Binsack's suit claims 8 violated rights
Scott J. Binsack claims in a federal lawsuit that his constitutional rights were violated and that he ran from the law because he feared for his life if he returned to prison.
In the 25-page complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. Middle District Court, Binsack seeks in excess of $75,000 each in compensatory and punitive damages from the city of Shamokin and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP), along with six individuals representing those entities.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day U.S. marshals captured Binsack in New York on an alleged parole violation. The federal agents had joined state parole agents in the search for Binsack after he failed to show for a parole meeting on Oct. 25. He was taunting law enforcement with online writings and videos.
Individual defendants in the suit include, from the city, Police Chief Ed Griffiths, Clerk Steve Bartos, Councilman R. Craig Rhoades and Code Enforcement Officer Rick Bozza; and PBPP agent Susan Stout and her supervisor, David Frederick.
Binsack, represented by Frank Kepner Jr., Berwick, claims the defendants conspired to deprive his constitutional rights to free speech, assembly, due process and liberty. The suit's five counts also say Binsack's ability to develop real estate opportunities was "seriously damaged," that his "good name, reputation, honor and integrity" were injured, and that he has suffered emotional distress.
Griffiths, contacted Wednesday, said Binsack is "grasping at straws."
"He's done this in Lackawanna County as well, and those suits were thrown out," he said. "You can't sue someone for doing their job."
Rhoades said only that he would defend himself.
"I'm not offering any other comment to create any other issues with this gentleman," he said.
Bozza declined comment, and Bartos did not return a call seeking comment.
Leo Dunn, case spokesman for PBPP, said neither the agency nor its agents comment on pending lawsuits.
Binsack, 43, of 131 S. Market St., Shamokin, quickly became a local curiosity after he appeared at a meeting of City Council Aug. 13 with out-of-state businessman Steven Crone with a $13 million plan to seek investors to help revitalize the city and Coal Township. Resulting publicity about Binsack's criminal past, which includes fraud and theft-related charges from New York state and Monroe and Lackawanna counties dating to 1999, led Binsack and Crone on a crusade to root out what they said was corruption among city officials.
They videotaped local residents and officials and posted the footage along with their own commentary on their newly created "Something's Smokin in Shamokin" website and Facebook page, and on YouTube.
The lawsuit describes how Binsack believes city officials conspired to not only combat the revitalization plan, but to get him back to prison.
The suit describes health problems that have left Binsack "completely disabled."
He said he lost all vision in his right eye because of a retinal tear suffered in a prison assault and that he has a serious retinal tear in his left eye, rendering him "legally blind." He also has serious kidney disease and back and knee injuries for which surgeries have been scheduled, the suit says.
It says Binsack was told by a "confidential source" from the PBPP that he was going to be sent to prison and that he would be beaten by guards. Binsack's suit says if he suffers any trauma to his head "he will go blind."
"Because he feared for his life and safety, the plaintiff did not report to the parole office as had been ordered," the suit says.
Binsack, whose trouble in Lackawanna County was the impetus for what would become a new home improvement consumer protection law in Pennsylvania, was restricted by parole in business activities. His suit says he could not be an owner or partner in any company, and that he was not to obtain any credit cards.
A key element of the suit involves the description of the 80-page revitalization plan, which is labeled as an "investor prospectus" in all capital letters on its cover, but which is repeatedly referred to in the lawsuit as a "brochure."
The complaint says Binsack couldn't work because of his disabilities, and that's why he began to purchase properties in the Shamokin area, with "borrowed funds," upon his move there after his release from prison in June 2011.
Binsack claims that in July 2011, his parole agent at the time gave him permission to open a checking account. He said Stout, when she became his parole officer in January, allowed him to maintain a bank account.
Binsack decided that since he couldn't own a company, he could serve as a consultant and advise people on real estate, construction law and financial opportunities, the suit says.
Binsack says Crone first contacted him in mid-2012, and Crone formed and was sole owner of S&S Capital LLC and Hometown Revitalization Group LLC.
The lawsuit says Binsack was a consultant and manager for the companies because Crone was living and working in West Virginia. It says he was allowed by PBPP to travel to West Virginia as well as Nevada, where a woman interested in the revitalization plan lived.
