SUNBURY - An order issued by the county clerk of courts approximately 75 minutes before a scheduled hearing Thursday afternoon for a Shamokin salvage yard owner convicted of theft last year denies the defendant's post-sentence motion requesting a new trial.

In a surprise development involving the case of 48-year-old Alfons Keefer, an order signed by Clerk of Courts Kathleen Strausser denied a post-sentence motion filed by Keefer's attorney, Ernie Preate, on May 23, because a hearing involving the motion has not been held within 120 days of its filing in accordance with Rule 720 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. The motion was denied by operation of the law, according to the order.

Preate, who took over as Keefer's attorney May 23, 2012, did not request a 30-day extension on the 120-day rule, but even if he did, the time period to hear the post-sentence motion still would have expired in late October.

Keefer remains free on $5,000 appeal bail granted to him after his trial. Preate said he plans to file a direct appeal to appellate court within 30 days. Keefer, who is seeking a new trial because he claims he had ineffective counsel and errors were made by the court, witnesses and a prosecutor, can continue his appeal all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court while remaining free unless he violates his bail conditions.

Preate's motion also challenges the amount of restitution Keefer was ordered to pay in the case.

Caught off guard

Keefer claims his former attorney, Timothy Bowers,

did not properly represent him at trial. Bowers and Attorney Kymberley Best were prepared to testify at Thursday's scheduled hearing.

Several of Keefer's family members and friends also were in attendance, but it was unknown if they were to be called as witnesses.

The order signed by Strausser at 12:02 p.m. Thursday totally caught Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor, Preate and Keefer off guard.

Saylor wasn't informed of the order until he returned from lunch, while Preate and the defendant didn't learn of the order until they entered Saylor's courtroom at about 1:15 p.m.

The judge explained at the outset of the scheduled hearing that the order denying Keefer's post-sentence motion divests him from jurisdiction in the case.

Preate, a former state attorney general, said he was expecting both sides to present arguments at the hearing before being presented with the order.

"I'm surprised and mystified by this," he commented.

Toomey's request

Meanwhile, Northumberland County Assistant District Attorney Michael Toomey, who prosecuted the case against Keefer and requested the order be signed by Strausser, wasn't shocked at all.

"I knew the 120 days had elapsed, so I went to the Clerk of Courts Office today at about 11:30 a.m. to see if an order was ever filed denying the post-sentence motion," Toomey said. "I was told it wasn't because it apparently fell through the cracks, so I requested an order be signed as soon as possible, which it was."

Strausser confirmed Toomey's account of when he requested the order. She said the order wasn't signed until Thursday because of a personnel shortage in her office.

After court was dismissed, Keefer, who was obviously upset by the order denying his post-sentence motion, stated, "You have no idea what this has done to my life."

On Aug. 20, 2012, Toomey's request to continue the post-trial motion hearing was granted. The hearing was then moved to Oct. 22, but Saylor continued the legal proceeding until Thursday to allow the commonwealth time to review Preate's motion.

Toomey said neither of the continuances factored into the 120-day period because they weren't requested by the defendant.

Sentenced May 14

On May 14, Saylor sentenced Keefer to 4 1/2 to 24 months in Northumberland County Prison. The defendant was convicted Feb. 13 by a jury on a felony offense of theft of movable property and a misdemeanor of obstructing administration of the law. He was found not guilty of a misdemeanor of deceptive business practices, while a felony of receiving stolen property and a misdemeanor of tampering with or fabricating evidence were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

The sentence also required Keefer to pay $1,100 in fines plus costs and complete two years of supervised probation upon his release from prison. Keefer also must make restitution of $32,500 to Ford Motor Credit Co.; $2,100 in restitution to Joy Kulenguskey, of Coal Township, and $818.49 restitution to the county district attorney's office for expenses incurred to have Ken Cade, of Phoenix, Ariz., a customer service representative for Ford Motor Credit Co., testify at Keefer's trial.

Keefer was sentenced to prison time on the theft charge, while the consecutive two years probation was granted for the obstruction offense.

Keefer appealed the sentence within 30 days.

Keefer, who doesn't have a prior criminal record, would most likely only serve a minimum prison sentence of 4 1/2 months if his appeal is denied.

Ford F-350 truck

Keefer was charged by Trooper Kevin L. Bletz of the Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Task Force with failing to return a silver 2001 Ford F-350 truck owned by Kulenguskey that he towed in 2008. Police said the turbo diesel, quad cab truck was towed and stored by Keefer at his business, A&G Towing on Bear Valley Avenue, before it disappeared.

The charges, filed in August 2010, involved a two-year investigation conducted by Bletz, who was asked by Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini and Shamokin police to conduct the probe in February 2008 because of a prior conflict between city police and Keefer. That conflict involved a dispute with the city over towing and storage charges when Keefer removed 18 vehicles from Robert Gilligbauer's Shamokin property in 2007.