Lehigh County towns receive Bethlehem casino revenue

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

More than $400,000 in revenue from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem have been distributed to four Lehigh County municipalities.

Slots at Sands Casino Resort BethlehemView full sizeFour Lehigh County towns will receive revenue derived from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. 

Lehigh County has approved the allocation of more than $400,000 in casino revenues for four county municipalities tonight.

Coopersburg, Fountain Hill, and the townships of Salisbury and Upper Saucon are the recipients of $412,288 from slot and table game funds.

Lehigh County receives a portion of revenue derived from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem for the purpose of municipal grants.

The largest single amount is $130,305 to Salisbury Township for overtime costs for police officers, as well as the purchasing of 11 mobile data terminals and 11 vehicle digital video cameras.

The board voted 8-1 to approve the allocations tonight, with Commissioner Tom Creighton casting the lone dissenting vote because he believes Whitehall Township should have received some funds.

The other projects include:

  • $97,325 to Fountain Hill for one fire department industrial emergency generator, as well as turnout gear, houses and voice amplifiers
  • $81,400 to Upper Saucon Township for the purchase of new police vehicle and speed display devices
  • $43,000 to Fountain Hill for the purchase of a new utility patrol vehicle
  • $37,000 to Fountain Hill for training and outfitting three new part-time police officers
  • $23,258 to Coopersburg to replace four mobile computers and to purchase two mobile speed devices

Commissioner Mike Schware said the state provides two streams of casino funding. Table game revenue is only available to municipalities directly surrounding the casino, he said, while slots revenue is available county-wide.

The commissioners approved $307,630 out of $404,630 in table game revenue applications, and $104,658 out of $272,246 in slots revenue applications, Schware said.

Contact Allentown reporter Colin McEvoy at 484-894-2549 or cmcevoy@express-times.com.

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Racial tension in Easton area examined at Greater Shiloh Church forum

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

One night after calling for more diversity among Easton Area School District staff, the Rev. Phillip Davis led a discussion titled "To be Young, Black and Male in America."

One night after calling for a more diverse Easton Area School District faculty and staff, the senior pastor at Greater Shiloh Church tonight continued his efforts to draw attention to racial issues in the Easton area.

The Rev. Phillip Davis led a panel discussion, “To be Young, Black and Male in America,” at the South Side chapel, drawing an audience more than 200 strong.

He referenced the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer as “the ignition to people responding to the brutality that happened specifically to one group of victims: black men.” That killing came weeks after another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, died after being detained July 17 in a chokehold by a white police officer on Staten Island, New York.

In the audience tonight, 19-year-old Hubert Lavie, of the Bronx, New York, acknowledged the racial tension in American society.

“It’s kind of like now it’s … to the point where you know it’s a thing, rather than people trying to cover it up — not cover it up, but it’s in the limelight,” said Lavie, who said he had come to the forum to connect more with the community around Lafayette College, where he is studying film and media.

Another Lafayette student in attendance, Ahmed Braxton, also 19, of Washington, D.C., said he sees relations between the community and those in authority suffering “because authority has a way of abusing their powers.”

The discussion featured a panel of area black men who have “made it through the traps” that can befall youth, Davis said. The panel comprised Lehigh University professor James Peterson, Coordinated Health physician Jason Smith, lawyer Tyree Blair, Northampton County Prison Capt. Dave Collins, the Rev. Brandon Sardik, Easton Area School Board member Rob Obey, Greater Shiloh Deacon Harold Levy and Easton Emergency Squad EMT Christopher Ryland.

Xavier Sellers addresses \View full sizeEighth-grader Xavier Sellers tonight addresses the “To be Young, Black and Male in America” forum at Greater Shiloh Church in Easton. 

Together, they represented an image of black men different from the “negative images” presented by the media, Davis said.

“These are men from our community, men from right here in the Lehigh Valley, who have succeeded,” the pastor said.

The audience also heard from 13-year-old Xavier Sellers, a participant in the Easton Chapter of the Pennsylvania Orators who recited Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake,” a riff on trivial causes of police violence and call for personal responsibility.

Since Davis’ appearance before the school board, he said the response has been “amazing,” and not all positive. He claimed to have been called a racist and separatist.

“There is a tension that exists in our community,” he said. “Tonight … is not about stirring that tension.”

