Friday, March 22, 2019

Barriers to betterment: How occupational licensing restrictions hurt ex-offenders, economy

Posted Feb. 22, 2019

Nearly three years ago, Courtney Haveman spent six months and $6,000 to complete the training Pennsylvania requires for people who work in skin treatment and hair removal. A local salon was ready to hire the Lower Makefield resident as an esthetician once she passed the state licensing exam.
Courtney Haveman
It was another major accomplishment in her new, sober life.
But the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology didn’t agree.
The board, whose members include professionals in the field and state appointees, rejected her application to take the licensing exam after Haveman, now 26, disclosed misdemeanor crimes she committed while struggling with alcohol addiction. Her past conduct suggested that she “may not be of sufficient good moral character” to work in the beauty industry, according to the rejection letter.
“I was so upset. I was so discouraged,” she said. “I thought I was just one of those who fell through the cracks and lost out on my dreams.”
She wasn’t. Between 2015 and last year, the same state licensing board denied 70 other people the opportunity to take its licensing exams, citing the “good moral character” standard, according to Andrew Ward, an attorney with theInstitute for Justice.
Late last year, the Virginia legal nonprofit sued the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs and the state Board of Cosmetology on behalf of Haveman and a Philadelphia woman, contending its character standard is unconstitutional and discriminatory since it’s not required for a barber license, a male-dominated career.
“Good character has nothing to do with skin care or hair removal,” Ward said. “There could absolutely be other boards denying for other occupations because of ‘good moral character’ requirements. In fact, I think that is likely.”
Cosmetology is one of 22 out of 29 licensing boards in Pennsylvania that require applicants possess “good moral character,” according to the institute. 
Occupational licensing restrictions are the latest area that criminal justice reform advocates are targeting for change. Reformers contend that good moral character requirements are arbitrary, poorly defined, overly inclusive, potentially irrelevant, unevenly applied, and an employment barrier for individuals who pose no serious risk to public.
“These requirements are not an effective way of promoting legitimate public interests in safety and competence and are a significant barrier to rehabilitation for those with criminal records,” said Deborah L. Rhode, director of the Stanford University Center on Legal Profession and a legal ethics scholar, who has studied good moral character requirements in occupational licensing. “Because racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately likely to have run-ins with the criminal law, they pay a special price for these requirements.”
A growing number of states are recognizing the potential barriers facing individuals with minor, old criminal records in employment, housing, school, volunteering and other opportunities. As a result, legislative efforts are underway to make it easier for certain ex-offenders to find work by restricting access to public criminal records, and limiting employer criminal checks and licensing prerequisites to only offenses directly related to the duties and responsibilities of the profession, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.
Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act, which took effect last year, seals the criminal records of individuals with nonviolent misdemeanors and summary offenses who remain conviction-free for 10 years and have paid all fines. Those sealed records would not be accessible to potential employers, landlords, lenders, social service agencies and others, although they still will appear in FBI background checks.
But administrative regulations used by licensing boards sometimes are overlooked, reform advocates said.
Only eight states allow ex-offenders to petition a licensing board at any time, including before enrolling in any required training, to determine if their convictions would be disqualifying, according to the Institute for Justice. Ten states generally bar licensing boards from denying ex-offenders a license to work, unless the board determines that the applicant’s criminal record is directly related to the license sought, according to the institute.
In Pennsylvania, each professional and occupational licensing board can consider an applicant’s criminal convictions when making licensure decisions. Thirteen licensing boards, mostly in health-related fields, impose a mandatory 10-year license ban for drug-related felony convictions.
More than 60 professional licenses in the state require “good moral character.” Pennsylvania courts have found “crimes of moral turpitude” can trigger the good moral character provision, including simple assault, furnishing liquor to minors and theft by unlawful taking.
The potential economic impact of excessive licensing restrictions is significant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that roughly one-quarter of full-time American jobs require a professional license or government approval to practice. Pennsylvania regulates 255 license types — including four types of cosmetology licenses — and just over 1 million license-holders, according to the state.
Successful re-entry into the workforce has been shown to greatly increase the chances an ex-offender will not commit new crimes, according to reform advocates. A 2016 Arizona State University study found that states with the heaviest occupational licensing burdens had higher new-crime recidivism rates, while states with lower burdens and no good character requirements saw a decline in recidivism rates.
