The best way to gauge Lackawanna County minority Republican Commissioner Patrick O’Malley’s public service is by the number of photographs of the grinning elected official you can find in the Scranton daily newspaper.
That’s why we call him “Take-My-Picture-Please, Cheeese” O’Malley.
The only time O’Malley has refused a photo that I’m aware of is when he was invited to pose with the Three Kings during a Christmas celebration at the South Side senior citizens’ center. He instinctively started to grin until he noticed that I was one of the kings.
Our Pat is not known for vision or leadership.
When an alert listener sent me a mailer he recently received from O’Malley’s re-election committee, I knew Pat was again up to no good. Raising money is expected in politics, but collecting cash through a re-election committee is craven and devious when you’re not even up for re-election.
But that doesn’t stop our Pat, whose “Fourth Annual Outing” is scheduled later this month at a private social club known for its Tiki Bar. Adjacent to neighbors of Italian, Irish and Polish descent, the club is located in the South Pacific section of the city.
Okay, Scranton doesn’t boast a hula friendly neighborhood but that’s the kind of response from Democratic and Republican flacks you can expect if you question such glaring manipulation of representative democracy. In Scranton, where crave assaults on their common sense, the more glaring the better.
Of course such pandering is an accepted part of regional public service.
The more money you collect the more checks you can write to support your buddies’ political campaigns and cash in on public opinion by handing out money for pee wee baseball, social clubs, old folks’ causes and other money grubbing ventures designed to win approval and, more importantly, votes. Word on the street is that Cheese O’Malley is spreading the love to both parties because he’s not quite clear what he represents and might one day run as a Democrat.
This is the oldest game in town.
One famous member of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s convicted criminal contingent of former public servant felons has played all sides of the street. Former Democrat/Republican Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro is serving 11 years in a federal prison camp in New Jersey. Our Bobby loved everybody who loved him back in dollars.
Cordaro’s partner in crime, A.J. Munchak, is serving seven big ones in the sunny south for a similar racket.
Munchak’s former assistant is now O’Malley’s assistant.
You would think that after the federal investigation, jury trial in which her name came up as a loyal campaign worker and county worker, conviction, sentencing and onslaught of press coverage, that she would be more careful when it comes to using government resources for anything other than official public service government work.
But the lessons of larceny are lost on Lackawanna County losers.
When I called O’Malley’s government office during working hours last week to ask for tickets to the partisan political fundraiser, this same seasoned political vet told me that she would be happy to pass along my request to a “committeeperson” if I would leave my name and address.
She didn’t know it was me since I altered my voice to the weak volume of a sad sack O’Malley constituent down on my luck and looking for help.
But name and address are those two basic pieces of information that contribute to the database that O’Malley can use when he decides to run for dog catcher or president. That request also violates campaign law, according to one lawyer with whom I spoke.
The woman should have immediately told me that she cannot and will not discuss any political campaign on company time, that the people’s business is what she is paid to perform and that to do otherwise would be a breach of ethics and law.
Instead she quickly offered to connect me with the political fixer who would take my cash in exchange for clambake tickets.
Whoa. Did I just say clambake? Yes I did. Clambake, picnic, outing – call it what you will. They’re all the same in the sordid world of political maneuvering.
And that’s exactly what longtime former state senator and Democratic Party warlord Bob Mellow was doing before he got busted and went to prison for using state employees to do campaign work on the public time and dime.
Mellow’s local clambake was famous. Governors, U.S. senators and worse attended every year. And “The Friends of Bob Mellow” malfunctioned the same way O’Malley’s assistant malfunctioned, crossing lines between right and wrong as the boss made law and talked about upholding the public trust.
I even pulled the same stunt on Mellow’s staff that I pulled on O’Malley’s – successfully calling Mellow’s government office on government time to get put in touch with ticket sellers who would gladly take my hard-earned cash so their hustler boss could continue to perpetuate his fraud on the voters.
Mission accomplished both times.
So once again we lose. And nobody in any elected public service role will come to our aid and help us do something about it.
O’Malley’s assistant refused to return my call when I called her back to talk about what she had done.
O’Malley refused to return my call as well.
I know. I know. Cheese was out somewhere getting his picture taken posing as a public servant.
