Commissioners & Local Media Playing Politics with Bressi Fraud Case

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.

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9 Comments

Filed under County Government, Local News

9 responses to “Commissioners & Local Media Playing Politics with Bressi Fraud Case

  1. lefty

    I have no stake in this, but I understand the newspaper running a big headline if someone is actually found guilty of something. As far as I know, that’s isn’t the case yet. I am told Kantner had nothing to do with this. I saw Kantner gave Wolfgang information on how much Breesi was paid (which is where I assume is how you found out about it). If Kantner had something to do with this, why wouldn’t she mention it then or at one of the commisioners meetings? What has the media down to smear Kantner? As far as I can tell, what’s been reported about her was what’s come up at public meetings.

    • huh

      Lefty you are a moron. Try reading the report by Clarke. WHen you do, you’ll realize your questions don’t make any sense.

  2. JayTheBMan

    Hank …..you have connected all the dots in the right sequence on this subject.

  3. Talon1

    As one of few with inside and first-hand knowledge of this matter, I can disclose that Ms. Kantner not only did not discover or report this matter, but she knew absolutely nothing about it and was never involved. This entire report is a complete fabrication, unsubstantiated and reckless. While I found previous reporting by Mr. Clarke to be quite entertaining, question now becomes whether Mr. Clarke was completely duped by his sources here or whether his objectivity has become so blinded by his political bias that he will sacrifice his soul to make a point. I think both. One thing for sure, Mr. Clarke’s character and career, as well as his credibility as a lawyer in Schuylkill County, will be forever stained by this report. Remember, Mr. Clarke, you now have Rules of Professional Conduct, which I believe were violated by this woefully baseless and irresponsible reporting.

    • Hank Clarke

      Talon,

      I find it hysterical that certain people in this county, mostly democrats, are going to such lengths to ensure that the Controller get zero credit for uncovering the latest corruption in Schuylkill County. It borders on absolute derangement.

      The fact is that I had this story on October 14th, when the person who made the first tip about excessive continuances specifically told me about the matter. However, because I have been so busy representing my clients, I did not have time to post about it. THAT is how I came onto the story. I later corrobated that story with those in the courthouse that actually participated in the probe. So, my story is right on the money and I stand by it fully.

      Now, let’s talk about those who have covered the story. Ben Wolfgang has NEVER contacted the Controller for comment as to her role and has NEVER gone into the Controller’s office to request Bressi’s billing records, which are all public information, for any of his three stories.

      He has gotten his information from two sources:
      1. The Green Screen–which consisted of information that I and another poster put out there.

      2. Mantura Gallagher–even though he could view Bressi’s billing records, the audit information, and anything else having to do with this case, freely and easily in the Controller’s office, he chose to request comment and records from the Commissioners, who were not responsible for her firing as Bressi was an employee of the courts not the county and who have a direct stake in the disposition of the case due to the aforementioned close friendship between Mantura and Bressi.

      Do you consider THAT to be responsible reporting?

      Finally, trying to impune my credibility and ability as an attorney is downright sad. Since I opened my practice in April, I have serviced over 50 clients. If anyone has a question as to my effectiveness, just ask them, not some random commenter on a political blog who levies unsubstantiated criticisms at me, while being too much of a coward to even put their name behind it.

      Furthermore, saying that I violated the rules of professional conduct for an attorney while not acting in a capacity as an attorney is not only misinformed, but downright STUPID.

  4. pga

    Hank- Completly wrong on this one! The Controller had absolutely nothing to do with this being uncovered. As usual, your reporting is inaccurate. I totally agree with Talon. Your reputation in this county has been ruined and I’m assuming that is why you are working under the worst attorney in Berks County. If you’re so busy with your many clients, why is it that you have to beg and borrow from family members to support your family? And I know this is accurate information, as it came straight from their mouths! As I’ve said before, you should watch how’s toes you step on, as they may be connected to the a**es you have to kiss tomorrow. Perfect explanation as to why you weren’t able to locate employment in Schuylkill County. Also, wasn’t it you who received only 32 votes in the recent election? It amazes me how you attack the integrity of others, without knowing a person’s values or ethics. Obviously, you have none. And one more thing, you didn’t learn of this on the 14th. One of your wife’s co-workers informed her of this on the morning it hit the newspaper and I watched her call you immediately afterwards. Good attempt!

  5. In The Know

    Don’t back down Hank. You obviously struck a very sensitive nerve, which tells me you are on the right path. There were men in this region like you many decades ago. They were often killed or tortured by the coal barrons and the politically powerful. Thank God for fearless guardians against corruption like you. There is all kinds of courthouse corruption being covered up right now. Don’t stop. You’ve only scratched the surface. And you have them scared out of their wits.

  6. Pingback: CLARKE REPORT EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Mantura Gallagher « The Clarke Report

  7. perry

    Are you really claiming the newspaper didn’t talk with Katner even though they reported on Oct. 24: “According to county Controller Melinda Kantner, Bressi earned $81,336.75 last year as a conciliation officer. This year she has earned $64,625, Kantner said.”
    I’m really confused about what you wrote on Oct. 31. Is that not true? It is getting difficult frankly to believe anything you write about. From what I saw, the green screen reported a rumor which was not confirmed, like most of the nonesnse on there.

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