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.
Looks like young Robert Casey drove his political career straight into a brick wall.
Or did he?
Maybe in the long run few Scranton voters will care that the All-American boy with the Irish-American grin, the high vote getter in the November school board election, the grocery clerk at the local supermarket who still lives at home with mom and dad while he works on his college degree, spun out of control in the early morning hours of a recent weekend gone wild.
But I care.
That’s why young Casey – no relation to the famous Scranton senator of the same name – must soon decide that he’s not up to the job of public service – at least not yet.
Dad drove him to rehab Monday for treatment of an alcohol problem. Meanwhile they await police action on the East Stroudsburg accident that sent young Robert crawling from the car and walking to the hospital for 14 stitches in his hand and a blood alcohol test.
Dad says his son told him he had been drinking and was off on a little ride in a car that belonged to a young woman he had recently met. Robert was alone, Dad said, and rolled the car. Maybe his driving skills would have been better if, even at 23, he had a driver’s license.
But young Robert has no license.
Dad says he called the young woman’s father and offered to pay for everything, including a rental car and another vehicle of similar value. In return, Dad says the owner suggested that he might not push police to charge young Robert with stealing the car.
Driving without a license.
Not to mention the two other alcohol-related charges that your rookie public servant has in his past. Notice that I say in his past and not on his record because no record exists, according to Dad. Young Robert pleaded guilty a few years ago to public drunkenness and received community service as punishment. The record was eventually expunged,. Dad says.The underage drinking charge disappeared when police failed to show at the hearing for Robert and four of his buddies, one of whom had fallen off a rock in a display of drunken ballet near the baseball stadium.
Technically young Robert has no criminal record for alcohol.
But young Robert has a history.
And that history can erupt in an explosive stupor that at any moment could kill him and anybody around him.
But he’s such a gentleman, one caller to “Corbett” said Monday when we broke the story on the air.
He’s so polite.
He’s a good boy.
Yeah, he is that and more.
He's also a drunk.
I voted for young Robert and publicly endorsed him.
But I sensed something wrong when he never called the show during either the primary or the general election. Dad says he advised him not to call in the primary because young Robert wasn’t polished or sophisticated and he worried about his boy. Young Robert personally gave me his word in the supermarket one day that he’d call during the general.
But his word was no good.
I now wonder if they worried that I might have heard the drunken stories the way I heard the most recent tale. I wonder if they were both playing Scranton politics – Dad is a former Scranton school board member himself and an admitted recovering alcoholic. He said he was so drunk once that Wilkes-Barre police stopped him and eventually called him a cab. Dad says he told the cabbie to pull over because he was going to be sick. He then ran back to his car and took off.
Police only then charged him with DUI.
But, according to Dad, he made a few calls and the charge went away.
That’s the way things got done back then.
But, as Dad says, it’s a new day.
Let’s hope so. Let’s hope young Robert recovers and works to stay sober. Some people just can’t drink without running amok.
But Glen Wolsieffer found time to snicker once or twice when we spoke recently about that day in 1986 when he killed his wife, Betty.
Time to publicly explain what happened, I said as we talked on the phone. Time for remorse, I said. Time to tell us why you strangled Betty, 32, and then blamed her cold and terrible death on an “intruder” you claimed came out of nowhere and knocked you unconscious.
His case languished for more than three years before his arrest in 1989. A year later, he went to trial in Luzerne County Court, and in June 1992 he reported to state prison to begin serving his sentence. The story attracted national attention and became the subject of a book, “Murder at 75 Birch,” that was developed into a TV movie of the same name that aired in 1999.
Back in 2005, after sticking to his “I’m an innocent man” story and spending almost 13 years behind bars after a jury convicted him of third-degree murder, the former dentist told members of the state parole board that he “took responsibility” for his crime.
That admission secured his release.
But now I have to wonder if Glen, 60, has taken responsibility for anything.
“I told them I did it so I could get out,” Glen said.
“So you lied?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to do seven more years,” he said.
Glen said he told the parole board a lot over the years that resulted in his bid for parole being rejected five times out of six.
“Survival of the dumbest,” he said.
