Cemetery Controversy Continues in Shamokin

SHAMOKIN -- Shamokin police charged the city's mayor last month with desecrating graves and covering them with dirt, but as the mayor called news conference to announce the dropped charges, the arresting officer called the mayor a liar.

Late Saturday night, the Northumberland County district attorney called for all criminal charges to be withdrawn against the mayor.

Despite that development, the controversy over whether graves were damaged and who is at fault continues.

Shamokin Mayor William Milbrand and his lawyer Frank Kepner called reporters to City Hall on Sunday, intending to share their relief that the mayor is no longer facing prosecution.

"I just want to say thank you. This has been incredibly difficult for me. I knew that I did nothing wrong," Milbrand said.

The controversy surrounds a cell phone tower construction project in the Shamokin Cemetery where the mayor also serves as president. Last month, police charged Milbrand with 42 criminal counts including disturbing and vandalizing graves.

But just before midnight Saturday night, Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz announced he was requesting those charges be withdrawn.

The district attorney says while his investigation discovered construction did cause some disruption at the cemetery, there was not enough evidence to suggest the mayor should be charged with a crime.

Milbrand maintains he did everything he could to protect graves, even halting work last year after discovering contractors were working near where people were buried.

The mayor says a dispute over a pension caused police to target him.

"I also knew that some members of the Shamokin Police Department were against me, and they tried to use the criminal system against me," Milbrand said.

Upon hearing that, retired Patrolman Bill Miner--who pushed for the mayor to be charged--said, "You lie."

"I think any human being who sees a cemetery being desecrated would think that is not a good thing," Miner said. "I grew up in this town, came back to this town, worked here 20 years."

Outside City Hall, Miner insisted the district attorney dropped the charges under political pressure, and said some families of people in the cemetery are now considering a lawsuit.

The mayor and his lawyer are calling for an investigation into why the charges were filed in the first place.

The fate of the cellphone tower is still up in the air. Milbrand claims he wanted money from the cell phone tower project to pay for the upkeep of the historic cemetery.