2017 Newport News - Archives
Police: Glen Lyon man pointed gun at officer
NEWPORT TWP. — Police say a Glen Lyon man fired an illegal, sawed-off shotgun three times outside his residence early Wednesday and then pointed the weapon at the first police officer who arrived on scene.
Arrest papers say police ordered Daniel Williams IV to the ground, he was taken into custody and they seized the firearm, a 12-gauge shotgun with a sawed-off barrel.
Williams, 31, was charged with possessing a prohibited offensive weapon, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and illegal possession of a weapon as a convicted felon relating to a past burglary.
Investigators say the gunfire erupted just before 4 a.m. during a fight between Williams and another man over a woman.
Williams had just returned home at 27 Orchard St. with the ex-girlfriend of Darnell Stokes after a night out at the bar. Stokes was also staying at the residence. Williams and Stokes got into an argument and then a physical fight. Police say Williams ordered Stokes to get all his belongings out of the home.
At that point, Williams went to his pickup truck to retrieve the gun, arrest papers say. He came inside the house with the gun, pointed it at Stokes and ordered him outside, police said.
Stokes said he took all his stuff from the residence and waited outside for a taxi. He then left his belongings and crossed the street as Williams approached.
Williams came outside and fired two gunshots in the air and then one into Stokes’ belongings, police said. He then returned inside.
Megan Luongo, the woman identified as the person the men were fighting over, told police she went into Williams’ daughter’s room during the incident. She said she and the daughter were “extremely scared” during the fight.
During questioning, Williams said Stokes tackled him during an altercation, so he grabbed his gun to threaten Stokes to leave with his belongings, police said.
Williams admitted he shot the gun a few times outside the residence, but said he did not fire it at Stokes, arrest papers say.
Williams was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker, who ordered Williams to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $75,000 bail.
Former Nanticoke mayor and teacher facing charges for allegedly luring teen boys
A former teacher and Nanticoke mayor who served probation for his guilty plea to fondling a boy in 2003 faces a new set of charges for allegedly attempting to lure three teenagers into his car by offering them money, police said.
Edward J. Butkiewicz, 76, of Sandwedge Drive in Mountain Top, faces five counts each of corruption of minors and luring a child into a motor vehicle, as well as single counts of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He served as mayor in the mid-1980s and later on the City Council, and was a Greater Nanticoke Area teacher in the 90s.
In 2003, he was sentenced to two years of probation on a misdemeanor indecent assault charge for fondling a 13-year-old boy, who was a former student.
His sentence was handed down with a stern reprimand from then-Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella: “It’s a shame, Mr. Butkiewicz. In a short period of time you managed to ruin a reputation beyond reproach. Whatever problems you have, I hope you deal with them.”
According to the affidavit in the latest case, a 13-year-old boy was in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Rock Street in Newport Township Sunday when Butkiewicz pulled up to him in a silver Cadillac asking the boy where he could get a drink nearby.
The conversation then quickly turned “more personal” when Butkiewicz asked the boy about his “private area,” the affidavit says. Butkiewicz allegedly asked to see the boy’s private area and added he would “do things” to the boy that the boy described as “weird.”
Butkiewicz gave the boy $3 and offered him more money to get in the car with him and go for a ride, but the boy refused, the affidavit says. Butkiewicz left, but noted he’d be back. The boy then went home and told his mother, who called 911.
A search of the vehicle’s registration led police to identify Butkiewicz.
More teens allegedly lured
Three days later, on Wednesday, Newport Township police received a report the same man was again attempting to lure children at the same apartment building.
A 16-year-old boy told the responding officer Butkiewicz tried to get him into his vehicle Sunday after asking the teen “if he was gay and he wanted to make money,” the affidavit says. The teen said he was again approached by Butkiewicz on Wednesday. Another 16-year-old said Butkiewicz also asked if he wanted to “make money” that day, according to the affidavit.
The two teens brought Butkiewicz to their apartment where they quickly called 911. As Butkiewicz tried to leave, a juvenile girl blocked his truck by pretending her car was broke until police arrived, the affidavit says.
The officer asked Butkiewicz if he was in the area that past Sunday and gave money to children, and Butkiewicz acknowledged that he was and that he often gives money to children, the affidavit says. Butkiewicz allegedly told the officer he was at the apartments because one of the teens offered to give him a tattoo.
