After not talking with Tony George for about a decade, all of a sudden there he was yesterday on the phone. Not only was the former Wilkes-Barre police chief and current vice chair of the city council on the line, he was on the air.
Time passes and some things change. Some stay the same. Wilkes-Barre simply got worse.
In the old days I was a newspaper columnist talking with Tony about crime and politics – which in Northeastern Pennsylvania hard coal country is often the same.
Now once again we were talking about crime and politics.
Yes, Tony said, federal law enforcement agents had given him a courtesy heads-up about an ongoing criminal investigation into the relationship between city officials and the beleaguered tow truck operator who pays $50,000-a-year for the contract. Tony said he would say or do nothing to jeopardize the investigation. That means we’re at a standstill and have nothing to cheer about.
Wilkes-Barre politics is headed by Mayor Tom Leighton, a Democratic political boss whose words rival the sound of a Whoopee cushion for clarity, intelligence and meaning.
Leighton says he’s investigating the tow truck operator after countless complaints and accusations about everything from price gouging to worse. One so-called community activist has made enough slanderous ands defamatory accusations that he’s all but accused the tower of being on the grassy knoll during the Kennedy assassination. Such recklessness under the guise of “activism” does far more harm than good.
As always, what we need is the truth – not your truth and my truth and their truth – but the truth. And, anybody smarter than a Whoopie cushion understands exactly what that means.
My worry about whether the truth will emerge is that the longtime family and neighborhood network that exists between police and politics will somehow sink the investigation.
The best example I can provide of a basic conflict of interest is that Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis is supposedly investigating accusations surround missing gasoline from a city pump. Her chief county detective is Mike Dessoye – brother to city police chief Gerry Dessoye who works at the whim of his boss Mayor Leighton to whom Gerry Dessoye is related by marriage.
In some ways, Wilkes-Barre is worse than anything that West Virginia mountain kin can offer to the Hatfields and McCoys.
In some ways we’re worse.
Police and politics have always overlapped in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Cops find power and wield it to do more than arrest criminals. In some cases cops are criminals. In other situations police use what might be called discretion that elsewhere would be called cover-up and set-up. Rarely are these officers disciplined or charged. Usually they get promoted. And their colleagues circle the wagons whenever questions are raised or when complaints are filed.
I know this because I have personally filed a formal complaint against an officer. That is not, by the way, the formal complaint I filed the other day against a state trooper who stopped me for no reason I could understand and then accused me of talking on a cell phone that I can prove through records was not taking or making calls.
Based on information I had received and passed on the federal officials, I once filed a formal federal complaint against a Wilkes-Barre police officer. The feds said they investigated – although nobody officially interviewed me - and said they found no evidence to verify information I had told them a witness provided me.
Federal officials say she told investigators a completely different story.
Then she contacted me and said how afraid she was.
“I can’t fight everybody,” she said.
Yes, fear rules.
I recently spoke to another federal official about a Scranton case that seemed loaded with evidence. The agent said he was interested. Then U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith wrote a letter to one of the potential witnesses and said no investigation would follow.
I later informed Smith about another matter allegedly involving a crooked cop that he refused to discuss with me or follow up.
No wonder people lose faith.
But I refuse to stop engaging the system that serves us – even when the system serves us poorly or not at all.