The good people of Moosic need all the cash you can carry to help pay back the almost $400,000 you stole from the volunteer fire company where you once served as president.
Your heist might be the biggest rip-off in Moosic history.
Even with Moosic’s history of criminal political corruption – former mayor and councilman convicted for fixing tickets and drunken driving cases then getting re-elected – you, as a former Moosic councilman, have likely set a record.
Actually I’m impressed.
You tie a plastic freezer bag over the head of the public trust and rob hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fire company. You admit that you have a gambling problem and that you pumped money you stole into Bitty Bill’s, your Moosic ice cream shop.
Four hundred grand buys a lot of milkshake straws, Bitty Bill.
A lot of fire hoses, too.
The judge ordered you to pay back every penny. Before pleading guilty you wrote a big check of about $100,000 and then made a second measly payment of $4,000. Then you went to jail, serving up to 23-months in the county prison, and the money stopped. Bitty Bill’s is still in business and taking in money.
But you’re not paying back one penny. So goes the rules of the court, a prosecutor told me yesterday. And anytime a thief pays back $100,000 as restitution the repayment is considered a big victory, he said. Now my worry is that you will hose the fire company once again – that you, Bitty Bill, will find one reason or another not to pay back significant amounts of money, to repay what you stole and help restore the battered public trust.
Okay, forget about restoring the public trust. I’m sorry to say that the public trust died in Moosic a long time ago. You just poured chocolate syrup on the grave.
What many of us do not understand is why county prosecutors or at least the fire company did not move against your assets to recover whatever they could. Why not freeze your assets, take your home and your car and your ice cream truck? Why not seize anything and everything they could? Isn’t that the purpose of prosecutors and lawsuits?
The prosecutor told me that the business did not contribute to the theft.
But the theft contributed to the business.
And when you’re released you get to go right back to the business and resume your dream with a cherry on top.
The prosecutor told me that he hopes you make lots and lots of Bitty Bill cold cash so you can continue to repay your debt to the volunteers who fight fires in your hometown, protecting and serving and risking their lives to save lives and property.
But a Facebook page, “Boycott Bitty Bill’s” is not so quick to let you off the hook and ladder. Call me a Facebook friend who does not want one more banana split in your name. Redemption takes work, even religion for some thieves.
You might need church but sundae school is out of the question. Your Rocky Road has only just begun. I wish you well, Bitty Bill, but only after you begin the long trek to genuine rehabilitation. Using a single scoop of the almost four hundred thousand dips you stole to help you pave the way to success is simply unacceptable.
Law-abiding mom and pop neighborhood ice cream parlors struggle throughout our region to offer something of the good old days to young and old alike. But the “Bitty Bill Bandit” poisoned the innocence. Bitty Bill “toxicles” should not be among the old-fashioned traditions doing well in our sad little neighborhoods that too often change for the worse.
What also is behind the times is some people’s gullible willingness to excuse your behavior.
“He’s a really good guy,” some people say.
No, he’s not a really good guy.
Bill Sweeney, a young man in his early 30s, is forever the Bitty Bill Bandit, who consciously and willfully stole year after year after year from his fire house, ripping off more money than most homes are worth in his borough. Gambling, business, ego, pathology, a culture of corruption and other fool factors all contributed to this small town melt-down.
The Bitty Bill story seems as if it could only happen here.
As weird as the sordid tale has become, it remains our story, our problem, our dilemma that requires a solution - if the children of this community will ever have even a slim chance to understand why morality seems to matter less than a cool gallon of greed to go.
Looking up on Monday afternoon, I marveled at the downright majesty of the brightly painted ceiling in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chamber. Symbols of democracy and honor filled my mind with humble visions of a better day through representative democracy.
Then the devil cloud exploded into my line of sight.
State Rep. Kevin Haggerty, my state rep from the 112th legislative district, hovered above me like an angel of evil. Sneering, he stood looming like a keeper at the gates of Hell. I was cornered in Haggerty’s Inferno.
But I do well under pressure.
Despite our well-publicized antagonism for each other, I rose like a seasoned diplomat, extending my hand to my unworthy opponent. Representing the fight for good government, I had won. Haggerty had lost. Come next year, Haggerty is out on his ear after losing a hot May 20 primary election to keep his seat.
