2-3-2009 Justice for Dollars

Has the past week been interesting or what? First we learned that two County judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, are likely headed to the hoosegow. And now the latest from the Times Leader Web site is that a County court administrator is accused of embezzling $70,000.

SCRANTON - Federal prosecutors say Luzerne County court administrator William Sharkey stole more than $70,000 in gambling proceeds by failing to file forfeiture orders that had been signed by a county judge.

Sharkey, who served as court administrator since 1997, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of embezzlement of public funds. The U.S. Attorney's office also filed a forfeiture order seeking to seize all property Sharkey obtained through the illegal funds.

According to the complaint Sharkey would take custody of gambling proceeds that had been seized by the state police Bureau of Liquor Enforcement. Once he obtained the funds Sharkey would get a forfeiture order form a judge. It was then Sharkey's responsibility to turn the proceeds over to the treasurer's office.

This development has been rumored for some time, and the rumor mill in general has been running on overdrive of late. I found the following blurb at a local Web site a few days ago:

Well, this past week we heard the US Attorneyís office will be making 15 more arrests. Itís said to be happening this Monday. Donít hold your breath though.

Yeah, on Monday. As in, yesterday. Whatever. Itís not like the internet and talk radio hasnít been plowed under by rampant speculation during this past week. And thereís been no shortage of guilt by association going on when talk radio callers and internet posters are calling for mass firings and, or mass arrests as the courthouse, as well as at City Hall here in Wilkes-Barre.

What a corrupt County judge has to do with the goings on at City Hall escapes me by leaps and bounds. But, then again, Iím not nearly as dimwitted as are the great majority of talk radio callers or users of the internet happen to be. If we want equally applied justice using this illogic, when one person and one person alone embezzles monies from the local little league, everyone associated with that league should be arrested, too? Thatís too dense for my tastes. But it makes for good talk radio and rational internet discourse to some.

While that grapevine may be all abuzz with all sorts of rumors, I think most of the people generating the buzz need to calm the heck down and allow things to take their course. If people need to be arrested, Iím confident the Feds will get around to it when they get all of there Is dotted and some other letter crossed.

Hereís what interested me right from the very get-go, excerpted from the Times Leader:

October 2002: Conahan publicly announces that judges will stop sending youth to the River Street center at the end of the year because the building is too rundown.

November 2002: State Department of Public Welfare representatives say the countyís River Street center is ďsafe and satisfactory to house juveniles,Ē which raised questions about the courtís refusal to send youth there. Ciavarella criticizes the stateís plan to renew the facilityís license, saying the center has a multitude of problems.

December 2002: Conahan takes official action to remove funding from the county budget for the countyís River Street center. County majority commissioners approve the courtís budget request. The court returns the River Street center license to the state, essentially closing the place.

First of all, I can bring a unique perspective to this when you consider that during my trucking days, I was in and out of many correctional facilities, and on a very regular basis. And my current job also takes me to a few of the local facilities, albeit, very infrequently. My point is, I know firsthand what the conditions are like inside of these places.

For instance, I forever hear people angrily rambling on and on about how cushy the conditions are in prisons, and how much worse they should be for the inmates. Thatís total bullsh*t.

Spend a single 8-hour day inside of Chase in Jackson Township, as have I, and then tell me how cushy you think that place to be. Itís dark, itís dank, itís hot and itís not the place you want to be. Itís awful.

I think the County lockup is far less uncomfortable, but itís still not a place you want to call home for any length of time.

Iíve been inside of two local juvenile institutions, including the Countyís juvenile corral. In fact, Iíve been inside the County facility, on top of it and underneath it. Itís ancient, but structurally sound. Itís ancient, but itís exactly what the State Department of Public Welfare said it to be, itĎs ďsafe and satisfactory to house juveniles.Ē

If you want to argue that point with me, what that tells me is youíve never been in there. Or you could repeat what your delinquent friend or relative told you, that thereís a couple of pest control issues to be dealt with in there. While thatís true, itís certainly not unique to this particular correctional facility. The truth is, most of your prisons and such have cockroaches large enough to be capable of assaulting the prison guards.

