I silently cheered when the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania raided the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority.
I felt good because sources there had tipped me to a crime. I reported the details on WILK News Radio, we talked about the violation of the public trust on the air and the feds were listening.
A woman who stole money – a former magistrate – ultimately pleaded guilty to a crime that WVSA board members helped cover up.
But the case seemed to end there. Nobody got busted for failing to report a federal crime. Nobody else got charged. Nobody else pleaded guilty or fought the charges in court. Powerful, politically-connected people seemed to walk away without being held accountable.
Federal officials seemingly closed the case even though evidence seemed to exist that pointed to additional public service crimes.
Despite the ongoing public corruption investigation in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has so far netted more than 30 corrupt elected and appointed public officials and their business associates, the Department of Justice once again let us down.
Still, they tell us they depend on us. They tell us to trust them, that they have the power to level the battle field of public corruption.
I believed them.
Notice that I speak in the past tense. I’m not really a believer anymore. I probably never was. My faith is severely damaged. My public trust will likely not be restored because my expectations are too high. I truly want to believe that law enforcement and other government officials will one day mostly restore public trust in public service. But I’m probably fooling myself. I’ll still fight for good government. But I don’t expect to win. And I won’t dwell on losing. If I do that, I’ll likely feel overwhelmed and give up. But I refuse to do that.
You might give up, though. So I’m offering a little pep talk here to keep you in the ring.
The fight is what we share in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a common arena that we call community, the place that we call home. The fight is really all we have together.
Sure, we share much else, much of which is good.
Last weekend I ate clams and drank beer at a church picnic up the street from my home. The streets pulsed with laughter and people shared the goodness of a neighborhood where old and young alike depend on each other in little ways that knit the fabric of generations.
Still, the hint of corruption abounds even there.
So many little things matter, of course. Without the simple pleasures of life and an appreciation for family and friends, we’d be lost. But many people, for good reason, feel lost despite the little things.
They know that big things matter as well. They know that the big things get lost in the shuffle because leadership is losing on our common ground. Politics interferes even in the fight for justice. And when people give up believing, they give up the fight. The other side wins. Around here the other side usually seems to win.
Yeah, I’ll keep fighting. But I don’t expect to win. I’ll fight you on principle, just to fight. I’ll fight you because it’s in my spirit. I’ll fight you because somebody has to fight you. And I’ll likely lose. But at least I’ll go down fighting, something I can live – and die – with.
I recently learned about a closed, under-the-radar federal investigation. New evidence exists that tells me the investigation should be re-opened. But I don’t expect that to happen. Accusations about a second, different case also swirl in my head. The law enforcement official with whom I spoke said he passed my concerns along to the proper investigators. Two weeks later, nobody has yet gotten back to me about these serious claims about a potential federal crime.
The public is frustrated. Even some police are frustrated. The crooks are frustrated, too. They don’t have it as easy as they did in the past. But they don’t have it as hard as they should. They still win more than they lose.
Admitted Luzerne County gangster and multi-millionaire Rob Mericle currently faces sentencing for his role in the “Kids for Cash” scandal. In the meantime, he remains a terribly powerful man about town, a developer who still receives new tax breaks, a community leader, a role model and visionary who is still welcomed by respected and polished business pillars of the community. Mericle is even welcomed by federal prosecutors with whom he cooperates in their case against former state Sen. Ray Musto, another accused corrupt public official.
The most powerful people in our community consider Mericle to be a man who helps more than he ever hurt.
At least one “Kids For Cash” victim killed himself. Who helped him? Who will help the next powerless victim?
I pray that somebody does, because, as of now, Mericle and his enablers seem only willing to help themselves.