It was a normal reaction.
You’re a township fire chief just charged with stealing $48,000 from your department, and your response is ”No biggie.”
Seinfield would be proud of Wilkes-Barre Twp. Fire Chief John Yuknavich. He seems to view the charges against him as the case about nothing. He also told The Citizens’ Voice that, “We’ll straighten it all out.”
Prosecutors, we’re guessing, would beg to differ that all of this is no biggie. On top of previous charges of helping himself to $11,865 of fire department funds and going on a shopping spree with the department’s Sam’s Club credit card, a state auditor charged him with stealing an additional $48,712. Special Investigator Edwin Tyler, from the state Auditor General’s office, alleged that a review of checks revealed that the entire amounts made out to the fire department were not deposited into its account.
Perhaps these inconsequential discrepancies would have been discovered earlier had township Business Administrator Michael Revitt asked for receipts, which he said he didn’t – until Yuknavich was initially arrested in December 2011.
No Biggie. It’s just taxpayers’ money, the $3,500 a month the township gives to the fire department. Who needs receipts for that petty cash?
The CV also reported that a Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union teller told investigators that the chief came in with those $3,500 checks, which was allocated for the fire department’s mortgage and bills, but that the chief would only deposit some of the money and take the rest in cash.
Another teller told investigators that he would call the credit union to authorize other people to sign for the checks.
No biggie. Wait! What other people? And since when can someone simply place a phone call to a financial institution authorizing someone to sign checks? The banks I deal with require signature cards on file and would never allow someone to deposit only a portion of a check made out to a business. Maybe credit unions have different rules.
This case gets more interesting by the minute.
You may remember that the judge hearing it, Joseph Sklarosky Jr., had a hissy fit when Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick asked him to recuse himself because he heard he was at a dinner party whose guest list included Yuknavich’s attorney, Barry Dyller, and Dyller’s wife, Judge Lesa Gelb, Sklarosky’s colleague on the bench.
No biggie, unless you happen to be Mike Melnick.
But apparently, for Judge Sklarosky, having his impartiality questioned was a big deal. At an earlier hearing, he advised Melnick to bring his toothbrush after he found him in contempt of court. A bit unusual, even for Loserne County.
ADA Melnick, apparently not afraid of the judge, had also challenged Sklarosky’s ruling that Melnick could not enter into evidence 15 bounced fire department checks or a 2008 bank withdrawal. The honorable judge must have had a good reason for this. Maybe the checks bounced for another reason besides the allegations that almost $60,000 was missing from the fire department’s coffers. Maybe someone failed to balance the checkbook.
Could it be that this case will end up being much ado about nothing?
So there were some bounced checks, and an ADA was threatened with jail for standing up to the trial judge, and checks made out to the fire department may not have been properly deposited and the fire chief allegedly went shopping at Sam’s Club with a department credit card.
No biggie, except for the fact that John Yuknavich is still the Wilkes-Barre Township fire chief despite this big cloud hanging over his head.
And you know what they say, where’s there’s smoke there’s fire. We’ll see.
- Betty Roccograndi