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The Citizens’ Voice Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Division III Investigative When the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, a small city of 40,000, brought in a for-profit ambulance company to back up and possibly replace the city’s paramedics and drivers, he pitched the move as a money-saver. But the mayor’s numbers didn’t add up. Utilizing the state Open Records law, county records and federal bank filings, The Citizens’ Voice discovered the for-profit company was linked to a powerful local family with gambling, landfill and banking interests. Months earlier, the mayor had tried to move the city’s accounts to the family’s bank, where a mayoral ally and adviser served as a board member. Following the report, the ambulance privatization scheme was withdrawn.


Friday, March 25, 2016

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saFETY sWiTCh W-B plans to end ambulance mutual aid agreement with its neighbors, use for-profit firm as city’s primary backup. Page 5

Warren ruda / The CiTizens’ VoiCe

Trans-Med Ambulance headquarters in Luzerne.

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Potential W-B ambulance changes met with skepticism

Mayor Tony George will scrap mutual aid agreement with 3 neighboring towns By Bob Kalinowski Staff Writer

Warren ruda / The CiTizenS’ VoiCe

Under the change, the for-profit Trans-Med Ambulance, based in Luzerne, will serve as the primary backup unit for the entire city.

Warren ruda / The CiTizenS’ VoiCe

Then-Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton announces the mutual aid agreement between the city, Kingston, Plains Township and Hanover Township during a press conference in 2011.

WB_VOICE - DLY - 5 - 03/25/16

ambulance dispatches and Kingston would no longer be a primary backup. “We can’t dictate what Wilkes-Barre does, but we did this five years ago and it’s been a huge, huge suc-

cess. Every one of the partners thinks it’s a success, but obviously the mayor (George) thinks differently,” Guido said. Mike Bilski, president of the Wilkes-Barre firefight-

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plans said the of ficial changes were to be announced next week, possibly as early as Monday. When told about the plan by a reporter, Leighton criticized the move. “ I h o p e t h e m ayo r thought this out long and hard. Chief Delaney and members of my administration worked very hard to put this together to ensure the medical safety of our residents,” Leighton said. “It’s a plan that has worked flawlessly. I can’t imagine any other plan better than the one that was implemented. I thank the people in Kingston, Plains and Hanover for being great partners.” Kingston fire Chief Frank Guido said Delaney called him Thursday to inform him “a change is coming” to Wilkes-Barre’s

ers’ union, questioned the need to break up something that worked well. “It seemed to be working for the past five years or so. I don’t know why they would change it,” Bilski said Wilkes-Bar re’s ambulances and eight paramedics operate under the direction of the fire department. Angela Patla, one of the paramedics, also is the operations manager for Medic 2 in Plains Township, which was primary backup for the city’s Parsons and Miners Mills sect i o n s. S h e a g r e e s t h e change is unnecessary. “I was unaware that there was ever a problem,” she said. Patla said Trans-Med mostly deals in patient transports, not emergency calls, and is known to over-promise to municipalities to gain as bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal much business as possible.

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WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George has decided to scrap a 4½-year-old ambulance mutual aid agreement with three neighboring towns and instead return to using for-profit Trans-Med Ambulance as the primary backup unit for the entire city, multiple people familiar with the plan said Thursday. Fire Chief Jay Delaney would only say cover in an email that story G e o r g e g av e him a directive “to change the dispatch procedures when city ambulances are already committed to calls.” He deferred further comment to George, who did not respond to interview requests left with staffers. The expected change dissolves a geographical mutual aid pact the city launched in October 2011 with ambulance services in bordering municipalities that thenMayor Tom Leighton hailed as “one of the first and largest regionalization enterprises of this new era.” Under the agreement, when the city’s two ambulances are busy, an outside ambulance is dispatched based on the location of the emergency call in the city. Hanover’s Medic 9 is back up for the southern end of the city, Kingston’s Medic 13 handles Center City, and Plains’ Medic 2 serves the northern part of the city. Trans-Med is primary backup for the Heights, North End, and East End. T h e p r iv a t e c o m p a n y, which is headquartered in Luzerne, had been the backup for the entire city before the 2011 pact. Fred Rosencrans, director of Luzerne County 911, said the agency had not been notified of any planned dispatch changes i n Wi l ke s - B a r re a s o f T h u r s d ay. E m e r g e n c y responders briefed on the

“Any time a private, forprofit cor poration is favored over a communitybased, nonprofit entity, it is a step backward,” Patla said. Dave Prohaska, public relations officer for TransMed, didn’t confirm news that the company is again poised to become the primary back up ambulance service for the city. “There’s been nothing official done to my knowledge,” he said. Prohaska said the company has long served the city’s residents. “We’ve always backed up the city to some degree,” Prohaska said. Trans-Med was formed in 1984 and provides various services, from patient transports to advanced life support responses, according to its website. At one point, one of the company’s investors and coow n e r s w a s d i s g r a c e d Luzer ne County Judge Michael Conahan, The Citizens Voice first revealed in June 2008 while reporting into the kids-for-cash scandal that landed Conahan in prison for 17 years. Current owners of the business are listed as Homer Berlew and Frederick Buckman, according to business registry records on the Department of State website. Prohaska said he normally handles press inquiries for them. Efforts to reach them on Thursday was unsuccessful.


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W-B mayor should justify ambulance change to residents

Warren ruda / The CiTizens’ VoiCe

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George plans to scrap a 4½-year-old ambulance mutual aid agreement with three neighboring towns.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George apparently doesn’t Ambulance, headquartered in Luzerne Borough, need anyone’s approval to discontinue a mutual-aid about four miles from the city’s downtown, they say. agreement for ambulance coverage with three neighborThose responsible for overseeing the mutual-aid ing municipalities and begin using a for-profit ambulance agreement report no issues with the current system, company instead. leaving city residents to wonder about But given the public safety issues ... Given the public the motivation for the change, which involved, city residents deserve an exaffect response times and would safety issues involved, could planation as to why the mayor wants shift revenue from publicly funded to fix a system that doesn’t seem to be city residents deserve emergency service organizations to a broken. enterprise. The move an explanation as to profit-making For the past 4½ years, crews from also runs counter to a hard-fought why the mayor wants trend toward cooperation between loKingston, Hanover Township and Plains Township have cal governments and consolidation of to fix a system that Our Voice responded to ambuservices. doesn’t seem to be lance calls in WilkesGeorge did not respond to interview Barre when city ambulances are tied up broken. requests made through his staff last week. with other calls. Each is responsible for We wanted to ask how this move will benbackup ambulance service in the section of the city efit the residents and businesses of Wilkes-Barre, who closest to its headquarters, with the city offering recip- proposed the change and what advantage there is to usrocal backup. ing Trans-Med as a backup. Officials from the city and the three municipalities We hope to hear those answers when George makes say George has directed an end to the agreement and his proposal public this week. The mayor will need to plans a public announcement this week. The new go beyond merely announcing his decision. He will backup provider will be privately owned Trans-Med have to justify it too.

Cheers & Jeers The winners and losers from this week’s news, as selected by the editors of The Citizens’ Voice.

:) :( :) :(

Cheers to Dino’s Pizza Express, which has donated 1,300 slices of pizza to local shelters since opening in downtown Wilkes-Barre eight weeks ago with the help of its generous customers, who get a 99-cent slice of pizza by donating another 99 cents toward its “Slice Out Hunger” program. Jeers to the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association for its scathing letter attacking new city Police Chief Marcella Lendacky. The letter, seemingly aimed at derailing her swearing-in, reflects a deep factionalism in the department. Lendacky may prove to be a good police chief or a bad one, but the proof will be in her performance going forward. We’ll all be watching. Cheers to Geisinger Health System for announcing it will open a clinic for children with Down syndrome in Forty Fort next year. Fewer than 25 such clinics exist in the country and having one in Wyoming Valley will spare parents a time-consuming trip to Danville for services. Jeers to our representatives in Harrisburg and their ongoing inability to get a real budget passed. Now that Gov. Tom Wolf has thrown up his hands and will allow the General Assembly’s 2015-16 budget to take effect without his signature, we are merely moving on to a fight over the 2016-17 budget, with no end to the gridlock in sight.

