ROYALTON -- Stanley Strelish said nothing as he entered a magistrate's office near Harrisburg Wednesday morning to face a series of charges including tampering with public records and theft by deception.
The criminal indictment in the so-called ghost rider case claims drivers for the Luzerne County Transportation Authority were told by Strelish to "coach other drivers to pad the fare box," to make it appear that more seniors were riding the busses.
"Ghost riders" is shorthand for the practice of falsely inflating ridership numbers in order to qualify for more public funding.
The indictment by a state grand jury adds Strelish threatened drivers they would be laid off if senior ridership numbers weren't high enough.
"It's important that we have this so if they cut the funding, that's going to be bad on us, definitely," said 68-year-old Sharon Natt of West Pittston.
She says just the threat of losing bus routes is troubling.
"All my friends need to get on the bus. They don't drive."
"The services will continue, the system will operate. The people that are here are very capable and able to do that," says LCTA solicitor Joseph Blazosek.
Blazosek says he learned of the criminal charges against Strelish and operations manager Robb Henderson on Wednesday morning. Henderson faces conspiracy charges.
In a news release, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the actions of Strelish and Henderson "defrauded the commonwealth of $3. 1 million."
That's the same amount of money a PennDOT audit last year found was received by the LCTA as a result of what it called inflated ridership figures.
Strelish and Henderson were not in the office on Wednesday. Newswatch 16 has learned that both men were placed on administrative leave.
"Is there any scenario where Stanley Strelish can continue to function as executive director before this is resolved one way or another? I'm not able to say whether there are or aren't. That would be speculation," said Blazosek.
Strelish, 60, of Wilkes-Barre, is charged with seven counts of tampering with public records, seven counts of unsworn falsification to authorities, seven counts of false swearing, seven counts of obstructing administration of a government function, six counts of dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity, six counts of theft by deception, six counts of conspiracy to commit theft by deception and one count of attempted theft by deception.
Henderson, 58, of Exeter, is charged with seven counts of conspiracy to commit tampering with public records or information, seven counts of conspiracy to commit aiding the consummation of a crime, seven counts of conspiracy to commit the obstruction of law or other governmental function and six counts of conspiracy to commit dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity.
The case will be prosecuted in Dauphin County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Bernard Anderson of the Office of Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Section.