|Inside this edition: DuBois taxpayers spent more than $300K on legal bills related to the Herm Suplizio investigation, state funding for Penn State hasn’t kept pace with inflation, and why the Pa. legislature is off to a slow start. Happy 2024.
|During the past two months, nearly 2,000 people stepped forward to ensure Spotlight PA’s unique, indispensable journalism can continue.
We are so thankful for your trust and support.
If you haven’t contributed to the effort yet, it’s not too late. Make a tax-deductible gift now to keep Spotlight PA strong in 2024 »
You can also give via PayPal or Venmo, or send a check to: Spotlight PA, PO Box 11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108.
DuBois has spent at least $274,00 in taxpayer money to cover the legal bills of former City Manager Herm Suplizio, who is accused of stealing roughly double that amount from the Pennsylvania city, its annual festival, and a local nonprofit over nearly a decade.
The city has also spent more than $32,000 on legal representation for other people associated with DuBois who were interviewed as part of the corruption probe.
City Council approved the payment for Suplizio’s legal defense during its March 27, 2023, public meeting by a 4 to 1 vote and without discussion. Two council members who voted in favor declined Spotlight PA’s request to comment on that decision, and the other two did not respond.
Spotlight PA tallied the numbers from legal bills DuBois provided after the newsroom won an appeal on an open records request, which was originally submitted in August 2023 but initially denied by the city.
The state attorney general’s office arrested Suplizio in March for allegedly stealing more than $550,000 in public and nonprofit funds over nearly a decade. The Pittsburgh-based law firm formerly known as Reisinger Comber & Miller began representing Suplizio almost a year before that, in April 2022, according to invoices. That was when state prosecutors and Pennsylvania State Police served a search warrant on DuBois City Hall.
Attorneys worked on Suplizio’s case for nearly a year, according to the latest available invoice. Records show that the city’s last payment for Suplizio’s legal bills covered fees incurred through March 22, 2023, two days after his arrest. The total cost for his legal representation from April 2022 to March 2023 was $274,409.85.
The invoices provided no itemized description of the attorneys’ work, but showed the matter at hand was “OAG / PSP Invstg” — referring to the criminal investigation.
The city also paid four other law firms in DuBois and State College for legal services for four other individuals in 2022 related to the investigation into Suplizio.
Records show the legal services provided for former Mayor Edward Walsh and firefighters Jeff Baronick, Robert Bojalad, and James Corby — who were not considered city employees, Interim City Manager Chris Nasuti told Spotlight PA — in 2022 cost DuBois $18,827.50.
Bojalad served as treasurer for the DuBois Volunteer Fire Department, and Corby was a former fire chief. Prosecutors alleged Suplizio leveraged his affiliation with the fire department to steal from the annual festival associated with it. Their testimonies regarding the structure of the fire department and its finances appeared in the affidavit of probable cause when prosecutors announced charges in March. The invoices said expenses included meetings and interviews with attorneys, conferences with prosecutors, and “joint defense” discussions.
At its Dec. 26 meeting, DuBois City Council also approved an additional $13,806.90 in legal fee payment, Nasuti wrote in an email. That money paid the legal bills for Walsh, Public Works Superintendent Scott Farrell, and Finance Officer DeLean Shepherd when they appeared before a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh in November 2023.
Although DuBois was not named as a defendant in either the state or federal indictment, former City Solicitor Toni Cherry has repeatedly said paying for personnel’s legal expenses related to the investigation is reasonable. In a November public meeting, Cherry said the legal services are covering “people who, really through no fault of their own, are being dragged into this.”
“We want to make sure that they’re protected,” she said, according to meeting minutes.
The corruption case against Suplizio was one of the most expansive in the state Office of Attorney General’s recent history. Federal authorities took over the case in November. Suplizio did not enter a plea in the state case, but pleaded not guilty for the federal charges.
DuBois City Council swore in three new members at its Jan. 2 reorganization meeting. Newly elected Mayor Pat Reasinger and council members Jennifer Jackson and Elliot Gelfand voted to accept resignation from Gleason, Cherry & Cherry as the city’s solicitor and to terminate Suplizio’s employment with DuBois. He had been on paid administrative leave since March 2023.
—Min Xian, local accountability reporter
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE
“We’re already working 14- to 16-hour days. We’re constantly putting out fires, dealing with issues, and overseeing the process of canvassing.”
—Tonia Fernandez, Erie County’s election director, told Spotlight PA about how expanded pre-canvassing could help election workers
|Start the New Year in Style (& Save!)
Get exclusive Spotlight PA apparel and accessories now on sale, including the return of our famous tote bag! Shop now »
Proceeds benefit Spotlight PA’s nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism.
|» Pa. medical marijuana cards and anxiety: What the research says
» State funding for Penn State, Pitt, and Temple hasn’t kept pace with inflation, data show
» As 2024 election approaches, voting officials worry Pa. isn’t prepared for misinformation
» Why the Pennsylvania legislature is off to a slow start in 2024
» Three years ago, a police officer killed Christian Hall. Now, the legislature will study the role of 911 in mental health emergencies.
🤔 Can’t attend your local town meetings but want to keep tabs on what’s happening? Sign up for the new Centre Documenters newsletter. Centre Documenters pays local documenters to attend and document government meetings in six undercovered townships across Centre County — Benner, College, Gregg, Halfmoon, Snow Shoe, and Spring.
You can find meeting notes at centredocumenters.org. Centre Documenters is also launching a texting service, allowing you to receive key takeaways and a link to meeting notes for a particular municipality or type of meeting.
Read more about Centre Documenters here, and read the latest newsletter here.
|Where the Allegheny River begins in Potter County via Karen A.
Have a north-central Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
|Want us to list your event? Send it to us.
» Jan. 5: Make a bird feeder for your yard at the Public Library for Union County in Lewisburg.
» Jan. 5: The Huntingdon County Arts Center hosts an opening reception for its Threading the Needle exhibit, which is on view through Feb. 3.
» Jan. 5-7: Benefit Your Own Broadway is an evening of performances from musicals that benefits the Clearfield Arts Studio Theater.
» Jan. 5-7: The Community Theatre League performs Alice@Wonderland, a contemporary twist on the classic story, in Williamsport, Lycoming County.
» Jan. 6: Lace up your sneakers for the first Susquehanna Riverwalk parkrun of the year in Williamsport, Lycoming County.
|An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”
Decode the anagram and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.
R E S I S T S
Last week’s answer: Charm
Congrats to Jean B., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: John W., Don H., Frederick H., Rick W., James P., Linda A., Leslie B., Rena Z., Tom S., and Daniel M.
|Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.