More than a week ago, news broke that Pottsville attorney Lynn G. Bressi, who was employed as a custody master by the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, was fired from her position and was being investigated for fraud relating to the alleged over-billing of the county. According to sources close to the investigation, the alleged fraud was uncovered by Schuylkill County Controller Melinda Kantner after complaints from local attorneys about protracted custody proceedings. Once Kantner discovered discrepancies in the billing records, she immediately reported her findings to President Judge William E. Baldwin, who promptly canned Bressi on October 12th.
According to public documents, Bressi billed the county for nearly $82,000 in services last year and over $64,000 so far this year in a position that is traditionally a part-time job. Bressi, a prominent democrat, who serves on the Schuylkill County Board of Elections, is reportedly a close personal friend of County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Mantura Gallagher. The two are rumored to play a weekly card game with each other. In addition, in an ironic twist of fate, Gallagher reportedly leaned heavily on Kantner when she took office to hire Bressi as that office’s solicitor. Kantner eventually decided on Pottsville attorney Sudhir Patel. Bressi is also married to attorney Charles Bressi, a former assistant district attorney under incumbent James P. Goodman.
Although Kantner is a democrat and has been criticized heavily on this site for some of her antics, The Clarke Report would like to applaud Kantner in spear-heading the initial probe that brought down another purported dirty public official. It is even more impressive because Kantner’s target is a prominent figure in Kantner’s own democratic party. However, not everyone is as appreciative as I. One who is said to be on the war path is Gallagher. And she was reportedly used her relationship with Harold Nice, publisher of the Pottsville Republican, the most widely circulated newspaper in Schuylkill County, and other county officials to smear Kantner as payback for getting her buddy fired.
The Pottsville Republican & Herald was the first major news outlet to report on the alleged fraud following a days worth of rumors on the popular local message board, The Green Screen. The initial article, written by staff reporter Ben Wolfgang, ran in small type on the front page of the Saturday edition of the paper. Two very short follow-up stories have been printed in past two weeks, again in small type, in the middle pages of the newspaper.
The day after this story broke, Gallagher and fellow democrat Commissioner Francis McAndrew lambasted Kantner at a public board meeting for allegedly paying one of the county’s bills late. The Republican reported this story with a banner headline and half page story on page 3 of its publication, unlike the Bressi story, which only garnered moderate attention as mentioned above.
If Kantner paid a bill late due to negligence or malfeasance, resulting in unnecessary fees to county taxpayers, I agree with Gallgher’s criticisms. However, my own investigation has revealed that this is a contrived story whose purpose is political revenge. Gallagher contends that the county was forced to pay nearly $500 in late rental fees for a building that is used by MH/MR because Kantner failed to meet the October 1st deadline, despite the fact that MH/MR’s fiscal officer hand delivered the invoice to the Controller’s office on the afternoon of September 29th. McAndrew said, “If the controller’s office can’t handle a rent transaction, then we have a problem. This is costing taxpayers money. And it’s making me very mad.”
Problem is that no one in the Controller’s office can remember the fiscal officer coming into the office on that day. They contend that they did not receive the invoice until October 5th, at which time is was paid within days. My issue is that even if you give MH/MR the benefit of the doubt, the fact is that the bill STILL WOULD HAVE BEEN LATE! The Controller does “check runs” every Tuesday and Thursday morning. After checks are cut, they are forwarded to the Commissioner’s Office for signatures (county code states that 2 of the 3 members must sign off). Once the signatures are obtained, the checks are sent back to the Controller to be logged and then sent over to the county Treasurer’s Office to be sent by mail. From the time the invoice is received until it reaches the mailbox of the recipient usually takes a week to 10 days (this I know from experience as court-appointed counsel). September 29th was a Tuesday, so a check for the invoice, even if received that afternoon would not have been cut until Thursday October 1st, which was the deadline. And even if MH/MR had delivered it that morning, it would have been an all-time record for that payment to have been received by the building’s landlord two days later.
What this means is that the criticisms are merely posturing meant to reduce the credibility of the Controller and her employees. Sad thing is, is that the Republican has been a partner in this sham. However, their actions are not suprising. Nice is reportedly a big democratic party benefactor and Wolfgang is widely looked at as a party mouthpiece who selectively reports “news” that is is beneficial to democratic candidates and politicians.
Then, you have the criminal investigation into Bressi’s alleged fraud that has left many scratching their heads. Following Bressi’s termination, Baldwin forwarded the case to DA Goodman for an investigation and possible prosecution. However, Goodman, citing a “conflict of interest”, pitched the case to the Pottsville Police Department. I don’t take issue with Goodman farming the case out because it is clear that he would have a conflict, but his choice of where to send the Bressi matter is questionable. Bressi’s alleged actions happened INSIDE the county courthouse. Pottsville Police Department has NO JURISDICTION inside the courthouse. So, even if they wanted to bring charges, they can’t. Usually, in cases where a public official is alleged to have committed criminal conduct in association with their job, the prosecution is immediately forwarded to and handled by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. As of the date of this post, no one has turned the case over to Tom Corbett, who just happens to be a Republican. Is this an attempt at a cover-up to save a political ally or just a case of a DA not knowing proper procedure? Who knows. After the goings on in the courthouse over the past two years, nothing would surprise me.