In the affidavit, the officer noted he observed money on the passenger seat and a protective seat cover over the backseat.
The affidavit further states the arresting officer was cut on his hand attempting to take a combative Butkiewicz into custody. Butkiewicz was committed to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, but was later released after posting $100,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
In the 2003 case, Butkiewicz also offered the victim a ride. As the two drove, Butkiewicz put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and rubbed his back. After that, Butkiewicz unbuttoned the teenager’s jeans and began to fondle him. Butkiewicz told police the boy unbuttoned his own pants and that he grabbed the boy’s genitals “on impulse.”
The victim subsequently filed a lawsuit against Butkiewicz claiming he developed emotional problems that requied counseling.
Court records show the parties settled for $10,000.
Clashes with school district
Butkiewicz, who taught six grade, surrendered his teaching license in 2004.
Years earlier, his clash with the school district over his suspension drew significant attention when a school board member accused Butkiewicz of improper conduct in the classroom.
The controversy exploded in 1998 when then-School Board member Terry Ziolkowski announced that his niece, a student of Butkiewicz’s, heard the teacher use a racial epithet in class. Ziolkowski also claimed Butkiewicz tugged on students’ underwear and showed a movie featuring a topless woman in class.
Butkiewicz argued in a lawsuit against the district that he used the word in the context of a social studies lesson on slavery, and that the movie was a history movie with a PG-13 rating. An arbitrator ruled in 1999 that Butkiewicz should be reinstated and receive back pay and benefits for the nearly 15-month suspension.
A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in 2001, finding it had no merit.
Police: Former Nanticoke mayor and teacher tried to lure children
Sarah Scinto - Citizens Voice
Police arrested Edward Butkiewicz, 76, a former mayor and teacher at Nanticoke area schools, on Wednesday after children along Rock Street in Glen Lyon reported he had, on multiple occasions, tried to lure various children into his vehicle by offering them money.
A 13-year-old boy first reported Butkiewicz on July 23, according to police. The boy told police he was in the parking lot of an apartment complex when a silver car with a handicap registration tag drove up to him. The driver, an older male later identified as Butkiewicz, first asked the boy if there were any bars in the area.
The boy said Butkiewicz then asked about his “private area” and if he could see it and said he would do things to him that the boy called “weird,” police said.
Butkiewicz offered the boy money to get in his car and go for a ride and $3 to keep his secret, police said. When the boy refused, police said Butkiewicz left and told the boy he’d be back. The boy told his mother about the incident and she called 911, police said.
Police were called back to Rock Street on Wednesday for a report of the same man trying to lure children into his car, this time in a burgundy SUV.
A 16-year-old boy told officers Butkiewicz had also approached him on Sunday and Wednesday. The first time, Butkiewicz drove up to him at the intersection of Rock and East Main streets and asked if he was gay and wanted to make money. On Wednesday, the teen said Butkiewicz drove up at the intersection of West Main and Market streets in Glen Lyon and asked him and another 16-year-old male if they wanted to make money.
The teens told police Butkiewicz followed them into the Rock Street apartment complex where they called 911 and told the 13-year-old boy and his sister.
Butkiewicz started shouting for the 13-year-old, then grabbed one of the 16-year-olds by the arm, police said.
Butkiewicz tried to leave the apartment complex but a juvenile female and a man pulled their car in front of his, pretending it had broken down to stall Butkiewicz until police arrived.
Butkiewicz admitted to being in the neighborhood in a silver car on Sunday and admitted to giving the 13-year-old boy money. He denied trying to lure the boy into his car, police said.
When police cuffed Butkiewicz, he resisted and pushed back against the arresting officer, cutting his hand.
Butkiewicz was charged with attempted luring, corruption of minors, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and sent to Luzerne County prison in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Butkiewicz, a retired elementary school teacher, served two years of probation after he was arrested for indecent assault and corruption of minors in 2003.
In that case, a former student of Butkiewicz’s told police he had pulled up to him in a white Jeep and asked him if he needed a ride. The boy accepted because he thought Butkiewicz was a “nice guy,” police said.
The boy told police Butkiewicz touched his genitals while they drove through Nanticoke and Hanover Twp.
Butkiewicz pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent assault in the 2003 case and was sentenced to two years probation. By that time, he had served 30 years as a teacher and served terms as a Nanticoke City councilman and mayor.
