Update: PA Turnpike security contractor who sought ban on Luna book arrested on prostitution charges Read more >>
Turnpike security contractor
Wantz dropped from PA House hearing on private investigators
State policemen get happy endings, the public gets the shaft
Posted September 14, 2006 -- Faced with questions and growing public scrutiny, a Pennsylvania General Assembly Judiciary Sub-Committee dropped the testimony of an embattled state government security contractor from its agenda list of speakers on September 12, 2006.
Russell Wantz, owner of the Schaad Detective Agency of York, had been scheduled to lead off the testimony on behalf of HB 2493, sponsored by York County state Rep. Stan Saylor. The bill would rewrite the rules governing private investigators in Pennsylvania, including those hired by the newly legalized state casino and gaming industry.
Luna in court: a father of two, Jonathan was stabbed dozens of times and tortured, then left for dead off the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Russell Leroy Wantz in police mugshut following his December 2007 arrest on prostitution charges
Rep. Craig Dally:
'No questions, please'
Rep. Stan Saylor:
HB 2492 sponsor, took $3,000 from PAC, 'No star witness, today'
Instead, Wantz was suddenly dropped from the final agenda, and Wantz himself was no where in sight.
Wantz was one of the prime backers of the now-troubled bill, and had donated money to Republican House members who are sponsoring it.
Wantz's company provides security services for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. He has been implicated in federal court documents in alleged criminal misdeeds, including, court documents say, alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.
Leadership for Tomorrow: Wantz money
Industry insiders say that Wantz is one of the prime writers and movers of HB 2493. From 2000 to 2005, Wantz donated thousands of dollars to a York, PA-based PAC, the Leadership for Tomorrow Fund, that, in turn, has donated $26,500 to House Republicans, including 10 members who are sponsoring HB 2493.
Records at the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Elections show that Wantz donated a total of $2,650 to State Rep. Beverly Mackereth and the York, PA-based PAC called the Leadership for Tomorrow Fund from 2000 through 2005. From 2000 to 2006, the Leadership for Tomorrow Fund donated $26,500 to the following, campaign records show:
CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE $15,750
SAYLOR, STAN $3,000
PETRI, SCOTT $2,000
CRAHALLA, JACQUELINE $1,450
GINGRICH, MAUREE $750
MACKERETH, BEVERLY $700
BALDWIN, ROY $500
CAPPELLI, STEVEN $500
HARRIS, C ADAM $400
CREIGHTON, TOM $300
SONNEY, CURT $250
Source: PA Dept. of State
The ten state representatives who received the donations represent half of the twenty sponsors of HB 2493.
Chamber of Commerce:
Happy endings for state policemen
In August 2006, two concerned York County, PA, public officials made sworn federal court statements that they handled allegations that Wantz allegedly provided prostitutes for executives from General Motors, and allegedly secretly video taped sex acts. The sworn statements were made by former York Police Commissioner Herbert Grofcsik, and York city controller James Sneddon. The two say they requested the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Wantz, and others, for alleged involvement in prostitution and other activities, but that Wantz is protected from investigation.Sneddon is the former editor and publisher of the York Dispatch, an afternoon daily newspaper. One source, Sneddon's statement reads, passed on a peculiar tip to the newspaper about the Pennsylvania Turnpike security contractor. "Wantz had a car dealership.... I think it was a General Motors dealership. And execs would come in and Russ Wantz allegedly would provide them with prostitutes when they came to visit.... And supposedly Wantz was then recording and filming the sexual acts so that he would have something over General Motors or over these executives," Sneddon said in the court document.
Also of interest
'No questions, please': Watch video clip of PA HB 2493 hearing
'A high command unwilling to acknowledge the severity of a problem would be unable to accept the drastic changes necessary to deal with the problem.'
Click here to download this report in PDF format
Sneddon described a not-too-secret, upper-crust York sex society, called The Reciprocity Club, which he said had its roots in "a Chamber of Commerce organization." Often sex acts were secretly recorded on tape, he said. The purpose of providing prostitutes, donations and other favors to public officials, such as York, PA, state Sen. Dan Delp, is to gain protection, and state contracts. Sen. Delp was driven from office when he was found to have spent time with a 19-year-old prostitute, who was supplied by the York, PA, courthouse sex ring.
Former Police Commissioner Grofcsik, who now works as a federal customs officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that Sneddon "came to me and asked me how, you know, we could get an investigation started on this... My intention was federal. The reason I didn't go to the FBI in Harrisburg was that, because we had agents assigned to York police. We had a DEA agent and a FBI agent. I have no reason to suspect that they did anything wrong. But I just -- because they were there so long, I just felt that they weren't the right people to go to."
Grofcsik, who served 33 years in the Philadelphia city police department before coming to York, said he arranged a meeting with a Philadelphia-based DEA agent, "because he wasn't from the area."
State police commissioner could yank PI licenses
Among other changes, HB 2493 would require perspective private investigators (PIs) to work for an established PI firm for at least five years before they can be licensed. Critics of the bill say that it's real intent is to give PI firms like that owned by Wantz a leg-up in attaining security contracts from Pennsylvania's forthcoming gaming and casino industry. Under current law, newcomers could provide security services for the gambling establishments.
