Tafner only paid portion of lump sum owed to fire company
By Justin Strawser
MOUNT CARMEL - American Hose and Chemical Fire Company only received approximately $80,000 out of the initial $124,869 lump sum Thea Tafner was supposed to pay in restitution as part of her sentencing.
Fire company President James Reed and the company's attorney have been trying for months to get answers from the federal justice system, and they still don't know why only a portion of the restitution was delivered to them.
Tafner, former ambulance committee chairwoman of the Mount Carmel organization, was sentence May 16, 2011, to 30 months in federal prison for opening a fraudulent bank account where she allegedly directed $3,712,203 in Medicare payments.
In October, after more than a year of appeals, a federal judge ordered the Clerk of Courts to release the $124,869 in restitution to American Hose, and Reed was expecting the check to arrive shortly after that.
What arrived, however, was only 64 percent of what was promised.
"It's a horrible and frustrating situation," Reed said Friday.
A representative of the financial department of the U.S. District Court in Scranton said the restitution schedule is not "public information." Reed's statements came to The News-Item late Friday and no further federal officials were available.
Reed's only thought on the amount being less than anticipated was that it may have been subjected to taxes since Tafner, a long-time teacher at Line Mountain and elementary principal in the district at the time of her arrest, used money from her Pennsylvania Public School Employee Retirement System account to pay the lump sum.
While Tafner had signed an agreement not to appeal her sentencing conditions, she and her lawyer argued that, as part of the plea agreement in exchange for her waiver of any appeal rights, the government agreed not to force Tafner to use money from her pension account. But by requiring the large payment up front, Tafner argued that the court was forcing her to use that money nevertheless.
The money was placed in the court registry July 1, 2011, until the courts decided whether the order to pay the lump sum was proper, which it was on May 29, 2012.
Reed explained American Hose officials immediately turned the check over to their attorney Michael Smith, of Hummel and Lewis, Bloomsburg.
"We haven't determined how to disperse it yet. Once we know, the attorney will work with the creditors and those involved in the lawsuits to settle everything the best we can. It won't be used for any other purpose," he said.
As a result of Tafner's actions, the ambulance portion of the fire company was closed down, and the fire company is involved with active lawsuits from Shamokin Area Community Hospital and Cornerstone Adminisystems, of Cumberland County.
Both lawsuits are at a standstill until the initial lump sum is figured out, Reed said.
American Hose filed a writ of summons against Thea Tafner in March 2011 and her brother Carter Tafner and his business in October 2011.
Carter Tafner has since passed away, but Reed said American Hose still reserves the right to take any further action against his estate.
Tafner remains in Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va. and will pay at least $250 a month to pay back $1.8 million. Even with the $124,869 deducted, the remaining $1,691,176 would take nearly 564 years to pay back at the current minimum rate of $250 a month.
A spokesman with the Federal Bureau of Prison (FBP) reported Friday that Tafner is scheduled to be released Aug. 23 from the federal prison.
Although originally sentenced for 30 months, she must carry out 85 percent - about 25 months - of her imprisonment, at which the prison system may release her based on good behavior. She reported to prison June 20, 2011.
Reed is not happy with this information either.
"As far as I'm concerned, she should stay in jail until we get the rest of the money. The sentence wasn't long enough to begin with. People go to jail a lot longer for a lot less," he said.
Chris Burke with the FBP explained all federal inmates are eligible for up to 54 days a year off their imprisonment, but they must maintain good behavior in order to keep those days.
In Tafner's case, she was originally eligible to be released 117 days before her full imprisonment, and she has not lost any of those days, he said.
Although he wouldn't comment on any specific reports on inmates' good behavior or disciplinary records, it can be assumed that Tafner has behaved herself since she has not lost any days.
Burke said it is policy not to confirm whether an inmate has indeed been released until after the fact, but the earliest Tafner can be released is Aug. 23.
Following her release, Burke said she would likely be transferred to a community-based programs such as a halfway house or home confinement that would assist Tafner in readjusting to life outside the prison.