Butkiewicz will appear for a preliminary hearing on his recent charges on Aug. 2 at 1 p.m. before Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker.
Ex-Newport Twp. manager Zika avoids jail, to spend 24 months on house arrest
A former Newport Township manager who bilked the township out of more than $160,000 was spared prison time Monday, instead getting 24 months on house arrest.
Richard V. Zika, 72, was also sentenced to five years of probation.
Zika’s age and medical conditions factored in Luzerne County Judge David Lupas’ decision not to lock him up.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” Zika said in front of Lupas. “Especially to the board of commissioners who put their trust in me … I let them down.”
Defense attorney Paul Ackourey previously said the $160,181 theft was because of Zika’s medical issues. He suffers from problems ranging from diabetes to sleep apnea and possibly Parkinson’s disease. Ackourey said Zika stole so he could pay for his health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses associated with his treatments.
The terms of his sentence were agreed to by all parties, including Newport Township, which was represented by current Township Manager Peter Wanchisin. There were several other township residents in attendance, including Kelli Valaitis and Palmira Miller.
“I’m very happy,” Wanchisin said afterward. “Justice was served.”
Lupas earlier ordered Zika to repay $59,100 to the township and $55,800 to Travelers Insurance, Newport’s insurance company. The remaining restitution will be repaid to the township through the county’s probation and parole department.
Zika’s salary, listed in the township’s 2016 budget, was $42,350. Zika and his wife, Bernice, have sold their home to pay for most of the restitution. The couple have a combined monthly income of $1,871 with most of it coming from Social Security payments.
“This was a hardship on Mr. Zika’s family,” Ackourey said. “Just because Mr. Zika is guilty, his family is not.”
Ackourey said Zika was a “model citizen” before the thefts.
Zika resigned in April 2016 after commissioners confronted him about several checks he’d endorsed to himself from the township refuse and recycling accounts between 2008 and 2016.
Attorney seeks leniency for ex-Newport Twp. manager to be sentenced for theft
With nearly three quarters of his $160,181 in restitution paid, former Newport Township manager Richard Zika wants to avoid prison so he can pay back the rest of the money he admitted stealing on the job over an eight-year period.
Paperwork filed Friday in Luzerne County Court seeks probation for the ailing Zika, 72, who’s scheduled for sentencing next week on a felony theft charge.
Defense attorney Paul Ackourey linked the theft to Zika’s medical problems, noting it’s marred his otherwise “stellar reputation” earned as a parent and grandparent and from years serving the community through organizations such as Junior Achievement, Little League, Scouting, hunter education and Masonic activities.
“While not offered as an excuse for his criminal behavior, much of the defendant’s criminality can be tied to the expenses of maintaining health insurance coverage and paying out of pocket expenses associated with medical treatment,” Ackourey wrote.
According to the filing, Zika suffers from a range of medical problems including diabetes, sleep apnea, morbid obesity and possibly Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, he is on oxygen and is prescribed a “plethora of medications.”
But equally as pressing is his financial condition. Zika and his wife, Bernice, have a combined monthly income of $1,871 with most of it coming from Social Security payments. When compared with their monthly household expenses of $2,525, they come up short, the filing noted.
Still Zika has been able to make restitution of $115,000 by selling his house, Ackourey said. The township has been made whole with a payment of $59,181 and the township’s insurance company, Travelers Insurance Co. received $55,818, leaving a balance of $45,181 payable to the county Probation and Parole Office.
Given Zika’s age, health and finances Ackourey said his client will likely reach out to others to pay off the balance.
“I would think he would need the assistance of friends and family,” Ackourey said.
Some have written letters of support for the court to consider when imposing Zika’s sentence. “The letters further attest to defendant’s strong sense of obligation and responsibility,” Ackourey wrote.
Zika’s sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday by Luzerne County Judge David Lupas.
Officials: Dangerous items being placed on Newport Township trails
Metal tripod devices like this one have been found positioned throughout off-road trails in Newport Township.
Police are searching for an individual or persons who are placing dangerous homemade items throughout the off-road trails of the community, township officials said Monday.
During the township commissioners meeting, township Manager Peter Wanchisen had a homemade metal tripod-like device with pointed ends and demonstrated it for the two dozen residents in attendance.
