Councilman to meet with DA’s detectives on fuel probe

June 18th, 2015 12:04 pm - updated: 12:05 pm.

First Posted: 2/27/2014

WILKES-BARRE — City Councilman Tony George on Thursday night said he hopes get an update soon on the Luzerne County District Attorney’s investigation of fuel missing from the city’s tanks.

“I have a meeting set up with the district attorney’s detectives on the gas investigation,” George said at council’s regularly scheduled meeting.

He would not provide the time and date of the private meeting when asked by Bob Kadluboski, a tow company operator in the city.

“I’m going to go to the meeting. If there’s anything I can say after the meeting that won’t violate the investigation, I’ll be glad to tell everybody,” George said.

District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis began a criminal investigation in July 2012 after The Times Leader reported the city could not account for thousands of gallons of fuel missing from the storage tanks at its Department of Public Works yard on North Pennsylvania Avenue. Numerous people have been interviewed and documents have been gathered as part of the investigation.

In a letter to the city dated Jan. 27 of this year Salavantis said the investigation is continuing, but could not provide specific details.

“Nonetheless, as you must also be aware, the investigation has been greatly prolonged by the city’s complete lack of policies, procedures, documentation, checks and balances, accounting and accountability regarding the use of gas by city employees and officials,” she wrote.

She added she looked forward to concluding the investigation and making public the results. “However, the investigation will not be concluded until all avenues have been pursued,” she wrote.

Taking action in another matter, the council gave the go ahead for the city to execute any easements necessary for security improvements at the Sherman Hills apartment complex.

The complex owners received approval from the city Planning Commission to install an 8-foot-high fence around the property and place a guard booth to operate gates on North Empire Court and Parkview Circle.

In other matters, residents voiced other concerns ranging from looming skyrocketing flood insurance rates, the shutdown of the new Sidney Street bridge project and the careless distribution of city calendars by city workers.

Jeff King of Regent Street asked council to support the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that would delay the rise in rates. The pending federal legislation would delay the Biggert-Waters Act, which aimed to fix the under-funded National Flood Insurance Program.

King said he had been paying $788 a year for the insurance and had some flooding in his basement in 1996 after heavy snowfall. A deal to sell his house for $90,000 fell through after the prospective buyer was informed the flood insurance would be $7,015 a year due to Biggert-Waters.

“At that rate, the monthly escrowed flood insurance payment would be $585, which is $175 more than the actual monthly mortgage payment,” King said.

“This is an important issue for Wilkes-Barre, as there are 1,863 active flood policies in Wilkes-Barre,” he said.

Council voted to support the pending legislation.

Council Vice Chairman Mike Merritt said PennDOT dropped the ball on the Sidney Street bridge project and didn’t pay the people working on it. He said he was informed work would begin soon.

James Gallagher brought a bag filled with city calendars that he said were thrown in the snow and stuck in fences by DPW employees. Gallagher who delivers mail collected the calendars on his route and called the actions of the city employees “unacceptable.”