The suit alleges that the treasurer is living in Ohio.
By VIRGINIA ROSS
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Based on his contention that Gary F. Felasco Jr. no longer resides in Lawrence County, the county district attorney has filed a lawsuit he hopes will result in Felasco's removal from the county treasurer's post.
On Thursday, District Attorney Matthew T. Mangino filed a lawsuit against Felasco in the court of common pleas. The suit challenges Felasco's right to hold the title of county treasurer and asks for the court to declare the treasurer's seat vacant.
The lawsuit also seeks to remove Felasco from the Lawrence County Housing Authority board.
Mangino, who announced the lawsuit at a press conference Thursday, said the district attorney's office discovered several weeks ago that Felasco has set up residence with his wife and children in Ashtabula, that the treasurer is receiving mail at that residence and that he is driving a vehicle registered in Ohio.
Mangino said the county code specifies that officials elected to county seats must reside in the county. He said officials have determined Felasco's property in New Castle, which he co-owns with his wife, Jeannine, is facing foreclosure.
Further, the lawsuit accuses Felasco of abandoning his job.
"We first learned about [Felasco's] residency change in mid-July," Mangino said. "We conducted an investigation and based on information from several sources, we determined he no longer has residency here."
Mangino said that based on the residency issue, the district attorney's office now has grounds to ask for Felasco's removal.
He said the type of lawsuit he is pursuing against Felasco can be filed only by a district attorney or the state attorney general's office.
He said his lawsuit does not conflict with investigations being conducted by the state police and state attorney general's office. He declined to comment further on those investigations except to say that as far as he knows they remain "active and ongoing."
Felasco has remained a hot topic of discussion among county officials and residents for more than a year.
County commissioners have accused him of misusing his office and he has repeatedly been criticized for not coming to work. The commissioners removed him from the county tax claim bureau director's post, an appointed position, last year after discovering he had not paid his own taxes in several years. According to results of two separate audits, nearly $50,000 in county tax payments made in 2003 remains unaccounted for, having never been deposited into the county's general checking account.
But the commissioners have maintained they do not have the authority to remove an elected official from office. Furthermore, they cannot force Felasco to go to work nor can they withhold his paycheck. They have also accused Felasco of misusing county cell phones.
Salary in hand
Felasco is in the second year of his third, four-year term as treasurer. He continues collecting an annual salary of more than $45,000 from the county even though he has been absent from work for weeks, even months, at a time.
Mangino said with his benefits package, Felasco is actually costing the county $59,487 a year. He said he believes Felasco's paychecks are still being directly deposited into his bank account.
"He's being paid for work he isn't doing and he's cheating taxpayers," Mangino said. "These lawsuits can take time, but we're hoping to move this along as quickly as possible. This is a priority. We want him removed from office and we want the court to declare a vacancy."
On Thursday, Felasco, insisted his "estranged wife" and children live in Ohio, but he maintains his residence in New Castle. He declined to comment on the lawsuit or the accusations being lodged against him.