“No matter which way they stick it, it points up,” he said. A news release from the commissioners states the metal items are being placed in mud puddles or under carpets.
“If a kid falls on one, it could kill him,” Police Chief Jeremy Blank added.
Blank said his force has also found fish hooks hanging from boards in the trees.
The off-road trails on which the devices were found are co-operation lands, Blank said. The areas are open for hiking or fishing but are closed to all-terrain vehicles.
Whoever is responsible for placing the dangerous items along the trails “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the news release says.
In other business:
• Palmira Miller told commissioners 65 families received food from the Newport Township food collection.
• A spring cleanup will be held in the township from 9 a.m. to noon May 13. Volunteers are to meet at the Newport Township Municipal Building on Kirmar Parkway.
• Wanchisen said township employee heart and lung insurance would be transferred to DGK Insurance beginning Aug. 1, saving the community $1,500.
Newport Township Commissioners next meet at 6 p.m. June 5 in the township Municipal Building on Kirmar Parkway.
Former township manager admits stealing $159k in municipal funds
James Halpin - Citizens Voice
Former Newport Township Manager Richard Zika on Tuesday admitted stealing nearly $160,000 from the township’s refuse and recycling fund.
Zika, 72, of 9007 E. Route 973, Montoursville, faced four felony counts of theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, and fraud as well as a misdemeanor count of records tampering. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Zika pleaded guilty to a single felony count of theft and saw the other charges dismissed.
Zika — who resigned as manager after admitting to the thefts as well as using a work computer to look at porn — spoke only briefly during the hearing to indicate he understood the rights he surrendered in pleading guilty. He declined to comment afterward.
After the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Gregory S. Skibitsky Jr. said prosecutors agreed to a plea deal in part because Zika has agreed to pay nearly all the restitution in the near future, including a $115,000 payment on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, Newport Township is going to be made whole. They’re going to get every nickel of the money that was stolen from them back,” Skibitsky said. “It’s an unusual set of circumstances. Oftentimes you don’t see these white-collar defendants having the ability after they’ve stolen money for many years to be able to come up with the money and pay restitution. I believe Mr. Zika sold a home that he owned in order to come up with at least two-thirds of the restitution that he’s coming up with immediately.”
Defense attorney Paul Ackourey said Zika has accepted responsibility for his actions and that he is seeking to make restitution “as quickly and as expeditiously” as possible.
“He has an absolutely clean criminal history. He’s led an exemplary life up until this point in time,” Ackourey said. “There are certain factors that may have brought him to this point that will be addressed at the time of sentencing, but I can tell you that he is interested in seeing the right thing done.”
Pressed for more details about Zika’s motivation behind the thefts, Ackourey said he had been hospitalized with “life-threatening illnesses” on multiple occasions.
“He has some very serious medical conditions that certainly have played a role in his behavior and his thinking as it relates to this case,” Ackourey said.
According to prosecutors, an observant administrative assistant first caught on to the thefts. Zika asked the assistant, Kelli Valaitis, to transfer $40,000 from the township’s refuse account into the general fund, at which point Valaitis noticed a $2,225 check dated March 29, 2016, that had not cleared.
Valaitis looked at a copy of the check and saw it had been written out to Zika, prosecutors said.
Further checking revealed a number of other checks written out to Zika in prior months with the words “Adm. Fee” written in the remarks section. Prosecutors say Zika was not entitled to any such fee.
Around the same time, the township’s computer system was compromised by a virus from a porn website. When officials brought in Kingston-based Custom Computers, INC., they learned the source of the compromise was Zika’s computer, prosecutors said.
In early April 2016, commissioners called in Zika to discuss the checks and computers. Zika acknowledged the unauthorized use of his computer and explained that “I got into some financial problems at my house,” according to prosecutors.
Asked to step out of the room, Zika abruptly resigned, turning in his keys that day.
A subsequent audit revealed Zika had been stealing from the township since Aug. 7. 2008, and that over the years he had written a total of $159,181 in checks to himself.
Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas accepted Zika’s plea on Tuesday and allowed him to remain free on $25,000 unsecured bail pending sentencing June 5.
Ex-Newport Township manager pleads guilty in $160K theft case
Township commissioner: ‘Justice was served’
Former Newport Township manager Richard Zika admitted Tuesday to theft and was ordered to pay back $160,000 he pilfered from the township over an eight-year span.
