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Latrobe police officer files ethics complaint against city councilman

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Latrobe police officer has filed an ethics complaint against a city councilman and mayoral candidate, claiming he tried to use political influence to get the officer fired for providing information that led the fire chief to discipline the councilman's son, police said.

Officer Michelle W. Preston filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission on March 15, accusing City Councilman Fabian Giovannagelo, 56, of telling city Manager Alex Graziani to fire the officer for reporting Nico Giovannagelo's alleged reckless driving while responding to a Feb. 21 fire alarm, said Officer Robert E. Derk, a representative of the Latrobe Police Negotiations Committee.

“Basically, he (Fabian Giovannagelo) came in and threatened her job. It was out of line. There is a chain of command” to handle complaints against officers, Latrobe police Chief James Bumar said.

Preston said last week that the ethics commission has not responded to her complaint. She declined to comment on the complaint or the incident.

The Latrobe Fraternal Order of Police provided Preston with legal advice on the matter, Derk said.

Fabian Giovannagelo declined to comment on the ethics complaint, saying he was not aware it had been filed.

Bumar and Derk said they did not attend the meeting at which Giovannagelo allegedly demanded that Preston be fired. That meeting occurred within a few days of the alleged reckless driving incident, Derk said.

“I specifically asked (Graziani) if he (Giovannagelo) threatened her job, and she was threatened,” Derk said.

Graziani declined to comment on his conversation with Fabian Giovannagelo, saying it involved a personnel matter.

Preston was threatened by a city official, even though she was doing her job properly, Derk said.

Latrobe fire Chief John Brasile suspended Nico Giovannagelo from the volunteer fire department for 30 days, multiple sources said. Brasile would not disclose the discipline he issued to Giovannagelo, when it was issued or the reason for it.

“The incident happened, and I took care of it. There was a suspension,” Brasile said.

Ethics Commission Acting Executive Director Robert P. Caruso said he “can't confirm or deny the existence of a complaint.”

The commission reviews any complaint it receives to determine if it has jurisdiction and if there is sufficient information to act upon. The commission could start a 60-day preliminary investigation to determine if the complaint is legitimate. The commission would not notify the target of the complaint unless a full, 180-day investigation is started, Caruso said.

Seeking improper influence is one of the 10 restricted activities under the state's Public Official and Employees Ethics Act.

Derk said a motorist had told Preston that he saw a driver with a blue light atop his car driving erratically on Ligonier Street and again in downtown Latrobe. A blue light atop a emergency responder's vehicle does not give the driver the right to disobey traffic laws, Derk said.

Bumar and Derk said Preston could have filed a traffic citation against Nico Giovannagelo, based on information from the other motorist.

“She gave him (Nico Giovannagelo) a break,” Derk said.

Both police officers said they won't permit political influence to affect the department's performance.

“You can't interfere with police matters for your political agenda. We are not going to be bullied and interfered with. We are not going to tolerate politicians threatening our jobs for following the law,” Derk said.

The complaint against Fabian Giovannagelo is not connected to the councilman's bid for the Democratic nomination to be the city's next mayor, Derk said.

Giovannagelo will face City Councilwoman Rosie Wolford, Parking Authority member Carl R. “Skip” Bollinger and Planning Commission member Jason L. Weiss in the May 21 primary for the Democratic nomination. Republican Mayor Barbara Griffin is not running for re-election.

Giovannagelo's term on council does not expire until 2015. He served on council in the 1990s, lost in the 2003 election and won in 2007. He was re-elected in 2011.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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