“So now you’re saying you didn’t kill Betty?” I asked.
Glen didn’t answer the question.
“I could tell you right now I didn’t do it and you wouldn’t believe me,”
“Why can’t you just tell me why you killed Betty?” I asked.
“You want to know something that nobody else does,” he said.
“Why did you do it?” I asked. “Why did you kill Betty?”
“There’s no reason why I killed Betty,” Glen said.
Glen seemed flustered, scattered and talking in circles. His voice was soft, not weak but not strong, his words interrupted a few time by nervous laughter at inappropriate times.
“Are you telling me now, today that you didn’t kill Betty?” I asked.
Glen said nothing.
“That’s over,” he said of the eight-to-20-year sentence a judge handed down after jurors convicted him of third-degree murder, missing a first-degree conviction that would have imprisoned him for life, by one vote.
The maximum is up, Glen said.
“That sentence is over,” he said.
“Your sentence is never over,” I said.
“Why are you bringing up that when you called to talk about Denise Thomas?” Glen asked.
Elected in November, Thomas is a Greater Wilkes-Barre Area School District school board member who has exchanged recent Facebook comments with Glen on her page. A listener I have known for years sent me page shots of those comments. In one exchange, Glen responded to Thomas about her anger over comments made about the school district by a WILK News Radio host who filled in for me when I was on vacation.
“A wannabe Corbett. LOL,” Glen wrote. “That is dangerous.”
Glen “laughing out loud” at me deserved a response.
So I called him recently.
“After everything that happened, you want to taunt me? “ I asked.
“You do a lot that isn’t correct and isn’t right,” I said.
“Everybody does,” he said.
“Not as bad as you,” I said.
This was the second time Glen and I had talked in a little more than a year.
On Aug. 30, 2012, the anniversary of Betty’s death, I had gone looking for him on Magnolia Avenue in Wilkes-Barre where I understood he lived with his mother. Glen wasn’t home but a neighbor told me about him sitting on a lawn chair in the driveway, day after day, chain-smoking cigarettes and looking gaunt.
“He told me he’s seeing a counselor,” the neighbor said.
I found out later that day that city police had responded months before to a report of a man sitting alone in his car smoking cigarettes at the end of Birch Street, where Glen, Betty and 5-year-old Danielle lived when daddy killed mommy. Glen was the man in the car. Police shooed him away without a charge and filed a formal report on the incident. The police report says officers found Glen alone in his car near Birch Street more than once.
Glen, who listed his phone number on a federal court document when he filed for bankruptcy in 2011, answered the phone when I called the following day. At that point we hadn’t spoken to each other in about 23 years.
I told Glen that I had stopped by his house to see him, that maybe it was time for us to talk.
Glen softly said he didn’t want to talk about Betty’s murder
I told him that I heard he wasn’t feeling well. I told him that talking might help. I told him that telling the truth always helps.
I told Glen that we would talk another time. I said I would call him again.
“Okay, bud,” he said.
On my most recent call a few weeks ago, I reminded Glen that I was polite and respectful when we spoke last year.
“I was being fair and didn’t want to push you into a corner,” I said. “Some people were worried that you might kill yourself,” I said.
Glen said nothing.
But the Facebook “laugh out loud” was too much, I said.
Glen said he understood.
“You and I need to sit down and talk about this,” I said.
CorbettCam breathes and smolders and ignites and offers a heated respite from the same cold leftover television news features and alleged commentary that plagues our news at 11.
Television news gets dull and duller. So do the anchors, walking, talking personality disorders who are overpaid and way too impressed with themselves.
CorbettCam takes it to the streets.
News coverage is changing, of course. Online video is all the rage but when it comes to real rage, how many cute kitty cat tales can you swallow before your Youtube clogs and you take a choking fit on 21st Century technology? How much inane babble from young people so hip that it hurts can we take?
Hipsters are posers are inauthentic are doomed. College loan debt has turned them inward. Generation Device is one big dysfunctional app. Listening to them is enough to send anybody off the edge. So, for you young people (20 to 35) too hip for your own good and older people so dull, competitive and ego-driven that their hair must hurt, I bring you CorbettCam – alive and strong and breathing fire from the mountain.
