ROYALTON — Intimidated and scared of losing their jobs, that’s what several bus drivers for the Luzerne County Transit Authority said during the second day of testimony in the alleged ghost rider case.
Two LCTA executives are accused of inflating the number of senior riders in order to get more money from the state.
One former LCTA bus driver believes that state officials knew about the scandal and let it continue for years.
The second day of this preliminary hearing wrapped up around 3 p.m. Tuesday at a magistrate’s office outside Harrisburg.
The two LCTA executives facing charges sat silently and at times shook their heads as workers testified about pushing a keypad, lying about how many seniors were getting a free bus ride as the authority collected millions from the state.
With dozens of criminal charges looming, including tampering with public records, Luzerne County Transportation Authority executive director Stanley Strelish and operations manager Robb Henderson sat silently during the second day of testimony at their preliminary hearing.
LCTA controller Mohammed Najib testified that while other public transit systems struggled, the authority in Luzerne County had $8 million in the bank in 2012.
Other workers say at that same time, Strelish and Henderson threatened workers with layoffs if the number of senior citizens getting free bus rides were to drop.
Louis Roman still drives a bus for the LCTA. He testified that he was told to inflate the numbers when he was first hired in 1990 but says a lot of drivers stopped doing it when cameras were installed on the LCTA buses a few years ago.
“We know that it’s wrong and it’s just sad that it has to come out like this. It puts a lot of stress on the drivers and the mechanics also,” Roman said.
Prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office say Strellish and Henderson led the so-called ghost rider scheme that defrauded PennDOT of $3.1 million in funding between 2007 and 2011.
William MacLunny who recently retired as an LCTA bus driver also testified. He believes that PennDOT knew about the scheme and let it continue for years.
“I think things were done to best serve the LCTA and the people of the Wyoming Valley,” MacLunny said. “(I don’t think the state got ripped off.) I think that they benefited.”
PennDOT Deputy Press Secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt told Newswatch 16 by email that the state agency was improving it’s system of check and balances before the “Ghost Rider” scandal surfaced.
“Because of advances in technology, PennDOT is now in a better position to independently and accurately count passengers as recorded by transit agencies. In the past, when we have examined numbers, we have asked for explanations and taken appropriate follow up actions,” said Waters-Trasatt. “When specific allegations of wrongdoing have been made, we have always referred those issues to appropriate investigative agencies. We had an expectation that the transit agencies were being honest with us in the handling of taxpayer dollars.”
The state Attorney General’s office told Newswatch 16 that it cannot comment on open cases.
The district magistrate is expected to rule in September if there’s enough evidence to send this case against Strelish and Henderson to trial.
The magistrate blames scheduling issues for the delay.