And with structures of this size, the goal will never be the elimination of pests, but the control of whatever pests may be invading said structures. Thatís why they call it pest control, and not pest elimination.

The single-most repeated complaint Iíve heard about our juvie facility is that there are roaches in the building. And since we donít want our delinquent little Johnny to be housed with roaches, that building should be abandoned. So, letís follow that illogic. The prisons are too comfy, but the juvenile lockup isnít comfy enough when itís our kids behind the bars?

And what of those little angels? Never once did I have an incident with the prisoners in any correctional facility I was working in. Sure, I had a lot of foul language tossed my way, and even a couple of threats. But itís hard to take those threats too seriously when the inmate leveling the threat is handcuffed and flanked by guards. You just ignore it and do what you have to do.

I had a group of female inmates at Muncy calling me gay and whatnot, simply because I was ignoring their sexually-charged comments. And the inmates at Waymart used to make me feel uneasy, because these were of the criminally insane variety. You know, the guys who kept severed heads in the refrigerator. And made some soup out of mom and dad. Those sorts. And at the point of delivery, if the guards offered to send some inmates out to the truck to help me, Iíd simply decline the help.

But I have to tell you, all too often, these juvenile detainees are barely-controlled animals. Too many of them respect no one, and care about very little. And at both of the two local juvenile facilities I was in, I was threatened with bodily harm. Once for not handing over my cigarettes, and another time because the kid said the reefer unit on my truck woke him up. And neither of these kids looked older than 14, and neither of them looked as if they could hurt me. Although, I was convinced theyíd both be willing to give it a try.

So, after a week of listening to sob stories on talk radio about how Ďmy kid got screwed in juvenile court,í Iím here to tell you that not all of the kids under lock and key did not, or do not rightfully belong there.

If Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were playing Justice for Dollars as has been alleged, fine, investigate every which case and from every which angle, and letís make things as right as they can be made. But donít be fooled into thinking that most of these kids are all future pillars of society.

Back to the cockroaches. Whatís that old line, about how roaches will roam the world over long after man is gone? They sure got that one right. Nailed it.

If you actually knew how many large buildings in urban centers, schools, prisons, retail outlets, churches and restaurants have had or have one species or another of roaches contained within them, youíd probably never leave the house. Have you ever been in the bowels of your alma mater? Ever been in a hot, steamy boiler room under the local bank building? Ever seen the roaches in the sewers in our downtown? Ever seen how big they grow some of them?

When I was a teenager working at Percy Brownís, the owners had the entire sprawling property fumigated once a month. And when I was in my twenties and managing a downtown restaurant, I fumigated the store every night at closing with a hand-held aerosol tank. No elimination, mind you. Control.

So, if you accept what Iím telling you, that where thereís structures, thereís usually cockroachesÖwhy should a completely usable juvenile detention facility be abandoned because roaches are present?

To abandon every building where roaches get a foothold would mean the abandonment of every major U.S. city, and most of the centers of the small to mid-sized ones, too. When those two judges of ours forced the closure of the local juvenile facility, a giant-sized red flag went up for me.

And if anyone proposes that we reopen that facility, the argument against it will be that we donít want our sweet little angels exposed to roaches. Thing is, since the statistics suggest that many of these kids will likely end up in prisons someday, Iíd say they had better get used to seeing the occasional cockroach.

Now, letís snag another excerpt for that timeline published by the Times Leader:

Oct. 20, 2004: Skrepenak and Vonderheid vote to lease the Pittston Township detention center for 20 years at a cost of $58 million, pending a review by the county solicitor. Several taxpayers attend a meeting urging commissioners to hold off and do more research and analysis on the lease.

That was when a red flag immediately shot up for the taxpayers that actually pay attention to the shenanigans at the courthouse. And coupled with what I knew at the time, that there was no good reason to shutter the existing facility, that move raises even more suspicions.

So, shoving our two indicted judges aside, in my mind, Greg Skrepenak and Todd Vonderheid were the enablers. Without that ridiculously expensive lease, the judges would not have been able to engage in a single installment of Justice for Dollars. And this was long after the County had borrowed and supposedly set aside enough money to build a new county-owned juvenile facility.