Looking up from my chair at the rear of the opulent chamber, I briefly thought that maybe he was big enough to approach me and agree that state Rep. Frank Farina, the best man, had won fair and square, that we had all battled in the hardcore arena of public opinion and Haggerty had eventually fallen to defeat.
Bob Mellow is Mother Teresa, too.
I extended my hand to Haggerty because the gesture was the right thing to do. After all, we were surrounded by hundreds of Haggerty’s colleagues, a platoon of high school students in attendance to be honored and others there as guests of their hometown state representative.
Although Haggerty is currently my rep, Farina takes over in the expanded 112th after hammering Haggerty in the primary. So when I ran into Farina by the escalator and he asked me if I wanted to come into the chamber, I graciously accepted. I filled out a form, offered identification and took a seat right down the aisle from the newly-crowned Miss Pennsylvania. A big shot at the front of the room even introduced us as guests. When he called my name, I rose and raised my hands above my head like a champion prizefighter at a Friday night main event in the old Town Hall in Scranton.
Haggerty looked at my extended palm and said, “I’m not shaking your hand.”
I took my seat.
I said nothing.
Looking up, I watched Haggerty’s face contort as his brain kicked into passing gear but stalled and misfired over and over again. In a menacing voice, he accused me in a rambling rant of somehow conspiring with Farina in some twisted attempt to beat him. Haggerty went on like a runaway train, railing about me being in the chamber as a member of the press.
People must have heard his irrational accusations.
People must have seen his jerky body language and the full moon look in his eyes.
“You’re crazy,” he sputtered, as spit formed at the sides of his mouth. “And you know it.”
I looked up and smiled. I hadn’t said a word. Like I advise listeners to my show, I listened, crazy like a fox.
But then I had enough. Nodding to the two hulking security officers in plain clothes sitting nearby at the door, I said in the soft voice of a hostage negotiator, “Kevin, how would you like if I asked those Capitol police officers if they would help get you away from me because you’re harassing me?”
Haggerty looked possessed. Among the angels I thought I saw frowning in the fresco ceiling paintings, I imagined Father Karas from “The Exorcist” telling Haggerty that the power of Christ compels him. Haggerty needed all the help he could get but Haggerty was on his own. Like the poor devil-inhabited child in the Jason Miller movie, Haggerty was spitting up pea soup.
Turning to walk to his seat at the front of the chamber, Haggerty mumbled, made scary demon faces and pointed a twisted finger at me.
But Haggerty’s reign of madness wasn’t over.
The unraveled rep was making his way to Farina, who sat preparing to vote and do the job that taxpayers pay him to do. I felt bad that I couldn’t warn him. But Farina has previously dealt with a personal Haggerty outburst on the House floor so I knew he was up to the challenge.
I watched as Haggerty loomed over Farina as he had loomed over me. Farina, like me, sat politely and listened to a lost man out of control, a pathologically pathetic example of why people hate government and don’t trust politicians. Then, in more ways than one, Haggerty was exhausted, disappearing into the crowd of legislators charged with doing the people’s business.
When the House broke for a recess, Farina passed me on the way out.
“He attacked me,” Farina said wide-eyed.
“Me too,” I responded with a grin.
Like a stubborn kidney stone, a great moment in Pennsylvania House of Representatives history had just passed.
With each passing day, admitted gangster and multi-millionaire commercial real estate developer Rob Mericle gets closer and closer to prison.
Not the one he built, mind you, but one where, starting next month, he will serve his 12-month sentence for his part in the “Kids for Cash” slave trade that sold children into lives of terror and indentured servitude.
Without prison builder Mericle, no “Kids for Cash” horror would have emerged from the Luzerne County halls of injustice.
No Mericle, no money.
Now, he will join his one-time friends, former president judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, in a dangerous environment that will likely house the former jurists for the rest of their lives and Mericle for one long and very difficult year.
Mericle will not like prison. Fear should be his guide. But a year is not terribly long to spend in a minimum-security facility. Still, he’s going to jail despite the many letters of support that supposedly model citizens sent to the judge on his behalf. And he has to pay a cash fine that most of us would have great difficulty putting together.
One last requirement of his sentence must also be addressed – his court-ordered community service.