Criminal histories and character-based restrictions are used as a “quick limit” to weed out perceived undesirable applicants, according to Leora Eisenstadt, an assistant legal studies professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business who specializes in employment law. More individual assessments of applicants typically take a lot longer, but are more fair.
“That a single conviction unrelated to a job can destroy your future is problematic,” Eisenstadt added. “If it’s not related and doesn’t pose a danger, it’s just a barrier to someone becoming gainfully employed.”
‘A good chance’
The good moral character standard has been part of the state cosmetology licensing code for decades, but its use was reinvigorated in 2014, when mandatory criminal background checks became part of the application process, according to Ward.
In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf authorized a review of occupational licensing requirements to determine if updates were necessary. The subsequent report released last year acknowledged the good moral character provision has the potential to be applied unevenly. The report suggested the administration examine its regulations to ensure they didn’t create “unnecessary” employment barriers.
Compared to other nearby states, Pennsylvania is an outlier in applying an automatic criminal history licensure ban, according to the report. While a handful of states have similar bans as Pennsylvania, the majority authorize consideration of criminal history only under certain circumstances, such as where the crime was related to the occupation being licensed.
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching current members of the state Cosmetology Licensing Board for comment on how the character standard is used. Former board Chairman Stephen Wallin, director of the School of Beauty Culture, referred questions to board solicitor Shana Walter, who did not respond to an email seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for the state agency that oversees licensing said it has made changes to ensure applications for individuals with criminal histories are reviewed in their entirety and not disqualified based solely on criminal convictions.
The department has introduced new administrative measures, including probationary licenses, Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said. The new licensing category is the same as regular full professional licenses, but allow the license to be immediately pulled if the person gets into additional legal trouble, Murren said. Regular licenses require a full disciplinary process that can last a year or longer, she added.
Applicants who previously were denied can reapply and the application would be reviewed “using the current standards,” Murren said. She could not answer specific questions regarding Haveman or co-plaintiff Amanda Spillane, citing the Institute of Justice lawsuit.
The department also is finalizing materials it will use as part of an upcoming public education campaign about the administrative licensing changes that Murren anticipates would be rolled out soon.
“We really do want to get the word out to the public (that) simply having a criminal history isn’t going to prevent them from getting a professional license. Not anymore,” she said. “We are looking at the complete application. Looking at qualifications. Where they are in their lives. There is still a good chance of having a professional life. A good chance.”
But Ward remains skeptical.
Spillane was among 55 cosmetology applicants between 2015 and last year who appealed their initial denials.
She brought reference letters, an outstanding employer review, and certificates from her completed courses to the hearing in 2015, but the board criticized her for not bringing witnesses to testify on her behalf, and she was grilled about her church attendance, Ward said. Spillane was not among the 44 applicants who had their denials reversed.
“Courtney was denied because of old, irrelevant misdemeanors. ... Amanda went through a hearing that was supposed to be holistic, but instead left her in tears and unable to work even though she’d earned a fresh start,” Ward said. “They don’t want to go through a degrading process like that again, and they’re suing because they shouldn’t have to.”
Dreams dashed
Today, Haveman is a married mother of a toddler. She has been sober since 2013. She is a stay-at-home mom, but she still dreams of a career in the beauty industry.
It was while she was working in a tanning salon that Haveman discovered her interest in skin care. She decided to pursue training as an esthetician, enrolling in a program at the Bucks County Beauty Academy in Lower Southampton, where she earned her diploma in 2016.
“I like making people feel good about themselves,” she said.
Haveman said she was honest when filling out her exam application and admitted to a handful of misdemeanor convictions, including driving under the influence and simple assault.
After the state Board of Cosmetology rejected her application, Haveman wrote its members a letter describing how different her life was compared with three years before, and the progress she made in substance abuse recovery. She included character letters from people in her addiction support group.
But the board responded that she would have to appear in Harrisburg to plead her case in person. Feeling defeated, Haveman decided not to appeal.
Then last summer, she got a letter from the Institute for Justice. The organization was considering legal action against the state to remove its character-based requirement. It heard she was rejected for past misdemeanor convictions and wanted to speak to her about possibly becoming a plaintiff in the case.
At the first meeting with institute representatives in a local coffee shop, Haveman was surprised to learn how many others pursuing cosmetology careers were in the same situation.
“I really thought I was the first, and only one, for years,” she said. “I was shocked.”

