In the absence of an all-clear signal, how can Luzerne County residents have faith their courthouse has been fully cleaned of corrupt culprits – and the crooked culture in which they bloomed like bacteria?
The question continues to nag at people who yearn for good government. It’s been five years since the federal corruption crackdown in Northeastern Pennsylvania first become public knowledge, but fresh evidence and unresolved concerns conspire to cast doubt on whether all the county’s criminal troubles are behind it.
As recently as last week, McAdoo resident Stacey McGlone, who had worked in the county probation office until April as a “fiscal technician,” pleaded guilty to filching $5,000. She apparently issued false receipts to certain offenders who had paid in cash, then pocketed the money. McGlone, 37, is scheduled to be sentenced in late September.
Stunningly, the timing of McGlone’s dirty deeds apparently overlapped with the FBI’s high-profile roundup here of dozens of corrupt officials, including McGlone’s father. William Sharkey, the county’s former court administrator, was charged in February 2009 and later sentenced to 10 months in prison for stealing more than $70,000, gradually siphoning it away for his personal use rather than putting it in a fund intended to help area law enforcement agencies buy equipment.
While employed in the Luzerne County Courthouse, Sharkey also ignored calls for anti-nepotism reforms, stacking the county’s payroll with his relatives, including his daughter. (Presumably, in McGlone’s case, the bad apple didn’t fall far from the gnarly tree.)
Did others within the county government setup see skimming as an acceptable way to supplement their taxpayer-provided incomes? If so, who or what gave them the impression they could get away with it?
Of particular concern is testimony that suggests an organized crime figure, or figures, sent envelopes to former county judge Michael Conahan at the courthouse, by way of a non-public entrance. A county security guard testified she left her post on multiple occasions between 2002 to 2005 to deliver those packages.
Yes, Conahan is serving prison time today for his role in the juvenile justice scandal known as “kids for cash.” But the lingering concern remains that apparently the mob had such easy access to Luzerne County’s halls of power. Who sent those packages? What influence, if any, did the sender have on court cases and other county business? Has his or her, or their, influence been diminished since 2009?
Are federal investigators still pursuing those avenues?
Let’s hope so. And let’s hope it yields more arrests and prosecutions.
Without a doubt, the FBI’s multi-year crackdown has spurred massive changes to the Luzerne County Courthouse’s personnel and to judges’ protocols. Voters, too, played a role, ushering in the era of home rule-style government while giving the boot to certain elected row offices.
Even so, there are no assurances the job is yet complete.
County employees committed to restoring the government’s reputation must hold themselves – and their peers – to a high standard of conduct. They need to report suspected wrongdoing and, where warranted, put new systems in place to prevent thievery or other misconduct. (For instance, consistently posting court vacancies on the county’s website with other job openings, as recently called for by a resident, would go a long way toward improving transparency and restoring public confidence.)
Luzerne County can’t be quickly cleansed of corruption with a sanitizer. The only true solution is for people to provide unwavering vigilance.