Tonight’s forum also included an MSNBC production titled “Unarmed!” that described some of the unarmed black men killed by police over the past decade:

“This is not a session to point fingers …,” Davis told the audience tonight. “This is an opportunity to articulate what we’re feeling emotionally.”

Northampton County judge defends life sentence for teenage murder

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

A Northampton County judge stood by his life sentence for a man who murdered an Easton teen as a 14-year-old, saying execution-style murder warrants the harshest penalty. In a 127-page document filed in Northampton County Court on Wednesday, Judge Michael Koury defended the life sentence he passed on Qu’eed Batts on May 2 for the murder of 16-year-old Clarence “C.J.” Edwards in February…

Northampton County judge stood by his life sentence for a man who murdered an Easton teen as a 14-year-old, saying execution-style murder warrants the harshest penalty.

In a 127-page document filed in Northampton County Court on Wednesday, Judge Michael Koury defended the life sentence he passed on Qu’eed Batts on May 2 for the murder of 16-year-old Clarence “C.J.” Edwards in February 2006. Batts, 23, was 14 at the time of the murder, and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordered that life sentences for juveniles should be unusual because of their immaturity and ability to rehabilitate.

Defense attorney Phil Lauer appealed Koury’s sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, saying the judge made a bevy of mistakes. Koury disputed Lauer’s claims in Wednesday’s filing, saying he acted within the bounds of the law and that Batts’ appeal should be dismissed because it lacks merit.

“Batts may disagree with the manner in which the court weighed the statutory factors and the ultimate sentencing decision the court reached. However, the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion,” Koury wrote.

The day he passed his sentencing, Koury said the he drove to the 700 block of Spring Garden Street the night before and imagined Batts firing two bullets into Edwards’ head and wounding his friend Cory Hilario in February 2006. Prosecutors said Batts committed the shootings to gain rank in the Brims, an Easton-subset of the Bloods.

Lauer argued the visit amounted to an improper investigation by Koury. By returning to the scene of the crime, Koury made himself more likely to consider the elements of the murder and not Batts’ chaotic childhood and ability to rehabilitate himself, he said.

Koury dismissed the claims, saying court documents show he already made up his mind and that he didn’t gather any new evidence to persuade himself.

“The court’s meditations at the crime scene were no different than its meditations in chambers,” Koury wrote.

Lauer went on to argue Koury failed to consider the requirements set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Koury disagreed, countering that he followed the Supreme Court’s instructions carefully and gave special consideration to Batts’ age when he made his decision. Koury determined Batts committed a “calculated, callous and cold-blooded murder,” not the immature, thoughtless act of a teenager.

“A sentence of life without parole was not disproportionate to Batts’ crimes,” Koury wrote.

Lauer also claimed Koury put the defense at a disadvantage by granting Batts’ legal team little time to review undisclosed evidence that he maintained gang ties in prison. Koury put little stock in the argument, noting he gave the defense time to review the evidence. He put little stock in the evidence when he made his decision, he said.

The Superior Court has not made a decision on the appeal. The matter wound up before Koury due to the retirement of Judge William Moran, who presided over Batts’ 2007 trial. Moran’s sentence of life without parole was the only legal sentence he could pass down at the time.

Easton Councilman Jeff Warren announces resignation

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Warren will resign effective Sept. 12. He said he's moving out of the city.

swearing in Warren.jpgEaston City Councilman Jeff Warren after his 2008 swearing-in. 

Easton Councilman Jeff Warren announced tonight he will resign his seat.

He has served since January 2008 but said he’s moving out of the city.

He said he hasn’t bought a new home yet but has a deal in place to be out of his city home by Sept. 15.

His resignation is effective Sept. 12.

“It’s what is best for my family,” Warren told the rest of council at tonight’s meeting.

Warren said he’ll live with family until he finds a new home. He’s married and has 3-year-old twins.

He predicts he’ll stay in the Valley and he’ll seek public office wherever he moves.

“I think I’ll be back,” he said. “Public service has always been in my life.”

City officials will advertise to fill the position and hold interviews at council chambers on Oct. 7. Council members said whoever fills the vacancy will have to promise not to run for re-election next year.

Bethlehem plans to start ambassadors program in South Side business district

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The ambassadors will help keep the business district clean and also make connections with business owners and residents.

Bethlehem plans to start an ambassadors program in the South Side business district similar to Easton’s ambassadors program.

The ambassadors will help keep the business district clean and also make connections with business owners and residents, said Alicia Karner, Bethlehem’s community and economic development director.

Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. is paying for the program, and city officials tonight said there are partners contributing funding. Karner declined to identify the partners because they have not yet been announced.

BEDCO has received a wide variety of bids for the program and its cost will depend on which company is selected, Karner said. The organization is expected to pick an ambassadors company next week, she said.

Bethlehem officials hope the ambassadors will help direct the many visitors to the SteelStacks arts complex to also visit the Third and Fourth streets business district, Karner said.

“This is a very important step toward shoring up the business district,” she said.

The ambassadors are proposed to walk the business district between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. In addition to directing visitors, the ambassadors also would remove graffiti, clear snow, pick up litter and maintain flower boxes.

The new program was announced at Bethlehem City Council’s community development committee meeting. Committee Chairman Bryan Callahan said he thinks both this program and the plans for additional surveillance cameras in the neighborhood will go a long way.

“These are both steps that will get us further down the road to a cleaner and safer South Side,” Callahan said.

Fellow committee members Karen Dolan and Adam Waldron also both said they strongly support the proposed ambassadors program.

“I just think this is wonderful and I just wish we could do this in more neighborhoods,” Dolan said.

Establishing ambassadors in the South Side business district was one of the goals of a proposed Community Benefit District that would have taxed district members for such amenities. The proposal was withdrawn earlier this year after some negative feedback and Karner tonight said there are no current plans to restart the effort.

Lehigh County officials approve removal of Cedarbrook renovation funds

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The day before the unveiling of the 2015 county budget, Lehigh County Commissioners formally approved a capital plan, with Cedarbrook funding eliminated.

On the eve of the unveiling of Lehigh County’s 2015 budget, county commissioners formally approved a capital plan tonight that strips $3 million for Cedarbrook Nursing Home building improvements.

With Cedarbrook expected to be a hot-button issue this budget season, some county officials previously called the reduction in capital funding the first step in attempts by some on the board to sell the county-run nursing home.

The capital plan was approved tonight unanimously with little discussion, except for a brief exchange between Commissioner Vic Mazziotti and a top county official that grew heated.

Daniel McCarthy, county director of administration, said the capital plan had been reviewed multiple times since July, but the decision to eliminate Cedarbrook funding did not come until the final minutes of the commissioners’ Aug. 13 meeting.

McCarthy said that did not give the county enough time to analyze the impact of the decision or address any questions or concerns the board might have raised.

Daniel mccarthy headshotView full sizeDaniel McCarthy 

“Cedarbrook should be a joint effort between the board and administration,” he said. “But putting this in at the last hour and last minute, and putting us in a place where we have little opportunity to respond, is not the way, I believe, to run an effective government.”

Mazziotti, a member of the board’s conservative “reform slate,” said the county has “completely ignored” calls from the board for a detailed plan for how to make Cedarbrook financially self-sustaining.

He also said county Executive Tom Muller, who was not present at tonight’s meeting, has declined to discuss any details about the county budget proposal, which will be made open to the public Thursday afternoon.

“You had two weeks to make your case; we begged for a plan, and there’s still no plan,” Mazziotti said. “I’m stunned that you would make that comment, I’m really stunned. But I guess I should be used to it by now.”

The 2015 county budget proposal will be released Thursday at 2 p.m. at Cedar View Apartments, a South Whitehall Township apartment complex for seniors located next to Cedarbrook.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty said it “irks” him that Muller is publicly presenting the budget before providing it to commissioners, which he called a sign of a poor working relationship between the two.

“I believe this is an attempt to circumvent the system by going directly to the press without coming to us and working with us,” he said. “I hope in the future we can work better with the administration.”

The $45.4 million capital plan, often described as a “wishlist,” does not commit county money to any specific capital project. But a project cannot be proposed as part of a county budget unless it is first included in the plan.

By eliminating $3 million pegged for the reconfiguration of building units, the board has ensured Muller cannot include it in the 2015 budget. That capital plan cannot be amended until at least January, after the budget goes into effect.

Commissioners who proposed eliminating the spending said they could not justify such spending until the county presents a fully developed plan for the future of Cedarbrook.

Muller and other county officials called the elimination of funds the first step in conservative board members “putting the squeeze” on Cedarbrook to force an eventual sale, something board members have denied.

The nursing home operated at a loss of $4.7 million in 2013. Last year, the county budget increased Cedarbrook spending by $3 million, and a separate $3.6 million was needed to get through the end of the year.