Lower Southampton zoning report highlights missing fees, records

Posted March 13, 2019

An unreleased, internal review of the Lower Southampton’s Zoning Department suggests a past failure to charge zoning and land development applicants correct fees and escrow amounts, costing taxpayers more than $75,000 in missed fees alone over five years.
The seven-page report, obtained through a Right to Know Request, also revealed previously unknown information about missing applications, payment receipts and other records.
The township report dovetailed with this news organization’s investigation last year, which estimated Lower Southampton lost at least $60,450 in revenue as a result of wrongly charged application fees. Both the township and news organization reviewed applications submitted between 2012 and 2017, though the township reviewed only 56 projects and the news organization reviewed 134.
Acting Township Manager Joseph Galdo ordered the review in December, after this news organization sought comment from township officials prior to publication of its findings, according to Zoning Officer William Oettinger, who prepared the township report.
The supervisors and township solicitor received the report about two months ago, Oettinger said. This news organization requested the report in February but was told it was under legal review at the time. Supervisors have not discussed the report at meetings so far this year.
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching Galdo or solicitor Francis Dillon for comment on the new report Tuesday.
The supervisors have privately discussed Oettinger’s report, according to Supervisor Kim Koutsouradis, who has added he continues to push for the township to find out what happened to prevent the situation in the future.
“I still have issues why was our former zoning officer going off the fee schedule without supervisor approval and where were our checks and balances to have stopped this,” he added.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub would not confirm if his office had been forwarded a copy of the internal report, but said “it’s a document that would be germane to our investigation.”
Last year his office, at the request of supervisors, opened an investigation after an outside consultant’s report found an unusually large number of common administrative “irregularities” in two dozen zoning files. The state Labor and Industry Department also opened an investigation into the department last year; that probe, too, is ongoing, a spokeswoman said.
In his review, Oettinger, who took over the zoning department last year, estimated $75,845 in lost revenue as a result of incorrect fees. The department also collected $144,623.97 less than it should have in escrow, which is money applicants are required to set aside to pay for project-related expenses. Without escrow a municipality can get stuck paying for required legal and engineering and other professional service fees.
More than half of the 33 land development submissions that Oettinger reviewed were undercharged application fees; only seven applicants were required to post the escrow amount outlined in the respective year’s fee schedules.
Similarly, the department failed to require commercial zoning applicants post a fee schedule-required $300 escrow 11 out of 16 times, the report found. Fifteen of the 23 times applications were wrongly charged fees, the difference was between $20 to $2,600 compared to what the fee schedule required.
One zoning applicant, a Wawa developer, was overcharged by $300, Oettinger found.
According to Oettinger’s report, zoning files for two projects were missing: a 2014 sketch plan submitted by Bussingers Auto and a 2015 waiver of land development application submitted by Young Property Investment for a property in the 900 block of Bustleton Pike. There is no record that Bussinger paid the $3,000 application fee or Young paid the $1,300 application fee and neither payment appears in a township record of subdivision and zoning fees collected between 2012 and 2017.
Township supervisors approved Bussingers’ preliminary/final plans, which included a 5,000-square-foot addition in December 2015, according to township minutes. A review of 2015 supervisor meeting minutes found no mention of a public vote for Young Property Investment.
Nearly half the application fee shortfall is attributed to County Builders Inc.’s preliminary/final plans for the 131-unit Emerald Walk residential development in the 500 block of Old Street Road, according to the report, which found other discrepancies involving the Warminster builder.
Oettinger estimated the township should have charged $45,650 in fees; instead it only charged $10,500 to reflect 30 additional proposed townhouse units.
County Builders originally submitted an application for a smaller project, but withdrew it later that year and resubmitted it in 2013 with more townhouses and a commercial zoning district where the Shoppes at Emerald Walk is located. Since application fees are generally not refundable the second submission should have been treated as new.
The report also noted that Oettinger was unable to find an application for Shoppes at Emerald Walk, a project proposed by P & M Property Management, a County Builder subsidiary, so he could not determine the correct fees and escrow.
Records show County Builders paid a $2,700 application fee and posted a $10,000 escrow when it submitted final land development plans in 2014. This news organization estimated the application fee should have been $7,700, with $20,000 for escrow, based on the size and number of tenants.
No records in zoning project files reviewed by this news organization included explanations why the wrong fees and escrow amounts were charged. Only supervisors are authorized to consider fee reductions or waivers at a public meeting; our review of zoning files and township minutes found no mention of such votes between 2012 and 2017.
Supervisor Chairman Ray Weldie said this week he recently authorized the township’s solicitor to send out collection notices in an attempt to recoup some of the losses. The township also will be reviewing escrow balances on active projects and requiring applicants to meet minimum thresholds, Weldie said.
In December, County Builder Vice President Kevin Reilly wrote in an email to this news organization the company would be “happy” to repay Lower Southampton if it was determined they were “uncharged” fees. He also denied that “anyone in my company” was aware of discrepancies with fees or escrow amounts.
The developer has not reached out to him, Weldie said, but it was relayed to supervisors that the company would be willing to reimburse the township for any undercharges.
There is some concern among supervisors about how and why the department charged incorrect fees and escrows, Weldie said, but he added with the ongoing district attorney investigation the board’s hands are tied as far as how deeply it can investigate.
“The board doesn’t know why the decisions were made,” added Weldie, who has sat on the board since last year.