The 72-year-old resigned last April after township commissioners confronted him about several checks he’d endorsed to himself from the refuse and recycling accounts between 2008 and 2016 that totalled more than $159,00, according to the affidavit.
“Justice was served,” township Commissioner John Zyla said Tuesday. “Now the township can move forward on a positive note.”
Fellow Commissioner Paul Czapracki said Zika’s plea negated what could have turned into a lengthy court battle.
Zika, who served as manager for 12 years, told the commissioners he had “some financial problems at home,” and resigned on the spot, the affidavit says. His attorney shed some light on a possible motive Tuesday.
“Very serious medical conditions played a role in his behavior. He was hospitalized on multiple occasions with life-threatening illnesses,” Paul Philip Ackourey said, declining to provide further details.
“We’ll get into that at sentencing,” he said.
Zika, Ackourey said, accepted responsibility for his actions and was determined to pay back the stolen funds.
Judge David W. Lupas ordered Zika, of Hanover Township, to repay approximately $160,000, including the immediate payment of $59,100 to the township and $55,800 to the township’s insurance company. The remaining restitution will be repaid to the township through the county’s probation and parole department, the judge ordered.
In exchange for Zika’s plea to a single count of theft, prosecutors withdrew receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, record tampering and additional theft charges. Prosecutors agreed to reduce the grading of the theft charge from a felony of the second-degree to a felony of the third-degree.
Prosecutors said they were pleased with the agreement because it produced a conviction and allowed the township to recoup the stolen funds.
“What’s going to happen is, ultimately, Newport Township is going to be made whole,” while Zika “is going to be a convicted felon,” prosecutor Gregory S. Skibitsky Jr. said after the hearing.
Zika will be allowed to apply for the county’s Intermediate Punishment Program, a period of house arrest and probation. Ackourey noted Zika has no prior criminal record.
Zika will remain free on bail pending sentencing June 5.
Newport Twp. official relieved SCI-Retreat won't close
For the first time in weeks, Newport Township Commissioner Paul Czapracki was able to breathe a sigh of relief Thursday morning when word broke that State Correctional Institution at Retreat would remain open and its 400 jobs would be saved.
One of those jobs is his. He works there in maintenance.
“I’ve been sick to my stomach. You didn’t know what your future was. It would be like starting over,” Czapracki said.
But more worrisome, he said, was the economic fate of Newport Township, which includes the Glen Lyon section that was ranked last year as the most distressed part of the state.
State Sen. John Yudichak, who has deep roots in the township, and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, who lives there, broke the news Thursday morning after speaking to members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.
SCI-Retreat, the largest employer by far in Newport Township, was one of five prisons being considered for two closures. Since the closure plan was floated on Jan. 6, Yudichak and Mullery have strongly advocated against shuttering SCI-Retreat and to keep the 400 family sustaining jobs in Newport Township.
“We know most of these people. They are not just state workers. They are not faceless names,” Yudichak said. “There hasn’t been a day that went by that we haven’t made the case for SCI-Retreat. Today we got a victory.”
Mullery estimated he personally knows 200 of the SCI-Retreat workers, many who also live and pay taxes in Newport Township. If those jobs were sent to other prisons in the state, it would have crippled the township, he said.
“The last thing we needed was another financial hit to our hometown,” Mullery said.
SCI-Retreat forum focuses on safety
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice
A public forum Tuesday on the potential closure of State Correctional Institution at Retreat focused on the potential danger to corrections officers and inmates.
Don Williams takes that issue personally. His son, Eric Williams, was killed in the line of duty as a corrections officer at U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan in Wayne County in 2013.
On Tuesday, Don Williams led the forum at Luzerne County Community College devoted to keeping SCI-Retreat open. He implored Gov. Tom Wolf not to close SCI-Retreat — Newport Township’s largest employer — or other state prisons as a cost-cutting measure.
The state Department of Corrections on Jan. 6 issued a list of five state prisons, including SCI-Retreat, two of which could be closed to cut expenses from the state budget.
Closing prisons and moving inmates to other correctional institutions with empty beds would put more corrections officers and inmates at closer quarters — where bad things can happen, Williams said.
“We’ve established there is going to be overcrowding,” he said. “It’s a formula for disaster.”
Williams noted that when his son was killed by an inmate wielding a home-made weapon, three things stood out: He was alone, he was unarmed and the prison was overcrowded.
