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How Spotlight PA reported its investigation into suspended DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio

by Min Xian of Spotlight PA State College and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA |

Downtown DuBois, Pennsylvania
Nate Smallwood / For Spotlight PA

This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.

DUBOIS — It started with a news release.

In March, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General announced it had arrested DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands in public and nonprofit funds.

State prosecutors alleged Suplizio shrewdly used his powers from key positions he held in the City of DuBois, a network of political connections, and control over local organizations and charities to line his own pockets for almost a decade.

Suplizio’s arrest in March immediately caught the attention of Spotlight PA. Angela Couloumbis, an investigative reporter covering money and politics in the state government, recognized Suplizio as former Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s handpicked successor before the senator retired from his post in 2020.

With Suplizio at the center of one of the attorney general’s office’s most sweeping political corruption cases in recent years, Couloumbis wondered what the allegations against him would reveal about why a small city like DuBois appeared to have outsized clout with people in powerful positions in Pennsylvania.

Min Xian, the local accountability reporter in Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau, had another set of questions when the charges were announced: Could the powers of a city manager have played a role in the alleged theft of public and nonprofit funds? And with the alleged crimes spanning nearly a decade, how could they have gone unnoticed in a relatively small municipality?

Over the past seven months, Spotlight PA attended the city’s public meetings, filed a half dozen public records requests seeking a wide range of financial records that illustrated the inner workings of DuBois, and spoke with more than two dozen residents, elected officials, local business owners, community organizers, and nonprofit organizations.

The criminal case against Suplizio proceeded with twistsSpotlight PA challenged the attorney general’s office’s unusual secrecy in court in August, and prosecutors filed new charges in October, which both expanded and supplanted previous charges. Two civil complaints involving DuBois were filed based on the criminal allegations.

Spotlight PA reported on a series of actions by the DuBois City Council and shed light on the profound influence Suplizio has in its government, and residents uncovered a chain of issues that they continue to demand local officials take accountability for. A slate of write-in candidates ran and defeated several incumbent council members in this year’s election. The scandal also kindled local opposition to DuBois' planned consolidation with neighboring Sandy Township.

Spotlight PA continued to monitor a web of controversies in the fallout of the criminal allegations against Suplizio. Couloumbis and Xian dug into large amounts of state grant data, sorted through hundreds of pages of documents, and spent months building trust with sources inside and outside DuBois.

The persistent reporting produced by Spotlight PA culminated in an investigation that for the first time revealed how Suplizio uplifted the city, where red flags of potential conflicts of interest at times surfaced and went nowhere, and what the scandal said about the inner workings of both state and local governments in Pennsylvania.

SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at spotlightpa.org/donate/statecollege. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results.

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