I called Rep. Bill Young's office this morning and asked the staff to find out how the FBI got involved in its school crime in Willkesbarre. If Willkesbarre can have the FBI, it's only fair that Hillsborough County's school system has the FBI too. Stay tuned. I'll think of something. lee
Those who worked with him at Pittston Area say there were no indications of wrongdoing.
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“Joe and I ran for school board together in 2005. I thought he was a good man with the same ideas about what should happen on the board,” board member Robert Linskey said. “To me, something changed in his way of thinking. … Something made him turn around. I don’t know what the trigger point was. But they say power corrupts.”
Oliveri, of Hughestown, signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last week that calls for him to plead guilty to one count of corrupt receipt of reward for official action.
Prosecutors say Oliveri, who has resigned from the board, accepted a bribe of between $1,000 to $5,000 in January for his influence in the award of a contract in the school district.
U.S. District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie on Wednesday scheduled a hearing to accept Oliveri’s guilty plea at Aug.
“I feel bad for him and I especially feel bad for his family. But when you break the law, you have to pay,” Linskey said.
Linskey said Oliveri had told him he wanted to fight against nepotism when they were campaigning four years ago.
After relatives of former board members Tony Rostock and August Piazza were hired at the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center while the men represented Pittston Area on the center’s Joint Operating Committee, Oliveri told Linskey that he wanted to represent the school district on the committee “to fight nepotism at the vo-tech,” Linskey said.
Oliveri got the post, Linskey said, and then his wife and son were hired at the center, two of his nieces were hired at Pittston Area and his son was appointed an assistant football coach at Pittston Area.
Oliveri’s son was eventually hired by Intellacom – a company that won no-bid work at the center totaling $578,364.
Intellacom did similar no-bid work at Luzerne County Community College, where federal investigators have also taken records, and where former Pittston Area Superintendent Ross Scarantino and Piazza had served on the Board of Trustees. Scarantino has also pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Intellacom and its owner, Anthony Trombetta, have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Trombetta has repeatedly declined comment through a person at the company office.
Federal investigators have not identified the company that allegedly offered Oliveri the bribe.
Board member Martin Quinn said the charge against Oliveri is “kind of disheartening.”
“He did a good job on the board. I never expected that from him,” Quinn said. He said he never suspected any motions Oliveri made were improper.
“I’m there 20 years. If there was something fishy, I would never have voted for it. The whole thing at the school district is very shocking to me,” Quinn said.
Luzerne County Sheriff Michael Savokinas said the charge against Oliveri “came as a surprise. I knew him, not well, for years as an acquaintance and working with him at the sheriff’s office.”
Oliveri worked as a deputy sheriff in
“Any time you have someone arrested or indicted, it casts a bad light on the county and on the department (even though) he wasn’t charged with anything to do with the sheriff’s office,” Savokinas said.
Ross Latona, who was the highest non-incumbent vote-getter for the Pittston Area School Board in this year’s primary election and whose name has been mentioned as a possible replacement to serve out the remainder of Oliveri’s term, said the whole situation is “just a shame.”
“It’s sad that a person in his position would do what he’s done. … Perhaps worst of all is that he violated the public trust. … It’s almost an embarrassment to be living in Luzerne County and the Pittston Area School District at this point,” Latona said.
He said he believes remaining board members are trying to “right the ship,” and incoming board members will do the same. “I think there are a lot of people willing to work to make this district what it should be,” Latona said.
Marilyn Starna, who was also a top vote-getter in the primary election, said that based on what she’s hearing from people, “there’s definitely a lack of confidence in what’s going on at this point in time. I think right now the public is very skeptical” about anyone on the board.
Starna said she’s happy the school board has taken steps to “put more checks and balances in place” since charges were filed against Scarantino.
Board Solicitor Joe Saporito said he prepared a new purchasing policy that the board enacted at a June meting as a safeguard.
The policy requires approval from new Superintendent George Cosgrove and Business Manager Al Melone for any purchases totaling more than $1,000, and approval from Cosgrove, Melone and two board members appointed annually to oversee purchases for those totaling more than $2,500.
Saporito called the charge against Oliveri “unexpected.”
“I’ve known him as a deputy sheriff over at the courthouse. We were friendly over the years. I was surprised and saddened by it as well,” he said.
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