Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith illegally recorded multiple conversations and supplied them to a grand jury investigating the Hotel Sterling's nonprofit owner, CityVest, county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Monday.
CityVest board member Y. Judd Shoval filed a civil suit against Griffith in county court Monday over the wiretaps and privacy invasion, Salavantis said.
Salavantis said Griffith gave the grand jury recordings of Shoval, attorneys and others who were recorded without their knowledge or consent. She said she forwarded the investigation to the state Attorney General's Office because it involves another elected county official.
Wiretap violations carry maximum sentences of seven years in prison for each illegal recording, she said.
Griffith denied any illegal recording.
He said he spoke to Shoval once on the phone in March 2011 as part of his audit of CityVest's spending of $6 million in county community development funding and was informed he'd have to ask further questions through Shoval's attorney.
Griffith said he did not record the telephone conversation with Shoval or any other conversations with CityVest representatives or attorneys.
I'm baffled. It's kind of confusing to me, Griffith said. I never illegally recorded anybody in my life in a face-to-face conversation or otherwise.
Griffith said he has an audio recorder but only uses it for public meetings.
He also said he was unaware of an investigation of him and had no idea Shoval was suing him. Shoval could not be reached for comment Monday.
The controller also criticized the district attorney for publicly discussing the matter before he had received the civil complaint or notice of an investigation.
It was a role reversal because others have complained Griffith publicly criticizes them without warning.
Salavantis said she did not file the civil suit and has authority to disclose details about investigatory matters she has forwarded to the state.
Griffith said he supplied information to a federal grand jury about CityVest and the Hotel Sterling project around November 2011 in response to a subpoena, but he denied providing recordings. Griffith said he obtained the information he supplied to the grand jury as part of his own audit, released in June 2011.
Griffith said he knows he can't secretly record people outside a public meeting.
That's just not something I do, he said, noting he has consulted with an attorney.
Wilkes-Barre is pursuing funding to demolish the condemned Hotel Sterling on its own because the county and CityVest could not reach consensus on demolition agreement liability issues.
CityVest spent $6 million in county community development funding on consultants, enlarging the parcel and tearing down another structure on the 4-acre lot. The shuttered hotel, vacant since 1998, is at Market and River streets.
The status of the grand-jury investigation is unknown.
Griffith, a Republican, plans to seek re-election to a second four-year county controller term this year.