The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 24, 2014

Gordner bill ends gift-card swap for convicts’ service

By Francis Scarcella

and John Finnerty

The Daily Item

SUNBURY — “Shocked” by revelations that convicts could trade community service sentences for gift-card donations to charities through the Northumberland County probation department, a Valley lawmaker is introducing legislation to outlaw the questionable practice.

State Sen. John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, said his bill is a direct response to the program in Northumberland County’s probation office.

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.

Gordner said he was “shocked” to learn there was nothing preventing probation officers from allowing convicts to buy their way out of satisfying community service obligations. His bill would prohibit the practice.

“I believe when a judge assigns community service to a defendant, there is an expectation that community service is going to be done,” Gordner said.

He added that the alternative is also discriminatory because it provides an end-around for those who can afford it.

Gordner’s bill is being circulated at the Capitol to obtain cosponsors before it is formally introduced.

Former Northumberland County President Judge Robert Sacavage several weeks ago said the program was not secretive and not subject to misuse.

“There were many times when a department head would come to me and ask about trying something to better the county or their departments,” Sacavage had said. “They brought this up and we checked to see if it was legal and the answer is yes, it was.”

Gordner agreed the practice was legal and now he wants to make sure it is illegal, he said.

There were more than $4,000 in unused gift cards left in the adult probation department’s safe. There was never a written order by Sacavge or a written policy in place addressing the gift-card program.

Sacavage said the program was not a license for probation officers to just accept gift cards for sentences.

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.

Sacavage said he wanted to make sure county residents understood that there was nothing wrong with the program other than the lack of a written policy and that he doubted that any probation officer would have misused the funds.


Text Only

Daily Blast


The Daily Marquee
Daily Item Video
Seasonal Content
The Valley