That’s why we should come together as a tribe of truth-seekers and try to influence U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik in a way that Mericle and his gang never imagined. We good, law-abiding citizens must try to persuade the judge to let us determine the community service that the judge ordered as part of Mericle’s punishment.
And I’ve got just the place.
We must make sure that Mericle is not allowed to slide into a nice volunteer job at one of the many businesses and human service agencies owned and operated by the same people who tried to influence the judge to go easy, people Mericle had long ago purchased with his “kindness,” money and power. Like deluded cult members everywhere, they are indebted to their benefactor to such a degree that any community service in the comfort of their arms is unacceptable.
Mericle’s supporters will howl and tell us how unfair that decision would be, that his caring compassion would be well-received by the poor people he would encounter at the soup kitchen, food bank or YMCA.
But regular people who paid for the federal investigation and will pay for the cost of Mericle’s room and board for the next year deserve some say in this matter.
You wrote your letters to Kosik.
Now we’ll write ours.
Besides, the good judge might not have thought of the perfect place for this man who turned his back on at-risk children while lining his pockets at their expense.
Pa Child Care, the very prison Mericle built in Pittston Township is still being used to house local juveniles sentenced by the court. Brothers, sisters and cousins of kids Mericle helped sell for cash might even be serving time while waiting to be helped and even saved by people who really care about their problems and their futures.
If Mericle is to be rehabilitated – and I doubt that he even believes he needs rehabilitation - this cold institutional structure is the place where true redemption might await. Daily interaction with children unlike those he meets at summer pool parties with his snob friends might unleash a feeling of true guilt that he must confront if he ever hopes to grow character.
Mericle mumbled to the judge on sentencing day that he took full responsibility for his behavior.
But I’ve never heard him call it a crime. Those closest to him, his sister, particularly, still refuse to characterize his behavior as a crime. Sis called brother Rob’s evil ways a “moment.”
Mericle needs a real moment, a time to come face to face with sad, hurt and vulnerable children like those he helped sell on the open market, children without power and political connections, without parents who benefit from who they know the way Mericle’s friends benefit.
Send our special convict to Pa Child Care clean toilets with a brush, a bucket and a mop. Make some of the senior resident children in the facility his bosses. Make it clear to Mericle that he is obligated to follow their orders. Explain to Mericle that he is not there to teach these children anything but that they can teach him much, invaluable lessons about reformation. Make him attend group meetings. Sit him at the center of a juvenile resident circle and answer questions.
You want community service? That’s as good as it gets. Actually it’s better.
Mericle might come home a better man.
If not, we are doomed to suffer the continuing crisis of character that created people who conspired to put a price tag on decency and sold it to the lowest of the lowest bidder.
No community deserves such degradation.
After all we’ve been through, especially not Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In Japanese lore, the seven samurai defended a village of peasants against all odds.
In a way, samurai were cops, disciplined guardians of the peace willing to fight and die for what was right.
Good cops are always honest cops.
No in between exists.
That means that police officers must always tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We’re waiting, Lenny Galli.
The Exeter Borough police sergeant and well-known macho man is no modern-day samurai.
Galli has surrounded himself for decades with controversy that is always all about Lenny rather than all about protecting and serving the people who pay his salary and pick up his benefits. For whatever the reason, over the years borough officials have settled several lawsuits against Galli, usually involving accusations stemming from his inability to control himself under pressure – with pressure being defined as anytime he strapped on his gun and badge.
Galli has never admitted wrongdoing in these events – even one involving the former head of the Scranton Secret Service office who received over $100,000 in damages in a case that Galli and borough officials wanted – but failed - to keep confidential.
Now confidentiality has come back to bite Galli and his handlers.
Borough officials have finally had their fill of Lenny, accusing him of spending official on-duty time downloading and watching thousands of hardcore porn videos on the police computer - which he also allegedly used to handle business affairs for his karate school - as well as arrange meetings with men he met in an online meat market.
Back in February borough officials suspended Galli with pay, as they tried to figure out how to handle Galli’s latest embarrassment to the borough. As always, Galli tried to play all the angles, a technique that had always worked in the past. But officials had enough and hired a Philadelphia lawyer – somebody who knew well Lenny’s kind.