Your Voice: Letters to the editor Chief paramedic, Feb. Chief Delaney and I met fall of 2011 and was instantly years, our city has been Mutual aid system puts and emergency medical technicians to render care to our with our county 911 director a huge success. Delay times blessed with one of the best 2007-Sept. 2014 safety before profits

My hands started to tremble and I became nauseated as I read about Mayor Tony George’s decision to change the ambulance mutual aid response system in WilkesBarre (March 25). I am now retired, but I was the chief paramedic in the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department when we developed the mutual aid system currently in effect. Trans-Med Ambulance, a for-profit ambulance service, was the sole primary backup for the city prior to our current system. Back then, Trans-Med used the same argument as today, that they employ over 20 Advanced Life Support Units (ALS) that are able to respond at any time. But being a for-profit company with other monetary commitments, the reality is that there were many instances where they spread themselves so thin and as a result, extended on-scene times were all too frequent. When both of our ALS units were on another call our fire engine companies would be dispatched, each one staffed with professional fire medics

citizens until a Trans-Med unit would arrive. These dedicated firefighters are credited with saving many lives with this system. But the frequency of the delays became even a greater concern when we suspected that rather than passing the call onto a neighboring municipality, there were times when Trans-Med units were responding from far outside our mutual aid coverage areas. Fire Chief Jay Delaney brought these concerns to then Mayor Thomas Leighton. Mayor Leighton, putting the safety of our citizens first, charged Chief Delaney and I with the task of creating a better system. We spent months meeting with our neighboring municipalities of Hanover, Plains and Kingston, as well as TransMed. From what I was told, Trans-Med owners put enormous pressure on the administration to remain as the sole secondary provider but again the mayor put the safety of our citizens first and was committed to a creating a better system.

many times for their advice on creating a system that would work. Our city was divided into five sections, and each section touched our mutual aid partners’ municipalities. Trans-Med, who were given two sections consisting of approximately 62 percent of the city, would respond from a satellite station in WilkesBarre Township as well as from a station on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. Trans-Med was also given 85 percent of the secondary backup when our other mutual aid partners were unavailable. Our county 911 staff were instrumental in creating a street matrix system for expedient dispatch to any location in our city. The system was put into effect in the

were almost nonexistent. The camaraderie between all of our partners became so huge that many of our neighboring paramedics were, and still are, part of our city’s per diem paramedic staff. So when I read where Mayor George made the statement that it would be easier if we had one backup, it became clear to me that he does not have an understanding of our mutual aid system and how well it has been operating for many years. Sometimes something so wellorganized is always easy. I am left wondering if the for-profit Trans-Med owners again put a full court press on the administration to revert to an old system with potential on-scene delays during life-threatening emergencies. For over 41

Voice your opinion

The Voice welcomes your opinion, primarily on topics covered in the news pages. Letters of 150 words or fewer are ideal. Longer letters will be edited. Please include your name, address and phone number for verification. Only the name and town will be printed. In an effort to express a multitude of views from a diversity of readers, we request letter writers submit just one letter every two weeks. Write: Your Voice, The Citizens’ Voice, 75 N. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Email: yourvoice@citizensvoice.com or fax: 570-821-2247.

fire department-based EMS systems in the state where it is not just an ambulance responding, but an entire team of medics and firefighters with only our citizens’ safety in mind. A bigger concern of mine is that our city will bow to pressure from other local and out-of-state for-profit ambulance entities for complete control over our EMS system. These companies are notorious for making profits their top priorities as well as employing a paramedic staff with huge tur novers where only a pulse and a patch are required to care for our citizens. Or have these for-profit companies already infiltrated our city and started their campaign of pressure and promises? I can only pray that this will not become a reality. Mayor George, I implore you to reconsider the consequences of this decision and not institute this change on April 15. Sean Chandler Staff paramedic, Wilkes-Barre Fire Department, Feb. 1976-Sept. 2014

New policies needed to curtail extremism The Brussels attacks are the result of neocon policies. The removal of Saddam Hussein is believed to be the origin of ISIS’ zealotry and the attempted overthrow of Bashar al-Assad has fractured Syria into the new training ground for extremism. Our allies Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have aided and abetted this fanaticism. Candidates likely to represent the two major parties are still committed to regime change and military adventurism. These myopic practices hold little promise of decreasing the very calamity that they promise to prevent. It will take more than the curtailment of our civil liberties and expanded military measurements to bring an end to this nightmare. It will also take the discontinuation of bankrupt foreign policy strategies. JoSeph eliaS Wilkes-Barre

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COLTS, LCTA to get natural gas stations Citizens will be able to buy fuel for vehicles at Scranton station

By Borys Krawczeniuk staff Writer Christopher Dolan / the Citizens’ VoiCe file

The public bus services

George defends decision on Trans-Med Ambulance as primary backup service

pressed natural gas stations next year to fuel buses. Citiz ens will also be able to buy natural gas for their vehicles at the County of Lackawanna Transit System’s station at its headquarters of f Keyser Avenue in Scranton, but not at the Luzer ne County Transportation Authority’s station at its Northampton Street headquar ters in Kingston. State De par tment of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards announced Monday the s t at e ch o s e t o s i g n a n $84.5 million, 20-year deal with Chicago-based Trillium CNG to design, build, finance and operate compressed natural gas fueling stations at 29 public transit agencies across the state. COLTS is one of seven that will allow the public to fuel up, but others could be added later. PennDOT chose the sites with public sales in areas that could benefit from increased access to

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George said the for-profit i n L a c k a w a n n a a n d company Trans-Med Ambulance charges even less L u z e r n e c o u n t i e s a r e than what the city’s own ambulance bills. s ch e d u l e d t o g e t c o m -

By Bob Kalinowski staff Writer

natural gas, department spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said. PennDOT will earn a 15 percent royalty on each gallon of gas sold to the public with Trillium guaranteeing at least $2.1 million in royalties over the deal’s life. Based on cur rent g as, diesel, gasoline prices and fuel u s a g e, P e n n D O T e s t i mates the transit agencies will save $10 million a year, meaning the proje c t w i l l p ay fo r i t s e l f within a decade, the department says. PennDOT’s interest in the project also centers

station, he said. COLTS’ 30 shared-ride vans could be retrofitted for natural gas. He has no information on exactly when next year Trillium will build COLTS’ station. “I’m sure we’ll be getting more information on it shortly,” Fiume said. “I’m excited about it. I think it’s a good thing, and I’m sure it’ll help us.” Efforts to reach officials of the Luzer ne County Transportation Authority and Trillium CNG were unsuccessful Monday. bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com

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‘They are charging $100 to $200 (per call) less than what we charge. They are way under what we charge. It’s more economical for residents.’

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WIlkes-Barre Mayor Tony GeorGe On Trans-Med Ambulance decision WB_VOICE - DLY - 5 - 03/29/16

on promoting expanded use of natural gas in a state where the g as is increasingly abundant. “We’ re taking advant a g e o f wh a t we h ave h e r e, ” Wa t e r s - T r a s a t t said. COLTS executive director Robert Fiume said the agency plans to buy 12 to 15 natural gas-powered buses as it replaces its fleet over the next several years, but has none now. B e c a u s e d e l ive r y o f new buses could take up to 14 months, COLTS will have to properly time the bus purchases and the rollout of the natural gas

789 Wyoming Ave., Kingston WB_VOICE/PAGES [T05] | 03/28/16

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WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George on Monday defended his decision to make Trans-Med Ambulance the primary backup for ambulance service in the city, saying the company charges less than competitors in bordering municipalities. In fact, the for-profit company charges even less than what the city’s own ambulance bills, he said. “They are charging $100 to $200 (per call) less than what we charge. They are way under what we charge,” George said. “It’s more economical for residents.” The city has two ambulances in service and calls for back up when both are busy on calls. Since October 2011, the city has been part of a mutual aid pact with ambulances in bordering municipalities. Hanover’s Medic 9 is back up for the southern bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com end of the city, Kingston’s 570-821-2055 @cvbobkal

the Citizens’ VoiCe file

Public bus services in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are scheduled to get compressed natural gas stations in 2017 to fuel buses.

