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Luzerne County Examines Vehicle Fleet after Misuse Incident

February 26, 2009

LUZERNE COUNTY, PA -  Luzerne County officials are reviewing changes in county vehicle procedures following a recent misuse incident in which the court administrator, William T. Sharkey Sr., who pleaded guilty to collecting more than $70,000 in county money, kept a county vehicle at his West Hazleton home for months during the investigation of his misconduct, according to www.citizensvoice.com

Sharkey possessed the Chevrolet Impala even while under investigation and on paid leave from his $97,050-a-year job that lasted nearly six months. Judge Chester B. Muroski, who has been in charge of the probation office said he has not been able obtain records on Sharkey's use of the vehicle.

Various supervisors from 23 county departments and offices are responsible for tracking a total of 351 vehicles, records show. Each vehicle is assigned to a department or office.

The vehicle Sharkey had is the only probation vehicle reserved for court administration and probation management and "it was known that" former President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. allowed Sharkey to keep the vehicle, said Michael Vecchio, acting director, probation. Rules that prohibit employees from taking vehicles home were not enforced, Vecchio said.

On Feb. 12, Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, Sharkey's cousin, pleaded guilty to receiving $2.6 million in a kickback scheme to send juveniles to private detention facilities. Ciavarella approved Sharkey's paid leave from work Aug. 20, a day after the FBI began looking for the forfeited gambling money Sharkey eventually admitted to stealing.

Muroski said he learned Sharkey took the Impala last June for a conference in State College and returned it Feb. 3, the day federal prosecutors announced Sharkey had been charged with stealing more than $70,000 in illegal gambling proceeds forfeited in county court. Also that day, Larry Saba, then director of probation, informed Muroski that Sharkey had the Impala.

"I told him to get the car," said Muroski, who ended Sharkey's leave from work Feb. 2.

After Muroski ended leave from work, Sharkey continued using the vehicle while he wasn't even working. His conduct has resulted in a review of whether that vehicle and other vehicles are even needed.

"I plan to task our people to review anyone with access to cars and do an analysis of the need of the amount of vehicles allotted to us," Muroski said.

County Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla said all county vehicles are paid with county money, including vehicles assigned to court offices and independent row offices, should all be in one "central fleet." All vehicles in one pool could then be tracked and authorized by one department, she said.

County Manager/Chief Clerk Doug Pape said the road and bridge department would likely be in charge of a central fleet. Under that proposal, any employee from any department or office would have to go through the road and bridge department to take a vehicle.

One central vehicle pool would help officials determine which vehicles are used and needed, said County Engineer Joe Gibbons, road and bridge department.

Pape said a financial recovery plan being prepared by Public Financial Management Inc. will include recommendations on reducing the number of vehicles. 

In 2004, county commissioners adopted a personnel policy, which includes regulations on the use of county vehicles. It says the deputy chief clerk is the "fleet manager" for the County, and Pape has assumed that responsibility because the deputy post is vacant.

Pape said he maintains a computerized inventory of all county vehicles. But the various county departments and offices still set their own policies on tracking the miles their allotted vehicles travel and recording when employees drive county vehicles.

The personnel policy says the fleet manager determines the appropriateness of written requests to use a county vehicle during non-business hours, weekends, and holidays.

Sharkey never submitted a written request to Pape. Vecchio said the probation office abides by its own policies on vehicles and doesn't follow the policy approved by county commissioners.

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