Ironically, HB 2493 would also create a state-wide licensing board whose members would include the state police commissioner. In the York prostitution ring, state troopers patronized message parlors and received sex acts, but made no arrests. And private investigators hired to get at the truth were warned by state police to stay away.
As Republicans are questioned about growing corruption, they increasingly use the phrase 'defamation' in an attempt to muzzle free speech, freedoms of the press, and now, even legislative inquiries.
"The state police officer involved in this case ... way back in the beginning, told our private investigator you don't wanna go there," Sneddon says. In December 2004, PA state Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) wrote state police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller asking for an investigation of Wantz. Col. Miller has to date refused to properly investigate the case. A staff member of the House Judiciary Committee also refused to allow Yardbird writer and editor Bill Keisling to testify at the hearings.
"For obviously reasons, HB 2493 is a bad idea and would make a very bad law," Keisling said. "In York, Pennsylvania, and no doubt other places, the state police get the happy endings, and the public gets the shaft."
A family's last resort often is to hire a private investigator to solve a case or to find evidence that may free a wrongfully convicted prisoner, Keisling points out. Time and again, private investigators have discovered that unscrupulous police officers have fabricated evidence to obtain a wrongful conviction. Prisoners have in recent years been freed from long-term sentences and death row with such discoveries. If an investigator fears the police will revoke his license, or are otherwise unable to proceed independent of police oversight, those prisoners would face a wrongful death penalty.
The Pennsylvania State Police, moreover, has been laboring since the time of Luna's death with grievous sexual harassment complaints involving its troopers. (Read PDF file.) This comes at a time when the Pennsylvania State Police have shut down the Luna investigation, and have even threatened a private investigator into dropping the case.
Security provider Russell Wantz currently holds lucrative security contracts for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Those agencies have also to date refused to investigate Wantz.
Watching the detectives: 'No questions, please'
At the September 12, 2006, Pennsylvania General Assembly hearing, held by the Subcommittee on Courts of the Judiciary Committee, no mention ironically was made of murdered federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna.
In fact, at the hearing supposedly called to discuss the integrity and conduct of the commonwealth's private investigators, the Republican-controlled subcommittee refused to allow Democratic state Rep. Greg Vitali (Delaware County), a member of the Judiciary Committee, to ask any questions whatsoever about particular private investigators, including Wantz.
Unspeakable problem: The three witnesses at the legislative hearing (top) say a private investigative firm acted wrongly, and laws should be changed. But they won't allow anyone to ask them who was involved, or what happened. A new trend in legislative autopilot? Click here to watch video.
At the hearing, three women testified that their husband and father had been killed in 2005 by a "deranged" man who had been sold information by a private investigations firm. They said the information allowed the killer to find his victim.
Trouble was, for some reason the witnesses, and the majority on the committee, incredibly didn't want to say which private investigations firm supposedly was at fault. Leaving us in the dark, they want to make a law that would adversely affect every citizen and private investigator in the state.
"What was the name of the firm that gave the killer the information?" Rep. Vitali began to ask.
"We deny that question," one of the witnesses immediately replied, apparently coached by the majority Republicans.
"Yeah, I'm going to interject here," Republican subcommittee chairman Craig Dally (Monroe and Northampton Counties) said. "Because of House rules, we're not going to deal with testimony that may be considered defamatory in nature."
As is the case with Wantz's curious attempts to ban The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna, when Republicans are questioned about growing corruption, they increasingly use the phrase "defamation" in an attempt to muzzle free speech, freedoms of the press, and now, even legislative inquiries."Okay, fine," Rep. Vitali said. "But we're crafting laws, and it's important for us to get information because what we want to do--."
"If I (may) interrupt once again," Chairman Dally said, "we're considering testimony today, a law that would apply to all private investigators in the commonwealth. So we're not going to focus in on individual private investigators. And we're looking at issues that are involved in the entire industry and problems that have arisen under the existing licensing or approval process for private investigators. So we're not going to get into issues involving individual private investigators. We're looking at this issue on a statewide perspective."
"What we're trying to get at is (whether) what we're doing is going to solve your problem," Rep. Vitali responded. "We want to make sure what we're doing is designed to solve that problem so the name of that--.
"Representative Vitali," Dally interrupted, "No. No. You're not on the subcommittee. I'm not going to belabor this committee with endless questions."
"If you'd let me ask me questions--."
"I'm not going to allow it," Dally said.
"I'm on the Judiciary Committee," Vitali told Chairman Dally. "You have witnesses, and you're not going to let me to ask questions of the witnesses? Is that what I'm hearing? That's absolutely incredible! You don't know what the subject is because I haven't asked the question yet. But you bring witnesses in to testify, and you're not going to let us ask questions? That's absolutely incredible! I'd hope you'd reconsider that ruling."
"I would hope that you'd reconsider the fact that you want to ask a question of these grieving people," Rep. Dally said.
"You brought these people in here," Rep. Vitali pointed out. "We can't craft law on anecdotal evidence. If people are going to testify, we're entitled to ask them questions. This is really incredible."
The subcommittee also heard no questions about Russell Wantz, or the political donations tendered to the ten Republicans sponsoring HB 2493.
As well, no questions were entertained about the quality of security on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, near which federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna was found murdered in December 2003, having been stabbed dozens of times, and tortured.
Instead, the band plays on....