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In the News

Second Suspect in Upshur Robbery Is Sentenced

September 10, 2019

New Jersey resident Takiese Bethea received a sentence for his part in a Buckhannon, West Virginia attempted kidnapping and robbery that occurred in February of 2018 at the Colonial Motel.

The charges Bethea pled guilty to on March 7th were malicious assault and first-degree robbery. Both are felonies. The 24-year-old man had planned to rob Frank Hall, who was the brother of one of Bethea’s fellow suspects, Michaelina Sarne and uncle to her daughter, Alayna Puglia. At the time of the attack, Sarne was 42 and Puglia was 23.

Another man who participated in the assault, Lamere Troup, was 24 when he helped in the attack. He was recently given a 38-year sentence for his part in it. All of the offenders in this case were from New Jersey.

Sarne and Puglia are awaiting sentencing, Sarne for pleading guilty to felony conspiracy and Puglia for pleading guilty to accessory after the fact. Her charge is a misdemeanor.

Sean Logue represented Bethea during the court proceedings. He spoke to the court about having Bethea’s sentences run concurrently, rather than consecutively, saying that running the sentences one after the other would be overkill. Logue said that Bethea admitted his part in the crime and accepted when a plea deal was proposed to him. Logue stressed that the crime was bad and that there was no excuse for him to do it, though there were mitigating factors.

Bethea admitted that he took Xanax and was drinking at the time he committed the assault. Logue pointed out that had he been sober, Bethea might have chosen differently than he did. Logue also reminded the court that his client was remorseful and regrets that he will miss out on the rest of his young son’s childhood.

Bethea expressed the same sentiments to the court, saying his outlook on many things has been changed by his experience.

The plea deal Bethea reached with the prosecutor, David Godwin, was to plead guilty to the two charges – malicious assault and robbery – and to receive sentences of two to ten years and ten years for the crimes. The sentences were to have been served concurrently.

The judge, however, rejected the plea deal. Judge Jake Reger felt the offense was too serious to allow such a short sentence. The victim, the judge said, was knocked unconscious, duct-taped, and stabbed numerous times. He was held against his will and was lucky to escape and yell for assistance, the judge noted. Reger also said that he feels Bethea tried to protect Puglia, with whom he had had a relationship, and Sarne. That and Bethea’s previous criminal record were marks against him. Also noted was the fact that the attack was planned in advance.

Judge Reger sentenced Bethea to two to ten years for the malicious assault charge and 36 years for the first-degree robbery charge, with the sentences to be served consecutively instead of concurrently. The robbery sentence is what is known as a determinate sentence, which means he will definitely serve the 36 years, unlike the other charge. The two to ten year sentence for malicious assault might allow him to be finished with that sentence in anywhere from two years to the full ten years.

By sentencing Bethea the way he did, Reger assured that the young man will serve 38 to 46 years in prison. He will be at least 62 years of age when released.

Reger did recognize that Bethea was the first conspirator to confess and plead, but that taking responsibility was not enough. He felt the crime was too egregious and required a longer prison term as punishment.

The prosecutor, after hearing the sentencing details, moved to have dismissed the other counts that were to have been dismissed under the plea deal. Those charges were conspiracy and kidnapping.

Bethea’s attorney, Sean Logue, removed himself as council as the hearing ended. No word was given as to why.


Employment offer to Washington Councilman Rescinded

September 13, 2019

Prior to his most recent DUI arrest, Washington councilman Matthew Staniszewski had received a job offer from Kennedy Township. The township in Allegheny County had hired Staniszewski on August 15. He was supposed to have begun work as the township’s manager on September 3rd, but the Kennedy Township Board of Commissioners rescinded the offer on September 12th.

The interim township manager, Mel Weinstein, who is also the township treasurer, has not commented at this point.

At the board meeting during which the job offer was retracted, the chairman of the township’s Republican Committee attended and spoke to a journalist from the Observer-Reporter, saying that his opinion was the township’s citizens aren’t sure the commissioners are properly overseeing the hiring of new people. He went on to say that township residents had expressed concern about Staniszewski’s record of DUI arrests and that they are grateful that their local paper reported his most recent one.

On the day he was set to begin his new job, Staniszewski was charged with driving under the influence and restrictions on alcoholic beverages after being found unconscious in his car, which was blocking traffic on East Wheeling Street in early afternoon. He was behind the wheel and bottles of alcohol were on the floor. When awakened, he slurred his words and tried to hand over a credit card in place of his driver’s license.

