All of the charges against Donald and Nelia Wall have been withdrawn. The outcome came following a year and a half grand jury investigation of charges brought by Shohola resident/attorney Mark Hamill and other residents of Shohola Township.
In a statement issued by the Walls, they said the agreement reached with Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin was not a plea bargain, and they did not admit to any wrongdoing. Part of the agreement called for the couple to pay $7,500 to Shohola Township as “restitution,” and that Nelia resign from her position as township supervisor.
The reason for the restitution was not clear and Tonkin could not be reached at press time to explain. Neither was it clear on what grounds Nelia agreed to resign her office. Elected officials may be removed by a process of impeachment or by the action of voters in an election.
In a statement, the Walls laid the main reason for the unfulfilled investigation at the feet of Hamill.
“We believe that Mr. Hamill’s actions and unsubstantiated public accusations were not born of concern for government integrity,” the Walls wrote. Hamill “elected to keep the matter local, where perhaps he felt that he had more influence over the handling of the case. When asked by the The Pike County Dispatch in 2009 why he did not take his concerns to the Ethics Committee, Mr. Hamill lamely professed that he did not want to hinder the township’s ability to receive state grants.”
The case against the Walls has driven a wedge down the middle of the township, pitting one side against the other; those in favor and those opposed to the couple. For the last 18 months, the monthly meetings were a sounding board for those supporting the Walls to vilify the two commissioners, George C. Fluhr and Greg Hoeper, who removed them from office; Donald was removed from his position as zoning officer and Nelia was removed from her position as treasurer and township secretary.
The reason for the removal at the time was Fluhr’s remark that “it was time for a change.”
Voices of the opposition were not usually sounded at monthly meetings but circulated quietly in the township and in the grand jury investigation. It was also not clear if the Walls could ever be tried again for related charges.
une 18, 2012 —
STATEMENT by DON and NELIA WALL
June 18, 2012
Note: This constitutes our only public statement regarding District Attorney Ray Tonkin’s decision to withdrew all charges against us. No interviews will be granted as we intend to close the door on this issue and get back to living our real lives. We appreciate your consideration.
Last week, we signed an agreement with District Attorney Ray Tonkin through which he agreed to withdraw, with prejudice, all charges against us. While some of the provisions of the agreement are legally confounding, we signed the agreement to put an end to the painful nightmare in which we’ve needlessly been entrapped based on nothing more than false rumors initially presented to the D.A. by Eric Hamill in August 2009.
We commend D.A. Tonkin’s decision to withdraw the charges.
It is extraordinarily rare and courageous for a district attorney to withdraw all charges handed down by a grand jury. We are unaware of any similar action by a Pike County D.A. We appreciate the District Attorney’s recognition that the allegations against us were groundless and that we committed no wrongdoing. We are grateful for his willingness to do the right thing.
D.A. Tonkin voluntarily offered the agreement which we signed this week. He did not ask for, nor would we have agreed to, a plea bargain. We were fully prepared to go to trial and were most confident that we would be vindicated.
When approached by Mr. Tonkin to consider the agreement, we, along with our lawyers, weighed the emotional and financial costs of prolonged litigation against a $7,500 payment to Shohola Township, Nelia’s resignation as Township Supervisor and immediate vindication as confirmed by D.A. Tonkin’s withdrawal of all charges. Despite our fervent desire to at long last have our day in court, common sense made this an easy decision.
The agreement with D.A. Tonkin was non-negotiable. While D.A. Tonkin withdrew all charges, he required that the non-negotiable agreement include the requirement that we pay $7,500 to Shohola Township as “restitution.” Restitution, or the act of compensating for loss or injury, is a penalty applied only in criminal cases in which a defendant is found or pleads guilty.
This does not apply to our situation. It is legally illogical to simultaneously withdraw criminal charges while exacting a penalty for the very alleged charges which the D.A. has withdrawn. Yet, we recognize that our detractors have exerted enormous pressure on D.A. Tonkin. Thus, it appears that the description of the payment as “restitution” is word gamesmanship to satisfy those who brought the groundless accusations to the D.A. in the first place.
We recognize that there are those who will characterize our payment to the township as admission of wrongdoing. To be clear: It is not. We committed no wrongdoing and are innocent of all of charges. Our agreement to pay $7,500 to Shohola Township is pure common sense. It enables us to move forward and avoid further litigation, emotional stress and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The required check and letter of resignation were sent to Mr. Tonkin by certified mail and received by him on June 13, 2012, one day prior to the monthly Township meeting, during which Chairman Fluhr announced the receipt of Nelia’s resignation and the check for $7,500 in “restitution.” Mr. Tonkin’s self-imposed 72 hour deadline expired on Saturday, June 16, 2012. However, the D.A. did not withdraw the charges until Monday, June 18th, 2012.
