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Westmoreland County officials pursue delinquencies

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

Ronald Fouse sat in a Westmoreland County courtroom on Thursday, 18 years after he was supposed to show up for a hearing to determine whether he should be kept in jail for failing to pay $363 in court costs.

After a brief hearing before Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr., Fouse, 53, handcuffed and wearing a prison jumpsuit, was to be freed. His case will go before a judge as early as next month.

Fouse's case is one of a growing number in which defendants are facing jail time for failing to make payments in the county.

In late 2012, Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline implemented a new collection system to review old cases for delinquent payments and call defendants to the courthouse to set up plans to pay court costs.

“We've collected money from cases from the 1970s,” Kline said. “This doesn't go away. Some people think that once so many years go by, it's over.”

Kline's office sends out 150 delinquency notices every month. He conducts monthly hearings, and if payments are still not made, contempt of court hearings are convened before criminal judges.

Last year, Kline's office collected more than $166,000 at his administrative hearings and $50,600 in court sessions.

“It's taxpayers' money, and we're giving victims (restitution) money they deserve,” Kline said.

Kline's collection efforts hadn't reached Fouse's case, even though it is nearly a quarter-century old. Court records indicate Fouse still owes $363 in court fees.

He was arrested in 1990 and charged with various drug counts for growing marijuana in his Vandergrift home, court records show.

In October 1990, he pleaded guilty to five charges and was sentenced to serve four to 23 months in jail and five years on probation.

Probation officials sought to have Fouse returned to jail in 1995 because he still owed money on his case, according to court records.

He never appeared for the hearing, said Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar.

In court on Thursday, Lazer told McCormick that Fouse apparently fled to Utah, Colorado and Washington state before he was arrested last weekend.

Lt. Martin Kuhn of the county sheriff's department said Fouse was arrested Feb. 16 by police in Butler.

Fouse told McCormick he had returned to Pennsylvania last summer for his father's funeral.

“I came out of the post office, and they saw my name. I went in there for a change of address and they ended up getting me,” Fouse said.

He offered no explanation for the unpaid debt on his 24-year-old case.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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