PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor announced during a news conference in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday that the state is out more than $500,000.
He said the money was supposed to come from the Washington County Clerk of Courts Office.READ MORE: Hundreds Of Kids Get Free Halloween Costumes Thanks To Emma Munson Foundation
“These programs must operate within the law,” said DeFoor.
This is something that DeFoor said didn’t happen in Washington County’s alternative sentencing program between 2016 and 2019. An audit for the office found that some defendants avoided paying fines, costs, fees and surcharges by agreeing to perform community service or receiving credit for time served.
“We’ve identified more than 3,400 cases of adjustments of this type during our four-year audit period. This represents more than $1.5 million in fines and fees that were never collected,” said DeFoor.
Of that total, DeFoor said more than $513,000 should have been paid to the state.
“This is significant because those funds paid by defendant’s support victims services such as domestic violence programs and training for law enforcement statewide,” said DeFoor.READ MORE: Woodland Hills High School Moves To Virtual Instruction Due To 'Credible Threats' After Fights At School
DeFoor said the current clerk of courts isn’t at fault. It’s the judges who made the adjustments without following proper procedures. DeFoor said this is something that needs to happen before fines can be written off.
“There is a process. A hearing to determine someone’s eligibility is to take place in front of a judge. That process never took place,” said DeFoor. “Judges are waiving penalties often for defendants who work full time or have other means of paying for their fees.”
Meantime, the auditor general is asking for change so this doesn’t happen again.
“Our auditor recommends the county review its alternative sentencing program to ensure it’s being operated in compliance with the law,” said DeFoor.
KDKA’s Amy Wadas reached out to President Judge John DiSalle’s office in Washington County. His office had no comment and referred KDKA to the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts. KDKA is still waiting to hear back.
The audit also contains seven other findings including confirmation of the county controller’s audit that uncovered more than $97,000 in misappropriated funds from the clerk’s office.
In October 2020, former Clerk of Courts Frank Scandale pleaded guilty to theft charges and was sentenced to seven years probation and ordered to pay restitution.MORE NEWS: 'It Could Get Worse Before It Gets Better:' Relief On Gas Prices Not On The Horizon
The Washington County courts released a statement, saying:
“The auditor general has provided an incomplete and distorted picture of the community service program, which has operated successfully for 30 years.
“In the last three years alone, this program has provided services valued at nearly $600,000, representing more than 82,000 hours of work performed in public buildings, parks, churches and other non-profit organizations located only in Washington County.
“When defendants are deemed to be indigent, this program allows for community service to offset fines and costs which would otherwise be uncollected.
“The Court’s actions in sentencing of indigent defendants to a period of community service to “work off” their judicially imposed fines and costs are consistent with the Court’s power under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Code, at 42 Pa.C.S. § 9730, which expressly authorizes a judge to impose community service in lieu of fines and costs when a defendant lacks the ability to pay.
“The Court disputes any suggestion to the contrary, and views the report as infringing upon the Court’s authority to interpret and apply the law.
“These community service opportunities are a win-win which benefit Washington County taxpayers.”