Galli refused to accept any public disclosure of his alleged bad behavior and filed a complaint in Luzerne County court, showing up smiling in shades, a glitzy gold chain and a track suit that made him look like a cross between a dysfunctional Elvis bodyguard and a dull extra in a Steven Segal movie.
The Philly lawyer then publicly filed his own court document that laid bare all alleged Galli transgressions – accusations that chewed up Lenny’s macho image and spit it out.
The first Luzerne County judge to get the case grew fearful and backed out, recusing himself because he knew Galli as reason for his dereliction of duty. The second judge has now sealed all the documents – a move that smacks of cover-up and official censorship - but not until the bad genii had escaped from the bottle.
Meanwhile Exeter taxpayers suffer.
So what else is new?
Judge Bill Amesbury postponed the hearing that was scheduled for today until June. Unless borough officials change the conditions of Galli’s suspension, and they should, Galli will likely continue to pick up his paycheck. And taxpayers will continue to wonder why officials kept Galli on the job as long as they did.
Still working as a bouncer at a local nightclub, Galli’s situation brings shame to the club, the borough, his family and his karate school.
As a brother aikido black belt (mine is traditional while his comprises a mutation of the art) and veteran martial artist, I’ve known Galli for decades. On at least two occasions I tried to counsel him about his lack of control, obvious insecurity and short fuse. Galli always justified his every move and explained away his dismal immaturity and lack of honor.
Shortly after moving from California and returning to Northeastern Pennsylvania, I called Galli in 2007 to talk about yet another situation he created that made the papers. Thankfully I was gone when Lenny shot the turtle. Again, Lenny wouldn’t listen so I finally cut my ties with him and wrote him off as a terrible example to children and adults.
That’s why I’m here now, to add my voice to those who consider Galli a dangerous thug who needs to go.
We need all the good cops – and black belts - we can get.
We need men, women and children who exemplify the righteous code of conduct that defines character and discipline – traits Galli lacks, according to his weak past and the present allegations against him.
The word “aikido,” translated from Japanese, means “the way of peace and harmony.”
Because of Galli, Exeter needs peace and harmony as much, if not more than, most places in our hard coal region.
Borough bosses must let Galli go.
Let true guardians protect and serve in the spirit of the most noble and courageous samurai. Let honor be our guide. Let character glow with all the power of a finely-honed sword blade cutting through deceit and dishonesty.
Karate legend Chuck Norris had nothing on Scranton Mayor and self-proclaimed martial arts master Bill Courtright when the alleged 8th-degree black belt leaped into action at a St. Patrick’s Day parade beer bash gone bad on Taylor Avenue.
Everybody was king fu fighting.
Those cats were fast as lightning.
In fact it was a little bit frightening.
But they fought with expert timing.
And now it’s case closed, with the police report already written and available to the public and high-ranking officers defending the rookie mayor’s involvement in physically restraining a suspect who real cops later handcuffed and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
For Master Courtright, public service is just another day at the dojo.
But it’s not case closed for truly professional law enforcement officers, whose best trained advocates strongly advise against civilians, including the ghost of Bruce Lee, interfering in the sometimes deadly world of protecting the public.
To make matters worse, no mention of Courtright’s involvement appears in the official police report.
Police Chief Carl Graziano said that should not be the case. Maybe the officer was so busy in the aftermath of the chaos that is the Scranton Paddy’s Day parade that she overlooked including the mayor in her report, Graziano said.
I doubt it.
The officer included the name, address and telephone number of a witness who called 911 because “things were getting out of hand” at the party. With such expected attention to detail I would also expect the officer to include a major martial arts moment from the mayor – her boss – that resulted in a restraint technique used by the master who is a certified self-defense instructor at the local police training academy.
If the accused gets a lawyer and sues, and I will not be surprised if that now happens, I would expect said lawyer to ask for the police report to look for who exactly took his client to the ground so he can subpoena that person to court and cross-examine him about why he jumped into an official police action when he is not even a cop.
Courtright would then have to answer questions – questions he has steadfastly refused to answer from me, by the way – concerning his teachers, his formal training and who promoted him to a black belt ranking higher than God’s.
The only explanation for Courtright’s use of force is that the officer he was accompanying on what police call a “ride-along” was in real danger or being attacked. But Graziano made no mention of a real threat or attack when we spoke yesterday.
