Corruption Rampant in Pennsylvania Coal Country
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Print ShareThisWILKES-BARRE, Pa. — After a six-year run in the NFL, Greg Skrepenak came home to Pennsylvania and parlayed his name recognition and hometown popularity into a seat on the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners.
He'd campaigned as a reformer. It turns out he was anything but. Prosecutors charged him last month with accepting $5,000 in gifts from a developer seeking public financing of a condominium project. He is scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday.
Another day, another fallen politician in the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, where FBI agents and federal prosecutors have spent the past year rooting out government corruption in a hardscrabble region known for its pay-to-play politics, suspicion of outsiders and resistance to political change.
Twenty-three people in Luzerne County — including a school superintendent, three county judges, four courthouse officials, and five school board members — have been charged so far in a variety of unrelated schemes.
In the most egregious abuse of the public's trust, two judges are charged with taking $2.8 million in kickbacks to place youth offenders in for-profit detention facilities — a scandal known as "kids for cash." While thousands of juvenile convictions have been dismissed by the state Supreme Court, youth advocates say the lives of countless children and their families were ruined.