SUNBURY — U.S. Department of Justice officials visited Sunbury recently to continue their investigation of city surveillance cameras, their installation and financing, Councilwoman Beth Kremer confirmed.
Kremer declined comment on the investigation but said officials from the DOJ met with Sunbury officials last week. Kremer said council is not allowed to speak of the situation.
City Administrator Jody Ocker also confirmed DOJ officials visited Sunbury last week but likewise declined comment on the investigation.
The federal review was initiated in July when city solicitor Joel Wiest was instructed to contact the Department of Justice regarding the $200,000 federal grant used to purchase and operate the system, which has been offline for a year. City officials determined in 2018 the cost to upgrade and or repair the system was not in the city budget, according to treasurer Kevin Troup.
Council members and Sunbury Mayor Kurt Karlovich asked Wiest to contact the authorities after city leaders were questioned about the cameras, which were installed in 2013 and have never worked correctly.
Wiest would not comment on the situation on Tuesday. Karlovich said Tuesday he could not discuss the situation.
Officials at the federal offices involved in the probe did not respond to a request seeking comment.
The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, initiated in 2009 by former U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, is the subject of the DOJ audit. City officials said they discovered several issues regarding the city’s handling of the money, including a lack of tax forms for the contractor hired to do the work. According to the COPS grant, if the money was mishandled, the city could be held responsible for paying it back. An audit of the process would take place first. Attempts to reach Carney were unsuccessful.
Aaron Nigro, a former police officer who resided in Westmoreland County, installed the cameras. He was awarded the contract on a 4-1 vote through his business, Global Security Tactics and Genesis Security Integrations.
Nigro completed the installation, but the city failed to send him a 1099 tax form, according to Troup. Kremer was the city treasurer at the time and she said she thought her office had sent it. Troup said he couldn’t find a license or bond for Nigro to work in the city.
Those voting to hire Nigro were former Mayor David Persing, Troup, who was a councilman at the time, Councilman Jim Eister and former Councilman Todd Snyder. Former Councilman Joe Bartello voted against the contract.
Bartello said he wanted no part of the camera project after the initial meetings began, and he didn’t like the direction the project was taking.
The project began in 2013 when Snyder announced the city received three bids. Two of the bidding companies withdrew their proposals after the deadline for submission, he said at the time.
Multiple attempts by The Daily Item to ask Snyder — who oversaw the bidding process and installation — about the process have been unsuccessful. A phone number for him has been disconnected. City officials said they did not have any contact information for Snyder, who left council in 2014.
Nigro was hired to install and maintain the 50 Mobotix cameras the city purchased from him for nearly $130,000, according to city documents. Installation began in late 2013, but have been offline since last April, according to Troup. The system was shut down due to a budget crisis. The city looked to save money by not paying the $2,500 a month to keep the system operational.
Nigro was paid a total of $232,254 for the entire project, including room and board and maintenance costs on cameras during the first several months they were operational, according to bills from Troup.