Pension refunds delayed for former prison workers facing extortion charges

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | October 12th, 2016 6:57 pm

Two former Luzerne County prison workers charged with extortion must wait to reclaim money they paid toward their county pensions, the county Retirement Board decided Wednesday.

Louis Elmy, who entered a guilty plea in July on charges of extortion and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking in connection with his actions as a prison counselor, is seeking $66,883 he paid into the pension fund.

Former corrections officer John Stachokus is awaiting return of his $31,957 pension contribution. He entered a guilty plea in September for extortion and tampering with a witness.

The board, which oversees the employee pension fund, tabled a vote Wednesday on the advice of board Solicitor Donald Karpowich.

Karpowich recommended holding off until the men are sentenced.

His rationale: restitution may be owed and claimed through their pension contributions. Guilty pleas also can be changed before sentencing, he said.

Sentencing dates have not been scheduled, according to court records. The retirement board won’t meet again until Dec. 7.

Unless the charges are altered, Karpowich said he is confident the board has authority to deny both pensions and interest on the pension contributions of Elmy and Stachokus.

The state Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act precludes public employees from receiving a pension if they are convicted of certain crimes related to their employment, including extortion, he said.

The board proceeded Wednesday with a vote to refund the $13,823 pension contribution of another former prison employee — Steven Suda — without interest.

Suda, a corrections officer, was terminated in May. County officials have not disclosed the reason, citing personnel confidentiality.

Karpowich said Suda’s interest on his contribution was withheld, even though no charges have been filed against him, because Suda was terminated and agreed to waive a claim on the interest.

County officials have refused to pay pensions or interest earnings on employee pension contributions several times in recent years due to criminal charges against former employees.

Federal prosecutors alleged Stachokus and Elmy granted unauthorized leave to work-release inmates in exchange for cash and other items.

The charges against Elmy, 52, of Wilkes-Barre, said he created phony court orders using judges’ cut-and-pasted signatures so his dealings with the inmate appeared legitimate on paper. In exchange for special treatment in the work-release program, the inmate provided cash and access to alcohol and crack cocaine.

A nearly 20-year prison employee, Elmy resigned from the $58,413-a-year county position in lieu of termination in March.

Also a veteran prison worker, Stachokus, 41, of Plains Township, is accused of granting unauthorized leave to work-release inmates in exchange for cash, alcohol and cocaine and then urging an inmate to lie about the arrangement to federal agents. He was terminated from his $50,272-a-year position in September.

Both extortion schemes continued from November 2013 until Elmy was charged in February, prosecutors alleged.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.