A consultant’s report presented in May presented six possible options for Cedarbrook’s future. Among them were a sale, a lease or continued county ownership with operational changes. Muller has indicated he will not sell the facility.

The capital plan includes 67 capital projects, a full list of which is available here.
Forty percent of the funding is for county bridge projects, the largest of which is $16 million for the removal of the Coplay/Northampton Bridge over the Lehigh River.

Contact Allentown reporter Colin McEvoy at 484-894-2549 or cmcevoy@express-times.com.

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Ruling involving reinstated Greenwich Township police officer’s training will stand, judge rules

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Greenwich Township Police Chief Richard Hummer said officer Chris Tasiopoulos is on full-time regular duty.

A Somerset County judge won’t reconsider his ruling that Greenwich Township officials had the authority to determine how much training reinstated police officer Christopher Tasiopoulos required.

The Warren County Prosecutor’s Office argued Greenwich Township Police Department rules give the chief the power to decide about officers’ training, but the rules weren’t provided to the court. The prosecutor also alleged the township interfered with the chief’s power to carry out directives issued by the prosecutor’s office and state attorney general.

Tasiopoulos was fired in 2011 for allegedly taking copies of an accident report involving an off-duty Pohatcong Township police officer. The township settled with him in 2014 and gave him his job back.

Warren County Prosecutor Richard Burke did not return phone messages requesting comment about Judge Edward Coleman’s decision.

Coleman wrote in the Aug. 22 memorandum denying the prosecutor’s office’s request that the Greenwich Township Police Department’s rules don’t trump a state law and township ordinance that designate an “appropriate authority” responsible for the overall performance of the police department.

Mayor Joseph Tauriello said that in this case, that’s police liaison and township Deputy Mayor Tom Callari. The judge’s opinion “reconfirms” the mandate of the state law indicating the chief is responsible to the police liaison.

“It is my hope that now that the court has twice ruled in the township’s favor, there will be no more interference with the implementation of all settlement terms,” Tauriello said. “We look forward to Officer Tasiopoulos being reinstated immediately.”

Greenwich Township Police Chief Richard Hummer had wanted Tasiopoulos to repeat the full police academy. The state Police Training Commission confirmed to the township that was not necessary and township officials only required Tasiopoulos to to complete a few refresher courses, which he did.

Hummer said Tasiopoulos is on full-time regular duty. He said he wasn’t aware of what happened during oral arguments on the prosecutor’s motion and couldn’t comment on specifics.

Tasiopoulos’ attorney Peter Paris said the officer completed refresher training about a month ago, and the chief returned him to regular duty Monday. Prior to that, the chief placed him on restrictive duty. Paris said Tasiopoulos also had to wait for a bullet-resistant vest to arrive after the township at some point disposed of his old one.

“We hope this is now the last of this nonsense and that Chris can now be allowed to work like all his fellow officers there,” Paris said.

According to the judge’s memo, the prosecutor’s office also argued the court erred by directing the office and Hummer to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement the township reached with Tasiopolous. The prosecutor’s office contended it can’t be bound by a settlement to which it did not agree, according to the memo.

Coleman wrote he finds the prosecutor’s arguments “unpersuasive.”

“In recognition of [the court's previous] finding, as well as the prosecutor’s office’s intent to interfere, we see no reason why the court cannot enjoin the Prosecutor’s Office or the Chief of Police from further interference with an agreement we deemed enforceable,” he wrote.

Einhorn appeal denied by Pennylvania Supreme Court

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Ira Einhorn

A man convicted of the brutal killing of his ex-girlfriend and hiding her body in a locked closet for years has been turned down in an effort to get the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to consider his case.

The court today declined to take up a lower appeals court ruling earlier this year, leaving in place Ira Einhorn’s conviction for the 1977 murder of Holly Maddux in Philadelphia.

Einhorn fled the country and spent nearly 17 years hiding in Europe before being returned to the United States and convicted in 2002.

In February, a Superior Court judge said a “vast and compelling quantum” of evidence was presented at trial to show Einhorn killed Maddux.

The 74-year-old Einhorn is an inmate at Houtzdale State Prison. A telephone message for Einhorn’s lawyer wasn’t returned.

Woman forges signatures of Lehigh Valley residents on state tax documents, court records say

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

The 41-year-old said she was under a lot of pressure and experiencing personal troubles when she decided to resort to forgery, according to court documents.

