WILKES-BARRE — The state Department of Environmental Protection will be the next stop in the ongoing criminal investigation of thousands of gallons of fuel missing from the city storage tanks.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Friday that the local DEP will be contacted after The Times Leader informed her that no one from her office has yet to ask the department for records or documents relating to DEP’s investigation completed in July 2012, around the same time she began her probe.
“We had no idea that DEP was involved,” Salavantis said. “We are definitely following up on that.”
DEP inspected the city’s tanks in July 2012 after the newspaper ran a story that the city could not account for nearly 18,000 gallons of fuel pumped at the city’s Department of Public Works yard on North Pennsylvania Avenue over a seven month period. DEP determined there was no leakage from the tanks that city is permitted to have, but that there was poor record keeping, a violation of the underground tank storage compliance program.
“We haven’t received any subpoena requests for information or even a phone call,” said Colleen Connolly, a DEP spokeswoman. A subpoena would not be needed because the district attorney’s office is a law enforcement agency, Connolly said Friday. “We’d give it to them.”
In addition to the DEP, the state Department of Revenue investigated and found that the city could not account for approximately 67,000 gallons of fuel dispensed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012. The Department of Revenue levied a $23,0189 tax because the city purchased the gasoline and diesel fuels tax free. The department also charged a $2,301 penalty and $599 in interest after its investigation concluded the city failed to keep appropriate records and could not show that the fuel was used for municipal purposes.
The city paid the state $25,919 and appealed the assessment, arguing it was excessive. It added that it kept poor records, but most of the undocumented fuel was used for municipal purposes. Mayor Tom Leighton, who was photographed pumping fuel into a sport utility vehicle at the DPW yard, admitted he did not fill out fuel logs, but used the fuel for city business.
The Department of Revenue denied the city’s appeal in June of last year.
Salavantis has extended her investigation due to additional interviews, the latest one conducted Thursday. She said detectives from her office have spoken with numerous people, including many DPW employees. Her office continues to receive the names of people to question and she said she will follow up in order to do a complete and thorough investigation.