Cecil residents seek answers in resignation of police chief
People in Cecil are clamoring for answers about what prompted the former police chief to resign this week and the quiet investigation that precipitated the move.
Questions revolve around former Chief John Pushak's use of money in a federal asset-forfeiture account the township said he controlled. A township official said nearly $10,000 in unauthorized activity is involved, but neither supervisors, the township solicitor nor a special investigator are divulging details.
Pushak did not return messages left at his Cecil home.
“The truth is the truth, and it does not need to be swept under the rug,” said Anna Coen, a retiree who has lived in the Washington County community for 40 years. “It's our right to know as taxpayers and citizens.”
“I think for us to put this to rest, details of the audit need to be made public,” said Supervisor Elizabeth Cowden. “I think for trust to be restored to our community, we need a forensic audit of all accounts.” She said she received calls from 40 residents requesting details.
Supervisors on Monday accepted the resignation of Pushak, 63, who stepped down following an investigation into the account, which pays for sting operations and police equipment. Supervisors named Capt. Sean Bukovinsky chief.
The board hired Phillip Binotto, a Cecil resident and labor lawyer, to head a special investigation and audit. Binotto presented his findings to elected supervisors and township solicitor John Smith in a closed-door meeting.
Binotto gave supervisors an oral report, board chairman Thomas Casciola said. He said there likely will not be a written summary. “We have total confidence that our investigator and auditor gave us all the facts,” he said.
Publicly, Binotto said only that the investigation showed unauthorized withdrawals and deposits on the account funded through the Department of Justice's Asset Forfeiture Program, which shares money seized in federal investigations with local law enforcement agencies. The amount was less than $10,000 and money withdrawn from the account was restored, he said.
Binotto did not say who repaid it or provide precise amounts. He declined to elaborate.
“If (Binotto) has more information like that, he didn't give it to us,” Casciola said. “I don't know what the money was used for.”
Cowden said Binotto gave supervisors details on how much was spent and for what during executive session, but she said Smith advised her and other elected officials not to comment.
“I'm being told it is to protect the rights of our former chief,” she said. “I would like to be able to tell you everything I know, but I can't.”
District Attorney Gene Vittone said Binotto and Smith relayed the findings but not much detail.
“They haven't requested for us to do an investigation or anything yet,” Vittone said. “I haven't seen any evidence.”
Vittone said his office soon will audit the police department's evidence room, as is customary when a new chief is hired.
“Certainly, if we uncover anything we will take the appropriate steps,” Vittone said.
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.