THE CITIZENS' VOICE

Medic 13 handles Center City, and Plains’ Medic 2 serves the northern part of the city. Trans-Med, based in Luzer ne, is primary backup for the Heights, North End, and East End. That will soon change when Trans-Med becomes back up for the entire city, like it was for a decade prior to the 2011 agreement, George said. “I don’t know why people are saying this is entirely new,” George said. “It’s easier for 911 to call one ambulance.” The move has drawn criticism from emergency responders and others since news of the change broke late last week. Those w h o h ave s p o k e n o u t against the decision include former city Mayor Tom Leighton and former chief paramedic with the Wilkes-Barre fire department Sean Chandler, both were involved in developing the current response system.


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6 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

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City council rejects Trans-Med Ambulance as primary backup Resolution to show support for mutual aid pact with nonprofit services was passed

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Mayor Tony George defended his decision last week to make Trans-Med the primary backup for ambulance service in the city. George did not attend the meeting Monday.

JACKSON TWP. — The supervisors have finalized the purchase of 13.55 acres of land adjacent to the township’s property, which will be used for recreation and recycling. Tow n s h i p o f f i c i a l s bought the property from James B. and Karin Sebolka for $42,072, Supervisor Chairman John J. Wilkes Jr. said on Monday. The bulk of the land

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Sorick said. Last week, the mayor defended his decision to make Trans-Med the primary backup for ambulance service in the city, saying the company charges less than competitors in bordering municipalities as well as the city. Homer Berlew, president of Trans-Med, went before council members Monday and said the mayor asked the company to “propose a plan to enhance the ambulance service in the city.” The contract has not yet been signed, according to Berlew. Tran-Med proposed providing two dedicated units in the city, according to Berlew, and at no time, did the company’s representatives propose removing the current mutual aid agreement. The city has two ambulances in service and calls for back up when both are busy on calls. Since October 2011, the city has been part of a mutu-

al aid pact with ambulances in bordering municipalities. Hanover’s Medic 9 is back up for the southern end of the city, Kingston’s Medic 13 handles Center City, and Plains’ Medic 2 serves the northern part of the city. Trans-Med, based in Luzerne, is primary backup for the Heights, North End, and East End. In other business, council passed a smoking ordinance prohibiting the use of both tobacco and electronic smoking products at the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center on South Washington Street. Council also voted to contract out maintenance for city traffic signals to Northeast Signal and Electric Company Inc. Council also voted in favor of contracting out maintenance for streetlights to Delta Electrical Systems Inc. jseibel@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @cvseibel

Jackson Twp. finalizes purchase of 13.5 acres for recreation, recycling

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WILKES-BARRE — City council and residents on Monday united in opposition of Mayor Tony George’s plan to make Trans-Med Ambulance the primary backup for ambulance service in the city. Council Chairman Bill Barrett at the combined work session and regular meeting for council pitched a nonbinding resolution to show that council supports keeping a 4½-year-old mutual aid pact with nonprofit ambulance services in neighboring towns instead of using the for-profit ambulance company as primary backup for the entire city. “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix

it,” Councilman Mike Belusko said as the vote went down. Applause from the crowd, made up of mostly residents and the city’s emergency responders, filled council chambers in city hall as council unanimously passed the resolution. The mayor did not attend the meeting. Resident Bob Kadluboski said Wilkes-Barre has one of the best paramedic and fire department programs in the area. This new change “reeks of politics,” he said, and ultimately the citizens of WilkesBarre will suffer from TransMed’s response times. “What is one life worth?” Kadluboski asked. Resident Frank Sorick said every second is critical in emergency responses. Like other residents at the council session, he questioned whether Trans-Med would be on point in their responses. “Certainly we want the same level of protection we’re currently getting now,”

will be used for recreation, but Wilkes said it hasn’t been decided what kind yet. In other business, the s u p e r v i s o r s ap p o i n t e d David Moore to a threeyear term on the planning commission, re placing Kirk Borchert; Wilkes noted it was the third vacancy on the commission to come up in recent months. Wilkes was also appointed

to fill another vacancy for the rest of the year. The supervisors encourage residents interested in serving on the planning commission to send a letter of interest should to the township s e c r e t a r y. A p p l i c a n t s must have lived in Jackson Township for at least 12 months. The supervisors previously hired Barry Isett &

Associates as Unifor m Construction Code inspector, and will post the fee schedule to the township’s we b s i t e, w w w. j a ck s o n townshippa.gov. Township residents are advised that free compost is now available at the yard waste recycling center next to the municipal building, in time for spring planting. — Elizabeth Skrapits

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THURSDAY, APRIL 7, 2016

10 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

George standing firm on Trans-Med Ambulance plan

By Bob Kalinowski Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE — In a rebuke to city council members, Mayor Tony George says he is standing firm on his plan to make for-profit Trans-Med Ambulance the backup service for the city. The mayor announced his decision in a memo sent to the media and city council, which had urged George not to scrap a mutual aid pact with nonprofit ambulance services in the neighboring municipalities of Kingston, and Hanover and Plains townships. “Change creates fear in people, however, without change there is no progress,” George said. “There is no question that the city has a good mutual aid program with our neighboring communities, but that shouldn’t stop us from having a better program.” A backup ambulance is summoned when both city ambulances are busy. City council on Monday passed a non-binding resolu-

tion that urged George to keep the current system, which dispatches ambulances from mutual aid departments closest to the emergency in the city, in place. In his memo, the mayor said for-profit Trans-Med has agreed to dedicate two ambulances to serve the city and a third will be on standby at a Trans-Med station on North Main Street. “The fact of the matter is Hanover, Kingston, and Plains each have their own municipality as their first priority, as it should be,” George wrote. “They are obligated to their residents as Wilkes-Barre is obligated to our residents; each (municipality) is required to respond to their residents first.”

Additionally, George reiterated his claim that Trans-Med is “the lowest-cost provider.” Under the aid agreement being scrapped, Hanover’s Medic 9 was backup for the southern end of the city, Kingston’s Medic 13 handled Center City, Plains’ Medic 2 served the northern part of the city, and Trans-Med was the primary backup for the Heights, North End and East End sections. Ambulances from Hanover, Kingston, Plains and Commonwealth Health EMS will remain as a secondary backup, George said.

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bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

DALLAS TWP. — One person was killed in a head-on crash on Route 309 in Dallas Township on Wednesday afternoon, township police confirmed. The crash occurred around 3 p.m. outside Dallas Mobile Home Park, township police Chief Robert Jolley said. A northbound Saturn sedan collided with a southbound Ford sedan, he said. The driver of the Saturn was pronounced dead by the Luzerne County Coroner’s office, while the driver of the Ford was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, Jolley said. Both drivers were adult

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males and there were no passengers in either car, he said. The deceased man’s name had not been released as of Wednesday night pending notification of his next of kin, Jolley said. Route 309 near the crash scene was closed for hours into Wednesday night as police reconstructed the accident, causing traffic delays. The investigation into the accident continues, Jolley said. Dallas Township Police, Back Mountain Regional Fire Department, EMS and Pennsylvania State Police responded to the crash, according to the Luzerne County 911 center. — Sarah Scinto and Eric Mark

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City officials on March 29 notified Luzerne County 911 of the changes and the two sides continue to work on implementing the new plan. “This plan is not permanent at this time, rather it is on a trial basis. I will continue to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the plan,” George wrote. “The safety and the well-being of the residents of Wilkes-Barre is my (number one) priority. I intend to provide the best emergency response services to the citizens.”

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WB_VOICE/PAGES [T10] | 04/06/16

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Friday, April 8, 2016

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DOLLARS, NO SENSE A Trans-Med ambulance is parked at the company’s headquarters in Luzerne.

At least one of Wilkes-Barre’s current ambulance backups is cheaper than Mayor Tony George’s for-profit choice. Page 3 BREAKING NEWS, BLOGS, VIDEOS & MORE AT CITIZENSVOICE.COM LIKE THE CITIZENS’ VOICE ON FACEBOOK AND FOLLOW @CITIZENSVOICE ON TWITTER

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Data: One current W-B ambulance backup charges less than Trans-Med By Bob Kalinowski Staff Writer

By the numbers

Rates for basic life support (BLS) and advanced life support (ALS): Trans-Med n BLS 1 — $450 n BLS 2 — $600 n ALS 1 — $700 n ALS 2 — $800 Medic 13 Kingston-Forty Fort n BLS — $475 n ALS 1 — $675 n ALS 2 — $725 The CiTizenS’ VoiCe file

Wilkes-Barre Mayor contends Trans-Med would charge much less as the city’s primary backup than current backups in Hanover Township, Kingston and Plains Township.