We believe that Mr. Tonkin’s goal in releasing the terms of the agreement in two steps was to, first, release information which misleadingly indicated that we had changed our plea to guilty. We believe that he then announced that he was withdrawing all charges.
According to our indictments, the Grand Jury was the result of allegations taken to the D.A. in 2009 by Eric Hamill. We believe that Mr. Hamill’s actions and unsubstantiated public accusations were not born of concern for government integrity.
Had his allegations stemmed from a true concern for the public welfare, and had he believed his own accusations against us, he would have taken his case to the PA Ethics Commission where it rightfully belonged. Instead, he elected to keep the matter local, where, perhaps, he felt that he had more influence over the handling of the case. When asked by the Pike County Dispatch in 2009 why he did not take his concerns to the Ethics Commission, Mr. Hamill lamely professed that he did not want to endanger the Township’s ability to receive state grants.
Hamill initially aired unfounded allegations of wrongdoing against us in the fall of 2009. A special Solicitor appointed by the Shohola Township Board conducted an investigation into Mr. Hamill’s allegations and found them to be groundless.
In November 2009, Mr. Hamill alleged that Don offered him the position of Shohola solicitor in exchange for Mr. Hamill’s help in getting Don a snow plowing contract in Walker Lake. Here, the lead accuser -- a lawyer -- publicly accused Don of a serious crime but failed to provide the special Solicitor with a sworn affidavit regarding the alleged incident.
In addition, what is to be said of Mr. Hamill’s credibility when the Grand Jury failed to act on his allegations? The Grand Jury did not include his sensational allegation in the charges brought against us. Mr. Hamill was not even called to testify at the Preliminary Hearing.
Few realize that the charges brought against us by the Grand Jury in 2011 failed to include any of Mr. Hamill’s accusations. The absurdity of this matter is no better illustrated than by the fact that, after much huffing, puffing and tilting at windmills, the lead accuser offered no credible evidence to support any of his accusations.
We believe that the absence of evidence to verify Hamill’s accusations pushed the Grand Jury to expand its request for Township documents to ensure that no stone was unturned. What the Township produced, under the supervision of Chairman George Fluhr, was incomplete documentation and questionable data which was presented to the grand jury out of context and misconstrued as proof of wrongdoing.
Despite nearly three years of investigation, including an 18-month grand jury investigation, and unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money, the D.A. received a case unsupported by facts. It was evident to us and our legal team that early on in the preliminary hearing, the D.A. was struggling to produce a credible case. That is simply because we committed no wrongdoing.
We believe that most of the charges against us resulted from incomplete and out-of-context information and data produced by a Township run by Supervisors Fluhr and Hoeper, the two individuals who determined, -- outside of the public eye, and in violation of the Sunshine Law – to dismiss us as Township officials. We strongly believe that these individuals, among others, ensured that the information and documents flowing to the Grand Jury were selectively presented.
For example, charges against Don included improper submission of time sheets for township meetings with allusions to “padding” his time sheets. However, as township Zoning Officer, Don employed the same time logging practices regarding meeting attendance used by his predecessor and which continue to be used by the current zoning officer. Yet, it is obvious that the Grand Jury and D.A. didn’t know this. They had no context of the accepted time logging practices in which to assess Don’s actions.
This is not confidential information. Any Township Board member or the Secretary/Treasurer could have easily set the record straight on the accepted time logging practices for meeting attendance. But, no one did, even though they had copies of the indictments and specific charges against us.
As another example, Nelia, who served as Township Secretary/Treasurer, was charged with “conspiracy” for “approving” Don’s time sheets. It is inconceivable that none of the Township employees who testified before the Grand Jury explained that the Township Secretary/Treasurer is not empowered to approve the time sheets of any employee.
Only the Board of Supervisors approves employee pay based on employee time sheets. Yet, it also appears that the Grand Jury and D.A. were not aware of that Don did nothing but follow authorized Township practice. And, the myth continued to be circulated in the rumor mill by the very people who know that Nelia never approved the time sheets of any employee, including Don.
