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Vernon needs action to back up words

| Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon, it turns out, really does know a little bit about the political chicanery that's been all too common in Washington Township during the past few years.

She doesn't seem to know enough to authorize any meaningful arrests, of course.

But she claimed in a letter to the editor published last week in The Valley Independent that she's on top of what's been happening in the township and arrests eventually may be made.

Attempting to illustrate her awareness of the situation, the district attorney cited four specific events in response to an April 11 editorial that accused her of "turning a blind eye to the myriad of other unusual and probably illegal happenings in the township over the course of the past several years."

First on her list was the arrest of Michael Latkanich, son of township Supervisor Joanne Latkanich, for assaulting one of his mother's political opponents.

In the many editorials we have published asking Vernon to do something about the political cesspool that is Washington Township, never once did we cite the criminal case against Michael Latkanich.

And for good reason.

That wasn't a case of white-collar crime or self-serving politicians at work. It was a simple assault case. We should expect nothing less from the district attorney that she prosecute all such cases.

If Vernon's looking for a pat of the back for that no-brainer, she had best look elsewhere.

Next on her list was the sad set of circumstances that, according to the results of a forensic audit, saw a former fire chief, his girlfriend and Michael Latkanich orchestrate a series of transactions that cost of the township fire department between $175,000 and $200,000 in much-needed revenue.

Vernon's letter explained why she didn't file any charges in that case, but held out the possibility that an arrest may be forthcoming.

"There is a matter of concern," she wrote, "concerning a prize distribution pending. (State Trooper Walter) Borish is finalizing his investigation in the near future and charges may be filed."

Even if that happens, however, it apparently will be a case of too little too late because Pennsylvania's five-year statute of limitations on such criminal activity would seem to preclude any successful prosecution. (The matter under investigation took place in 2001.)

The other specific events cited by Vernon were:

- The financial silliness at the township's municipal authority, and

- Events surrounding an ethics violation by Joanne Latkanich.

Investigations into both, she said, are continuing and could, in fact, lead to the filing of criminal charges.

We'll actually believe that when it happens because Vernon's track record isn't too good when it comes to prosecuting criminal activity in the township.

To illustrate that point, we need only point to the demise of the now-defunct Community Ambulance Service -- an organization that was forced to close its doors amid all sorts of financial hanky-panky.

Vernon's letter conveniently contained no mention of CAS because that's a perfect example of bad things happening on her watch without any charges being filed.

Wrapping up her letter, Vernon said it's now time for The Valley Independent "to acknowledge that your district attorney has taken the time and effort to investigate each and every complaint."

We'll do nothing of the kind because Vernon has in the past either ignored activity of a questionable nature, as was the case with CAS, or decided to take a look at certain events only after other parties paid good money in an attempt to convince her to do her job, as was the case with the forensic audit of the fire department.

The only thing we'll complement Vernon for at this point is finally acknowledging that something may be amiss in Washington Township.

After ignoring a series of editorials urging her to do something about the sad state of affairs in the township, she's now on record as saying things are being investigated and arrests may be made.

We can only hope so.

But we don't plan to hold our breath while waiting.

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