Beaver County sheriff headed to court over deputies' private security assignments
By Bill Vidonic
Published: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 11:08 p.m.
Beaver County Sheriff George David is defending himself in court over his practice of assigning uniformed deputies to work outside security details, which county commissioners claim is illegal.
Beaver County commissioners are seeking an emergency injunction to force David to stop providing uniformed deputies to private businesses, school sporting events and the county's human services building.
David is scheduled to appear on Wednesday before a judge to answer whether the private security details violate county codes. Sheriffs in other counties are watching the outcome.
David, 65, who declined to comment, has been subpoenaed to testify before Erie County Senior Judge John A. Bozza. Beaver County judges have recused themselves from hearing the case.
“Why do the county commissioners think they can tell the sheriff how to run his office?” asked John Havey, David's attorney. “He's not doing anything different than has been done for over 40 years, and under five different sheriffs.”
Beaver County solicitor Joseph Askar said, “Just because you go around doing something for 20 years doesn't mean it can continue. If it's wrong, it's wrong.”
The case is the latest embroiling David, a Democrat. A state grand jury is investigating him on allegations that he threatened John Paul Vranesevich with a gun and made threats against others. Vranesevich, the operator of the news website Beaver Countian, and others were subpoenaed to testify before an investigative grand jury, the Tribune-Review reported in June. David maintains his innocence.
State police Cpl. Joseph Olayer said he would not comment on an active investigation.
An audit by Beaver County controller David Rossi, a Democrat, claimed that security services are billed at less than the cost of providing them. Rossi claimed that of the records his office could locate from January 2010 through July 2012, companies and organizations paid David's office $183,000 for security. Rossi claimed David underbilled them by nearly $100,000.
“We knew (David) was doing this, but it was not clear to the extent he was doing it,” Askar said.
Commissioners said in the lawsuit that the work has to stop because Beaver is a fourth-class county, and county codes specify that only commissioners can enter contracts. The county also maintains that the codes prohibit private security work by the sheriff's office, Askar said.
Beaver County Commission Chairman Tony Amadio, a Democrat, declined to comment.
Havey said on Saturday that he would represent David in court on Wednesday, even though Bozza has ruled the county does not have to pay Havey's legal fees.
The county has long been aware that David allowed his deputies to work private security, and the county earned money from that, Havey said.
“Don't be so disingenuous and say he's violating a law you're participating in,” he said.
A former sheriff raised the issue several years ago, but research never got to the point where anyone knew whether it was legal, Askar said.
The Pennsylvania County Sheriff's Association is not taking a position on the court case, said association President Robert Wolfgang, sheriff of Forest County.
“It's not affecting all the sheriffs across the state,” Wolfgang said.
Wolfgang's office provides security to Tionesta, a borough in Forest County, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, totaling about $50,000 a year, he said, but the commissioners sign those contracts.
Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe said his office earns $10,000 to $15,000 a year by supplying security for school ballgames. The commissioners are aware of any arrangements, he said, and he's working with the county to draw up a formal contract for providing outside security.
Deputies also provided security for gun giveaways called bashes, he added, but at no cost to the volunteer fire departments that host them.
“I have made no bones about it. It's not a political thing, not a vote thing. It's the right thing to do,” Slupe said.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held said he was considering contracts with school districts to provide security at games, but he's now waiting to see what happens with David's court case.
Allegheny County and Pittsburgh police, because of their size, are not affected by the lawsuit.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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