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Officials want probe into how TV station got documents containing bank numbers

Published July 21. 2010 05:00PM

Rush Township supervisors plan to ask the Schuylkill County district attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to find out who gave a Wilkes-Barre television station copies of documents that contained active bank account numbers. The station, WBRE, broadcast images of the documents and numbers during a recent report concerning the township's 2006 purchase of a building.

"I think our solicitor should make an appointment with the DA and the FBI to investigate how (these) documents (were) taken out of the township building," said Supervisor Robert J. Leibensperger. "There's live check numbers on there and the account numbers for the Hometown sewer investment and the Hometown sewer operating fund. So anyone who has the electronic capability can steal that money electronically."

Leibensperger said he believes the township "should press charges to the limit of the law. Find out who took it, and prosecute them."

Supervisors also want an apology from the station for broadcasting what they contend was an error-filled report.

A June 25 letter to WBRE reporter Mike Trim, composed by township solicitor Robert T. Yurchak, was read aloud during a public meeting Tuesday. Trim did not immediately respond to an email request and telephone call seeking comment Wednesday morning. The letter recounts by timeline the procedure followed to purchase the property, commonly referred to as the "Fortunato property."

"Unfortunately, your story contained many factual errors and misstatements," the letter said. according to the letter, on Nov. 22, 2006, then-Supervisor William Sanchez Jr. at an open public meeting moved to buy the property for $90,000. His motion was supported by then-Supervisor Marion Lazur.

The sale was completed on Dec. 20, 2006. At a Feb. 28, 2007, public meeting, then-solicitor Mark Semanchik announced the transaction was completed and the property turned over to the township. "It was further reported at this meeting that the monies for the purchase had been taken from the Hometown Sewer Investment Fund and the Hometown Sewer Operating Fund. The purpose was explained that the reason for the use of this fund to purchase the property was due to the plan to consolidate and move the operations for the Hometown sewer to this new building. It was further reported that until plans for the new building had been completed, the matter of repayment of the sewer fund could not be determined," the letter said.

The Rush Township Sewer Authority Board was reconstituted on Oct. 9, 2007, the letter states, and at a Jan. 7, 2008 public meeting, Sanchez moved that a five-year repayment plan be established to repay the funds to the Hometown Sewer Investment Fund and the Hometown Sewer Operating Fund. Supervisor Steve Simchak supported the motion, the letter said. On Jan. 22, 2008, supervisors at a public meeting authorized a $37,000 repayment to the sewer account. "On June 15, 2010, a resolution was passed to pay the balance of the monies of $54,803, plus 3 percent interest, to the sewer fund in quarterly payments commencing January 2011 and ending December 2012," the letter states.

"This transaction was reviewed by Nathaniel Lipton of the (state) Auditor general's office, who stated that no wrongdoing was done, after he completed an investigation of the matter. Further, the transaction was also reviewed by the township auditors, who agreed with Mr. Lipton in that, given complete knowledge of the facts, that no wrongdoing was done," the letter states.

"The intent at the time of purchase was to use the property for sewer business, and using sewer funds for such a purchase is appropriate," the letter states.

At some point, supervisors decided to demolish the building rather than use it for sewer purposes. "This decision was likewise made at a public meeting," the letter states. "In support of this position are enclosed relevant portions of township minutes, which clearly support what has been stated herein. This would therefore seem to be a case of not letting the facts get in the way of a story. Regardless, this type of journalism is irresponsible and cannot be left to pass without reply. The Rush Township supervisors demand an apology from your station pertaining to the allegations that something pertaining to this matter was illegal and done 'behind closed doors'. The story aired by your station is clearly factually untrue and irresponsible. In addition, documents which you displayed on television appeared to contain confidential information pertaining to account numbers and the like, and you did not receive these from the township. I do not understand where you obtained this information, but any use of the confidential information contained therein will result in an appropriate response," the letter stated.

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