DA clears businessman, police

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

The Westmoreland County District Attorney's Office has cleared a Jeannette businessman and a police officer of a bribery allegation after the officer failed to charge the man with drunken driving and refusing a blood test following an accident.

Ted Sarniak, who owns Jeannette Specialty Glass/Oceana, crashed his car into a utility pole in Jeannette on Oct. 28, 2006. Police did not arrest Sarniak, even though he smelled of alcohol and was uncooperative with police, according to District Attorney John Peck.

Peck said there is no evidence that Sarniak's subsequent donation of $4,000 to the Jeannette Police Department to purchase Taser guns was a reward for escaping arrest on a drunken-driving charge.

"You have to be lawfully arrested at the time you are asked to take a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol draw," Peck said. "We typically don't review a decision to charge or not to charge."

The investigation began in April when Peck received a complaint that Sarniak bribed police to avoid arrest. Sarniak crashed his car into the utility pole at the corner of Lowry Avenue and Division Street following the Jeannette-Central Catholic football game.

When patrolman Justin Scalzo arrived, he "found Sarniak uncooperative, smelling of alcohol, glass in his hair and a damaged windshield," according to Peck.

Sarniak was taken to Mercy Jeannette Hospital for treatment of a head injury but refused to allow medical personnel to draw his blood to determine his alcohol level. In Pennsylvania, a reading of .08 meets the legal presumption of intoxication. Refusal to submit to a blood test or Breathalyzer carries an automatic one-year license suspension, Peck said.

After the incident, Peck said Sarniak contacted another Jeannette patrolman, Keith Rosky, and told Rosky he had only two drinks that night and was not drunk. Peck said Sarniak did not ask Rosky for any favors, but Rosky mentioned the conversation to Scalzo and asked him not to charge Sarniak with drunken driving.

Scalzo notified police Chief Jeff Stahl about the conversation. According to Peck, Stahl left the decision to Scalzo.

This year, Sarniak gave the police department $4,000 to buy the Taser guns but said that it was not a bribe.

"The investigation did not disclose any evidence that the donations were requested by the city of Jeannette Police Department or made in return for what Sarniak might perceive as favorable treatment arising from the October traffic investigation," Peck said.

To charge someone with bribery in official or political matters, Peck said, there must be a demand for money and money has to change hands.

Sarniak provided medical records that revealed he suffered a concussion when his head struck the windshield. He also suffered from post-concussion amnesia, which accounted for his behavior following the crash, Peck added.

Sarniak regularly has given gifts to city police officers, Peck said. Rosky and other officers have received Steeler football tickets from Sarniak.

"Although there was no direct link between the gift of the tickets and the intervention of Officer Rosky in the incident, one would be naive to believe that such gifts were not helpful in Mr. Sarniak receiving a willing ear from Officer Rosky," Peck said.

Sarniak did not respond to a request for comment.

In another investigation, county detectives cleared Mayor Michael Cafasso of giving his business partner a gun that allegedly was taken from the police department.

Peck said the gun was never in the department's possession and Cafasso's partner, Gary Ventura, purchased the gun in Beaver County. Ventura subsequently was arrested for a firearms violation.

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