The greater the number of inmates a corrections officer must supervise, the greater the chance of an inmate attack on an officer, according to Williams, who is president of Voices of Joe, an advocacy group that lobbies for improved working conditions and safety for corrections officers.
“Altering the staff ratio by 1 percent will increase assaults by 30 percent,” said Shane Fausey, vice president of Voices of Joe.
Fausey asked the many corrections officers in attendance if they had ever been attacked by an inmate. More than a dozen hands instantly shot up into the air.
“What do you think the end result will be?” if state prisons fill to capacity or beyond, Fausey asked.
Fausey and Williams questioned whether closing state prisons would save as much money as Wolf projected — or even save anything at all, after the final accounting is done.
All it would take is one riot for the prison consolidation plan to wind up costing more than it saves, Fausey said.
He cited the days-long riot at Camp Hill state prison in 1989 as a bad precedent. It cost $14 million to repair the damage and clean up after the disturbance, he said.
“That’s a far cry from the pennies they are going to save by closing prisons,” Fausey said.
There could be a societal cost as well, Williams said. If prison populations reach or exceed maximum, parole boards might release some inmates early to ease overcrowding, he said.
“One of my biggest fears is they are going to release people into society with no plan for how to deal with them,” Williams said.
Prison consolidation and overcrowding would impact the many inmates who require mental health treatment, according to Tuesday’s panel — which included state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and county Manager David Pedri.
“How many of these inmates are going to get this treatment, which we are required to give them”? Salavantis asked.
Williams suggested that denying inmates mental health treatment could be cause for federal authorities to intervene.
The panel unanimously supported Yudichak’s call for Wolf to delay making a decision on closing prisons. As of now that decision is scheduled for Jan. 26, with the affected prisons to close by June 30.
“This has been driven by the budget, not driven by safety,” Yudichak said.
Officials: SCI-Retreat closure would devastate Nanticoke area
It will be bad news for Greater Nanticoke Area School District if State Correctional Institution at Retreat closes as part of a state prison consolidation.
That was the message hammered home at a Friday press conference by state lawmakers, district officials and corrections officers who work at SCI-Retreat, which houses 1,100 inmates and employs more than 400 workers on the prison grounds off U.S. Route 11 in Newport Township.
The closure of SCI-Retreat, and possibly SCI-Waymart in Wayne County or SCI-Frackville in Schuylkill County, would have “a devastating impact” on the economy of Northeastern Pennsylvania and especially communities in the Greater Nanticoke Area, said state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
The three prisons are on a list of five state correctional institutions targeted for possible closure as a cost-cutting measure, the state Department of Corrections announced last week.
Gov. Tom Wolf has said he wants to focus on education rather than prisons, Yudichak said.
The senator, speaking in a conference room at his alma mater, Nanticoke High School, described that concept as a false choice.
“Life is not that simple,” Yudichak said. “Crime still exists. Drugs remain a problem.”
Taxpayers should not be forced to choose between safe streets and quality schools, Yudichak said.
Yudichak and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, on Friday continued their week-long rally in support of SCI-Retreat, noting that Wolf and state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel overestimate the cost savings that closing prisons would realize.
According to Yudichak and Mullery:
• SCI-Retreat is the second-largest employer in Greater Nanticoke Area, behind only Luzerne County Community College.
• If the prison closes, the school district would lose about 90 families and 200 students, resulting in a loss of about $100,000 in tax revenue.
• The losses could force district officials to cut programs and services, such as a pre-kindergarten program that district Superintendent Ronald Grevera said the district would like to expand rather than eliminate.
• About 350 SCI-Retreat employees live in Luzerne County, so most school districts in the county would be impacted if the prison closes.
“I am not sure how we would overcome the loss of revenue,” Grevera said.
Four corrections officers at SCI-Retreat, all fathers of children who attend district schools, sat next to the officials gathered at the conference table.
The men and their families face harrowing uncertainty about their future, said Mark Truszkowski of the PA State Corrections Officers Association.
The Department of Corrections has guaranteed jobs somewhere in the state to corrections officers who currently work at prisons that will close, but that will require officers to either relocate or commute long distances, Truszkowski said.
That will affect the officers’ children and families, according to Truszkowski.
“We are hurting the developmental stages of these children,” he said.