This arrest was the fourth for the 42-year-old Buttonwood Avenue resident. His first was in 2004. Another was in 2007. That time, he crashed his car in North Strabane Township. His blood alcohol content then was found to be 0.29%, more than three times the legal limit. In 2018, he was charged with public drunkenness, also in North Strabane Township. He had become aggressive toward an employee of a restaurant.

Staniszewski’s attorney, Sean Logue, told reporters that the councilman understands Kennedy Township’s decision and that he has great respect for the citizens of that area. Logue also stated that Staniszewski is getting help for his alcohol problem and that he is eager to work with the Washington County courts to accept responsibility for what he has done.

Logue has noted in previous interviews that because Staniszewski has not had any DUI arrests in the last ten years, this new one will possibly be treated as a first-time DUI. If that happens, the councilman will be eligible for participation in ARD, which is a first-offenders program designed to prevent further offenses. ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition and would require Staniszewski to plead guilty and agree to make restitution and/or go through alcohol rehab. If he successfully completes the program, which could take up to two years, his charges will be dropped and become eligible to for expungement. Failure to complete the requirements will result in the councilman being re-charged and forced to go through the entire court process.

If, however, Staniszewski’s DUI is treated as a regular fourth offense, he could be sentenced to jail for up to five years, lose his license for a year and a half, and pay fines of up to $10,000, depending on his blood alcohol content.

Kennedy Township’s local paper, Gazette 2.0, had a reporter at the September 12th board of commissioners meeting. Jamie Wiggan has been covering Kennedy Township news since March. At that time, two commissioners resigned while a meeting was in session.

Kennedy Township’s attorney, Joseph Kulik, told reporters the search for a township manager has been going on for six months or so. He stated he was not involved in interviewing Staniszewski.

Washington’s City Council also met on Thursday. Citizens who attended asked that Staniszewski resign. He still has two years left on his term, but was not at that meeting.

One resident, Barry Andrews, called for Staniszewski to formally and publicly apologize to the citizens who got him elected. Andrews claims to have been a supporter previously, but says he has had enough.


Washington City Councilman Charged with 4th DUI, Will Probably Be Treated as First

August 28, 2019

One of Washington, Pennsylvania’s city councilmen has been charged with a fourth time for driving under the influence.

Matthew Staniszewski, age 42, parked in the middle of East Wheeling Street at 1:00 in the afternoon on Monday, the police report stated. According to the report, he was unconscious when he was found, his eyes were glassy upon being awakened, and he was confused, giving officers his credit card instead of his driver’s license and slurring his words. The arresting officer did not perform a field sobriety test. He was afraid Staniszewski wouldn’t be able to remain upright during the test, and that he would fall.

The Observer-Reporter states the officer saw an empty Mojo Shot bottle, airplane-sized, on the floor of the blue Honda. A search of the vehicle turned up a full bottle of Tito’s vodka and four empty airplane-sized ones.

Staniszewski reportedly refused a blood test to check his intoxication level when he was taken to Washington Hospital, and then refused to sign off on his refusal at the police station. He refused to consent to a test a second time at the station. The police report says he sat down at an officer’s desk when they tried to escort him out and made repeated demands to speak to the chief of police. The chief, Robert Wilson, had already told Staniszewski he wouldn’t talk to him when he was drunk and belligerent.

When the chief finally gave in because the councilman refused to obey police commands, Staniszewski wouldn’t talk to Wilson. Audio and video recordings of the councilman’s interactions were made at the police station. He was released, his father given custody.

Staniszewski will receive his charges via summons.

Staniszewski has three previous DUI convictions, but the last one was over ten years ago. According to state law, because of that gap in time, he will likely be charged with a first-time DUI. His previous convictions were in 2004, 2006, and 2007.

The councilman was sentenced to six months in jail for the 2007 offense, months he served in 2008. At that time, he was given work release privileges by the judge in the case, to allow him to attend city council and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He was cited for public drunkenness last year.

Washington’s mayor, Scott Putnam, reminded a WPXI reporter that Staniszewski is innocent until proven guilty but that he has the city solicitor conducting an investigation into the matter. He wouldn’t say if he thinks the councilman should resign and stated his hope for Staniszewski to get help. Council will do nothing until the criminal case is resolved, the mayor said.

Staniszewski is being represented by Attorney Sean Logue. Logue told a WTAE reporter that his client may be eligible to participate in the state’s first offender program.

