WILKES-BARRE — A ranking FBI agent said Wednesday he could not say whether Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union manager James Payne, who took his own life this week, was personally “targeted” for investigation after officials launched a probe of the institution.
Payne, 50, died inside a home in Bear Creek Township just before 4 p.m. Monday, the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office confirmed.
Sean Quinn, director of the FBI’s Scranton office, questioned information in a story published in The Citizens’ Voice newspaper’s Wednesday edition, which stated that two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, “confirmed Payne was being investigated.”
“I believe that is inaccurate. I don’t know what they are talking about,” Quinn told The Times Leader Wednesday afternoon. “The FBI did not say that.”
Told of Quinn’s comments, Citizens’ Voice Managing Editor Dave Janoski said: “We stand by our story.”
State police at Wyoming said Tuesday that Payne died of a gunshot wound, and said the case was a suicide. No autopsy was scheduled.
Quinn did say he believes Payne’s perception of the investigation, which began with FBI agents serving a subpoena at the credit union a week ago, precipitated the tragedy. He said he could not comment on Payne’s demeanor when agents arrived, as Quinn was not personally present.
“In my opinion, what led to Mr. Payne killing himself, it was the corruption circulating around the city of Wilkes-Barre,” Quinn said, but he would not elaborate on whether that referred to any potential behavior by Payne.
He also said that the investigation does not end with Payne’s death.
Quinn said federal investigators are conducting “numerous corruption investigations” around the city and Luzerne County, though, again, he could not elaborate on those probes.
“The credit union is just an entity we happened upon in the course of other investigations,” Quinn said.
Earlier this week, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis confirmed that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office are working with her office on an investigation into tens of thousands of gallons of fuel that went missing from city tanks in 2011 and 2012. Whether that is one of the investigations to which Quinn referred could not be determined Wednesday.
Located on the first floor of Wilkes-Barre City Hall, the credit union is not a municipal department, but serves city employees and their families, including municipal employees in Wilkes-Barre Township and Plains Township.
In a conference call with The Times Leader, Quinn and FBI spokeswoman Carrie Adamowski said they understood that agents visited the credit union office when the subpoena was issued and again on Monday and Tuesday.
Efforts to reach credit union attorney Dominick P. Pannunzio were not successful on Wednesday.
In a statement released the previous day, Pannunzio said: “The Board of Directors of Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union is deeply saddened by the death of its longtime manager James Payne. The Board members would like to extend their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Jim’s wife and family.
Reached Wednesday night, Mayor Tom Leighton stressed that the credit union is entirely separate from city government.
“The credit union and the City of Wilkes-Barre have absolutely nothing in common. There is no relationship,” Leighton said. “I have no authority, no jurisdiction, they’re just a tenant in our building.”
The mayor also said he is unaware what the investigation may be about.
“I don’t know. I don’t have anything to do with it,” Leighton said.
He also described the sombre mood at City Hall, where Payne’s widow, Catherine, is assistant city clerk.
“It’s a tragedy. Jimmy Payne was a great guy,” Leighton said.
Leighton also acknowledged that his real estate firm, C.A. Leighton Co., has been paid to perform occasional appraisals for the credit union over the course of more than two decades, as they have for other financial institutions, and “there is no conflict.”
Quinn described the credit union as both witness and victim in the case, but could not discuss in what way the organization and its more than 2,200 members may have been victimized.
He also appealed to anyone with information to come forward, contacting the FBI at 570-344-2404.
That appeal was directed not just at ordinary members of the public who may know something, but anyone who may have been involved in corrupt activities.
“Arrests are coming, and that’s part of my message,” Quinn said. “There are going to be people reading your article and saying, ‘He’s talking about me.’ I want them to do the right thing.”