Despite plea, ex-Lower Southampton judge still collecting pension

Posted March 6, 2019
A former Lower Southampton district judge who has admitted to using his position to commit extortion and money laundering is collecting a $989 monthly taxpayer-funded pension, while a state agency determines if he is entitled to the money.
John Waltman
Under state law, John Waltman, 61, of Lower Southampton, is entitled to collect his pension while the State Employees’ Retirement System staff reviews whether the guilty plea he entered earlier this year in federal court meets the requirements for forfeiture, according to SERS spokeswoman Pam Hile.
Pennsylvania’s state pension forfeiture law only covers certain crimes under the state crimes code, and those crimes must relate to the member’s job duties to result in a potential forfeiture. The law is not triggered until a member either pleads guilty, is convicted or pleads no contest to criminal charges.
If the SERS staff review finds that Waltman pleaded guilty to an offense included in the pension forfeiture law or a “substantially similar” federal crime, the payments would immediately stop, Hile said. As a state judiciary member, Waltman also faces additional state scrutiny that could cost him his pension under the Judicial Code; a forfeiture can be triggered even if no crime has been committed, if conduct brought the judicial office into “disrepute.” 
Waltman has been receiving his pension since he retired last June, according to state records obtained through a Right to Know request. Waltman remained enrolled in SERS for a year after he was suspended without pay from his magisterial court position following his indictment on money laundering charges in December 2016. He joined the organization in 2010 when he was appointed to the district judge position.
The records show Waltman also accepted a lump sum payment of $47,746.70; members are entitled to withdraw any portion of their contributions plus 4-percent legally mandated interest compounded annually, in exchange for a reduced monthly annuity payment, Hile said.
If Waltman is forced to forfeit his pension, he is allowed to keep contributions he made into the fund without interest. Information was not available for how much Waltman could collect.