WB_VOICE - DLY - 3 - 04/08/16

those with private insurance, who would be billed the outstanding balance of what insurance didn’t cover. At the time, George maintained Trans-Med offered the lowest price. The mayor said he hadn’t solicited rates from the other municipalities, but believed that fire department leadership had said that the city’s rates were less than its mutual aid partners and TransMed’s proposed rates were less than the city’s. As recently as Wednesday, George maintained Trans-Med is “the lowest-cost provider.” Not only does KingstonForty Fort Medic 13 charge a cheaper rate in most cases, it does not bill out-of-pocket for calls in Wilkes-Barre for people with private insurance, said Charlie Bloom, treasurer of the association. “Whatever the insurance company pays, we take it,” Bloom said. Bloom said Kingston’s ambulance association has a yearly membership drive and those who pay the small fee are not responsible for any out-of-pocket costs for an ambulance call. They extended that courtesy to everyone they treated in Wilkes-Barre, he said. “We treat them as if they are a member,” Bloom said. See aMBulance, page 13

Medic 2 Plains Township n BLS — $625 n ALS 1 — $775 n ALS 2 — $875 Medic 9 Hanover Township n Declined to provide rates SOURCE: Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George, Wilkes-Barre City Council, Kingston Medic 13, and Plains Township Medic 2

councilwoman slams George’s proposal Wilkes-Barre Councilwoman Beth Gilbert on Thursday fired off a letter to Mayor Tony George, urging him to halt his plans to make for-profit Trans-Med Ambulance the primary backup service for the city. “City Council, the public, and our EMS workers have spoken regarding whether or not this new plan should be implemented, and the answer is a resounding no,” Gilbert wrote. Gilbert, in her first year on council, sought input from the city’s paramedics and the public. She said she has “not heard one positive comment regarding the change in our services.” “Our current agreement, backed by our neighboring municipalities, (is) for people, not for profit,” Gilbert wrote.

WB_VOICE/PAGES [T03] | 04/07/16

DALLAS TWP. — A Falls man died in a two-car crash on Route 309 Wednesday afternoon. The Luzerne County Coroner’s office said Joseph Gianuzzi, 57, was pronounced dead at the scene of the wreck at 3:39 p.m. of multiple traumatic injuries. The crash occurred around 3 p.m. outside Dallas Mobile Home Park, township police Chief Robert Jolley said, when Gianuzzi’s northbound Saturn sedan collided with a southbound Ford sedan. The driver of the Ford, an adult male, was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township. Neither of the drivers had passengers with them. — Sarah Scinto

West Side career center director will resign

West Side Career and Technology Center Administrative Director Thomas Viviano is resigning in June, solicitor Charles Coslett said Thursday. Viviano submitted his resignation through an email on Wednesday and didn’t provide a reason for his decision, Coslett said. The center is a vocational high school governed by a joint-operation committee with representatives from the Northwest Area, Lake-Lehman, Dallas, Wyoming Valley West and Wyoming Area school districts. In May 2014, the joint operating committee appointed Viviano as administrative director at $100,000 a year, and he resigned as director of the career center at Hazleton Area School District. In June 2014, Viviano sued Hazleton Area in U.S. District Court, alleging he had not been paid for almost three months in violation of his contract. The lawsuit also alleged Hazleton Area officials tried to destroy his career without cause or reason. The litigation is ongoing, records show. Viviano is from Lehighton. — Michael P. Buffer

Feds: company stole $2.4M from fraternities, sororities

LEHIGH — Federal prosecutors say a Pennsylvania company set up to provide food and management services to fraternities and sororities at Lehigh University defrauded them of more than $2.4 million so the co-owners could take fancy vacations and shop at high-end department stores. A grand jury indicted 76-year-old Albert Fisher, of Quakertown, on Thursday on charges including wire fraud and conspiracy. Fisher and his wife ran Fraternity Management Association, which provided services to 20 of Lehigh’s fraternities and sororities. The wife’s attorney, John Waldron, tells the (Allentown) Morning Call his client was the initial target of the investigation but took her own life in February.

Report urges rejection of convicted justice’s appeal

PITTSBURGH — A federal magistrate has recommended that a judge reject former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin’s appeal of her conviction and sentence for allegedly having her staff run her campaigns on state time. The 47-page report issued Thursday rejects Melvin’s claims that she was wrongly prosecuted for violating work rules — not state laws. Melvin, a 60-year-old Republican from Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, had also argued that a sentence forcing her to write apologies on a picture of herself in handcuffs violated her right against self-incrimination, among other issues. Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, declined immediate comment. — associated Press

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It is our policy to correct errors promptly. To report an error, please call the city desk at 570-821-2056.

22:16 | DONLINKEVI

FRIDAY, APRIL 8, 2016 3

resolution urging George to keep intact a 4½-year-old mutual aid pact with ambulances in neighboring Kingston, and Hanover Plains townships. Leaders of the non-profit ambulance services being ousted for Trans-Med also said the mayor has cited rates to justify his decision far too much because the industry is regulated by governmentmandated price caps that are far less than the rates. For people on state Medical Assistance, ambulance services are only reimbursed $125 for a BLS call and $200 for ALS — and are forbidden by law from billing the patient anything else, they say. There are also price controls for patients on Medicare. The average reimbursement to the city from Medicare is between $350 and $415, and the law also forbids further billing, Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said. People on Medical Assistance and Medicare account for 68 percent of all patients requiring an ambulance in Wilkes-Barre, the chief said. “The law tells us we’re going to write off two-thirds of our calls,” Delaney said. In an interview last week, George agreed with the percentage of calls Delaney cited. He claimed the savings to residents would come for

Wilkes-Barre n BLS — $645 n ALS 1 — $775 n ALS 2 — $831

Falls man identified as victim in Dallas Twp. wreck

THE CITIZENS' VOICE

WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George has repeatedly defended his controversial decision to make for-profit Trans-Med Ambulance the city’s primary backup service by saying it charges much less than the city’s current partners, but the Kingston-Forty Fort ambulance charges less in most cases. Trans-Med’s rates range between $450 for a basic life support call, or BLS, and $800 for an advanced life support transport, known as ALS, according to data provided by George last week. Kingston Fire Chief Frank Guido, without knowing Trans-Med’s rates, said Thursday that the KingstonForty Fort ambulance charges between $475 for BLS and $725 for ALS. “The mayor’s numbers, as far as them being the lowest, speak for themselves. They are not the lowest,” Guido said. According to figures supplied by George, Trans-Med’s rates are $450 for a basic life support 1 call, $600 for a BLS 2, $700 for an advanced life support 1 call, and $800 for ALS 2. The leaders of all three of the city’s mutual aid partners questioned Trans-Med’s two levels of BLS service. They said they’ve never heard of any EMS unit with two BLS classifications. Dave Prohaska, public relations director for TransMed, said BLS 1 is for nonemergent calls, while BLS 2 is for emergencies. Kin gs ton’s M e d i c 1 3 doesn’t break down BLS calls into two categories, but all other charges are less than Trans-Med, according to figures supplied by the Kingston fire department and George. It charges a flat $475 for any BLS call, $675 for ALS 1, and $725 for ALS 2. The only Trans-Med charge less than Kingston’s rates was for non-emergent BLS 1 calls — a sub-classification other ambulance services which provided figures don’t use. The revelation comes days after city council passed a

A CLOser LOOK

news in brief


ambulance: $800k to run third unit in the city

from page 3 It wasn’t immediately clear if and how Hanover Township’s Medic 9 and Plains Township’s Medic 2 billed Wilkes-Barre patients for what insurance didn’t cover. George’s spokeswoman said he was not available Thursday as he was in Scranton attending the visit by former President Bill Clinton. Under the mutual aid agreement being scrapped, Hanover’s Medic 9 was backup for the southern end of the city, Kingston’s Medic 13 handled Center City, Plains’ Medic 2 served the northern part of the city and TransMed was the primary backup for the Heights, North End and East End.