The new feature on WILK TV, accessed by going to wilknewsradio.com, brings you a very real look at the scene of the crime and the grime, a reality-based commentary with satire and action shots, interviews and, of course, my personal brand of commentary that is unlike anything you have ever seen.
That’s why I’m Corbett, painful as my identity can sometimes be. But I’ve worked all my life to become what I am today, for better or for worse. For 62 years I’ve cultivated and reshaped myself so I can deliver local news, commentary and analysis of our community in ways that sometimes even surprises me.
For most of the decades of my journalism career I’ve relied and depended on the written word.
In this new medium, I am spoken word – a cross between a poet and a pirate, a media messiah with a message the powerful often don’t like to hear. Holy CorbettCam, do I like that characterization. Come to me little degenerate corrupt politicians.
Political commentary is, in fact, sacred.
My mission is a crusade.
And you’re part of the drama.
The first CorbettCam adventure, with intrepid videographer to the stars Karel Zubris and Hulk Hogan look-a-like producer/bodyguard Crockett, captured our journey to find the next Scranton mayor.
The race was coal country nasty, pitting Jim “Kiss Me I’m A Deadbeat” Mulligan” against black belt karate “Grand Master” Bill Courtright who absolutely refused to divulge the deep West Side secret teaching that resulted in his alleged 8th degree martial arts ranking.
The video is an award-winner and will be entered in this year’s Canned Film Festival in South Side.
Last week’s video took us to the dark side of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport where landing passenger jets has become a possible “lights out” operation that one day could result in a crash and burn that kills everybody on board because the bad weather landing lights have been out and have not been replaced for at least nine months.
The Federal Aviation Administration, by the way, failed to get back to me o that one.
As financially unstable as Northeastern Pennsylvania has become, the FAA could at least send body bags.
Next week, we’re headed to the sewer for a national Boycott Yuengling beer protest. Or maybe to a homicide scene in Wilkes-Bare – we have 13 so far this year so take your pick. Maybe we’ll visit my fragile Democratic congressman Matt Cartwright to ask why he won’t talk to me anymore after I was his biggest media supporter during the campaign when even powerful Democrats like U.S. Sen. Bobby Casey rooted against him. Or maybe we’ll hunt down federal convict Bob Mellow as he relaxes at the halfway house on our dime.
With CorbettCam, anything is possible.
But I need your help. Let me know where you’d like to send CorbettCam next. If I take your suggestion, I’ll give you a free CorbettCam “You better Listen” t-shirt and you can come to the Canned Film Festival in South Side.
OK, so the festival is still in the planning stages. How about a canned ham? Or canned Spam? Or better yet, canned yams?
So far we’ve got two CorbettCam episodes under our belts. I foresee so many successful future adventures that we’ll be able to run them around the clock on a CorbettCam channel.
Even young people, tweeters as I call them, will one day accept the truth that CorbettCam shall set them free.
As of Tuesday, Election Day of all days, Bob Mellow is on the loose.
Even living in the federally- supervised Scranton half-way house he checked into this week, the admitted federal gangster and degenerate convict poses enough of a public threat to assign a squad of undercover marshals to watch the facility’s doors and windows day and night.
The decision to release the Democratic warlord and former powerful state senator to a facility in the heart of his one-time political kingdom is reckless, foolish and loaded with potential for abuse and, yes, corruption. Mellow once ruled these same streets, reaching his toxic tentacles from the political sewers and gutters of our lives and through the windows and doors and air vents of every city, county and state office building in Scranton.
Now Bob Mellow’s back in town, flashing his feeble pearly whites. Sick as his lawyers claim he is, Mellow’s ready to sink his teeth into everybody and anybody who helped put him in prison or failed to write an letter to the judge when he was ready for departure.
Mellow is still dangerous.
So are his politically-connected lawyers.
Make no mistake about it, even if you see Mellow sweeping floors at St. Peter’s Cathedral up the street from the half-way house, Mellow wants vengeance - no matter what the Lord says.