I understand that the officer is forbidden by department rules from commenting.
Still, we need a full and detailed explanation.
So does the city’s insurance carrier.
Is Courtright covered for physically restraining anybody? Even if he’s right, what if the accused claims he got injured by an elected official while sworn police officers stood by and watched as their supervisor put him into some kind of ancient and mysterious arm bar reserved for use only by the elite and secret shogun protection unit of a secret Samurai force?
Who’s going to pay the legal bills, ninjas? Or taxpayers in the already cash-strapped and feudal city Courtright is paid to serve? What if Courtright got injured? What if he had encountered a 9th degree black belt schooled in the mysterious and ancient art of chop suey phooey?
Yes, it’s an ancient Chinese art. And everybody knew their part. There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung. He said here comes the big boss let’s get it on.
And that’s exactly what the Electric City’s big boss did.
For better or worse, the civilian mayor put himself on the front lines of a battle in which he is not supposed to engage – unless, of course, he was busy saving the female officer from not being able to do her job. Did she really require his assistance? Was she in real physical danger? Did she agree to step aside so Courtright could protect her?
If so, why didn’t she include those answers in her official police report? Why did she keep Courtright’s name out of the report all together? Will Graziano require her to file a supplemental report? Should somebody investigate the mayor, who failed to respond to a message that I left with his secretary?
From a feint into as slip and kicking from the hip.
No response to legitimate requests for an interview with my congressman, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright.
And that’s no way to treat a voter - not to mention that I’m an elder statesman of the local press who has worked the truth-seeking trenches for almost 30 years in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
On Friday, in the spirit of Irish peacemaking and in preparation for the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade the following day, I declared an official truce between me and the no-account politicians with whom I have developed a prickly rash of a relationship over the past year.
That’s my job, by the way. Pester, antagonize, provoke, challenge, annoy, belittle and sometimes even work to destroy the careers of those who dishonor the public trust or do not take seriously their public responsibility to uphold the public trust.
That sounds rash because it is. Trite as it might sound to you, the press must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And nobody is more comfortable in hard coal country than elected officials.
Cartwright, just by virtue of his position, is the most comfortable daily diner at the public trough.
When he ran as an underdog, nobody was more in his corner than I was. At times he seemed like a co-host on the show, turning up with little or no notice to answer questions about why he was the best candidate for the job.
Cartwright ran in the Democratic primary in a newly constructed district, facing off against Democratic darling and longtime incumbent congressman Tim Holden, a crotchety and well-oiled veteran who controlled much of what passed for democracy in his district. Powerful status quo Democrats, people like U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, played it safe with Holden. I ran amok with Cartwright, who passed himself off as an “FDR Democrat,” a liberal who was proud of his leftist leanings. And when Cartwright won, the lads from the other side became his new best friends. Even worse, Cartwright became one of them, a posturing, fawning, timid and lackluster follower rather than the rebel leader he claimed to be.
Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Then I asked for a favor as a constituent, good citizen, and law-abiding member of the community. I didn’t just ask for myself, either. I asked for us all.
Would Cartwright help us remove from a public park the name of an admitted federal gangster, a prison inmate and former powerful Democratic Party warlord who pillaged the public trust?
Cartwright quickly refused. Stammering and spinning, the rookie lawmaker passed off his duly elected responsibility to anybody who could get him off the hook. We sensed his fear and an unwillingness to stand up for what was right. We sensed a dereliction of duty. We saw right through him. Obviously embarrassed, Cartwright also didn’t like what we saw.
As you might expect, my on-the-air critiques became sharper.
Then one day his normally obedient communications director – who also serves as his re-election campaign field director – stopped taking my calls. Shane Seaver stopped responding to my emails. I still received the bureaucratic press releases that seemed to be spit from Washington automatically, but human contact ceased. Even my most serious questions about policy – including an alleged murder that a self-proclaimed former gang member whom Cartwright appointed to a task force claimed he witnessed - went unheeded.
Then I declared my First Annual Scranton St. Patrick’s Day Corbett Truce.