Former Lower Southampton district judge admits to extortion, money laundering

Posted January 18, 2019
John Waltman
For six years John Waltman spent his days sitting in judgment of criminal and civil defendants who appeared in the Lower Southampton district court that he oversaw.
Now he earns his living laying tile in kitchens and bathrooms.
Later this year, the 61-year-old Lower Southampton resident could find himself spending the rest of his days as a federal prison inmate.
The fall from grace for the former public official ended in a Philadelphia courtroom Friday. Waltman admitted that while he was a district judge he conspired with two other public officials to launder money, accepted a bribe to fix a traffic ticket and tried to extort local businesses with promises of township contracts in exchange for kickbacks.
“I want to plead guilty,” Waltman told U.S. District Court Judge Gene E.K. Pratter, who accepted the plea. “Because I’m guilty, your honor.”
As a convicted felon, Waltman, former chairman of the Lower Southampton Republican Party, can’t run for political office again. The former longtime state constable also cannot possess a firearm.
He was the last defendant in the ongoing federal corruption probe involving Lower Southampton to admit his part in the scheme, which occurred in 2015 and 2016.
Waltman and two co-defendants — attorney and former Lower Southampton Public Safety Director Robert P. Hoopes, 71, of Doylestown and former state deputy constable Bernard Rafferty, 63, of Lower Southampton — were first indicted on the money laundering charges in December 2016, with additional charges of extortion, bribery, and fraud added in two superseding indictments in 2017. Hoopes, Rafferty and three others charged in connection with the federal investigation previously pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing dates.
On Friday, Waltman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and five counts of Hobbs Act Extortion Under Color of Official Right; in exchange, all other charges against him will be dismissed at the time of sentencing, which was scheduled for May. He faces a potential maximum sentence of 120 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, according to Richard Barrett, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Waltman did not offer any explanations for his crimes and gave mostly one-word answers to questions. When Pratter asked him how he was feeling prior to his entering the plea, Waltman answered, “Upset. Nervous.” He also told the judge that he drank a cold beer on Thursday night with his dinner, and promised he would show up for his sentencing hearing.
“I’ll be here, your honor,” Waltman said.
As part of the plea agreement Waltman has also agreed to a notice of forfeiture to the court, meaning that he agrees as part of the deal he would not spend down assets between now and his sentencing. He will be required to submit financial statements to the U.S. attorney to make sure he is only spending money on essential items for his daily life.
In pleading guilty, Waltman admitted that he and his co-defendant Hoopes conspired to divert into their wallets part of an annual lease payment to Lower Southampton’s general fund for an outdoor digital sign to be located at Russell Elliot Memorial Park. The sign salesman pleaded guilty last year to lying to federal investigators about his role in the extortion attempt. The sign deal never went before supervisors for approval.
Waltman also admitted to offering to use his political influence to “make arrangements” to secure towing contracts with the township for several businesses in exchange for a kickback and agreeing to dismiss a traffic ticket issued by Pennsylvania State Police against an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a New York businessman as part of the federal operation for $1,000 payment.
Additionally, Waltman admitted to participating in three money laundering transactions in 2015 and 2016 involving $400,000 that federal undercover agents led them to believe was illegal proceeds from drug sales and health care fraud in exchange for fees of about $80,000 that were split between the three men.
While the indictment contended that Waltman “pocketed” his share of the money laundering fee, his attorney Louis Busico on Friday said while his client admits he participated in the money laundering scheme, he did not profit from it.
“He didn’t personally pocket any money,” Busico said.
After the hearing, Busico declined to comment on whether Waltman received any money for any of the crimes he pleaded guilty to.
Busico said his client decided to plead guilty to spare his family from a trial and emphasized Waltman’s “sole consideration” was the health and safety of his family.
“It was a difficult day for John,” Busico added. “He took it on the chin like a man.”

Records: Lower Southampton board member voted for payment to employer

Posted Feb. 14, 2019

A Lower Southampton supervisor approved a $17,500 payment to his employer for work performed in the township four years ago, the latest revelation involving previously undisclosed hiring now under a state investigation.

Keith Wesley
Former Supervisor Chairman Keith Wesley voted to authorize the payments to his employer, Hoffman Services Inc. of Newark, New Jersey, at a June 24, 2015, Board of Supervisors meeting, this news organization has confirmed through documents obtained under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act and supervisor meeting minutes.
The payments were among bills requiring supervisor approval and included in the consent agenda, which are items that don’t require a public discussion before a vote. Consent agenda items typically include previous board meeting minutes and accounts payable.
A copy of the meeting minutes show the five supervisors unanimously approved the consent agenda, details of which board members receive in document packages prior to meetings.
Under state ethics law, elected public officials must recuse themselves from participating in votes or discussions where conflicts of interest exist with immediate family members or employers.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission opened an investigation into the hiring of Hoffman Services to replace a broken vehicle lift at the township’s Public Works Department garage and other work, after a resident filed a complaint citing a potential conflict of interest. Wesley is a senior service technician responsible for sales and services at Hoffman Services, where he has worked since 2009.
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching Wesley for comment through text and voicemail messages and email on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He left Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting before a reporter in attendance could speak with him.
Wesley has insisted that he was not involved in the Hoffman Services contract, did not benefit from it, and had asked the public works department head not to use his employer for the vehicle lift replacement.
In previous cases, the ethics commission has ruled it is a violation of the Ethics Act if a public official takes action to approve a bill list that includes a payment to a business with which he or she is associated, according to Robert P. Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission.
“Lack of knowledge is not always a valid defense,” Caruso said.
Caruso added that public officials are “always” cautioned to avoid participation in matters that would affect an immediate family member or employer, though there may be occasions when a matter may be too minor to merit consideration, he said.
Meeting minutes show that Wesley did not attend an April 12, 2017, Board of Supervisors meeting where the board approved a consent agenda that included a $220 bill for Hoffman Services for materials involving the vehicle lift.

