Judge closes W-B gas right-to-know case

June 9th, 2015 6:16 pm - updated: 6:16 pm.

First Posted: 6/24/2014

WILKES-BARRE — Two documents provided, case closed.

City resident Frank Sorick’s challenge to a denial by the state’s Office of Open Records of his request for information regarding a more than $5,316 payment made by Wilkes-Barre for the improper sale of tax-free fuel between 2007 and 2009 was ordered closed on Tuesday by Luzerne County Judge Lesa Gelb.

According to Gelb’s order, “upon consideration,” a copy of a spreadsheet and a check provided by the state Department of Revenue “satisfies that which was sought” by Sorick, and the judge declared the case closed.

Efforts to reach Sorick were not immediately successful Tuesday afternoon.

In previous stories, Sorick said he was seeking a copy of the letter that he said the department confirmed it had and sent to the city.

“The letter was a warning to the city. It told them about the reason they were being cited,” he told The Times Leader earlier this month.

That letter reportedly dealt with the city reselling fuel to the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority and not charging tax on the sales.

On June 10, Gelb issued an order directing the Department of Revenue to provide its entire file pertaining to the payment. That order covered “bills/invoices/letters to and from the City of Wilkes-Barre” which generated the payment to the department. The city agreed with her decision.

The letter, he said in an earlier interview, predates the federal probe into fuel missing from the city’s tanks at the Department of Public Works yard. He added that it also shows that the city was made aware that it could not pump gasoline or diesel fuel into vehicles that did not have municipal license plates.

“That’s what makes it very important. This is not the first time,” Sorick said of why he was pressing the issue.

According to court documents filed with Gelb’s Tuesday order, the Department’s attorney responded last Friday with a letter stating they would turn over all documents in their possession regarding the matter.

Attached were copies of a spreadsheet and a check, but no letters.

Sorick has seen these before.

The city previously provided him a spreadsheet and a copy of the $5,316.92 check made out to the department on Aug. 6, 2009 for “Gas Usage 07-09.”

In his appeal of the denial by the Office of Open Records, Sorick submitted a sworn affidavit dated March 20 that said the department confirmed it had the letter, but that the city would have to request it.

City Administrator Marie McCormick also said in a sworn affidavit dated March 20 that she contacted the department inquiring about documents requested by Sorick and was informed that it had nothing other than the spreadsheet.

The letter predates investigation into city gas use.

The probe began in 2012 by the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office after The Times Leader reported that the city could not account for thousands of gallons of fuel over a two-year period. In March, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis confirmed that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office also are working on the investigation.

The Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association, of which Sorick is president, paid for a billboard last year with a photo of Mayor Tom Leighton pumping gas into a sport utility vehicle at the city pumps. Leighton acknowledged that he pumped city fuel into a non-city vehicle that he used for municipal business.