BY DEBBIE WACHTER MORRIS
Results of an audit of the Lawrence County treasurer's office, released last week, were not part of Gary Felasco's trial.
That was Judge Michael J. Wherry's decision, when he learned that a total of $286,000 was missing from that office between March 2000 through December 2003.
That figures includes the $44,000 for which Felasco, the county treasurer for more than a decade, was tried and convicted on theft charges.
Wherry explained to the public after the trial ended Friday that the audit, performed by Packer Thomas, was released to the county commissioners after the jury had been chosen but before the trial began.
"The court was confronted with a difficult situation," the judge said. He discussed with the attorneys the possibility of incorporating the full audit into the trial this week.
When Felasco's attorney, James Ross of Beaver County, filed a motion requesting Wherry to place a gag order on the commissioners about the findings, the document already had been made public, Wherry said.
Ross said he was not prepared to argue Felasco's case with the total missing funds included, because it would require extensive additional time to prepare, the judge explained.
Although a continuance could have been granted for 90 days, because of court scheduling it would have stretched to six to nine months, he said.
"It was a totally discretionary decision made by me," that the trial would begin with prosecution for only the $44,000 originally discovered to be missing, Wherry said.
"It was no one's real intent" to delay the case Wherry said. "The lawyers were ready to go."
He stressed his decision does not bar the Lawrence County government from proceeding through its bonding company to get the money back.
"The sole effectiveness would be that there will be no additional criminal proceeding on this particular subject matter (the audit)," Wherry said. "That decision was made solely by me, and that's what became of the $286,000 issue."
He said the county is likely to not suffer any financial loss if it secures the money from the treasurer's bond.
Commissioner Steve Craig said Friday night the county intends to contact the bonding companies to seek payback of the money.
He and the other commissioners are researching the amounts of the bonds, but he is confident they exceed the alleged loss, he said.
Packer Thomas' effort was designed to determine if there were problems beyond the scope of its first audit, which covered only a three-month period in 2003.
The commissioners turned over the new audit results to the office of the Pennsylvania attorney general, which prosecuted Felasco this week.