Only one big obstacle exists. Mellow faces state public corruption charges and is scheduled for trial next year. If convicted, Mellow, 70, could spend the rest of his miserable life behind bars. We’re talking state prison, too, not the soft land of minimum security white collar bottom-feeders with whom Mellow spent his leisure tine in Georgia. We’re talking Philly stick-up men, biker enforcers and psycho rapists – even the occasional demented one-time Harrisburg silk tie wearer.
Mellow actually knows a couple of current cons inside because at least two one-time big-time Democrats from Mellow’s gang of fools are serving time carving ballots out of bars of soap for their own vicious assaults against the public trust.
But who cares about them?
Our Bobby’s home and that’s all that matters.
I wonder what Scranton-native and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane thinks about Mellow’s new mailing address? If you remember, Kane once challenged Mellow for his seat in the Senate. But she quickly crawled on bended knee with a tear in her eye to beg forgiveness for ever thinking about humiliating him with such a threat to his power. I wrote a column about Kane’s secret meeting with Mellow last June. Then I sent the column to the Capitol press corps after sounding the alarm that Kane’s behind-closed-doors meeting with the man whose prosecuting she now leads could derail the case long as Mellow knows what she and he discussed and her own prosecutors don’t. One reporter responded to my emails but nobody wrote about the story.
Kane’s husband’s family still holds the multi-million dollar state liquor contract that they worried Mellow might torpedo if Kane continued with her race to unseat Mellow in the Senate. But Kane got scared and quit. And the champagne bubbles exploded from Scranton to Harrisburg and back again for the politically-connected Kane family.
Even Kane’s PR flack, Joe Peters, a former federal prosecutor and self-proclaimed Mafia buster refused to respond to my concerns. That’s because he’s now part of the problem rather than part of the solution. More people in Scranton are part of the problem than part of the solution that there are made men in the Mafia.
In the absence of attention elsewhere, I’m planning to send my Kane/Mellow column to the judge in the Kane/Mellow case. Rich Lewis knows me from my days raising hell with weekly newspapers in Harrisburg. He was a crack district attorney in Dauphin County so maybe he’ll pay attention.
In the meantime, Mellow is housed in the same building in downtown Scranton that housed former reputed Mafia boss Billy D’Elia, who, after becoming a rat, took a job as an Exeter ice cream scooper when he was released into half-way house custody – or custardy, if you like.
So what kind of job will Mellow take to help pay his debt to society while he lounges at our expense in the Scranton federal frat house? The cathedral sweeper gig sounds lovely. Maybe he can answer phones in the office of his former understudy and now state Sen. John Blake. Maybe Mellow can serve as a political consultant to Scranton mayor-elect Bill Courtright, who says he’s already met with Blake.
In Scranton, where anything can happen and usually does, anything is possible.
By the way, who do I see about getting tickets for the welcome home clambake?
If not, the martial artist who has achieved that rank dishonors the spirit of the practice and must be dealt with. Depending of the degree of the infraction, the offending black belt could lose his or her rank. Honorable teachers have been known to exile outlaw students who have dishonored the style, system or school.
Scranton Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Courtright claims to hold several black belts in various martial arts. As an “8th degree” black belt, Courtright, who owns and operates a karate school in West Side, claims to be one of the highest ranking Tang Soo Do practitioners in the nation.
Karate legend Chuck Norris holds the same black belt ranking as Courtright. Aikido master Steven Seagal holds a 7th degree black belt, one degree shy of Courtright’s accomplishments.
That’s very impressive, sensei.
In his campaign literature and on roadside billboards throughout the city, Courtright stresses “integrity.”
In a city as dishonored by corrupt politicians as Scranton, integrity matters as much as intelligence, organizational skill and governing acumen. Integrity, or the lack of integrity, shapes leadership for better or worse.
But Courtright has refused to respond to my attempts to find out who promoted him to such a high-ranking position in the international karate community. He refuses to name his teacher(s) or provide detail about when and where he received his prestigious ranking.
The questions are simple and relevant, not only to his bid for public office but in his bid for credibility in his business as well. Martial arts students have every right to expect a teacher to be exactly what he or she claims to be. Students are customers and consumer reassurance is the mark of good business. Some karate instructors have been known to defraud students as a way to increase class size and, of course, personal profit.
