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MERCER, PA. Credit card use probe continues



Published: Fri, August 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Attorneys are trying to decide whether charges from a commissioners' credit card are a personal or county matter.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher may find that he has his own conflict of interest when it comes to reviewing the credit card record of Mercer County Commissioner Brian Shipley.

Fisher was a Shipley supporter in the latter's bid for the county commissioner's seat two years ago.

Fisher spoke at an October 11, 1999, fund-raiser luncheon for Shipley at the Radisson Hotel on state Route 18, saying Shipley and his running mate, Gene Brenneman, would make an excellent team to lead Mercer County into the new millennium.

Earlier this week, Fisher was asked by James Epstein, county district attorney, to examine Shipley's use of what may or may not be a county credit card to determine if any crime has been committed.

Epstein said he sent the case to the attorney general's office to avoid any conflict of interest with his own office.

The county commissioners approve the budget for Epstein's office and Controller Dennis Songer, who is embroiled in a debate with Shipley over who owns the credit card and who sits on the county salary board that sets the salaries in Epstein's office, the district attorney added.

What happened: The card issue surfaced when National City Bank contacted Songer in July and said Shipley had missed a payment and the county should cover the debt.

Shipley, who has since paid off the card, maintains that it is his personal card, not a county card, and that the county was never legally on the hook for any expenses incurred on the card.

A Fisher spokesman said the attorney general's office just received Epstein's referral Thursday and will review it to determine if it will be accepted.

Should the attorney general find himself in a conflict of interest, a special prosecutor named by Commonwealth Court judges could be appointed to examine the case, the spokesman said.

Fisher's office, however, has tackled similar tough political cases before and has prosecuted people for whom Fish er campaigned, the spokesman added. Each case is considered individually, he said.

gwin@vindy.com




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