Theft charges withdrawn in lieu of payment arrangement
“The credit union just wants its money back,” was the reply last February from Choice One Community Credit Union President and CEO Thomas M. Smith when asked by the Gazette to drop charges against Maureen Ward, the 64-year-old South View Manor resident who was charged late last year with violating two sections of Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses): Section 3922, Theft by deception and Section 4105, Bad checks. After being conned out of $1,995 by an apparent “mystery shopper” employment offer, Ward first deposited the check from the shopper’s program upon the counsel of Choice One Community Credit Union manager Concetta Shovlin, who oversees Choice One’s main office at 101 Hazle Street, across from the former AAA offices. After being told the funds were available for use by the credit union, Ward did as the scammers had instructed, and mailed the funds to them in the form of cash.
The check was later returned by the issuing bank marked “Refer to Maker,” producing an overdraft on Ms. Ward’s account. Instead of advising Ward to file a police report and then seek help from the Victims Resource Center at 71 North Franklin Street, the credit union instead took the unusual step of filing charges against Ward, which were eventually withdrawn on May 28th following a nearly four-month legal obstacle course of preliminary hearing postponements and threats of arrests made by city Police Officer Robert Collins.
The withdrawal of charges was made “without prejudice” at Collins’ insistence, giving him the option of re-filing them should Ward not make proper restitution before the offenses’ statutes of limitations expire in two years. This removal of charges was intended primarily to afford Ward the opportunity to seek assistance from the Victims Resource Center, which had been postponing Ward’s claim filed earlier with it, since the center’s policy states that it cannot assist anyone who is convicted of criminal wrongdoing or who is in the process of being prosecuted for alleged wrongdoing.
When asked about the outcome in court, Ms. Ward said, “I am relieved. I don’t have to keep going to court every other month.”
Following the withdrawal of charges before District Justice Tom Sharkey—filling in for District 11-1-01 Justice Rick Cronauer—Ward, accompanied by reporters from the Independent Gazette, immediately walked across Hazle street to Choice One, where she entered into a payment arrangement with the institution. Ward, who subsists on her monthly Social Security check of $740, is now required to pay $50 per month to Choice One until the $1,995.24 credit union debt is paid in full.
Ward also pledged her expected $500 rent rebate, due by July 1st, which she usually sets aside for annual vehicle maintenance for her Saturn. Ms. Ward told the Gazette that she’s doing everything she can to rectify this problem, but simply doesn’t possess the resources. “Of course, I want to pay the credit union back, but I simply don’t have the money,” Ward lamented.
When asked how the $50 per month payment plan will affect her, Ward responded, “Even though my rent went up, food went up, and my food stamp assistance has gone down, I have no choice. I knew if I offered anything less he’d have my [butt],” referring to Officer Collins.
If Ward’s claim with the Victims Resource Center is ultimately approved, she could receive aid up to the full amount of her monthly Social Security benefit of $740. Ward is also being assisted by the Wilkes-Barre City Crime Watch Coalition, as well as the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association, who have been accepting donations from their members and the public in an effort to aid Ms. Ward. These two groups have raised less than $200, so far.
Ward’s first $50 payment is due on June 3rd, and payments are to be remitted monthly until full restitution has been made. If you would like to assist Ms. Ward, donations are being accepted at any Fidelity Discount Bank branch by the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association.
A number of questions still remain unanswered. Allegations by Ms. Ward that Officer Collins appeared at her South View Manor apartment demanding payment, or else he was prepared to handcuff her and parade her in front of her neighbors were not answered by Officer Collins when posed by Gazette reporters. And the Gazette has still not received explanation as to why Collins was assigned this case in the first place, or how the original charges were determined by the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. Was Collins requested specifically by Choice One, and if so, why?
Officer Collins offered no comment to the Gazette, and no answer appears forthcoming from city spokesman Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin, who has not returned numerous messages left for him by the Independent Gazette.