CHRIS KELLY: Probing Corruption A Full-time Job
Tom Petty was right. The waiting is the hardest part.
I spent Thursday haunting the lobby of an office building in Norristown. The chairs there are my style — chunky midcentury mahogany with coal-black cushions tacked to creamy backs. Oh so comfortable. I spent a lot of time getting to know those chairs.
The wide-open lobby at 1000 Madison Ave. affords the best indoor porch for people-watching at the doorstep of the statewide grand jury investigating alleged sexual abuse at Lackawanna County Prison. The same grand jury is being subjected to evidence about God Knows What Hot Messes in the Scranton School District.
For hints about what elements of chronic public corruption state investigators judge prosecutable here in Our Stiff Neck of the Woods, you have to travel about 100 miles south of Scranton.
Like fishing in a stream stocked with stubborn trout, said hints are not guaranteed. True patience requires acceptance that time spent may never pay off.
This was my second trip to Montgomery County for the grand jury. I was there June 4, when I hoped to run into Dan Sansky, former school district “fleet manager” and star of a scathing 2017 audit by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. In a blunt-force report in which he chided district officials to “get their heads out of their asses,” DePasquale revealed that Sansky was paid $673,321 for work on “district vehicles” with next to no documentation. The district also provided Sansky and his wife, Mary Ann, health care coverage for at least a dozen years, despite neither being a district employee. Records obtained by The Times-Tribune revealed the benefits cost taxpayers at least $290,730.
We learned the date of Sansky’s scheduled grand jury appearance from a subpoena he left on the passenger seat of his car during a May 15 raid on his West Elm Street garage.
Sansky did not appear June 4. Times-Tribune Education Reporter Kathleen Bolus and I were there on Thursday due to an inadvertent tip from Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D.
In a June 21 email to school board members and district solicitor John Minora, Kirijan said she was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Three hours later, she sent another email: “In a conversation with the AG’s Office this afternoon, it is confirmed that I will not be required to appear before the Grand Jury on July 12, 2018.”
Because we ink-stained wretches trust no one, we packed a picnic lunch and hit the turnpike early Thursday. Kirijan didn’t materialize and we witnessed no school district officials or employees entering the building.
Tom Staff was in the Norristown grand jury room Thursday. I don’t know why, but I’ll venture an educated guess: His son needed help. Jeffrey Staff is a former county prison guard charged with institutional sexual assault. Tom Staff is the former director of the county prison’s work-release program.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Tom Staff was a reporter at this newspaper way back in the day. The irony inherent in our individual reactions to seeing each other Thursday points to the familial connections that complicate probes into small-town corruption.
In a town where everybody knows everybody and family ties bind up the best jobs, we are bound to run into each other in strange places. The lobbies of those places may provide stylish chairs, but the hot seat is always upstairs, and never comfortable.
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-
Tribune columnist, loves a comfortable chair. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at