In fact, during his tenure as Township Assistant Treasurer and former Board Chairman, George J. Fluhr, father of current Board Chairman George C. Fluhr, reviewed all monthly time sheets, including those of Don, before passing them to the Board for approval. The approval process for time submissions is well known by the current Board, Township Zoning Officer, Secretary/Treasurer and former Chairman Fluhr, among others.
We believe that a significant amount of simple, but key, information was withheld from the grand jury and the D.A. by current public officials in Shohola Township.
The false rumor, begun by Mr. Hamill, that Don inspected his own work became “fact.” Yet, no one stopped to think this one through. If you understand what a zoning officer does, you would understand that there is no zoning work to inspect. If you understand what we do in out private business, you would realize how ridiculous Mr. Hamill’s contention is. A zoning officer measures setbacks, distances from wells and septic and ensures the planned structure is allowable by ordinance.
That’s it. There is no “zoning” work. Either your building is in compliance with the zoning ordinance, or it is not. As an excavator, Don digs. When he digs foundations, the work is inspected by the building inspector. When he digs septic fields, his work is inspected by the septic enforcement officer. By the time Don is hired by a resident, the zoning permit is already in hand. There are no professional “zoners.” Yet, Mr. Hamill’s absurd contention was blindly accepted by people who don’t know better, including the D.A. Mr. Hamill certainly knows the distinction since he has had several building projects on his property.
Like the non-negotiable, required payment to Shohola Township, D.A. Tonkin’s requirement that Nelia resign her position as Township Supervisor appears to be another token gesture to quell the roar of the small, hostile group who will undoubtedly be angered with the District Attorney’s withdrawal of all charges.
We are deeply concerned that Nelia’s forced resignation has disenfranchised those who elected her to office. She was properly elected to serve a six-year term by a majority vote. In Pennsylvania, the only way a public official may be removed from office is through the ballot box or by impeachment by the State House. Yet, this non-negotiable agreement provided a third method to remove someone from office: force a resignation under unstated threat of further litigation.
We believe that it goes against the grain of democracy when a district attorney demands relinquishment of a public office while he is withdrawing charges, especially when Nelia’s position as a Township Supervisor in no way related to any of the charges against the Walls. There were neither charges nor consideration of charges relating to her role as an elected official.
Therefore, there is no logical reason for the District Attorney to require her resignation other than to satisfy those detractors who have long sought Nelia’s resignation.
It all finally comes down to “Why?” Why would a small group of
people work with such fervor to keep alive false and cruel rumors which have irreparably tarnished our livelihood and good standing? Why has Eric Hamill seemed to make our demise and conviction a personal objective? Why would Supervisors Fluhr and Hoeper publicly allude to “horror stories” about our activities and integrity but refuse to divulge those stories?
Why would other township officials contribute to the unending string of lies, lies which grew to include even those who have supported us?
We can speculate endlessly as to why a handful of people mounted such a campaign against us. Yet, knowing why we were targeted is incidental to the fact that our lives, our income and our reputations have been irreparably harmed for reasons that no one will own up to. No one rose in protest against us with any clearly stated reason or rationale.
There were no calls for “clean” and “open” government. Not a single person who has worked against us on the assumption that we are guilty ever asked us about the truth of the rumors. Not a single person requested Don’s time sheets to assess the charges related to his time logging practices. No one requested a copy of the Township’s time logging policy. No one requested payroll records. No one asked for data on zoning permits. These are all actions which one would take to fairly assess if wrongdoing was suspected. No one, not even Mr. Hamill, did the necessary investigation to determine if his allegations were correct.
And, no one reported the alleged wrongdoing to the Ethics Commission. Simply put none of those contributing to our dismissal as public officials and eventual indictment by a grand jury took any action that evidenced an honest concern that something was awry in Shohola. This only highlights how easy it is for personal agendas, whether they be for emotional retribution or personal gain or political power, to taint innocent people and destroy good government.
Mr. Hamill, among others, has benefited from the mess he created. He was appointed by Supervisors Fluhr and Hoeper to serve as solicitor to Shohola Township’s zoning hearing board.
This has been an incredibly callous and demoralizing experience. The long life of the lies about us has given those lies a superficial appearance of being right. So, it is a relief to finally be able to speak openly and frankly about the political tsunami which engulfed us three years ago.
Throughout this time, we have been lifted up by so many supporters. We are so grateful to those people who have not been afraid to publicly support us. Sadly, too many Shohola citizens have been frightened into silence by the current administration and the small band of tormentors. It is our profound hope that the people of Shohola will take note of what has happened in our town and ensure that our public servants are always working in our best interest – not theirs.