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Walls exonerated in Shohola

Denial of due process claimed

By FRITZ MAYER

SHOHOLA, PA — Two supervisors of Shohola Township, one current and one who retired at the end of 2009, have thoroughly exonerated the third supervisor, Nelia Wall, and her husband Don Wall, of all charges regarding conflict of interest and influence peddling.

The exoneration came in the form of a statement from Steve Dellert, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, issued on January 14, after an investigation that the Walls say was seriously flawed and denied them their right to due process.

The accusations against the Walls came from Eric Hamill, an attorney and Shohola resident who publicly accused Nelia of using her dual positions as supervisor and secretary, and Don of using his position as zoning officer, to improperly promote their business TLC Excavation and Landscaping (TLC).

Dellert said in his statement, “Mr. Hamill’s allegations are without merit. Mr. Hamill failed to present credible information supporting any of his allegations” against the Walls. It said further that, despite being encouraged to do so, no individuals came forward to corroborate the allegations.

A significant part of the reason that Dellert and former supervisor Henry Prigge ruled as they did, according to the statement, is because Hamill, who provided a written account of the allegations to a lawyer investigating the matter, refused to allow the Walls and their attorney to see the allegations against them so they could respond to the charges before the supervisors issued their ruling. Further, the attorney engaged by the supervisors to investigate Hamill’s claims, Anthony Magnotta, did not compel Hamill to release to the Walls his charges and supporting information. Because of this, the Walls claim that they were denied the right to know the charges against them, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to be present at the proceedings and the right to be present when adverse evidence is presented to the fact-finder.

The statement of the supervisors goes on to say that in contrast to evidence provided by Hamill, “the Walls and others provided substantial evidence supporting their innocence through affidavits sworn under the penalty of perjury.”

Hamill had been speaking out against the Walls at every township meeting since October 2009. The repeated assertions have led to speculation among the Walls’ supporters that Hamill would like to see Don removed from his position as zoning officer to be replaced by assistant zoning officer Robert DiLorenzo. DiLorenzo was the zoning officer in Matamoras Borough until January 1 and is still the sewage officer, and Hamill is the borough attorney.

Further, Hamill owns four properties in Shohola Township and has had permit issues with the township in the past. In one case, Hamill reportedly installed a new septic system and did not get a permit until after the work was complete, which was ultimately provided by DiLorenzo. Additionally, Don required Hamill to get a zoning permit for a chicken coop that he started to build without the required zoning permit. Township zoning ordinance requires application for a zoning permit prior to commencing construction on any structure.

In a phone interview, Hamill’s response to the speculation that he would prefer to see Don replaced in his job by DiLorenzo was that his only motivation for pursuing the matter in public was his belief that the Walls had significant conflicts of interest.

In the area of permits, Hamill noted that Don had started to build a carport at his property without applying for a zoning permit. In a lengthy affidavit filed in response to Hamill’s various spoken allegations, Don admitted that he did, in fact, fail to apply for a permit before starting construction and it was wrong. But the matter was not among the allegations put forward by Hamill for investigation.

Moreover, the disagreement over the issue of the permit for the carport has added fuel to the perception that DiLorenzo would like to replace Don as the zoning officer. Don said that he applied for the permit on September 22, 2009 but DiLorenzo did not issue the permit until November 17, more than two months after the application was submitted. DiLorenzo is quoted in a newspaper story alleging that Don had “backdated” the permit application. A copy of the document, however, shows that this was not the case.

Another accusation raised verbally by Hamill was that Don, as zoning officer, which is a part-time job, and owner of an excavation business, had an inappropriate advantage over his competitors who allegedly received less work than they otherwise would, and that local residents felt compelled to choose TLC for contracting work or risk retribution from Don. In his affidavit, Don showed that of the 1,019 zoning permits issued between 2004 and 2009, only 35 were TLC clients. Among the 35, 46 percent came through competitive bid; 28 percent were previous clients of TLC; 17 percent were friends of the Walls; and nine percent came to TLC through referrals.

Through their statement, Dellert and Prigge made clear that they found no substance to the allegations against the Walls. But at the beginning of January, Prigge retired and was replaced by George C. Fluhr. It was Fluhr who first raised the conflict of interest issue back in May 2009 when running in a primary election. It is now not clear if he will try to remove Don as zoning officer and replace him with DiLorenzo.