The city calls for backup when its two ambulances are busy. Some argue the city should launch a third ambulance, but the program already teeters on the edge of self sufficiency and the city “would have to put up another $800,000” per year to run a third unit with no guarantee to recoup that much in reimbursements and payments, Delaney said. Giving overflow calls to backup ambulance companies also trying to survive in the tough business has been the preferred way to go, the chief said. The city budgeted $1.62 million in 2015 to run its two ambulances and collected just a little more than

that in reimbursements and payments by patients. In other years, costs far outweighed reimbursements, Delaney acknowledged. Angela Patla, a city paramedic who also is the operations manager of Plains Township’s Medic 2, questioned if Trans-Med would be as forgiving as the nonprofits when it came to billing patients. “Any time a private, forprofit corporation is favored over a community-based, nonprofit entity, it is a step backward,” Patla said. “You write off a lot of money in lost reimbursements. It’s what you do as a community based organization.”

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Feds: Lender charged 700 percent interest on loans By maryclaire Dale Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The head of a payday lending enterprise accused of charging more than 700 percent interest on short-term loans was indicted Thursday on federal racketeering charges. Charles M. Hallinan, 75, led a group that preyed on customers while taking in nearly $700 million from 2008 to 2013, according to the indictment. Hallinan operated under a string of business names that included Easy Cash, My Payday Advance and Instant Cash USA, and defrauded at least 1,400 customers. He was released on $500,000 bail after pleading not guilty at a brief court hearing Thursday in Philadelphia. His law-

yers declined comment on the case. According to prosecutors, he tried to evade state consumer protection laws by looping in Native American tribes as the supposed lenders so they could claim tribal immunity from state regulations and deflect class-action lawsuits. Hallinan’s companies charged customers about $30 for every $100 they borrowed, costing customers 700 percent interest on an annualized basis, the indictment said. In Pennsylvania, the law typically caps interest to 6 percent on personal loans, though banks can charge up to 24 percent interest on loans below $25,000, federal authorities said. They said Hallinan, of Villanova, paid a tribal leader in

British Columbia $10,000 a month to pretend that he owned the payday lending enterprise and, amid a classaction lawsuit, to say it had no assets. Hallinan and co-defendant Wheeler K. Neff also steered at least one other payday lender into a similar tribal agreement, the indictment said. And Hallinan’s companies took control of various aspects of the payday lending business, owning firms that also generated leads and performed credit checks, authorities said. Neff was released on $250,000 bail after his not guilty plea. His lawyers voiced surprise the government would prosecute what they called his legitimate use of the “tribal lending model.”

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W-B mayor sought ambulance proposals Tony George asked 2 for-profit firms for plans

By Bob Kalinowski and Jacob Seibel Staff Writers

WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George is eyeing major changes to the cityrun ambulance service and has asked two for-profit companies to submit proposals. Trans-Med Ambulance, recently named by George as the city’s primary backup service, submitcover ted a plan to story eliminate the city-run ambulance operation entirely and take over, according to an outline of the proposal obtained by The Citizens’ Voice. Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services, or CHEMS, submitted a proposal for ambulance services at the request of George, said spokeswoman Re n i t a F e n n i c k , w h o declined to offer any details about the plan. “At the time the mayor requested our proposal, we were told another company had already been approached,” Fennick said. George did not return emails and calls Thursday and Friday but in a recent interview, he confirmed he was open to privatizing the

Mark Moran / The CiTizenS’ VoiCe

A Trans-Med ambulance responded to a fire Friday on Grove Street in Pringle. ambulance service. “I am exploring having someone else do the ambulance service,” George said. “I’ll be honest with you. What it comes down to is our budget. You can’t provide services if you don’t have a tax base,” George said. News that George is looking to shake up the city-run operation follows weeks of controversy over his decision to end a mutual aid agreement with ambulance services in neighboring towns to make for-profit Trans-Med the primary backup. Councilwoman Beth Gilbert, who has been critical of George’s ambulance changes, on Friday criticized the move toward privatization. “Municipalities who have

privatized their services in the past have come around to make their services publicbased. I truly believe we are going backwards, rather than progressing our services for our residents,” Gilbert said. “This will have a detrimental effect on our city. If the mayor wants to save money, I can assure him this is not the proper route to take. Emergency and public services should not, in any circumstance, take the first hit.” Before the city fire department started running the ambulance service in the mid-1970s, for-profit company A1 Ambulance was the sole provider for that service, according to Sean Changler, a former chief paramedic with the WilkesBarre Fire Department. Chandler, who wrote a

scathing editorial against George’s change to the ambulance mutual aid response system, said A1 Ambulance closed without notice and left the city with two van ambulances that were in deplorable condition. “The city was left in dire straits,” he said. The city currently runs two ambulances, staffed by a paramedic and an emergency medical technician/firefighter who is the driver. When both units are busy, a backup is called. Taxpayers are paying each EMT/firefighter about $70,000 a year to drive the ambulance, George said. The city budgets for eight positions, but it ends up amounting to 12 or 13 people when accounting for overtime, he said. He reiterated he may have to lay off 10 firefighters soon if finances don’t improve — a warning he first issued early in the year while lobbying for changes to the city budget including a tax increase. The city budgeted $1.62 million in 2015 to run its two ambulances and collected just a little more than that in reimbursements and payments by patients, Fire Chief Jay Delaney said. In other years, costs far outweighed reimbursements, Delaney acknowledged. In its proposal, Trans-Med offered to add a third ambulance to run in the city and

make available more units when needed. It will consider leasing the current facilities housing Wilkes-Barre ambulances. George noted he’d have union issues to deal with if he decides to make any changes. Trans-Med’s proposal assures “all City of WilkesBarre employees impacted by the future state of EMS response will be offered employment with TransMed.” The proposal, however, contradicts what Homer Berlew, president of Trans-Med, told city council members at Monday’s meeting when they passed a nonbinding resolution in favor of keeping the current mutual aid agreement. Berlew mentioned nothing about a potential takeover when council Chairman Bill Barrett asked whether there was discussion about “anything taking place ... further down the road.” “No,” Berlew said. “Actually, what we’re waiting for right now is we’re waiting for some input from the 911 center to finalize positions of units, designated units for the city. And we also are looking for some data that we can determine how many units really should be designated to the city from our staff.” Dave Prohaska, public relations director for Trans-

Med, did not return a phone call on Friday. Under the mutual aid agreement being replaced, Hanover’s Medic 9 was backup for the southern end of the city, Kingston’s Medic 13 handled Center City, Plains’ Medic 2 served the northern part of the city — all three of which are nonprofits — and Trans-Med was the primary backup for the Heights, North End and East End sections. George had argued that he made Trans-Med the primary backup because it was “the lowest-cost provider.” However, an analysis by The Citizens’ Voice found Kingston’s Medic 13 actually offered lower rates in many instances. Additionally, the paper learned it might even cost Wilkes-Barre residents more with Trans-Med because Kingston’s unit did not charge people the remaining balance of what insurance didn’t cover. George had argued the lion’s share of the savings would be realized by people with private insurance because Trans-Med’s rates were cheaper. Public health coverage, such as state Medical Assistance or Medicare, pays a flat rate for service which is specified by law. bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal jseibel@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @cvseibel

Kane agent who filed whistleblower lawsuit has earned $70K while on paid leave By Terrie Morgan-Besecker Staff Writer

A top agent under state Attorney General Kathleen Kane has been paid more than $70,000 over the past six months to sit at home. Kevin Wevodau of Moscow says he wants to return to work, but Kane banished him from the office because she believes he’s a “mole” working with authorities to monitor her. The accusations are contained in a Whistleblower’s lawsuit Wevodau filed last week in Commonwealth Court that alleges he’s been retaliated against for testifying before a grand jury that

investigated if Kane leaked confidential information from a 2009 grand jury probe to a newspaper. Wevodau, special agent in charge of the bureau of criminal investigations, has been out of the office since he says Kane threatened him during a meeting at her home on June 19. The first three months he was on voluntary medical leave. He tried to return in October, but Kane refused and instead placed him on paid administrative leave, the suit says. Wevodau’s annual salary is $140,421, which equates to $11,701.75 per month. That m e a n s h e ’s b e e n p a i d