That’s why, as a long-time martial artist, I advise all martial arts students to verify before paying. Many truly qualified, honorable, teachers exist. So do many dangerous frauds.
Is Courtright the karate expert he claims to be?
Only he can prove the truth.
Yesterday I called a Tang Soo Do teacher near Philadelphia to inquire about rank. He said he has been practicing for about 35 years and teaches as a master – Courtright claims “Grand Master” status on his website, by the way.
The man said he knows many people in the Tang Soo Do community yet he has never heard of Courtright. He referred me to a friend who teaches in Northeastern Pennsylvania and who is a national Tang Soo Do expert, a 6th degree black belt who runs a few dojangs or schools not far from Scranton.
I called that master yesterday and left a message..
Another 6th degree Tang Soo Do master, a well-known and well-respected teacher in Tunkhannock, called the show Tuesday to say that he is concerned about Courtright’s claims. He said he also is concerned that few black belts or anyone else for that matter will call out martial arts instructors who promote themselves or add illegitimate rank to the already crowded notches in their belts.
Such fraud defines dishonor in the martial arts.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is loaded with overblown martial arts egomaniacs. They promote themselves or their friends promote them and they in turn promote their friends. I know one local teacher who promoted one of his dedicated students to a rank higher than the rank the teacher holds.
Impressively-ranked teachers mean more students, more money, more prestige and more power.
But how do students – especially children and their parents – know that they’re receiving the real deal and are not abused.
Politely demand proof.
That’s why Courtright’s refusal to answer my questions sets off alarms about his ability to lead the city let alone his own dojo.
As a “shodan,” a first-degree black belt in aikido, I can and will provide you with my teacher’s name, phone number, email and street address at Full Circle Aikido in Grover Beach, California. If you have any questions about my black belt claim all you have to do is contact my teacher. In fact, I plan to email this column to him as a heads up that he might be receiving inquires.
My teacher’s qualifications and aikido lineage that goes directly to aikido’s founder are easy to obtain as well. Man of honor that he is, I expect that 6th degree aikido instructor Steven Steger will answer all your questions and even tell you that Jesus loves you before hanging up or signing off.
Integrity means everything in martial arts and in life.
That includes the “warrior” who hopes to be the next mayor of Scranton.
Something as seemingly simple as two basic facts still must be investigated thoroughly so that no dispute exists as to the circumstances of Garay’s death.
Perhaps he rolled over on the loaded gun and it misfired. Maybe he shot himself. Maybe somebody else shot hm.
All hypotheticals, each scenario, must be investigated in depth.
This is a matter of life and death.
What is not hypothetical is the stark accusation that police executed Garay, as told by his sister, Veronica, who called “Corbett” last week to make her shocking claims.
Veronica said her brother was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and that he was, indeed, armed the night of his death.
So police were immediately out of line when they say they noticed him with a gun in his waistband and “grabbed” him, according to published reports and attributed to police.
In our Northeastern Pennsylvania gun culture where far too many people are walking around carrying loaded firearms thanks to lax concealed weapons permit policy, would police have grabbed anybody else? Would police have grabbed a white Chamber of Commerce member, a soccer mom or even a militia man with an open carry sidearm walking around in public like he’s living in the old wild West?
I doubt it.
Police can and should usually approach a man or woman with a gun without pulling one. To the best of my knowledge that is standard operating procedure in a gun culture where those who carry guns legitimately argue that they are mostly law-abiding citizens there to help when times turn violent and bullets fly.
Veronica said that she possesses a surveillance video – a video she gave to friends for safe keeping because she fears retribution - that shows her brother walking into her mother’s house alone. The video, she said, then shows an officer coming through the gate and walking into her mother’s house without announcing that police were on the scene or asking permission to enter.
Veronica said her mother witnessed her son’s killing as police fired a second bullet into his head as he lay dying in his mother’s arms. Garay’s mother suffered a heart attack last week in the aftermath of the madness, Veronica said.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis has told the press that she expects to have the results of the police investigation into the fatal shooting by Friday.