The truce went well. Standing in front of cathedral steps, I watched a nest of elected sinners descend into the street. I shook hands one after the other with men who likely still despise me but agreed to abide by my truce. Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, Scranton City Councilman Bill Gaughan, Scranton School District Superintendent Bill King and others smiled as we broke shamrocks together.
I made a point to hunt down Cartwright. Stepping to my congressman, I announced the truce. Cartwright grinned and announced that we were not fighting. People around him laughed and we were all of a sudden in this mess together. Cartwright even relaxed long enough to tell a silly story about congressmen doing yoga at the Capitol at taxpayer expense.
More about that later.
And off I went, with a second handshake and the promise that, “We’ll talk.” I made the promise, by the way.
On Monday, Cartwright’s editorial about immigration appeared in the Times-Tribune. I figured the issue was serious enough to invite him on the show. So I did. I left three voicemails for Seaver and spoke to a staffer in Cartwright’s Scranton office. I left a personal voicemail on Seaver’s cellphone after getting the number from a Washington staffer.
Maybe we had a mix-up along the way. Maybe Cartwright isn’t getting the messages.
London’s calling from “across the pond,” as the young woman television researcher puts it in her emails from England.
They’re interested in Betty Wolsieffer’s murder, she says, mostly in giving a voice to the victim whose death so many years ago has been forgotten by too many, a death that occurred before the researcher was even born.
That’s why I agreed to talk with the television people from the Discovery investigation show when they come to Wilkes-Barre at the end of the month.
After I agreed, though, I had second thoughts and told them I wasn’t interested in speaking with the director, reporter, researcher or anybody else who showed up with a camera crew.
Time had not healed all wounds and I didn’t want to continue to open the cuts.
A few months ago, after talking on the phone to Betty’s killer, her husband, Glen, for the first time in more than 20 years, I wrote a front page newspaper column in The Times Leader, the newspaper where I worked and wrote columns for 17 years.
Killer Glen was up to his old pathology of trying to manipulate public opinion about his innocence. After telling prison officials that he “took responsibility” for his crime, Glen told me that he only admitted guilt to get out of prison after spending 13 years inside. He faced a maximum sentence of seven more years.
Sicko Glen lied to get his way.
So what else is new?
People needed to know that he was back on the street and up to his usual bad behavior.
I must admit that I was disappointed at the lack of interest in the column. I expected more. Of course people read the story but I wanted more public outcry. I wanted people clamoring for Glen to come clean. I wanted real justice. That didn’t really happen and probably never will.
Telling the story is something I always do and this story needs to be remembered. That’s why I changed my mind and agreed again to talk with the British broadcast journalists.
Actually, another force, a force of evil, pushed me.
Glen’s talking to us, too, the British researcher tells me.
The killer's continuing spin creates a major problem.
I have no doubt that Glen will try to resurrect the mystery “intruder” theory for the brutal strangulation dearth of his wife. A jury found, however, that Glen left Betty’s body on their bedroom floor when he was through with her on August 30, 1986.
For me to turn away now would dishonor everything I have fought to achieve as a journalist. To ignore his brutal power play would disrespect the memory of the woman he murdered and the pain her family still endures at his hand. To remain silent while Glen gains international attention for once again, using and abusing his wife – even while in her grave - would be unforgivable.
So I plan to talk with the crew.
Maybe I’ll suggest that we stop by Glen’s house together. As I have done in the past, I’m willing to knock on the door at the little house on Magnolia Avenue where he lives with his mother. I’m willing to face our wicked has-been husband and ask why he not only killed by why he persists in living the lie that keeps attacking redemption while continuing to hurt him and others.
Glen is frail nowadays.
Glen is fragile.
Glen is broken.
But Glen is still dangerous to himself and others.
No matter what bogus yet confident drivel he posts on Facebook, Glen, according to police, was seen several times sitting alone in his car at night, smoking cigarettes at the end of Birch Street where he lived when he became a murderer.
I told Glen when we spoke that some people worried that he might kill himself. I told him that he might feel better if he talked and explained exactly what happened and why he did what he did. Instead of facing facts and reality, instead of truly facing himself, Glen floated off to the netherworld where he lives with the devil in his personal piece of hell where lies always come to the rescue until they explode in great balls of fate and fire.
Glen still believes that his delusion will set him free.
