WILKES-BARRE ‚?? Surprise visits from federal agents serving subpoenas isn‚??t the way most school district superintendents would want to start their final monthly school board meeting.
But it‚??s what departing Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Jeff Namey got Wednesday night.
And to put icing on the bad publicity cake, the agents stayed through the entire meeting.
No mention was made of the visit during the meeting, but afterward Namey said the agents had served ‚??four or five subpoenas‚?Ě seeking a wide range of things, including emails and correspondence from him, Deputy Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak, other administrators and solicitor Ray Wendolowski.
Namey, who is retiring at the end of the month after 42 years in the district, also said the agents asked for employment and hiring records, particularly for John Quinn Jr., son of board member John Quinn Sr. Quinn Jr. has worked part-time intermittently for the district for more than a decade, most recently as a summer school teacher this year. He is certified in secondary school math, a field with frequent shortages of qualified teachers, Namey noted.
Namey said Quinn Jr. had worked for about three months filling in for a teacher ‚??six or seven years ago,‚?Ě and had worked part-time ‚??10 or 15 years‚?Ě before that.
Told that the subpoenas had included requests related to his son, John Quinn Sr. expressed surprise and said he had no idea what it was about.
Namey said he couldn‚??t give details of the subpoenas because he hadn‚??t read them. He said he would turn them over to Wendolowski for review before the two sat down and discussed them today. Namey said he had no idea the agents were coming or what they were looking into.
The status of Quinn Jr. in the district has been a hot-button issue in recent months for board critic Bob Kadluboski, who has publicly alleged that Wendolowski landed a one-year, $195,000 contract as district solicitor this year by cutting deals with board members to get their children hired. He asked at a recent meeting if that were true.
Wendolowski has denied any deal. The solicitor would not have a vote on any hiring, and Kadluboski has never explained how Wendolowski could influence such votes.
A high school math position was potentially available this month when a teacher took a leave of absence, board President Maryanne Toole said after the meeting, but the district was able to fill the position through rescheduling.
The hiring of two relatives of board member Dino Galella ‚?? Dino Galella Jr. as a summer school teacher and Christa Galella as athletic director at Solomon/Plains Junior High ‚?? was on the agenda, and Kadluboski referred to them during comments before Wednesday‚??s meeting, calling the board ‚??lower than sewer rats‚?Ě if they hired any relatives and referring to his allegation that Wendolowski had struck some sort of deal.
The board approved those hires, with Galella abstaining on both votes. In the past he has noted his daughter was working in the district before he was elected to the board last November. Wednesday‚??s vote technically reinstated her to a position she held before a decision last year to eliminate seventh- and eight-grade sports programs and fold them into high school programs, a decision that was reversed in this year‚??s budget.
The agents debuted innocuous as they were obvious. A man sporting black coat, tan pants and tieless white button shirt unceremoniously entered the closed-door executive session the board routinely holds before meetings, stepping in for about 15 minutes, during which time district Business Manager Leonard Przywara emerged several times to walk across the hall to his office and back, retrieving papers.
The agent emerged and joined another man in similar garb, sitting down in the board meeting room, asking a reporter if there was an agenda available and identifying themselves as U.S. Secret Service but declining comment on their reason for being there.
The district is no stranger to federal investigators, who have shown up multiple times as part of the ongoing federal corruption probe in the region. Three sitting school board members were nabbed in that probe and pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to accepting bribes from teacher candidates or contractors seeking work. More recently, investigators subpoenaed bills submitted by former board solicitor Anthony Lupas from 2006 through last year.
Federal prosecutors have charged Lupas with running an investment scheme that, with the help of other unnamed co-conspirators, bilked people out of millions. The scheme was not related to his work for the district.
A Times Leader review showed payments to Lupas and Wendolowski, who served as assistant solicitor, skyrocketed in the last three years. Further review has shown Lupas submitted bills that detailed hours worked, but did not say what dates the work was done, making it impossible to determine how many hours he worked in any given day or week.
Since becoming president of the board last December, Toole has insisted a top goal is to restore the board‚??s image and the make the district a model in the area. She has followed up that promise by seeking public input on multiple board decisions, most recently through an online survey asking what traits people want to see in Namey‚??s replacement.
After Wednesday‚??s meeting she acknowledged the subpoena was another blow.
‚??Here we go again,‚?Ě she said.