Bucks County confirms 2018 death of jail inmate

Posted Feb. 2, 2019

Bucks County has confirmed another death at its county jail occurred last year, but has refused to release additional details or say why it was not publicly reported at the time.
This news organization learned about the July 8 death last month after requesting information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections about deaths at the county jail last year. The state agency listed the death as a suicide in the county’s monthly extraordinary occurrences report in August, according to DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.
Bucks County spokesman Larry King confirmed only the date of death and that the inmate was a 72-year-old man. The county is not releasing any other information surrounding the death “for legal reasons,” King said, but he did not elaborate when asked in an email.
Bucks County Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell identified the inmate as Semion Parkansky, of Feasterville; his cause of death was determined to be asphyxia.
According to Campbell, a corrections officer reported he found Parkansky dead in his cell at 4:15 a.m. It is unknown if Parkansky was on suicide watch at the time of his death, a red-flag status that triggers additional safety measures such as frequent monitoring.
Parkansky had been incarcerated for 14 months at the time of his death. He was arrested in May 2017 for sexual offenses involving a child that occurred in a decade earlier, court records show. He was sentenced in January 2018 to 11 to 23 months in Bucks County jail after pleading guilty to indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old and endangering the welfare of children.
Four Bucks County inmates died last year, but the county did not release information about those deaths until media members made inquiries. In one case, Brittany Ann Harbaugh, 28, of Philadelphia, died of complications from opiate withdrawal on Oct. 1, but the county did not confirm her death until two months after this news organization, acting on a tip, first asked if the death occurred. The coroner’s office released the cause of death.
One month after Parkansky took his own life, another Bucks County inmate, Charles Freitag, 57, of Bensalem also died by suicide.
Pennsylvania has no regulations for public notification of deaths in correctional institutes. Neither Bucks nor Montgomery County have a written policy for releasing information about inmate deaths, though they have protocols for informing other officials including the district attorney’s office, county commissioners, prison oversight board members and county spokespeople.
Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia said such a policy should be put in place, though she doesn’t support releasing inmate names.
“I honestly assumed this was public information unless there was a known lawsuit, and wonder if there is no (county) policy because no one asked,” she said.
Commissioner Chairman Robert Loughery added that it has not been the county’s practice to publicize prison deaths, but he agreed that the public has a right to know when a death occurs at the jail “provided we are following the state-mandated reporting requirements and sensitive to whatever circumstances legal or otherwise.”
The Bucks County inmate deaths would have been reported sooner if they were serving state prison time. Under DOC policy press releases are issued for all unnatural deaths.
State regulations only require county jails have written policies for the prompt notification of an inmate’s listed emergency contact in the event of death, serious illness or accident. The regulations also require jails report all in-custody deaths by the 30th day of the month following the death to the state corrections department.
But the state agency collects only “numerical figures for statistical and trending purposes,” McNaughton said. Counties are not required to submit information about the circumstances surrounding the death or identify the inmate.
The lack of public notification policies for in-custody deaths among county jails and detention centers is not unusual, according to Martin Horn, secretary of corrections under former Gov. Tom Ridge. There are no national standards or rules for such notification, but there are best practices, said Martin, who now lectures on corrections systems at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The public reporting of inmate deaths promotes trust and accountability in the community, Martin said. He noted the New York Commission on Corrections has statutory authority to investigate all in-custody deaths in the state and it releases reports on those investigation findings to the public, he added.
“We operate these jails on behalf of the public and the public has a right to know,” Horn said. “The people who are in jail are accused — not convicted — and they are the children of our community. A jail that is properly run has nothing to fear from transparency.”

