The Luzerne County Transportation Authority confirmed the State Attorney General’s Office has an ongoing criminal investigation underway into claims that it used ghost riders to pad its number of passengers to receive more state money.
For two years, the LCTA fought claims of padding the number of senior citizen passengers with ‘ghost riders,’ people who never took the bus.
From 2007 to 2011, the transportation agency claimed more than 4 million senior passengers.
A PennDOT audit using estimates concluded it had little more than a million senior riders during the same period.
Now, the transportation agency’s solicitor confirms the state attorney general`s office has a criminal investigation into the ‘ghost rider’ claims.
“We`ve had various employees asked to appear before a grand jury. We`ve had requests for documents,” said Joe Blazosek, LCTA solicitor.
LCTA officials, including executive director Stanley Strelish, deny agency leaders ordered drivers to pad ridership numbers to collect more subsidies.
As a result of last month’s audit, PennDOT told the LCTA it plans to withhold more than $3 million to make up for money it said it overpaid due to inflated passenger numbers.
Blasozek wants to meet with PennDOT to see how it arrived at those surprising figures.
“The conclusions reached, the formulas that were applied to us, and to determine we have some other recourse,” said Blazosek.
The potential loss of millions in state and county money has regular riders concerned the agency will cut back on some of its many routes.
“It’s very significant for people like me who don`t have a vehicle and can`t get around,” said Mike Sisko of Swoyersville.
“It`ll be hard because I live in Nanticoke now. I live in a high rise,” said Joan Mizenko of Nanticoke.
Even if the agency is unable to get any of its $3.1 million back from PennDOT, transit authority officials said it has enough money in reserve to weather the hit.