The Million Dollar Case? The Cost of Prosecuting Hugo Selenski

WILKES-BARRE —  Ten years ago this month, investigators found the bodies of Tammy Fassett and Michael Kerkowski in Hugo Selenski’s back yard in Kingston Township in Luzerne County.

Prosecutors charged Selenski with their murders in 2006.

He still hasn’t gone to trial. And the legal process is costing taxpayers a small fortune.

“I can’t understand for the life of me why this has gone on so long,” said Lisa Sands of Meshoppen.

Sands is Tammy Fassett’s sister and blames the long wait for justice on Hugo Selenski’s many legal delays.

“He’s just using the system,” said Sands.  “He’s using the taxpayers’ money.”

A lot of taxpayers’ money, as Action 16 learned after filing three Right to Know requests, that show the high cost of prosecuting Selenski for the murders.

Among the prosecution’s expenses: A bill for $12,000 paid to Dr. Michael Baden of New York City, a man specializing in finding causes of death.

We found another bill of almost $2,000 for a company in suburban Philadelphia for an “expert opinion on cable ties.”

In 2003, police found the bodies of Fassett and Kerkowski tied with cables.

To fly in a witness to testify, the district attorney’s office spent another $2,000, one of many travel bills in the past decade.

The prosecution’s overall tab of listed expenses stands at $154,380.

“If I were a taxpayer down there (Luzerne County), I would say ‘shoot him and get it the h*ll over with,'” said Lisa Sands.

The documented cost of Selenski’s defense begins in January 2012, when the court appointed private attorney Shelley Centini to defend him, because of her death penalty case certification.

As of April, taxpayers paid Centini $90,859, far exceeding the $40,000 cap set by a Luzerne County judge.

Taxpayers are also paying for a private detective for Selenski’s defense.

“JS Investigations and Consulting” of Pittston includes bills to Luzerne County for:

  • trips to a Schuylkill County prison to visit Selenski,
  • witnesses interviews,
  • delivering subpoenas.

The cost for Selenski’s private detective: $24,278.

And the overall documented tax money spent on Selenski’s defense: $115,137.

“It’s pretty much an open checkbook,” said former Luzerne County District Attorney Bob Gillespie of the taxpayer-funded spending for the defendant in this case.

Gillespie says the paperwork we’ve shown represents just a fraction of the Selenski case’s documented grand total: $269,517.

That figure doesn’t take into account the thousands of hours put in by assistant district attorneys, or the work of police at the scene building the case. And this case still hasn’t gone to trial.

“The cost of this case is clearly in the millions of dollars,” noted Gillespie, who says this trial is pushing the Luzerne County Court system to the breaking point.

The Selenski case is entering its second decade.

The prosecution is trying this case under the administration of its third district attorney.

It now has its fifth presiding judge.

Bob Gillespie says most of the problem stems from the long delays.

“The system didn’t work the way it was supposed to work, and that’s why we’re paying as much money as we have,” he said.

In Meshoppen, Lisa Sands says she believe Selenski knows he’s draining Luzerne County financially, and draining her family emotionally.

“He wears this smug look on his face,” says Sands who says it doesn’t matter that Selenski is behind bars, currently serving a 32-year prison term for a Monroe County home invasion and robbery ten years ago.

She worries Selenski’s murder trial in Luzerne County will see more delays, and stick taxpayers with an even higher tab.

“It could have gone to fix your roads down there (in Luzerne County), and some of your bridges,” Sands added.

On Thursday, Selenski is scheduled to be in court for what should be the last preliminary hearing before a trial slated to begin June 24.

Lisa Sands notes that Selenski was acquitted of murdering two drug dealers in 2006. And she won’t believe this emotional and expensive ordeal will near a conclusion until she sees a jury seated.

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