Saturday, July 12, 2014

DA: W-B fuel probe still unfinished

Salavantis says it’s difficult to interview people during holidays

December 26. 2013 11:30PM

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WILKES-BARRE — The investigation into the city’s missing fuel won’t be concluded before the end of the year, and Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis shied away from giving a time frame for concluding it.

Salavantis on Thursday said additional interviews have to be done, and it’s difficult to conduct them during the holidays.

“I can’t wrap it up,” she said.

Her office began a criminal probe in July 2012 after The Times Leader reported that thousands of gallons of tax-free fuel were taken from the city’s storage tanks, assigning an assistant district attorney to the case and conducting multiple interviews, including some late additions of people with first-hand knowledge that were finished in mid-November.

Last month, she said that if charges were warranted they would be filed by the end of the year. But out of caution and thoroughness, the probe continues. “I want to do a full investigation,” Salavantis said.

A civil investigation done by the state Department of Revenue resulted in the city paying a total of $25,919 in taxes, penalties and interest last year.

The city then appealed with the intent of receiving a refund from the department. While acknowledging it kept poor records the city challenged the assessment as excessive, providing fuel logs and worksheets identifying Department of Public Works truck numbers, employees and areas of operation to support its argument that the undocumented fuel was used for municipal purposes.

But in June the department denied the appeal, saying, “The documentation presented by the City of Wilkes-Barre is not sufficient to show that the undocumented fuel was used for municipal purposes.”

The status of the investigation has come up at City Council meetings and been publicized on a billboard on state Route 309.

The Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association paid for the billboard that showed Mayor Tom Leighton in a white T-shirt standing at the city pumps fueling up his SUV. Leighton said he did not fill out logs, but used the fuel for city business.

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