I wonder if that’s not too soon.
Tension grips Hazleton in the wake of Garay’s death in a city already much too tightly wrapped because of the well-deserved reputation city officials have as being less than sensitive to its significant and increasing Latino population.
Garay was of Puerto Rican heritage.
I don’t know the police officer’s race but in Hazleton it’s fair to say that he is not Latino, African-American or Asian. The cop is likely of Western European heritage – a white cop in a white town that resists change – sometimes to the death.
Latinos in Hazleton already get the brunt of unfair criticism for an increasing crime rate. People tend to forget when La Costra Nostra organized crime ruled the city and other Western European ethnic groups contributed to drunk and disorderly violence, including murder.
People should always remember that a 16-year-old boy died not that many decades ago in a Hazleton car bombing when he was mistaken for a mobster.
But a police shooting is always different. People who already do not trust police deserve to be reassured that police are on their side, that the search for justice is part of the community conscience and that cover-ups, bribes, kickbacks, unconstitutional public policy and overt threats and intimidation of good people is a thing of the past.
A public meeting might help. The good people of Hazleton need to speak up about their fears and concerns.
Veronica said that her brother did not have a police record. And, if he did possess a government issued concealed weapons permit, that fact alone should attest to his clean record.
Jonathon Garay, according to those who knew him, was the kind of person who would have attended a public meeting to address a growing crime rate and violence in his city and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those who want peace. But he won’t be at the meeting if one is held.
About eight months ago Pittston Township police confirmed for me that they had confiscated about 50 pounds of marijuana from a nationally branded warehouse in a local industrial park.
An alert news source of mine who was listening to a police scanner heard the call and let me know about the dope.
A nice township police officer even stopped by WILK News radio to confirm the find and tell me that the investigation was continuing.
The war on drugs continued and I slept soundly that night knowing that township police were on the job.
I also figured that this was as good a time as any to do something I’ve wanted to do for decades – track the confiscation and disposal of drugs by police who are frontline public servants with great responsibility to uphold the public trust.
And fifty pounds of weed is a great test of the public trust.
So I waited. And about a month ago I called the new Pittston Twp. police chief and asked about the marijuana. Yes, he said, he remembered hearing about the case and the confiscated “52 pounds” of marijuana even though he was not on the job when the bust went down. And, yes, the chief said, he would have the investigating officer call me to bring me up to date on the case and the marijuana.
The officer never called.
So I called the chief and left a message.
The chief never returned my call.
We originally had a nice conversation. He said he was a retired trooper with the state police and we talked about raising standards in police work and other niceties about an often grueling and deadly job.
I thought it very odd that he didn’t return my call – or the three subsequent calls and messages I left for him with a dispatcher and on his voicemail.
In my last message I informed the chief that I would have to take my inquiry to a higher level.
Still, no response.
What was going on?
Did police still possess an intact “52” pounds of marijuana? Why was it so difficult to tell me that they had the drugs and that I could stop by and see the bale? Why create questions in an already mysterious situation? Was something awry?
Maybe somebody in the Pittston Twp. government told the chief not to speak with me, I thought. I have not had the best relationship with former township police chief and current supervisor Steve Rinaldi, who once told me he had acted as a personal concealed weapons permit reference for a reputed Mafia don because “he’s my friend.”
But the new chief came highly recommended. A longtime law enforcement source told me he was a good cop and a one-time solid boxer..
OK, so why cut off my good faith inquiries? Satisfactorily answering my questions would only make the department look good - assuming everything was on the up and up with the weed, that is./
I’ve heard in the past week or so that the chief requested a Luzerne County court order that is required to destroy the marijuana. But when I called the county courthouse recently nobody could find the order.
An attorney with whom I spoke said township officers could hold onto the “evidence” as long as the case is an open case, which I understand the case to be. To the best of my knowledge nobody has been charged in the case and nobody knows who sent the dope or who was supposed to pick it up.
But if the case is open and township police have held on to the marijuana for eight months, why request a court order to destroy it about the same time I started asking questions?