A Pennsylvania Department of Revenue worker blamed her troubled personal life and hard-to-attain quotas for forging Lehigh Valley residents’ signatures on tax documents, according to court records.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office brought charges against Thessalye Christine Scheffey, 41, of Boyertown, Pennsylvania, for allegedly tampering with public records several times between July 2012 and September 2013.

Scheffey worked as a revenue enforcement collection agent in the state’s Bethlehem office. She delivered tax delinquency letters to businesses and residents in Lehigh and Northampton counties and explained how they could handle their problems, according to court records.

Scheffey’s direct supervisor Debra Saul grew suspicious of Scheffey on Sept. 12, 2013, when the 41-year-old failed to deliver letters for approval after claiming she served six or seven that day, court papers say. Saul followed up with some of those named in the paperwork on Sept. 16 and all of them denied having met with Scheffey, authorities say.

When confronted, Scheffey allegedly denied forging documents and insisted she met in person with each person to whom she delivered a letter. An internal investigation led to Scheffey’s termination on Nov. 5, 2013, according to authorities.

Saul met with the state attorney general’s office in May and an investigation concluded the signatures on several letters — many destined for Allentown businesses — were forged and many of those questioned said they’d never met Scheffey, according to court papers.

Investigators met with Scheffey on July 9 in her Boyertown home, records say. When presented with the interviews from business owners, letters purportedly forged and private notes of Scheffey’s that appear to show her practicing different signatures, authorities say she broke down.

She told authorities she was under a lot of pressure, court records say.

“I had to meet quotas. I forged some signatures. I made some bad choices,” Scheffey allegedly told authorities.

She agreed to cooperate with the investigation, court documents say. 

Scheffey was arraigned today before District Judge Roy Manwaring on eight counts each of forgery, tampering with public records and tampering with public records with the intent to defraud.

She was released on $15,000 unsecured bail.

Scheffey could not be reached for comment.

Suspect follows victim outside of Bethlehem bar before shooting 24-year-old in back, records say

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Manuel Collazo is being held in Northampton County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Manuel CollazoView full sizeManuel Collazo, 30, of Cleveland, Ohio, is now in the Northampton County Prison after being extradited in an attempted homicide case.

The Ohio man accused of shooting a Lehigh County man outside a South Side Bethlehem bar earlier this month is now in Northampton County Prison.

And while court records reveal more detail about what happened that night, the one thing still missing is a motive.

Manuel Collazo, of Cleveland, was in Bethlehem visiting his mother prior to the Aug. 7 shooting, according to court records. Collazo’s brother, Jose Caraballo, told police he saw the 30-year-old drinking on the back porch of their mother’s Atlantic Street home alongside Collazo’s fiance, according to court papers.

Video footage from inside the Happy Tap Bar, 601 E. Fourth St., shows Collazo speaking with only a few customers, police say. Before he leaves the bar just after midnight, he hugs and kisses a woman later identified as his mother, Juanita Gallardo, according to court records.

Collazo can be seen adjusting his waistband throughout the evening, and when he catches sight of Sheldon Hottenstein leaving the bar, he follows close behind, according to authorities. Just before Collazo is out of frame, police say he appears to pull something from his waistband.

Brian Douglas and Mark Gutierrez told police that they followed Collazo out of the bar and were surprised when he pointed a handgun at them outside, according to court papers. Collazo allegedly pointed the gun at Hottenstein and fired as the 24-year-old’s back was turned.

Douglas and Gutierrez agreed that Collazo was not a regular at the bar, court records indicate. Neither recalled seeing him before, according to police.

Court papers say Hottenstein was struck in the back with a single gunshot, which exited through his rib cage. Bethlehem police said Hottenstein ran from Collazo, who was in pursuit.

Police found the victim near Founders Way, authorities reported.

Staff inside the Happy Tap told police Collazo was one of Gallardo’s children, court papers indicate. Authorities say they used Gallardo’s Facebook profile to find Collazo.

Photos of Collazo matched images of him on security footage, according to police.

Caraballo was also able to identify his brother in the bar surveillance footage, police say.

Collazo surrendered to Lake County, Ohio, authorities Aug. 11. The shooting was one of several violent crimes that plagued the city during the week of Musikfest.

He was arraigned at 2:30 a.m. before District Judge David Tidd on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, possessing an instrument of crime, making terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and firearms violations. He’s in Northampton County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail.