The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

May 4, 2014

Missing $2,338 early evidence of inept office

SUNBURY — A Coal Township man who pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges in 2004 was picked up by Northumberland County probation officials in February for failure to pay his fines.

Kevin Glover claimed he did pay those fines, in cash and to the court costs department. Yet Glover still had to appear before a Northumberland County judge.

And that judge, Charles Saylor, ruled he believed Glover paid the $2,338.50 to the county in 2007 because Glover had a receipt that showed the debt had been paid in full.

Which raised the question of the whereabouts of the $2,338.50.

In 2011, Commissioner Vinny Clausi and then-President Judge Robert Sacavage announced that nearly $17 million in court fees, fines and restitution went uncollected for years by the Northumberland County prothonotary’s office.

At the time, Sacavage said he and other court officials had known for decades that the prothonotary and clerk of courts office hadn’t been able to collect all criminal court costs, but because the prothonotary’s office is managed by an independently elected official, he had no oversight or idea the outstanding amount was as high as it was.

A total of $16.84 million was not collected from hundreds of offenders ordered to pay for criminal offenses by the court. Of that uncollected amount, $10.19 million represented fines and costs owed to the county, state and municipality; $4.18 million was for restitution to be paid directly to victims of crime and $2.45 million was for Act 35 funds that would be used by the county and court for general expenses.

Probation officers collected court costs in 2007, through the adult probation office, and then would turn over the money to the clerk of courts office.

“The court costs receipts are still here from 2007 to 2011, and if there was a need for a review of those receipts, we have them,” current Prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger said. “But I would have no idea or way of knowing if all the money was collected.”

Glover was found to have paid his debt in full, but there is no trace of the missing $2,338.50.

A report, signed by Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale last year, covers a period from Nov. 21, 2006, to July 31, 2009, and cited eight findings, six pertaining to the prothonotary/clerk of courts and two to the adult probation department.

Some of the findings in the report showed that bank deposit slips were not being validated. Suzanne Vastine Smith was prothonotary in 2005-2006, followed by Kathleen Strausser. Under Strausser, the prothonotary’s office corrected the problems, which resurfaced.

Strausser said she knew about the findings in the report and immediately began to address the issues.

That report also stated that those making payments to the adult probation office were not always issued a receipt and there were inadequate internal controls over manual receipts.

The report also showed former deputy prothonotary Annette Gurba used a refunded receipts function on a computer system to misappropriate funds. By issuing a refunded receipt, it created an entry as if the money was not collected. Gurba pleaded guilty in 2011 to a misdemeanor of theft by deception and was sentenced to three years of probation.

Adult probation has also come under fire recently after it was revealed the county had a program that allowed convicts to trade community service sentences for gift-card donations to charities.

In the program, an offender sentenced to community service could purchase one hour of time for $5 instead of following the judge’s orders.

The gift-card purchasing had been in place for seven years.

Northumberland County President Judge William Wiest ordered an end to the practice and blamed the program on prior probation office administrators.

There were more than $4,000 in unused gift cards left in the adult probation department’s safe when the program was shut down earlier in early April.

The practice was reportedly started under Michael C. Potteiger, the county’s former chief adult probation officer from 2002 and 2008 until John Wondoloski took over the department.

Potteiger has denied starting the program.

County leaders admit there is no way of knowing how many gift cards or their values were used or collected over seven years.

There has not been a formal request for an investigation into the program, Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini said.

“There has been no allegation by the court or anyone else that anything illegal took place in the Adult Probation Department,” Rosini said.

In the meantime Kevin Glover’s $2,338.50 is still missing.

 

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