Mullery questioned the timetable established by Wolf to decide which prisons will close.
That decision will be made on Jan. 26, Wetzel said last week.
There is no magic to (that) date,” Mullery said.
He and Yudichak urged the governor to extend the deadline and make decisions on potentially closing prisons as part of the state budgeting process, which will last throughout the first half of 2017.
“All we are asking is to extend the deadline,” Yudichak said.
The fight to keep SCI-Retreat open will continue for the 12 days until that deadline arrives.
The state House of Representatives Northeast Delegation will send a letter to Wolf “expressing dismay” at the governor’s plan to close prisons, Mullery said.
The letter will urge Wolf to delay the decision until public hearings are held, at which those affected by potential prison closings may testify, according to Mullery.
Also, busloads of corrections officers plan to attend a hearing in Harrisburg on Jan. 23, at which three Senate committees will review the plan to potentially close state prisons, according to Truszkowski.
“We are going to pack the place,” he said.
Yudichak, Mullery say closing SCI Retreat would hurt education at GNA
State Sen. John Yudichak said Friday if Gov. Tom Wolf cares more about schools than prisons, he should consider the adverse impact closing the State Correctional Institute at Retreat would have on the quality of education in the Greater Nanticoke Area School District.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, held another news conference on the governor’s plan to close two state prisons — this time, the two legislators were at their alma mater, the district’s high school. SCI Retreat is on a list of five state prisons from which two are scheduled to be chosen for closure on Jan. 26.|
Yudichak and Mullery and other state legislators have been asking the governor and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to extend the deadline to allow for more time to gather information, such as the economic impact any closing would have on the host communities.
“Gov. Wolf wants to invest in schools, not prisons, but that is a false choice,” Yudichak said. “Pennsylvania’s taxpayers want to invest in both. Closing SCI-Retreat will jeopardize $1.6 million in funding for the Nanticoke School District and threatens important educational programs like Pre-K instruction.”
Joining Yudichak and Mullery were Dr. Ronald Grevera, superintendent of the Greater Nanticoke Area School District, district school board members, and five members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association who work at SCI Retreat and whose children attend school in the district.
“A closure of SCI-Retreat means we could lose 90 families and more than 200 students,” Grevera said. “We cannot absorb such a staggering exodus of families and students, as well as the second largest employer within the district.” It is simple math — if the prison closes, secure funding for our schools will be undermined.”
Yudichak and Mullery stressed that the prison is integral to the entire community, both as an employer and as an important part of the criminal justice system.
“The 139 heroin overdoses in Luzerne County demonstrates that drug abuse remains a problem in the county and crime remains an issue in our community,” Yudichak said.
Mullery said no one knows “when the dominoes will stop falling” if the governor closes prisons prematurely.
“I have yet to hear a compelling reason why this decision needs to be made on Jan. 26, let alone a compelling reason to target three prisons in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Mullery said.
Yudichak said closing SCI Retreat would result in a loss of $100,000 in tax revenue to the school district. He said the pre-K program at Nanticoke costs approximately $190,000 per year. He said the loss of revenue would not only have an immediate effect on the program, it could be lost.
Grevera said any cuts to the pre-K program would have a significant, measurable negative effect on the quality of education in the district. He said elementary students have been found to be better at reading and math because of the pre-K program.|
“We should be expanding our pre-K program, not cutting it,” Grevera said. “With a potential loss of $1.6 million in funding, I’m not sure how we would ever recover from that.”
The DOC and Wolf Administration has been holding meetings to determine the economic impact closing a prison would mean to each of the five possible areas. Yudichak and Mullery have estimated closing SCI Retreat would see a $57.3 million hit to the region’s economy.
The legislators have asked that Wolf delay a decision on prison closings and resume budget talks, with the hope that enough cuts can be found to avoid significant measures, such as closing two prisons. Some 2,500 inmates would have to be relocated and about 800 employees reassigned if two prisons are shut down.
Yudichak cited Northeastern Pennsylvania’s 6.3 percent unemployment rate, stating that closing SCI Retreat would see that number rise significantly.
Yudichak and Mullery said they feel state legislators have been shut out of the decision-making process.
“These are tax dollars,” Yudichak said. “We should be a part of this process.”
Mullery said there are some 2,000 to 2,500 state inmates currently housed in county correctional facilities. He said those inmates, if returned to state facilities, would eliminate the need to close prisons.
