ROYALTON — Threats and unethical orders, that’s what workers and a former board member with the Luzerne County Transportation authority testified about in court on Monday.
Two top officials at the LCTA are charged with lying about how many senior citizens got a free bus ride over a five-year span.
A hearing for those officials got underway Monday morning in the Harrisburg area.
Seven people testified in district court talking about the lies and manipulation allegedly ordered by LCTA executives Stanley Strelish and Robb Henderson.
Strelish and Henderson face charges connected to an alleged scheme that prosecutors call ghost riders.
During testimony, mechanics and a former Luzerne County Transportation Authority board member threw their boss Strelish under the bus.
“On several occasions he says ‘you know if the bus drivers don’t continue hitting that button,’ he says ‘mechanics and bus drivers will be laid off,'” said Robert Turinski.
Turinski was the LCTA board chairman in 2007 and says it was no secret that Strelish would do anything for higher ridership numbers.
Strelish is accused of tampering with public records.
Prosecutors say the executive director pushed LCTA drivers to inflate the number of senior riders by “hitting the button” and signed off on misleading ridership reports.
Robb Henderson, the LCTA operations manager, is facing conspiracy charges.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office says Stelish and Henderson defrauding PennDOT of $3.1 million.
Turinski also said Strelish was greedy and asked for raises when the LCTA received more state funding.
“I believe he wanted to make a lot more money in his salary.”
A PennDOT official testified that the drastic increase in the LCTA senior ridership numbers between 2007 and 2011 went unnoticed.
But Laverne Collins insists that by the time PennDOT heard about possible ghost riders in Luzerne County, it had already hired someone to improving checks and balances.
“A consultant started drafting the work order in the spring of 2012. And the inflated ridership in Wilkes-Barre was reported in July of 2012 so we had already started a process,” Collins said.
There was also testimony that senior ridership numbers may have been inflated in Lackawanna County. Collins testified that COLTS in Lackawanna County is under review for possible senior ridership inflation.
The executive director of COLTS tells Newswatch 16 that he’s not aware of any review or investigation.
This hearing was held in Dauphin County because a grand jury there heard the case and recommended criminal charges.