WB_VOICE - DLY - 4 - 04/09/16

$70,210.50 as of the end of March to stay home. Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Kane, said he could not comment on why Wevodau was placed on administrative leave or when he might return to work. He also declined comment on the lawsuit. Wevodau, a former FBI agent, was hired in January 2013. Friction between him and Kane first developed in March 2014, when she shut down an investigation of Philadelphia legislators accused of taking bribes, the suit says. Kane came under fire for her decision to halt the probe. Attempting to defend her decision, she publicly alleged Wevodau had taken notes and

signed an affidavit that alleged the probe was tainted by racism. Wevodau denies he made that claim and wrote a memo to her in April 2014 advising her her statements were untrue. Soon after, a grand jury was empaneled to investigate whether Kane leaked information from a 2009 grand jury probe of a Philadelphia man. Based on the panel’s findings, Kane was charged in August 2015 with perjury and several other offenses. The trial in that case is scheduled to begin Aug. 8 in Montgomery County. Wevodau’s lawsuit says he testified before the grand jury in December 2014. He claims Kane suspected he cooperated

WB_VOICE/PAGES [T04] | 04/08/16

with prosecutors, which led a member of her inner circle to interrogate him about the matter. Tension between Wevodau and Kane came to a head at the June 2015 meeting. Kane summoned Wevodau to her home after hours. She told him he was a “cancer” to the office and accused him of leaking information to the media. Kane pressured him to resign, telling him he would be “ruined” and might “lose his family” if he didn’t. Wevodau refused to resign. Three days after the meeting, he sought and was granted 12 weeks of medical leave. When he attempted to return to work in October, he was

21:31 | DONLINKEVI

advised he first had to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. He has offered to undergo the evaluation, but Kane’s office has refused to schedule it. The lawsuit, filed by attorney Christine Burke of Bensalem, seeks damages under Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower’s law and for violations of the federal Family Medical Leave Act. It asks the court to restore Wevodau to his position and compensate him for pay increases, bonuses and other benefits he would be eligible to receive if he were working.

tbesecker@timesshamrock.com @tbeseckerTT


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A12 ||THE CITIZENS' VOICE | SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016

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George not forthcoming about motivations behind ambulance plans If Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George is planning to replace the city’s ambulance provider with a for-profit alternative, he’s doing a terrible job with the rollout. George’s decision to contract privately owned TransMed Ambulance Inc. to handle calls when the city’s ambulances are busy — a role now Our Voice filled by non-profit crews from three neighboring towns — was leaked before the mayor could properly present it to his constituents. And the mayor’s contention that the switch was designed to save fees for residents served by a secondary responder didn’t stand up to scrutiny, as reporting in The Citizens’ Voice revealed last week that most of those residents would see no change while some might pay more under George’s plan. Now, as The Citizens’ Voice revealed Saturday, it is

becoming apparent that the secondary response plan could be just a first step toward eliminating city-provided ambulance service altogether. George has asked Trans-Med and Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services, affiliated with the for-profit owner of Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, to submit proposals for a full takeover. George has hinted that ending the city-provided service could improve Wilkes-Barre’s bottom line. But in 2015, the fees and reimbursements collected by the city for its ambulance service slightly exceeded the $1.62 million in budgeted expenses, according to the city’s fire chief. That was not true in previous years, when fees and reimbursements did not cover costs, but it shows the city can break even. Those most familiar with the current system, emergency responders in Wilkes-Barre and the neighboring

towns that are part of the mutual-aid agreement, say it is working well and worry that a change could threaten response times. There is certainly some self-interest on their part, but they raise pertinent concerns. They also point out that the city was abandoned by a previous private provider in the 1970s and that in going back to a for-profit service, the city would relinquish a certain amount of control over policies and rates. As for George, his shifting statements could lead one to believe that he has not fully thought out the ramifications of a switch or that there are other factors, yet unrevealed, behind the proposal. Overall, the impression is that George is not being totally forthcoming about his motivations and that should give city residents pause when considering the path he has apparently chosen when it comes to providing a vital, life-saving service.

Cheers & Jeers The winners and losers from this week’s news, as selected by the editors of The Citizens’ Voice.

:)

CHeers to officials in Newport Township, who, with state help, are developing a five-year improvement plan for the township’s Glen Lyon section, rated the most distressed place in the state in a recent study by a Washington think tank. It would be easy to pan the study and blame the media for reporting it, but township officials have decided to be forthright and forward-looking.

:(

Jeers to state legislators for the on-again, offagain approach to placing a referendum on the April 26 ballot that would extend the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. The last-minute effort to withdraw the referendum would mean more work and expense for county election bureaus and more confusion for voters.

:)

CHeers to Gov. Tom Wolf for signing orders barring state contractors and grant participants from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now the General Assembly should step up to pass legislation that would bar such bias in employment, housing and public services. Pennsylvania does not want to join the list of states that are going backward, not forward, on equal rights.

:(

Jeers to state legislators, including our own state Sen. Lisa Baker, stalling proposals to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.25, which has been in place for a decade. The modest proposal to raise the minimum wage to slightly more than $10 per hour would not devastate businesses, but it would give some hope and relief to the working poor.

Your Voice: Letters to the editor Whether it’s reading to a not be saving a few dollars. young person, helping visiThe most important factor tors find their way around should be quality of care. In light of the recent decithe hospital, answering I am proud of the service sion by Mayor Tony George the Wilkes-Barre Fire Dephones, delivering flowers or to discontinue the reciprocal partment and EMS personperforming any of dozens of agreement for emergency nel provide to our residents. other services in almost evambulance service with ery hospital department, our Take it from someone who Kingston, Hanover and volunteers bring an added experienced their expertise Plains Township, I feel I level of service and comfort and training. must offer my opinion as a GeorGe Brown to everyone who enters our resident of Wilkes-Barre and Wilkes-Barre buildings. We aren’t exagas a former Wilkes-Barre gerating when we say that City councilman regarding these volunteers donate tens Healthcare volunteers this decision. celebrated this week of thousands of hours per The residents of Wilkesyear to their community and Barre are served well by There’s an old saying: the people who live in it. We the current agreement. My “Those who can, do. Those couldn’t be as successful as family and I have experiwho can do more, volunteer.” we are without them. enced the quality of care It’s National Healthcare If you know someone who and professionalism our city Volunteer Week, and those volunteers at Geisinger, you emergency services person- of us who work for Geisalready understand what a nel provide and I must say it inger Health System would special person they are. We is first-class. like to publicly thank the want to make sure that they I call upon the members hundreds of compassionate, know we feel the same way. of Wilkes-Barre City Coundedicated men and women ron Beer cil to send a strong message of all ages who donate their Chief Administrative to Mayor George and his time and talent to help us Officer administration that this care so well for patients and Geisinger Wyoming change is not in the best families. Valley Medical Center interest of the citizens of Wilkes-Barre. The primary responsibility of any mayor Voice your opinion is to make decisions that will The Voice welcomes your opinion, primarily on topics covered in provide the best options for the safety of their residents. the news pages. Letters of 150 words or fewer are ideal. Longer letters will be edited. Please include your name, address and phone This decision is based on a number for verification. Only the name and town will be printed. theory of cutting costs for In an effort to express a multitude of views from a diversity of readthose of us who may use the ers, we request letter writers submit just one letter every two weeks. city ambulance service. The Write: Your Voice, The Citizens’ Voice, 75 N. Washington St., most important issue when Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. E-mail: yourvoice@citizensvoice.com making this decision should or fax: 570-821-2247.

