Posted by on April 6, 2019 1:46 am

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Categories: Local News Local Politics Pottsville News

One of the darker days in Schuylkill County politics came on July 23, 2018. That’s when the FBI indicted former Clerk of Courts Steve Lukach for fraud. He recently pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud in federal court in late-March 2019.

Lukach is alleged to have stolen thousands of dollars from the taxpayers for his personal use, such as making car payments. Then he tried to cover up his theft by doctoring records and stealing mail, according to the FBI’s indictment.

Lukach resigned as Clerk of Courts in 2014. That’s when suspicion first surfaced from an audit by County Controller Christy Joy.

So, with Lukach awaiting sentencing, you’d think things would change in the Clerk of Courts office at the Courthouse.

We’re still waiting …

Some Courthouse insiders believe the Joy audit on Lukach was ordered by then-District Attorney Christine Holman. You could call Joy “Holman’s political godmother” from the county perspective.

The pressure on the hill got too hot for Lukach. He quit.

An interim Clerk was appointed by the Governor until the 2015 Municipal Election.

That’s when Holman set out to get her First Assistant District Attorney Maria Casey in that office. But they barely accomplished this. It seems voters weren’t keen on having the two County row offices that oversee criminal prosecutions under the same political clique’s oversight.

Or maybe they were just sick of seeing the same people in positions of power. After all, expecting anything different from the same people would be considered foolish by many.

“Expecting anyone from Holman’s circle to fight corruption is like thinking Teddy Kennedy is going to curb alcoholism,” quipped one observer.

But Casey eventually rose to the Clerks office.

Two years later, Holman would lose the DA’s race to the person now in the office, Democrat Mike O’Pake.

More of the Same from Casey’s Clerk of Courts Office

Remember, we said it was foolish to expect anything different out of Casey. Though, it doesn’t appear to be on the level of Lukach.

It seems there isn’t a public dollar Casey doesn’t like, though. You could call her Double Dippin’ Maria.

As second-in-command at the DA’s office, Casey was collecting a salary and benefits package worth upwards of $100,000 a year.

That wasn’t enough for Double Dippin’ Maria.

When she became First ADA, Casey didn’t want to give up another County job she had, solicitor for Children & Youth Services.

It’s believed Holman and Casey used their political influence among the GOP-friendly Commissioners to look past a rule against double dipping. Full-time county employees, like the First ADA, can not collect another County income, like Children & Youth solicitor.

Democrat Gary Hess groused at the idea. But he was outnumbered.

“If you want to know what unbridled arrogance and greed looks like, have a look at Maria Casey,” one county employee says.

A Double-Dippin’ Loophole

Casey may have found a loophole in that county rule that almost kept her out of a second County job.

When she got to the Clerk of Courts office, Casey tried to keep her spot in the DA’s office.

Luckily, an Ethics Commission put a stop to that particular double-dip attempt.

But that didn’t stop Double-Dippin’ Maria.

Part-Time Job? At More Than $50K a Year?

What’s the loophole? There’s no formal definition on whether a row office position — someone elected to that job — is a full-time job. Her elected post is not like her appointed post in the DA’s office.

“But it (the Clerk of Courts position) is a part-time job,” a source close to the Courthouse says.

That’s the assumption up at the Courthouse, it seems. Despite the handsome (to some) salary and benefits there’s no mandate on how often these row offices have to work.

Casey will bring in more than $57,000 as Clerk of Courts in salary, alone, this year. Certainly, Schuylkill County voters expect at least 40 hours a week in the office for that kind of pay.

But that salary pales in comparison to what Casey was bringing in as First ADA (as her main County gig). Clerk of Courts is peanuts. So, she’s got to find another source of County income.

Records show Casey asked the County to foot the bill for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits. Lawyers need these credits to continue practicing law in Pennsylvania. But you don’t need to be a lawyer to be Clerk of Courts.

With those credits, at your expense, and no rule on whether her elected position is a “full-time job”, Casey — and any row officer — can jump right through that double-dip loophole.

Voters Aren’t the Only Ones Watching

In December, we learned state officials aren’t convinced everything is back to normal at the Courthouse. Specifically, that means the Clerk of Courts office.

Then, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale launched an investigation into the Clerk’s office. His investigation will cover between 2013-2017. That’s Lukach’s last two and Casey’s first two years in office.

He wants to know if the slipshod accounting and record-keeping has improved.

“Taxpayers deserve to know that their hard-earned money is being handled properly,” DePasquale says. “My team will be looking at how any money owed to the state was handled by this office.”

Casey has been quoted saying her office is cooperating with the investigation.

GOP Primary Challenge

Those within the county GOP may be signalling they’re fed up with crony politics at the Courthouse. Who isn’t?

Though, Casey’s challenger certainly isn’t a political neophyte and likely won’t be an answer to nepotism at the Courthouse. Melissa Santai-Clarke recently overcame a Casey objection to her appearing on the May primary Clerk of Courts ballot. You only have to look to the Register of Wills office for a relation.

More to come …

READ: Maria Casey and the Case of the Snail Mail

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