DeWitt claims politics played into charges against him
The day after a Connellsville mayoral candidate was held for trial for his alleged involvement in operating a chop shop, the candidate suspects politics to be the major factor.
“Do you really think it's a coincidence that those who are related to or politically connected with certain political players get handed a get-out-of-jail-free card and those who they see as their political enemies get dragged through the mud? If you think it's only a coincidence, then become their political enemy and see what happens to you,” stated Joshua DeWitt, 27, of Connellsville, in an email he sent to the Daily Courier on Friday.
DeWitt was held for trial Thursday on charges of owning/operating/conducting a chop shop, receiving stolen property and conspiracy during a preliminary hearing before District Judge Ronald Haggerty Jr.
He was originally charged on March 15, 2012, with his uncle, Rodney Francis Allen, and Dale Robert Naugle by the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Western Regional Auto Theft Task Force. DeWitt was only charged then with owning/operating/conducting a chop shop for an incident that occurred on March 3, 2011, in Bullskin Township. That charge was dropped during an April 2012 preliminary hearing. Charges against the other two men were held for Fayette County court.
DeWitt is currently running a campaign against incumbent Connellsville Mayor Charles Matthews and candidate Gregory Lincoln on the Democratic ticket in Tuesday's primary election.
Although DeWitt will face trial, he is still legally allowed to run for office.
“As the candidate has, at this point, only been arrested, he is still a qualified candidate,” wrote Matthew Keeler, deputy press secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of State, in an email. “If the candidate is convicted, the nature of the conviction is a determinative of whether or not the candidate would remain eligible to hold office.”
Keeler said if the conviction is deemed to be considered an infamous crime, that would prohibit the candidate to hold office.
“It is important to note that there is not an actual definition of ‘infamous crime' in the Constitution, so it must be decided on a case-by-case basis, while looking at the prior case law,” Keeler wrote.
According to the Fayette County Election Bureau, DeWitt is still on the ballot for Tuesday's primary.
“I'm still going on with it,” DeWitt said on the telephone. “I'm not going to quit.”
In his email, DeWitt commented on the charges filed against him and the campaign for mayor.
“I totally expected Thursday to end up how it did,” DeWitt stated. “Remember, these same charges were filed against me back in March 2011 and dismissed. Now, 14 months later, after being coerced by the state, after cutting deals with the state to save his own skin, Dale Naugle took the stand and lied about me.”
During Thursday's hearing, Naugle testified that DeWitt was not only present when Naugle and Allen dismantled a stolen truck, but DeWitt “might have helped a little, but not a lot.” The affidavit of probable cause originally stated that DeWitt was present when the truck was being dismantled.
DeWitt's attorney, David Kaiser, asked Naugle if anyone in law enforcement spoke to him prior to Thursday's hearing, which Naugle said nobody did.
“Dale Naugle could have read from a Hollywood movie script and it would have been more truthful than what he said today (Thursday),” DeWitt stated.
In his email, DeWitt claimed the charges being filed a second time and Thursday's hearing was orchestrated by the family of Gregory Lincoln whose father is J. William Lincoln, a former state senator who DeWitt says has a connection to law enforcement. Greg Lincoln said Friday that when the original charges were filed against DeWitt, there was no mayor's race in Connellsville and the accusation of his family having something to do with the recent events is ridiculous.
“I think the state police have much more to worry about than the mayor's race in Connellsville,” Lincoln said.
DeWitt also said that J. William Lincoln received immunity when he stepped down from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Board of Commissioners.
Officially, J. William Lincoln stated he retired over health reasons and the stress from the turnpike commission play-to-pay scandal investigation.
“Look no further than Facebook and you will see photo after photo of the ex-senator with his longtime friends and political allies. Look at who the ex-senator endorses, and the political events he attends. Coincidence? I don't think so,” DeWitt stated. “You know as well as I do that Bill Lincoln would do anything to get his son elected mayor.”
“If he thinks my family has any involvement in this case, they should call the state attorney general's office and have them investigate this,” Greg Lincoln said, adding that any accusations said about his father is a “slap in the face.”
DeWitt's formal arraignment is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. June 20 in Courtroom 1 at the Fayette County Courthouse. He is free on $20,000 unsecured bond.
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.