Sunday, July 13, 2014

Former county sheriff lieutenant charged with theft

Donald Lasoski has already reimbursed county for $375 he took

October 22. 2013 11:22PM

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Luzerne County Controller Walter Mitchell credited the county District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday for filing a theft charge against former Sheriff Lt. Donald Lasoski for removing $375 from the office.

Mitchell said he pressed for a charge to set an example and was “relieved” to recently learn of the action.

“This puts the balance of Luzerne County employees on notice that we won’t tolerate any misuse, abuse or misappropriation of county taxpayer dollars,” Mitchell said.

County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said the misdemeanor charge was filed without fanfare on Oct. 1 because the investigation concluded a charge was warranted.

Salavantis said critics speculated her office would not pursue a charge because a former county employee was involved.

“When it comes to someone committing a crime, my office treats everyone the same,” she said.

According to the probably cause affidavit:

Then-Sheriff John Robshaw reported Lasoski’s removal of $375 from a locked office safe to the District Attorney’s Office. Sheriff Lt. Brian Szumski had reported the missing funds, and Lasoski admitted that he “borrowed the money,” Robshaw said.

Szumski told detectives he had conducted an audit of the prisoner transport funds before he went on vacation the week of Aug. 19, and no funds were missing.

When Szumski returned to work Aug. 26, he conducted another audit that showed $375 was missing with no documentation stating why. Szumski said he spoke with Lasoski, who also had access to the funds, and Lasoski said he had borrowed the money and would put it back the next day. Szumski said he immediately notified Robshaw.

Robshaw told investigators Lasoski said he “screwed up and had to pay the price.”

Szumski is now interim county sheriff because Robshaw is 911 executive director.

Lasoski, 34, of Wilkes-Barre, has a preliminary hearing before District Judge Martin R. Kane on Nov. 6.

He acknowledged to a reporter Sept. 3 that he took the money with plans to repay it before anyone noticed and regretted his decision. He said he worked hard during his 14-year county employment and needed cash for a “personal issue.”

Three well-placed sources had said Lasoski indicated he was struggling with a gambling problem.

Lasoski agreed to resign and has repaid the county in full.

The prisoner transport fund typically has a balance of $750 to cover tolls, gas and other miscellaneous expenses for deputies who handle the movement of inmates.

The fund came up during Tuesday’s County Council meeting because county Councilman Edward Brominski had asked his colleagues to ask the Controller’s Office to complete a forensic audit of the transport fund due to the missing money.

“Where there’s smoke, there could be fire,” Brominski said when he made the request earlier this month.

Council had voted to postpone the request pending input from Mitchell.

Mitchell gave council a memo Tuesday saying such an audit must be contracted out, and a 2012 proposal to provide a forensic audit on an unrelated fund had been submitted at $46,500, or $155 per hour.

Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said the option is “cost prohibitive.”

Brominski made a motion to complete the audit, but he received no second needed to bring the matter to a vote.

Szumski said internal controls led to the discovery of missing money, and he has implemented additional checks and balances.

Mitchell said he worked with county administration on a solution to open a checking account at the county credit union, which would eliminate the need for any cash in the office. His other recommendations: a requirement for dual signatures on each transaction and ensuring the account is reconciled by an employee who doesn’t handle withdrawals and deposits.

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