I am not alone in seeing through the charade. I see fear and insecurity, weakness and indecision. I see Glen trying to fool himself that he will be able to persuade knowledgeable people of his innocence. I see a pathetic attempt to mislead that has always failed in the past.
That’s why I urge you to look for the British film crew when they come to town. Welcome them into your lives. Talk with the, Tell them the truth. Speak for the good wife and mother who can no longer speak for herself
That way we will do our part if we are able in setting the record straight each time Glen tries his murderous manipulation on a new set of victims.
I don’t want Glen to suffer any more than he already has.
I don’t want anybody else to suffer, either, especially Betty’s family whose prison of pain is a dreadful life sentence of loss.
Looking forward to our October trip to Italy, a tour of a lifetime for me, my wife and our travelling companions through AAA North Penn, I can’t help but remember the late, great Tony Perugino, who exemplified the lure of the Old World cradled like a soft Roman sunrise in the newness of modern time.
Tony’s gone now, but his Italian-American legacy remains.
And I’m among countless people who learned a little bit of Italy from a master whose pride in his heritage touched those lucky enough to be taken into his confidence.
I was one of the lucky ones
And I’m Irish.
Within weeks of our first meeting, Tony was calling me “Stefano,” Italian, he said, for “Stephen.”
Tony had taken me under his wing, in his rough, yet comforting, embrace of family. Old enough to be my father, Tony carried himself in the manner of the Depression-era Italian-Americans whose dignity knew no bounds.
An expert on boxing, the inner sanctum of the Vatican, food and so much more, Tony shared through whispers and homemade wine the tips I needed to know to navigate the tight-knit tribal culture of Northeastern Pennsylvania – lessons I will carry as a gold-standard guide book on the October 4 through October 12 trip that will take us to Venice, Florence and Rome.
Did Tony ever know food.
For years, his restaurant in Pennsylvania hard coal country – land of Italian, Sicilian and so many more immigrants who flocked to the mines to dig out their part of the American Dream – catered to people who craved their little piece of Italy seasoned with Tony’s personal magic touch.
I was partial to the calamari.
Today, as I dream of October, I know what to look for in the pounded white tubes of fresh squid that must be prepared in a certain way – a way I will know when I reach the land of Tony’s ancestors and dig in to my first plate of steamy food from the sea.
And fresh pasta.
Tony taught me well.
Yet many mysteries big and small await discovery, as we walk the small winding streets of Italian cities, towns and villages from Venice to Florence and on to Rome, anxiously awaiting the sights and sounds that will make this trip so very special.
In my mind I hear the music, smell the tomato sauce and taste dry red wine on my lips. I feel the slow roll of the Venice water taxi, the tilt in the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the sun on my face in St. Peter’s Square as we walk to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom, to see the famed “Pieta,” by Michelangelo.
I can see it now.
Still, I have a secret to tell you. Lean close and I’ll tell you, the way Tony used to tell me some of his secrets.
I’ve never been to Italy.
Many of you have likely never visited Italy, either. That’s why, whether a rookie or a veteran Italian tourist, this trip will bring us together in ways we can only imagine in our dreams – a trip filled with art, music, language, food and the finest trappings of ancient and modern culture comes alive in every present moment.
Now is the time to make our dreams come true.
Tony would have been the best guide, of course, but we’ll be well taken care of by local guides and a professional Italian-English speaking escort who will be with us every step of the way. We’ll be driven by private, deluxe, air-conditioned motor coach and stay in luxury first-class hotels and eat first-class Italian meals.
We’ll have time together and time on our own.
What’s particularly reassuring about this Italy trip is that CIE Tours International is running the trip – a tour company unlike any other. In recent years, my wife and I have traveled CIE to Scotland, England and Ireland many times. No need goes unattended by CIE. Their reputation among international tour operators is unparalleled - and I’m speaking from experience.
After returning home from Italy, my friend Tony used to love to talk about what he saw and what he did and what he ate. Tony gestured with strong hands, smiled and whispered and regaled me with stories about the old country – a sacred land where every traveler is guaranteed unique memories to last a lifetime.
“Go to Italy, Stefano,” he’d say. “You’ll see.”
So I’m going to Italy, finally, and I hope you’ll join me.
For more information contact the AAA North Penn office nearest you.