House in July 2020 and talked with Gerlach, who was assigned to answer the hotline calls, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said.
"Gerlach provided the teen with a tent and other supplies and walked him to the homeless tent encampment known as 'Tent City' located at that time along Basin Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Allentown," Martin said in a statement. "The teen said Gerlach made contact with a resident in the homeless encampment and asked that he 'take care' of the teen while the teen was there."
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Gerlach was hired by Valley Youth House a month prior to the incident, and had completed her training June 4, 2020, Martin said.
Valley Youth House, which contracts with several Pennsylvania counties, said in a statement that Gerlach was suspended immediately after law enforcement authorities in May of this year notified the nonprofit of the alleged incident.
"Valley Youth House has cooperated fully with law enforcement with regard to this matter," the nonprofit said. "Our number one priority is the safety, protection, and well-being of the young people served by Valley Youth House."
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Gerlach declined comment when reached by NBC10 on Tuesday, referring questions to her attorney, Ed Angelo. He could not immediately be reached.
After the teenager spent the night at the homeless camp on July 6, 2020, Gerlach returned the next day, filled out additional paperwork, then returned the teen to the camp, according to the county DA Martin.
Martin said Gerlach failed to properly notify authorities of the teen's situation and whereabouts.
After an eight-week investigation, Martin's office filed the endangerment charge on Tuesday. Gerlach was arraigned and released without bail.