The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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May 9, 2014

Judge challenges Northumberland County commissioner's probe

sioner's probe

SUNBURY — A debate over whether an investigation was conducted into $2,338.50 that went missing in 2007 from the Northumberland County Probation Department has devolved into an argument over whether the king of rock ’n’ roll is alive or dead.

Commissioner Rick Shoch recently learned that $2,338.50 in court costs disappeared from the department in July 2007, at that time headed by then-President Judge Robert Sacavage, and began a probe with Prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger.

However, that investigation took place in 2010, Sacavage said Thursday, and came up empty.

“(Shoch) is the subject of misguided political ambition and this is not the first time he has taken shots without a basis of the facts,” said Sacavage, now a senior judge. “He likes to do these things when I am out of town, but I have news for him. I am back and ready to face him on any accusations he may have.

“In the event there are other individuals who are pulling his political strings, I will not hesitate to expose them. I want Mr. Shoch to know,” Sacavage said, “that Elvis is back.”

Shoch has been investigating the missing court costs paid by Kevin Glover, a Coal Township man who pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges in 2004 but was picked up by Northumberland County probation officials in February for failure to pay his fines — even though he provided a receipt.

Glover claimed he paid $2,338.50 in cash to the court costs department. Yet Glover still had to appear before Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor, who found Glover had paid his debt and released him.

Prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger recently began a probe into the missing money, tracked receipts provided to him by Shoch and found that Glover’s payment was never entered into the system. Of at least 12 receipts recorded July 19, 2007, 11 had been logged, Dunkelberger found. None of the other 11 recorded payments that exceeded $220.

Dunkelberger, a first-term elected official, contacted the district attorney’s office, which directed him to the state police to file a report.

In the week since The Daily Item published the story of the missing money, Sacavage began his own research and found that the probe was conducted in 2010.

“This is not the first time Mr. Shoch is shooting from the hip without the benefits of the facts, and if he would take the time to do the proper investigation, he might have found that this investigation was already conducted,” Sacavage said.

“I was never involved in any scandals and I take all these attempts to tarnish my reputation as a serious situation.”

A string of 2010 emails provided Thursday to The Daily Item show former chief adult probation officer Mike Yasenchak contacted court administrator Brandy Yasenchak and informed her he was aware of the Glover situation and that the probation department was doing everything it could to locate the cash.

Mike Yasenchak checked various departments for a possible incorrect deposit, but it turned out the money could not be found.

Sacavage then ordered Brandy Yasenchak to contact the district attorney’s office and ask for an investigation.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini responded to the judge and said that because there were so many hands on the cash, it would be difficult to determine who, if anyone, took it. Past investigations into probation receipts and those of the prothonotary’s office often didn’t match, Rosini said.

“The prothonotary’s office records and practices in the past were apparently not very good,” Rosini said.

This would have been nearly three years after 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.

Shoch, Sacavage said, is “taking the names of several other people that have dedicated their lives to the county and hurting them.”

Shoch said he has not accused anyone of any wrongdoing.

“I find it curious that Judge Sacavage is reacting so defensively when all that I am doing is trying to find out what is wrong in our system that has resulted in missing funds,” Shoch said. “Thankfully, our new President Judge (William) Wiest did not have this kind of reaction to my inquiries, and has actually aided the prothonotary and me by ensuring that we have access to probation records in order to try to reconcile them to the prothonotary records and determine what the problem is.

“To that end, the prothonotary has informed me that he has requested that the auditor general specifically review the process by which criminal costs are collected and processed in Northumberland County. This would include a review of the past and present functions in both the prothonotary (clerk of courts) office and probation. As our current president judge has indicated to me that he would welcome such a review, it would seem Judge Sacavage’s opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

“If Judge Sacavage is indicating that he already investigated this thoroughly, then by all means, please just tell us where the money went and we won’t need to spend any more time on this.”

As for the Elvis comment?

“I’m not sure what that even means,” Shoch said, “but it is good to see that the judge continues to be quite impressed with himself. However, I believe the consensus of opinion is that Elvis is dead.”

 

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