Logue assured reporters that though Staniszewski made a mistake, the councilman plans to take responsibility for his actions, do the right thing, and cooperate with the police investigation. Logue said his client plans to take advantage of the treatment programs available to him and that an active search is underway to locate a program with an opening.

Logue says Staniszewski feels terrible for what he did, and that there are no plans for the councilman to resign his position. He said that, in the end, the decision rests with the councilman and his family.

Staniszewski’s previous DUI’s included one for having marijuana in his system. His blood alcohol content for that arrest was 0.07 percent, which is below the legal limit of 0.08 percent. In another, he was involved in a one-car accident that left him with a slight injury. The accident occurred in North Strabane. The councilman’s blood alcohol content that time was 0.29 percent.

In the case that led to his jail sentence, Staniszewski pled guilty to careless driving and DUI charges in an effort to get the case resolved. In addition to the jail time, he was sentenced to an alcohol and drug assessment and classes for repeat DUI offenders, and fined more than $3,000.

Debra Hardy Settles Bentleyville Blight Citations

January 31, 2019

A woman from Rostraver Township settled almost 70 blight citations for properties she owns in the Bentleyville area, coming away from a meeting with her attorneys and borough officials with her court costs and fines reduced more than $10,000.

According to her attorneys, Debra Maley Hardy has 90 days to bring her properties into compliance with local building and zoning code ordinances. She owns 11 properties in Bentleyville, as well as some in Ellsworth and Cokeburg.

Bentleyville’s police chief, Rich Young, hopes the situation has been remedied. Last week, he created wanted posters for Hardy as a way to entice her into court to handle the fines, some that dated to 2017. Young hung the posters in local businesses. The posters contained Hardy’s picture, along with the word “Wanted” and phone numbers for tipsters to call.

To resolve the cases, a settlement was reached in a closed-door meeting between District Judge Curtis Thompson, borough solicitors, and Hardy’s two attorneys, Sean Logue and Phil Melograne.

Court officials are not calling the meeting a hearing, because Hardy was found guilty in absentia of 69 counts when she did not show up to court when the cases were brought before the judge. Thompson signed a warrant for her arrest for each of the counts.

Washington County Judge John F. DiSalle suspended the warrants late on Friday. The petition asking for the suspension mistakenly termed the meeting scheduled for Wednesday as a hearing.

Under the terms of the settlement with the municipalities that had filed the citations, the warrants were withdrawn Wednesday, according to a court official.

Attorney Melograne insisted Hardy did not receive special treatment in her court case. He said that she neglected to appear in court previously on the citations because she was overwhelmed by the situation. Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Sean Logue told Channel 11 news that one of the companies Hardy owns was issued the citations and that because the warrants were issued in the name of the company, A&F Real Estate, there was some confusion about whether Hardy should be picked up. Logue stressed the good relationship Hardy has with the Bentworth School District, including providing scholarships for students and public works projects the Hardy family has sponsored.

Bentleyville solicitor Dennis Makel said the borough will get $20,000 of the settlement, minus court costs. Court records show Hardy paid $2,500 to settle the citations in Cokeburg and $500 for the citations in Ellsworth. Originally, Hardy owed more than $40,000 in fines and court costs.

The citations were issued against seven buildings in Cokeburg, one in Bentleyville, and three in Ellsworth, according to court records. All of the buildings are vacant, according to Young. In Cokeburg, one apartment building has broken windows and is missing a door. One of the properties has a roof falling in, a chimney falling apart, and an unsound structure.

Young called the buildings unsafe. He is concerned about the buildings falling apart when area children are playing near it or when citizens are walking past it. Video played on a local news channel showed that the home in Bentleyville sits near the street, where falling debris could land on the sidewalk or even the roadway.

When police first approached her house to arrest her, a maid told them she was not there. They believed her to be hiding within the home. Her initial lack of response left officials believing she considered it to be a joke and that she was toying with them. They were not amused.

Hardy was once married to lumber magnate Joe Hardy, founder of Eighty Four Lumber and owner of Nemacolin Woodland Resort in Fayette County. Debra Hardy lives in a mansion with indoor and outdoor pools, six bedrooms, and a gated driveway at 1 Debbie Lane.

Judge Thompson told reporters that Ms. Hardy has newer blight citations that are under appeal. A hearing for the six citations will be held in 90 days. They come with $6,000 in fines.

Thompson says he is only looking for a resolution to the cases.


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