“If this is a numbers issue, as Secretary Wetzel has stated, then that would resolve that,” Yudichak said. “There has also been talk of the state accepting federal inmates. We will have a new president on Jan. 20. We should allow for more time to see if that agreement can be reached.”
Former Newport Twp. manager’s court case advances
A former Newport Township manger waived formal arrangement in December on charges he pocked over $150,000 from the township’s accounts, according to court documents.
Richard Zika, 72, of Hanover Township, was manager of Newport Township for 10 years, when he suddenly resigned after three township commissioners approached him regarding a total of $156,982 missing from township coffers.
The move automatically enters a not guilty plea for Zika.
In August, state police charged Zika with felony counts of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, forgery and fraudulent destruction of computers, as well as a misdemeanor count of tampering with records.
The criminal complaint states:
An internal audit noticed a discrepancy in the refuse/recycling accounts for the township.
Commissioners Paul Czapracki, Michael Roke and John Zyla then met with Zika. The former manager was asked to explain a number of checks that he had written and endorsed to himself. He allegedly told the commissioners: “I got some financial problems at my house.”
Officials also alerted the township’s police department, who transferred the case to state police in Wyoming.
During his preliminary arrangement, District Judge Joseph Halesy set bail at an unsecured $25,000 unsecured.
Zika’s next court appearance is scheduled for mid-April.
Township officials said the money Zika allegedly took is on its way back to the township. Insurance will pay back $100,000 of the missing funds, and the remaining $50,000-plus is in an escrow account with Zika’s attorney, Paul Ackourey.
If convicted, Zika could face 10 to 20 years in prison.
Newport Twp. officials shaken by potential prison closing
Newport Township Commissioners Chairman Paul Czapracki was working Friday morning at State Correctional Institution at Retreat when the prison was abruptly put on lock down and staff was ordered to huddle in the prison’s gymnasium.
The superintendent had a major announcement. He told the staff that the prison is one of five statewide being targeted for possible closure to cut costs. Czapracki, 52, a prison maintenance worker, immediately worried about his future but also about his township, which relies heavily on the 400-plus tax-paying workers at the prison.
“I was devastated,” Czapracki said. “Nobody knew anything about this.”
The closing of SCI-Retreat would cripple the local economy and evaporate the township tax base, Czapracki said.
“Being that I work there and I am a commissioner, I have to look at it both ways. It’s a lose-lose situation,” Czapracki said. “We got 400 employees at Retreat. Not only will the township be affected, these families will be affected too. A lot of employees who work there live in the township as well.”
Czapracki said township officials met with state Sen. John Yudichak at his office following the announcement. During their meeting, Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, was heard on the phone speaking with state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, and others.
Czapracki noted township officials will fight the closure of SCI-Retreat, but have to prepare for the possibility it will soon be shuttered. One possibility discussed to save jobs, he said, might be trying to get the state to lease the facility to house federal inmates.
In addition to SCI-Retreat, the other prisons being considered for closure are SCI-Waymart, SCI-Frackville, SCI-Mercer and SCI-Pittsburgh.
After talking to lawmakers, prison officials and union members, Czapracki said he got the impression only three of the prisons are seriously being considered for closure and SCI-Retreat is one of them.
“It’s a very good possibility that Retreat will be closing,” Czapracki said.
SCI-Retreat opened as a state prison in January 1988
The facility, which sits between the Susquehanna River and a mountainside, had been a state-run mental health hospital until 1981. Prior to that, it was a county-owned home for the poor.
The prison is in Newport Township, but it is only accessible from U.S. Route 11 in Hunlock Creek.
A distinctive feature of the complex is a bridge that spans the river. Staff and visitors have to cross the bridge to get to the prison.
The state Department of Corrections listed the “pros and cons” for each of the five prisons that are being considered for closure in an internal report of recommendations for possible prison closures. The report can be viewed at http://www.wbcitizensvoice.com/pdfs/prisonclosure.pdf.
The limited access to the prison was cited by the department as one reason the prison is a candidate for closure. The lone access road is a problem because during bad floods, like in 2011, the prison is left in “complete isolation” because flooding shuts down Route 11 in both directions, according to a memo of the proposal released by the department.
Currently, the prison holds about 1,105 inmates and has 400 employees.