W-B served well by ambulance plan

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A Times-Shamrock Newspaper Mark Altavilla Advertising Director Joe Nealon Circulation Director Kyle Riedinger Marketing Manager


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Trans-Med connected to DeNaples Majority share of ambulance company held by firm linked to influential family By Dave Janoski staff writer

WILKES-BARRE — A majority share of the for-profit company that took over as primary back-up to Wilkes-Barre’s ambulance service in March and is a contender to replace the government-provided service entirely was acquired last year by a holding company linked to the wealthy and influential DeNaples family, state records show. The DeNaples-related firm has held 56 percent of Trans-Med Ambulance Inc. since at least August, according to disclosure

forms filed with the state Department of Human Services. The firm, Trans-Med Holdings LLC, is headquartered in a Dunmore building owned by Lackawanna County landfill/auto parts magnate Louis A. DeNaples Sr. through a separate holding company. That building also houses an office of Pennsylvania Ambulance, another for-profit company with links to the DeNaples family. In October, Trans-Med Holdings and three owners of Pennsylvania Ambulance, including a member of the DeNaples family, borrowed $3.25 million using the building at

1000 Dunham Drive in Dunmore as collateral in a mortgage signed by Louis A. DeNaples Sr., who is identified as the sole member and owner of 1000 Dunham DeNaples Drive LLC in county and bank-related documents. In a move that generated stiff opposition from the city council and for mer city emergency responders, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George in March, his third month of office, named Trans-Med Ambulance as the city’s primary back-up ambulance service, replacing government-related ambulance companies from three neighboring municipalities. Opponents argued the municipal mutual-aid agree-

MARK MORAN / THE CITIZENS’ VOICE

A firm linked to the DeNaples family holds 56 percent of TransMed Ambulance inc. ment had worked well and a switch vice for city residents. could affect response times and increase the cost of ambulance serCoNTiNUED oN pAgE A6

County ranks fifth in PFAs granted By Eric Mark staff writer

There is a reason that Luzerne County ranked fifth among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in Protection from Abuse orders granted in 2014, ahead of several larger counties, according to the judge who administers the county’s PFA court. “We have our act together,” said county Judge Tina Polachek Gartley. Gar tley said she has been approached several times by members of the media since the Administrative Office of PA Courts released county-bycounty PFA figures earlier this year. The high number of PFAs issued in Luzerne County has also inspired internal discussion among county judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, she said. The answer, according to Gartley, stems from the efforts of the entire social services and law enforcement network that protects victims of domestic violence in the county. A PFA — a special type of restraining order available only to victims of domestic violence — is a court order that provides relief from abuse by a family or household member, intimate partner or biological parent. Temporary PFAs last until a court hearing is held, usually within 10 days. Final PFAs are valid up to three years and may be extended.

Hometown heroes The construction of the roundabout in Dallas has resulted in the removal of more than 100 ‘Hometown Hero’ banners honoring local veterans or those presently serving in the military. The Dallas Lions Club started the Hometown Hero project in 2011 with just 24 banners throughout the borough. The club intended it to be a one year project. The Dallas community responded with such positivity, the project lasted five years and 120 banners lined the township and the borough. Veterans and their families were able to pick up their banners Saturday at Dallas High School. Above: Colin Rynes, a member of the Dallas High School Military interest Club, looks over banners honoring 1st Lt. Michael Cleary and Staff Sgt. Joseph Chisko Jr. Right: Linda Royer looks over the banner honoring her father, S/Sgt. Andrew John Chacko.

DAVE SCHERBENCO / FOR THE CITIZENS’ VOICE

CoNTiNUED oN pAgE A7

Creating F.M. Kirby Center schedule like fantasy sports By Patrick Abdalla staff writer

WILKES-BARRE — It’s like fantasy football, Will Beekman tells you. You laugh because you kind of see the parallel, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. Then Beekman delves into the nuance and it’s very clear. As the executive director of the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Beekman works with Anne E. Rodella, director of sales and marketing, on the venue’s schedule. “Anne’s going to roll her eyes when I say this,” he says as he brings up the fantasy football comparison. “You build the best team that you can at the draft table. But the season is made by what you add throughout the year.”

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Rodella and Beekman have been at the draft table since January. “That’s when we really start focusing on what’s going to be in the brochure,” Beekman said. He says Rodella deserves a lot of the credit, adding “Anne really took the brunt of it.” The results of their work were announced last week, with a 53-show schedule that includes musicians like Patti LaBelle, Joe Walsh and John Mellencamp, Broadway shows like “Stomp” and “Annie” WARREN RUDA / THE CITIZENS’ VOICE and cultural events for kids and adults. Just like a person selecting a roster for a The f.M. kirby Center for the fantasy football team, the Kirby Center performing Arts in WilkesBarre announced last week a has to follow some guidelines. 53-show schedule for the upcoming season. CoNTiNUED oN pAgE A6

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W-B mayor unaware of DeNaples, Trans-Med connection Continued from page a1

About three weeks later, George floated, but then withdrew, another proposal that would have financially benefited a DeNaples-related company by transferring $1 million from city accounts with C it i z e n s B a n k t o n ew accounts with First National Community Bank. DeNaples, 75, is the largest shareholder in the publicly traded, Dunmore-based bank and he and two family members sit on its board. Unlike the ambulance agreement, the bank transfer would have required approval from the city council, which questioned the move after residents pointed out that John Moses, a friend of the mayor and a contributor to his campaign, is a board member at First National Community Bank. George said Wednesday he was unaware of the DeNaples family’s role in Trans-Med Ambulance and he did not discuss the ambulance change with Moses, although the latter is working to have students from The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, where Moses and DeNaples are trustees, to ride along with Trans-Med ambulances for experience. Moses did not respond to requests for comment. “I don’t care who owns it,” George said of Trans-Med.

“Everything I do, people think I have an ulterior motive. My motive is to make the city safe.” He said Trans-Med, which is headquartered in Luzerne, agreed to station ambulances at two locations in the city dedicated to back-up calls, one at Schiel’s Family Market on George Avenue and the other at a shopping center at 400 S. Main St. Another Trans-Med ambulance was already based on North Main Street and could be called to service if the city’s two units and the two Trans-Med backup units are on city calls, he said. “Two ambulances are good. Three are better. Five are even better,” George said. Non-profit companies from the three municipalities that formerly provided primary back-up, Kingston, Plains Township and Hanover Township, would still be available if other calls prevented both the city and Trans-Med from responding, he said. George said Trans-Med President Homer Berlew, who owns 5 percent of the company according to state records, approached him with a proposal to take over primary back-up services early in his term, as did Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services, which is affiliated with the publicly traded cor-

WARREN RUDA / THE CITIZENS’ VOICE

Wilkes-Barre mayor tony george said he doesn’t care who owns trans-med ambulance. ‘everything i do, people think i have an ulterior motive. my motive is to make the city safe.’ poration that owns WilkesBarre General Hospital. George has acknowledged he has held discussions with both firms about a complete takeover of ambulance service in the city. The city has provided ambulance service since its former for-profit provider went out of business about 40 years ago. TransMed, which was formed in 1984, was the primary backup until October 2011, when its role was reduced to just the city’s North End and the not-for-profit ambulance com-

panies from the three neighboring municipalities took over back-up duties in the rest of the city. George said he hasn’t moved forward with complete privatization, which would require negotiations with the union that represents eight city paramedics and ambulance drivers. He said privatization would not drive up costs for citizens and challenges those who say the city now “breaks even” on ambulance service, with salaries and operating costs

roughly equaling the amount the city collects from insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. “The pension costs are 120,000 bucks a year, so we’re not breaking even,” George said. Trans-Med is the first responder for emergency a m bu l a n c e s e r v i c e i n Luzerne, Wilkes-Barre Township, Plymouth and Swoyersville and is a secondary responder in municipalities around Luzerne County. Pennsylvania Ambulance provides ambulance services in all of Lackawanna County and has contracts as the primary provider for Moosic, Dunmore and Taylor, according to its website. Officials from the two companies did not respond to repeated phone and email inquiries last week. DeNaples did not return messages left at DeNaples Auto Parts, one of his many businesses. A disclosure form Pennsylvania Ambulance filed with the state Department of Human Services lists Steven John Brunetti, Louis Dominick DeNaples and Christopher Taramelli as each owning at least 5 percent of the company, which was formed in 2013. Brunetti is an emergency department doctor at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. Taramel-

li is listed on the company’s website as president. Brunetti, Taramelli and Louis D. DeNaples Jr. are listed as debtors along with TransMed Holdings LLC in the $3.25 million mortgage agreement secured by the Dunmore building owned by Louis A. DeNaples Sr. and filed in the Lackawanna Recorder of Deeds Office. In a 2014 disclosure filing with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Louis A. DeNaples Sr. and his son, Dr. Louis A. DeNaples Jr., are listed as principals in Pennsylvania Ambulance with Dr. DeNaples listed as an owner of the company. Both men are members of the First National Community Bank Board. Dr. DeNaples is an emergency physician with Geisinger Community Medical Center. The Roaring Brook Township address of the Louis Dominick DeNaples named as an owner of Pennsylvania Ambulance in the filing with the state Department of Human Services matches an address listed for Dr. DeNaples in a campaign finance report filed in 2004 by the campaign of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Efforts to reach Dr. DeNaples and Louis D. DeNaples were unsuccessful. CV djanoski@citizensvoice.com