No newspaper story appeared about the big haul, either. Local cops love to spread illegal drugs across a table and pose in their best paramilitary gear with the evidence like they’re international drug agents whose lives should be portrayed on the big screen rather than local cops stuck in a musty police station in hard coal country.
What’s going on here?
I thought about calling the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA keeps an office in Scranton. But I don’t trust the DEA. A Wilkes-Barre local cop assigned to the local DEA office wrote a letter trying to influence a federal judge to go easy on an admitted criminal former cop buddy who pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.
DEA “standards” leave a lot to be desired.
So I plan to call Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis. I’ll also email her this column and ask if I need to file a complaint in order to find out where 52 pounds of marijuana worth almost $100,000 happens to be.
I want proof, too. I’m sorry to say that it’s no longer good enough to take police at any level at their word. The public trust in Northeastern Pennsylvania has all but destroyed and restoration efforts are not going well.
Show me the marijuana.
Let me photograph it, weigh it and get confirmation that it is in fact marijuana and not oregano.
Then please explain why I had to jump through hoops in order to simply tell good, law-abiding citizens in our community that they can trust the Pittston Twp. cops.
The photograph on the front page of the Sunday Times People page immediately caught my eye.
Standing and smiling, West Scranton High School’s teenage “Miss Invader” posed in the uniform she wears for school spirit activities during her school’s football games. The concept of Miss Invader is a time-honored “tradition” in West Side that is meant to instill school spirit and encourage support for the home team.
The child in the picture clutched a gun.
The rifle was a mock gun, of course, sculpted the way wooden rifles have been shaped for generations of high school band front twirlers who show off their hand-eye-coordination skills to stands full of cheering fans.
The band front girls in their white boots held wooden rifles at my high school when I played football in 1968.
But that was then.
This is now.
In the meantime, dozens of children have died at schools across the nation as a result of real guns fired by real invaders who assaulted everything that’s holy in America.
The age of innocence has left the high school field.
As carnage and gunfire once again erupted yesterday at an American military installation on American soil, we faced the grim spectrum of what to do in the aftermath. That means fighting the glorification of guns in all aspects of our culture. That also means prying little fingers from toy guns as a way to try to spread the appeal of non-violence over weapons.
As the impact of yesterday’s slaughter spread, I tried my best to hold a reasonable discussion about the impact Most people had little to say about the attack at the Navy Yard that killed 12 and gravely wounded others. But when I brought up Miss Invader, you’d have thought I had launched an assault against West Side all by myself.
“How dare you!” read a text message. “The bodies aren’t even cold in DC and you’re attacking our children. How dare you!”
I wasn’t attacking anybody.
I was challenging adults – school board members, principals, teachers, parents and other concerned citizens who are responsible for supervising and guiding our children in the face of a continuing madness fueled by arms and ammunition. I was asking grown men and women in charge of our schools to reflect on the terrible times in which we live and do their best to wisely shape young, impressionable minds. I was holding up a broken mirror to a hard community that needs to think a little deeper about the message we provide to children about what is right and what is wrong
And putting a fake rifle in the hands of a young girl is wrong.
But she never points the gun at anybody, said a caller in defense of Miss Invader.
That’s reassuring, I said.
She just dances with it, the caller said.
She just dances with it, I thought.
In this day and age, how could school administrators approve the appearance of an impressionable child on the 50-yard line to dance with a blue stars and sequin-covered rifle as a show of “patriotism” and school spirit?
Another caller said he simply hadn’t thought about the matter before.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
I’m thinking about it and want you to think about it
Reconsider the “good old days” (that weren’t all that good for countless people) when you played in the band or strutted or cheered or played high school football and America somehow seemed innocent – even though innocence has never blessed America.
How dare you not rethink your position?
I asked a caller yesterday if he thought the children at Columbine would appreciate gun-dancing school spirits at their next home football game.
“They’re all dead, aren’t they?” the caller responded with senseless bitter arrogance in his voice.
Put down the gun, West Scranton.
Arm yourself and your children with an abundance of peace and love and real education – the kid of learning that leads to thinking and feeling and living – the kind that stops abruptly in a flesh and blood spatter as soon as a shooter puts a bullet in the head of the next vulnerable school child.