City council issues
Binsack says things began to go wrong when he and Crone approached Bartos and city council with their plan. The lawsuit says Bartos was quoted in The News-Item on Aug. 20 saying Binsack had requested a partnership with the city and that it was seeking funds from the city, and that the city was aware of the plaintiff's criminal past.
In the same paragraph where the newspaper article is mentioned, the lawsuit also says Bartos "further related" that the plaintiff and Crone had already raised $4 million for their projects and were asking for funds from the city. "These statements ... were false and severely injured the plaintiff."
The story, written by David Falchek, a reporter for The News-Item's sister paper, the (Scranton) Times-Tribune, who has covered Binsack and his trouble in northeastern Pennsylvania for five years, never mentioned the $4 million. The story also said nothing about asking the city for funding.
The article did say Bartos told the reporter that Binsack and Crone asked to have first pick of properties slated for demolition or city-owned vacant land, and that, "We are doing our due diligence, as we would with any developer asking to partner with the city."
The lawsuit claims the "adverse publicity" affected their plan and ability to purchase properties.
It says Griffiths approached Binsack and Crone after the Aug. 13 meeting, asking for their personal information. Bartos and Griffiths contacted Stout the next day, according to the suit.
The suit says complaints by citizens about Binsack at an Aug. 30 city council meeting led Bartos to suggest they get a petition together citing their concerns.
That led Binsack and Crone to take a film crew to city hall to question Bartos and others about those and earlier comments. The suit describes at length a subsequent battle between Binsack and Crone and the city officials named in the suit regarding demolition issues, a dispute over a permit for a large Dumpster outside Binsack's house and other matters.
The suit says on the first visit with a film crew to city hall, two police cars pulled up as Binsack and Crone were leaving. It says Binsack had done nothing wrong and Griffiths did this "solely to intimidate."
The suit says that on one visit to city hall, Bartos argued with and threatened Crone, leading Griffiths to approach Binsack and say, "You have 24 hours to get out of my city or I am going to lock you up." A 'setup'
The suit claims Griffiths had Stout present at a Sept. 12 city council meeting in order to arrest Binsack. It says Binsack knew about this ahead of time and didn't show.
Binsack said Stout came to his home two days later and told him she had been contacted by Griffiths to ensure that "the peace was kept" at the meeting. Binsack said he never heard of a parole agent showing up at a meeting under those circumstances.
He said Stout visited his home on Sept. 24 and told his fiance, Tammi Pancher, that Binsack "should not leave the house" until he heard from her. Binsack said he contacted city attorney Vincent Rovito, who called Frederick. Rovito later told Binsack the matter was being reviewed "in Harrisburg," the suit says.
Binsack said he met as ordered on Sept. 25 with Stout and Frederick, and he was questioned about the companies. He said Frederick told him he understood he "had to make a living somehow," the suit says. Binsack told them about three credit cards that he had but for which he was not a creditor. Frederick suggested he turn them in, the suit says, "and thanked him for his honesty." At no time did Frederick advise Binsack not to continue his role as consultant, the suit says.
Going to jail?
Binsack's suit details how he and Crone released a video, "The harassment continues," on Sept. 27, and their first "Something's Smokin in Shamokin" show Oct. 9.
The suit details incidents at city hall on Oct. 10 involving Binsack's permit for his Dumpster, and one on Oct. 18 at the site of a demolition project on Shamokin Street, where Binsack says Bozza told him and Crone they couldn't film.
Binsack says Stout visited him at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 18 and gave him a ticket to report to PBPP's Williamsport office on Oct. 25. He said he asked if he was going to jail and whether he should get his affairs in order. "You should always have your affairs in order" was Stout's reply, the suit says.
On Oct. 23, Binsack and Crone released episode two of "Something's Smokin in Shamokin," and around the same time, Binsack says he was advised he was "going to be locked up on various technicalities for purchasing property, consulting and having been given credit cards for his expenses."
Binsack apparently never showed for that meeting, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on Nov. 5, the U.S. Marshals Service reported.
The suit says Stout told Pancher during an Oct. 25 visit to Binsack's home that, "If Scott had not stuck his nose in the police chief's business and do this stupid show, he would not be in this situation."