Pa. County Treasurer Won't Leave Despite Pleas

First, county Treasurer Gary Felasco (search) hadn't paid his property taxes for years. Then, his county cell phone number turned up on a Web site promoting sex parties.

The local newspaper conducted a sting: They called the number at "Jeannie in the Bottle" and got directions from someone named Gary to an Ohio hotel where a swingers' party was advertised. Outside, they snapped a picture of Felasco's van.

A year later, Felasco is still Lawrence County (search) treasurer -- angering colleagues and befuddling residents.

"He's a bum," said County Commissioner Steve Craig, a fellow Democrat. "He's got no business being in public office."

Felasco, a 37-year-old former auto mechanic, was elected in 2003 to his third four-year term as treasurer of this rural county on the Ohio line.

The county's three commissioners and the county prosecutor asked him to resign the $45,000-a-year post. Dozens of courthouse employees also signed a petition asking him to leave.

But he has refused -- even though the commissioners and others in the courthouse say he often doesn't come to work.

"The only thing I will say is that everything that's been reported with this is more complicated than it's been made out to be in the New Castle News," Felasco said.

A state investigation has been under way for a year, but the state attorney general said this month he did not know when it would be completed.

Felasco can be removed as treasurer only through impeachment by the Legislature, but federal and state prosecutors have discouraged such a move.

"They have all told me the same thing: Please don't do anything political that would interfere with our investigation," said state Rep. Frank LaGrotta, a Lawrence County Democrat.

Felasco was removed from a second post -- tax claim director -- after it was learned he had not been paying his taxes and his properties had mysteriously shown up on a tax-exempt list, along with those of some friends.

Felasco has repaid more than $8,000 in past-due property taxes and penalties. He told the New Castle paper he simply forgot to pay them.

Still unexplained, however, is how the properties showed up on the tax-exempt rolls while he ran the tax claim office.

Felasco has returned two county-issued cell phones. But Craig said the treasurer still owes $4,000 for calls on the phone whose number was listed on the Web site.

Dewey Lutz, 72, a longtime resident, helped collect 1,800 signatures last April asking for an audit of Felasco's office. He cannot understand how Felasco has managed to stay in office.

"I think it's time to start beating up on him," he said.

A preliminary report found $44,000 in receipts were unaccounted for in one three-month period; Felasco said the discrepancy is due to confusion over how his office tallies credit card payments for dog licenses and other fees.

"It's a lot of hot air over nothing," said Edward Leymarie, solicitor for the treasurer's office. "They're searching hard to find something wrong and, you know, (Felasco) did do some things wrong in the past -- but not this."

Officials in the borough of West Middlesex, just north of New Castle, got complaints last year about loud sex parties from tenants of a property found to have been rented by Felasco's wife, Jeannine Felasco, using the name Funbunch Tours (search), according to borough Councilman Ray Lucich. Her husband used the name to incorporate a bus tour business in 2002, according to state records.

The New Castle News had heard for some time that the Felascos were linked to a swingers' club but decided not to pursue it until the treasurer's cell phone number turned up on the Web site, news editor Pat Litowitz said.

"In our discussions it was like, `Whatever turns the guy on. But as long as he's not doing any illegal county stuff, what can we do?"' he said.

Jeannine Felasco, who now lives in Ohio, said she has nothing to do with the Web site.

"When I left that town, I left all that (expletive) behind me," she said. "I don't live there, it's not my problem. ... If you want to get Gary thrown out of office, you need to do a lot better than that."