And as it pertains to the signing of this lease, while it would be reckless and unfair to accuse those commissioners of ours of willful wrongdoing, I think it is certainly fair to suggest that they are both guilty of gross incompetence. Either way, the taxpayers, as well as some juveniles, got royally screwed.

Todd Vonderheid did not seek reelection after one term as commissioner, and I think itís beyond fair and reasonable to suggest that Greg Skrepenak need not seek another term. And if he does seek another four-year term, he needs to be denied that additional term by the voters.

Yeah, weíve got the Home Rule thing going on again, and thatís perfectly fine and dandy. But putting that aside for the moment, can we at least start holding these elected and appointed people ultimately accountable on election day? With scandals and arrests becoming the norm at our courthouse, can we finally dispense with voting a straight party ticket already? Will you registered Democrats, you enablers yourselves, finally get with the long-needed program already?

Because, without you, Justice for Dollars and possibly other scandals yet to come probably never happen.

Sez me.

IĎve been distracted of late. The thing is, my daughter has reaped more genealogic gems than I would have thought humanly possible.

When she started all of this, I knew my fatherís name, his sisterís name, my grandparents name, and that was about it. Truth is, I was not even sure what my legal birth name was. Not only have I not seen my father since April of 1962, I had never seen a picture of him other than his mug shot, and a few pictures of him as a child prodigy. I had never seen a picture of him and my mother together. And I had never laid eyes on a picture of him and I together. As far as I knew, nothing like that even existed. I had no idea whether I had ever met his sister or either of his parents, my grandparents. And on and on it goes. Iíll stop there.

First, my kid figured out what my grandmotherís maiden name was, Scanlon, something I never knew. And then she managed to hook up with a couple of her direct descendants from that Scanlon side of the occasion. And then, one of those Scanlons put my daughter in touch with my fatherís sisterís daughter, Anne, my first cousin I had never, ever even heard of before. Yep, turns out, Aunt Jacqueline had herself this gaggle of kids. Who knew? Not me.

And if that wasnít wild enough, she says she actually met me when I was around 3-years-old, during the kidnapping period in Florida. Although, she also said the entire kidnapping thing was news to her. As a kid, she wouldnít have been privy to all of that nonsense.

Anyway, during the past few weeks, I have learned far more about my fatherís side of the family that I knew in the first place. Actually, I learned far more than I thought I ever would have been able to learn. Itís been fun, itís been enlightening, itís been uplifting at times and sorrowful at other times.

For the first time in my life, I have names, addresses, dates and even pictures. Yep, theyíve managed to attach to a few faces to those names for me. It started with decades-old pictures of my grandmother, and things have greatly accelerated since then. We even have a Web site at which we share dates, stories, pictures and what have you.

And for the first time ever, I can say with some confidence that it appears that my long-AWOL father was actually quite fond of me or some such thing, so long, long ago.

A few days back, Anne forwarded to me a couple of pictures that just blew my mind. The first being a picture of my parents together when they were young and in love.

Mom & Dad

And the second was of me and my father together.


Now, while that may not seem like such a big deal to you, itís a very, very big deal for me. I have no idea why things turned out the way they did, why my parents divorced so long ago.

But what those pictures proved to me was that a long, long time ago, I did actually have a family, a father and mother who didnít yet seem to be beaten down by life. And I canít help to think about what might have been. The Ďif onlyí scenarios are limitless.

Truth be told, lately, I could have cared less about blogging, or anything associated with all of that. No, lately, Iíve been tending to and paying attention to a whole other Web site. A Web site that is about, at least for me, discovery.

I canít say my daughterís tireless efforts have changed my life, but they sure did fill in quite a few of the many blanks. And while there are still many blanks yet to be filled, thatís where Iíve been of late, and thatís where Iíll be for the foreseeable future.

How about that? I really, really did have a father after all.

And despite all the negative stuff that gets blamed on the internet, I guess this proves it really can be used for good. That is, itís been good for me of late.