Contract between Lower Southampton and supervisor’s employer subject of ethics complaint

Posted January 25, 2019

The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission has been asked to investigate a previously undisclosed 2015 contract involving Lower Southampton and the employer of a township supervisor.
Keith Wesley
Township documents show Hoffman Services Inc., of Newark, New Jersey, was paid $17,500 to replace a vehicle lift in the township public work garage, which broke in the upright position; documents also include more recent invoices from the company for vehicle lift inspections and materials.
Supervisor Keith Wesley is a senior service technician responsible for sales and service at Hoffman Services, according to the company’s website. In a phone interview, Wesley said he had nothing to do with the contracts and didn’t benefit from them. He added that he asked the township’s head of public works not to use his employer in 2015 “for this very reason.”
Lower Southampton resident Victor Corsino, a former Democratic supervisor candidate, obtained the documents that revealed the contracts through a Right to Know request he filed Jan. 11 and provided them to this news organization. He filed a complaint on the matter with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission on Friday, a copy of which he provided to this news organization.
This news organization had filed its own Right to Know request on Jan. 7 seeking Hoffman Service records, as well as additional documents; the request is being processed, according to officials.
Corsino’s documents included two estimates from Hoffman Services dated April 15, 2015: one for $24,000 and the other for $16,500 for different options to replace the four-post, drive-on vehicle lift. A township invoice dated June 2, 2015, shows Hoffman Services was paid $17,500. The invoice contains three sets of initials from the Public Works Department head Joe Condo, former Township Manager John McMenamin and Finance Director Joe Galdo, the current acting township manager.
The township did not provide documents showing other quotes were obtained for the work, which was part of his Right to Know request, Corsino said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry sets bidding thresholds annually for state authorities and municipalities. In 2015, those thresholds required public entities to obtain three quotes for purchases and contracts valued between $10,500 and $19,400.
Copies of other township invoices Corsino obtained show Hoffman Services provided supplies and performed inspections on the vehicle lifts in the public works garage in 2017 and 2018. The total for that work was $1,020, which was below the state threshold where formal public bidding or obtaining of quotations is required. The Hoffman invoices in 2017 and 2018 were all less than the $500 trigger under the Pennsylvania Ethics Act, which outlines conduct rules for public employees and officials.
The act states that no public employee or official — or a spouse, child or “any business in which the person or his spouse or child is associated with”— can enter into a contract worth at least $500 with the government he or she is associated with “unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process.”
The law does not specify what actions are considered an “open and public process,” but it does say that the process includes “prior public notice and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered and contracts awarded.” It also states that the public official or employee shall not have any involvement with the implementation or administration of the contract.
In emails to this news organization, Galdo could not provide additional details about the circumstances surrounding the lift contract, including the date it broke, if it was the only available vehicle lift the township had, and if other quotes to replace it were obtained. This news organization reviewed Board of Supervisors minutes for the months before, during and after the 2015 invoice dates and did not find any mention of Hoffman Services.
Condo, the public works department head, is out on medical leave, according to Galdo, and could not be reached for comment.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, Corsino told the board that he had notified the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission about the contract award and that he intended to file a complaint.
Corsino, a regular attendee of supervisor meetings for the last four years, said, “I’ve never seen any of these (contracts) mentioned at all.”
Township Solicitor Francis Dillon responded during the meeting that there is no indication that Wesley used his authority of office to hire his employer, and the director of public works decided to enter into the contract with Hoffman. He added the township would cooperate with any ethics investigation.
Wesley, who has worked for Hoffman since 2009, said at the meeting he has never solicited any township business during his 10 years on the board. He stated he did not receive any financial benefit as a result of the contracts for the vehicle lift replacement or the inspections.
“Sorry to disappoint you, I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said, directing his comments to Corsino.
The executive director of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, Robert Caruso, said his office cannot confirm whether a complaint is filed or investigation underway.
But Caruso confirmed that the township should apply the $500 threshold for public disclosure in addition to any state bidding procedure rules. Whether the rule applies in an emergency situation “would depend on the nature of the emergency,” but it would have to involve a natural disaster, such as snow or a flood, Caruso said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the board or the (municipal) manager doing the contracting, the law still applies,” Caruso added. “Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Generally, if a firm, with which a public official is associated is being considered for a contract with the public official’s governmental body, the contract must be awarded through an open and public process.”