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Pa. attorney general ends Shipley probe



Published: Sat, January 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There was insufficient evidence to support any criminal charges.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania attorney general's office has closed its investigation of former Mercer County Commissioner Brian W. Shipley without filing any charges.

Shipley, 30, of Greenville, resigned his post in late October amid accusations that he misused a county credit card and a county cellular telephone.

James Epstein, county district attorney, asked the attorney general's office to investigate those allegations to avoid any possible suggestion of a conflict of interest involving his office.

Shipley is a Republican and Epstein is a Democrat, but the district attorney's annual budget is set by the county commissioners.

In a brief statement issued Friday, Attorney General Mike Fisher said his office had informed Epstein on Jan. 9 that it was closing the investigation because there was insufficient evidence to support the filing of any criminal charges.

Epstein had said the worst-case scenario would likely be a theft charge against Shipley, if any crime were committed.

Reaction: "I'm pleased and relieved that this has been concluded," Shipley said Friday, adding that he respects the professional and thorough manner in which the investigation was handled.

"As far as I'm concerned, this chapter is over," he said, declining further comment.

Shipley is now self-employed, having started a consulting service for small-business owners.

Controversy: He won election to the commissioner's post two years ago and first began to draw criticism last summer when he got into a dispute with the county controller over a credit card.

Shipley maintained that the card was his alone. He paid the charges incurred with it and the county had no financial responsibility for the card, he said.

Dennis Songer, who was then the controller, disagreed, saying the card also bore the name of Mercer County and that, when Shipley was delinquent in making a payment, the bank that issued the card contacted the county for payment.

Shipley later drew criticism for using his office computer to visit X-rated Web sites but said he did so on a single occasion only to determine how far into forbidden sites county employees could go.

The final straw, however, was the revelation that Shipley had used his county-issued cell phone to make numerous calls to escort services, adult alternative-lifestyle numbers and similar organizations.

Resignation: He resigned a week later, saying that mistakes he had made in his personal life made it impossible for him to effectively carry out his duties as a commissioner.

Shipley offered a public apology to his family, friends and the citizens of the county.

His resignation came at a press conference called by his two colleagues, Commissioners Gene Brenneman and Olivia Lazor, who were expected to announce they had asked Shipley to resign.

That announcement wasn't necessary as Shipley asked to address the press conference and said he was resigning.

gwin@vindy.com




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