ALLENTOWN, Pa. - An Allentown city councilwoman and one-time candidate for mayor is now facing criminal charges.
Cecilia "Ce-Ce" Gerlach, 35, was charged Tuesday in a child endangerment case involving her work as a homeless caseworker, according to the Lehigh County district attorney's office.
Gerlach is facing charges of child endangerment and failure to report suspected child abuse or make a referral to authorities after she allegedly took a teen boy to a homeless tent encampment in a wooded area of Allentown in July 2020, the DA's office said.
The investigation began in May 2021 after a detective began investigating a Facebook post from April 2021 that made the allegations against Gerlach, authorities said.
The investigation found Gerlach was working for the Valley Youth House at the time, and had been assigned as a caseworker for the Synergy Project, a street outreach program to help runaway and homeless youth in the area, the district attorney's office said.
The 16-year-old had come into contact with Gerlach after running away from home and calling the Synergy hotline, authorities said. The boy said he told Gerlach he had run away from home, was 16, and needed a place to stay.
Gerlach got the teen a tent and other supplies, and walked him to the "Tent City" along Basin Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Allentown on July 6, 2020, authorities allege.
That encampment is an unlicensed mass gathering with no access to public utilities, and there were 36 police calls ranging from assaults to warrant services to thefts from 2020 to the present, the DA's office said. There have also been six death investigations since then, officials said.
The teen told detectives that while he was there, he was subjected to sexual solicitation, and he witnessed prostitution and fights.
On July 7, the next day, the teen was seen by an outreach worker for another nonprofit organization, which contacted Gerlach to say the boy shouldn't be at the tent city. Then Gerlach called ChildLine about the teen, the DA said.
Gerlach told authorities that she didn't know the teen's age at the time, but authorities say her completed paperwork shows that she did. As an employee of Valley Youth House, Gerlach was required to alert the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services of the teen, but she didn't, officials say.
She was fired by Valley Youth House, authorities say.
Charges were filed Tuesday, and Gerlach turned herself in. She was arraigned and released on unsecured bail, the DA said.
Allentown City Council member Julio Guridy is exploring what, if any, options council can take.
Fellow Councilman and political ally Josh Siegel says Gerlach should stay on council and let the voters decide in 2023.
"The district attorney has chosen to file charges against her. That is the punishment. That is the accountability for her, the decision," he said.
Siegel does believe she should step away from the homelessness commission she started a few years ago. Gerlach has been fired from Valley Youth House.
In a statement through her attorney, she maintains her innocence and says she won't allow the allegations to distract her from her service to the people of Allentown.
If convicted, Gerlach faces up to seven years in prison and $30,000 in fines.
Guridy says the home rule charter says she could also be removed from council if convicted.
Gerlach is free on bail.