Last updated: October 16. 2013 11:19PM - 4407 Views
By - mguydish@civitasmedia.com

John Paul Yuknavich, Wilkes-Barre Township fire chief, leaves his hearing on theft charges Wednesday morning in Plains Township.
John Paul Yuknavich, Wilkes-Barre Township fire chief, leaves his hearing on theft charges Wednesday morning in Plains Township.
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HANOVER TWP. — Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Yuknavich faces another day in court on four counts of allegedly taking funds paid by the township to the fire department. District Judge Joseph Halesey bound the charges over to Commonwealth Court after a lengthy preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick methodically ran through four years of monthly checks from the township to the fire department intended “for daily operations.” He had several witnesses testify that, while the checks were marked “for deposit only” and the fire department bylaws require they be deposited, some were often only partially deposited, with some of the money being taken as cash by the depositor.

Prosecutors allege Yuknavich took more than $40,000 from 2008 through 2011 by bringing $3,500 checks to the Wilkes-Barre City Employee’s Federal Credit Union, where the fire department account — as well as a personal account for Yuknavich — existed, but often depositing only part of the checks, taking some or all of the $3,500 as cash.

Prosecutors had leveled two additional counts for money taken in 2012 and 2013, but dropped those charges near the end of the hearing. Melnick said the amounts were small and documentation less definitive. “It was only a few hundred dollars,” Melnick said after the hearing.

Defense’s contention

Yuknavich’s attorney, Barry Dyller, hammered witnesses on key points he argued showed there was neither proof of a crime nor proof Yuknavich committed any wrongdoing. He repeatedly asked witnesses to point to any place on copies of township canceled checks submitted as evidence that showed Yuknavich had been the person to actually take the cash.

While a few checks had initials such a “J.P.Y.” or “J.Y.” none had Yuknavich’s signature in the endorsement area, bearing instead a stamp endorsing it for the Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Fire Department. Melnick said — and arresting officer state Trooper Lisa Brogan testified — two credit union tellers were prepared to testify at trial Yuknavich was the one who deposited checks and took cash.

Dyller also said there was no evidence Yuknavich had used any of the money for anything other than fire department operations or other department needs, suggesting Yuknavich could have simply paid cash for some services or purchases. Dyller noted no one from the fire department, which he said would be the victim, was present to testify against Yuknavich, and noted Township Business Administrator Michael Revitt testified the township lost no money because it was budgeted for and given to the fire department.

And Dyller argued three check transactions cited by the prosecution occurred more than five years before the charges were filed in August of this year, and thus were invalid because of the statute of limitations. Melnick countered the older charges could still be considered under certain circumstances and the issue was one the Commonwealth Court should decide.

Other charges

Yuknavich is already embroiled in December 2011 charges of stealing nearly $12,000 from the fire department’s bank account and using the department’s Sam’s Club credit card for personal use. That trial has been continued due to an appeal.

“The commonwealth’s case is weak to non-existent. It’s an embarrassment that our county resources are being used in this matter,” Dyller said.

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