570-301-2178, @davejanoski

Kirby Center schedule has grown in several ways over the years Continued from page a1

The fan can’t just pick eight quarterbacks; he or she has to have a defense and a kicker and a tight end. The Kirby Center has to include shows in its schedule that will promote the arts in the area. So as Rodella and Beekman look at what shows are available, they also have to schedule events that fulfill the theater’s mission. So the Kirby Center will include shows such as

Cirque Zuma Zuma on Feb. 16 that will show off theatrical acrobatics. Rodella and Beekman will attend conferences that will include short previews of performances to find new shows. The performers are hoping to get their names in front of schedulers and impress them. This year, Rodella walked away awed by “I Go On Singing: Paul Robeson’s Life in his own Words and Song.” “It was one of the most

powerful pieces of theater that I have ever seen,” she said. She knew she had to get it on the schedule. It will be at the theater on Feb. 11 The center’s schedule has grown in several ways. Over the years, it had announced a 20-show season. Last year, it had a 44-show announcement. This year, that number went up again. Part of it is because some of the series that have grown over the years. The W. Curtis Montz Film

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Series is named after a former executive director and programer who loved film. Tickets for the movies in the series are $3 for matinees and $5 for evening showings. This year’s series includes movies like “Carol” and “Anomalisa.” The center’s Live From the Chandelier Lobby continues to grow. It gives up-and-coming musicians a chance to play in the lobby while audiences can see them for a cheaper price than a theater show. This year’s series includes comedian Adam Ferrara. It’s the first time a comedian has been in the series. The schedule also includes the Young People’s Theater

Series, with shows like “I Have a Dream” on Feb. 9 that will chronicle the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Sometimes it’s rentals. According to Beekman, rentals make up 10 percent of the shows in the brochure. “Rentals are a big source of revenue for us,” he said. “But in an effort to control our own schedule, we prefer to be aggressive in presenting our own performances.” When a rental happens, the Kirby Center is still able to make money off concessions and a set amount of money from the act. The theater also hosts some weddings each year. But it can’t afford to book too

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many weddings because an act could offer the center a show and the date might not be available. “We love doing weddings,” Beekman said. “And we know our venue makes for a beautiful setting, but it becomes risky to block off prime dates that could be used for major stage presentations.” The added dates are another parallel to fantasy football, according to Beekman. A football fan will adjust his team’s roster throughout the season. The Kirby Center does the same. Consider this year’s schedule. Long after the 2015-2016 slate was announced, the Kirby Center had the opportunity to add Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. Beekman jumped at the chance at bringing a Beatle to WilkesBarre. Beekman and Rodella don’t know what other opportunities will be out there next year, but they’re hoping to score a touchdown on a few of them. CV pabdalla@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2066

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Trans-Med was one company that submitted a proposal to the City of Wilkes-Barre.

AMBULANCE PLAN IS DEAD City cites union contract in abandoning its efforts to privatize service. Page 4

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4 THE CITIZENS' VOICE

2 face drug charges after heroin found in residence By Sarah Scinto Staff Writer

The CiTizenS’ VoiCe file

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George previously acknowledged reviewing proposals from several private ambulance companies.

W-B officials discard plan to privatize ambulance service Proposals were ‘unsolicited,’ a claim contradicted by Commonwealth Health

By Bob Kalinowski Staff Writer WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George’s administration has abandoned efforts to privatize the city’s ambuservice “at cover lance this time” story because of provisions in the union contract covering city paramedics, the city’s open records officer said in response to a Right-toKnow request filed by The Citizens’ Voice. M o n t h s a g o, G e o r g e a c k n ow l e d g e d h e w a s reviewing proposals from several private companies seeking to take over the city’s ambulance service, currently operated by the city fire department and its paramedics. The Citizens’ Voice sought copies of the proposals, but the city denied the newspaper’s request, claiming “no responsive records” exist. “While the city did receive

proposals, the same were not solicited by the city. Accordingly, the city disposed of the proposals as they were not connected with a city transaction, business, or activity and therefore not a city record,” wrote Margaret Sharksnas, the city’s open records officer. The statement contradicts the position of at least one company that submitted a proposal, Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services, or CHEMS. Renita Fennick, a spokeswoman for Commonwealth Health, on Wednesday confirmed what she said in April, that Commonwealth Health submitted a proposal “only after it was requested by Mayor George” and after “another company had already been approached.” Trans-Med Ambulance, which George controversially named as the city’s primary backup service in March, also submitted a proposal.

WB_VOICE - DLY - 4 - 07/07/16

A spokesman for TransMed did not return a message requesting comment on whether George solicited its proposal. George did not respond to a request for comment left with a staffer. Tom Borum, business manager for the union representing the city’s eight paramedics, said the administration also told him the proposals were thrown away and no longer available for him to review. “That’s the same information I got when I asked about it,” said Borum, the leader of Laborers’ Inter national Union of North America, Local 1310. Borum said it’s the union’s position that the current contract for city paramedics prohibits privatization. “I imagine they could try to negotiate it away, but that’s not something we would be interested in,” Borum said. The city referenced the union contract issue in its Right-to-Know response. “At this time, the city cannot consider privatizing ambulance service due to a

collective bargaining agreement with Local Union 1310,” the response says. City Administrator Ted Wampole confirmed privatization is no longer on the mayor’s radar. “That’s not on the table,” Wampole said. Wampole said the mayor reviewed privatization proposals from outside companies, but his main goal was to address the backup ambulance situation. In March, George scrapped a mutual aid agreement with nonprofit ambulance companies in three neighboring municipalities and made Trans-Med the primary back up to the city’s two ambulances. Borum hopes the administration keeps the ambulance service it has now. “Our paramedics are all city residents that are highly trained, highly educated and do a fantastic job. We want that to continue,” Borum said. “We believe we are the best option.” bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

WB_VOICE/PAGES [T04] | 07/06/16

KINGSTON — Two people face drug charges after a search warrant turned up 140 bags of heroin in a West Side apartment. Police said Joshua Gardler, 29, and Quiana Jackson, 28, admitted to selling heroin after they were arrested an apartment on Second Avenue. According to a criminal complaint, police executed a search and two arrest warrants at 124 Second Ave. on Wednesday. Police arrived, knocked on the door and announced their presence but Gardler and Jackson did not answer. Officers entered the apartment by force and found Gardler and Jackson in a bedroom. Officers took the pair into custody on their arrest warrants. Once in custody, police allegedly found Gardler in possession of 140 bags of suspected heroin stamped “$$$$” in red ink. Gardler also had $593 cash in his pockets, police said. In addition, officers found two digital scales, multiple cellphones, $17 cash and a bag of suspected marijuana in the apartment. Police took Gardler and Jackson to police headquar-

Gardler

Jackson

ters where they both admitted to selling heroin, an affidavit states. The two were arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Paul J. Roberts on multiple drug charges Wednesday afternoon. During arraignment, Jackson told the judge she lives at 124 Second Ave. Gardler identified himself as homeless. Gardler and Jackson each face charges of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, criminal conspiracy, and related counts. Gardler faces an extra charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana. Both will appear before Roberts for a preliminary hearing on July 20 at 1 p.m. Roberts set Jackson’s total bail at $75,000 and Gardler’s at $150,000. Both remained in Luzerne County Prison as of Wednesday night. sscinto@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2048, @sscintoCV

Dentist pleads not guilty to tax fraud By James Halpin Staff Writer

tax retur n showing $1.34 million in gross receipts and business income of $547,173, Musto although he knew the totals were higher, according to prosecutors. Musto is also accused of filing a return in April 2010 falsely reporting $1.5 million in total receipts from his business as well as $587,000 in business income for the year. Musto’s website identifies him as 1986 graduate of the University of Scranton who got his dental degree at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine in 1990.

WILKES-BARRE — A Forty Fort dentist accused of filing fraudulent tax returns is maintaining his innocence. Charles Musto pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges of filing false tax returns and impeding the administration of tax laws. Federal prosecutors allege Musto tried to swindle the IRS by concealing income in multiple bank accounts at many banks for both his dental practice and real estate holdings and by concealing gross receipts and other records from his accountant. Prosecutors also allege he falsely classified personal expenditures as business jhalpin@citizensvoice.com expenses. In April 2011, Musto filed a 570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin

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