By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis has a message for Wilkes-Barre residents questioning why her investigation into unaccounted for fuel from the city pumps has lasted so long.
“I say you have to be patient,” she said. “There’s a lot that goes into this investigation.”
Salavantis made the comments after a frustrated neighborhood leader sent a letter asking Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to look into the matter.
In addition to problems of low staffing in her office, Salavantis also said a spate in violent crime has prolonged the probe. The detectives assigned to investigate the fuel issue have sometimes been called out to investigate homicides, Salavantis said, explaining that she’s made public safety cases a priority over the gas issue.
DA SAYS BE PATIENT: Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis asked for residents to be patient as she looks into Wilkes-Barre’s fuel fiasco.
The Times-Leader newspaper in 2012 revealed that Wilkes-Barre didn’t properly document the use of its tax-free fuel — some of it pumped by the mayor. The Pensylvania Department of Revenue eventually fined the city almost $26,000, and the city tightened the regulation of its fuel.
A vocal group of taxpayers has clamored for action in the case, questioning why Salavantis’ inquiry has dragged on 19 months without a resolution. It’s a popular topic at city council meetings, and the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association once plastered a photo of Democratic Mayor Tom Leighton — clad in a white T-shirt — pumping gas on a local billboard.
Salavantis, who previously said she hoped the probe would wrap by the start of this year, wouldn’t put a time table on when the investigation will be concluded. The city’s poor record-keeping has delayed the investigation, which seemingly expands at every turn, Salavantis said.
“I hope soon. Believe me, this is something that I want to see concluded as well,” said Salavantis, a Republican.
While one resident has concerns the district attorney is waiting until the general two-year statute of limitation for crimes outside of the most serious offenses expires, Salavantis said theft charges would actually carry a five-year statute of limitations, giving her more time to make a decision.
Salavantis insisted that “nothing has been swept under the rug.”
“I make sure that no stone goes unturned, and that’s why it’s taking a while,” Salavantis said. “And good investigations take time.”
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.
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