In the borough form of government, the Mayor serves as the head of the police department. So here in Nazareth, that department is now being run by a man accused of stealing $8,000 from a nonprofit that could use the money. A man who admitted in Grand jury testimony that he stole money from a nonprofit created to serve the community.
Only in Nazareth.
Nazareth also has a Police Chief, a retired cop from the Big Apple, and a Commissioner. The Commissioner was Strye's idea He brought in Randy Miller, Northampton County's former Sheriff, to ride herd on the full-timers and destroy the union.
These guys will only work day shift, supervising two full-time officers and a potpourri of part-timers who get no benefits, are unable to join the police union and hence have no real loyalty.
The ultimate goal of this accused thief and his accomplices on Council is not just to destroy the police union, but to render the police department itself entirely useless.
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Miller, Strye and Borough Council did manage to rid themselves of the best police officer I've ever seen, Freddy Lahovski. They had to pay him the largest settlement ever provided to a Lehigh Valley police officer for violating his civil rights in a country whereit's usually the other way around. This is on top of nearly two years of salary that had to be paid because they illegally fired him. Two other police officers have also filed suit.
You see, Borough Council and Mayor Carl Strye like to meddle in police business.
They don't want cops sticking their noses in places where they don't belong, like the social clubs.
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Amazingly, Stoudt was easily re-elected.
Though they may have thought they got rid of their problem, they were wrong.
Now Strye has been charged with outright theft, and has no intention of stepping down as Mayor. An accused thief is now calling the shots at the police department.
How could this happen? A little over a year ago, (first reported on this blog), liquor control enforcement officers with the Pennsylvania State Police descended upon three Nazareth area social clubs simultaneously in a raid on illegal gambling. They seized cash and poker machines at the Vigilance Hose and two other social clubs. These raids are almost an annual rite. Clubs get busted, and are back in business the next week.
Although often regarded as a victimless offense, gambling addicts will spend their entire paychecks on a poker machine. Those machines are usually provided by someone with ties to organized crime. Also, unlike a strictly regulated casino, some social clubs will rig their machines to suck money away from some patrons while steering cash to others. Perhaps the biggest problem is skimming. Machine operators often get quite wealthy by pocketing a large percentage of the money used for gambling. Instead of a worthy nonprofit, some steward pockets the money to buy a snowmobile or a second home
Until he was elected Mayor in 2013, Carl Strye was President of Nazareth Vigilance Hose Co, one of the social clubs regularly hit in seven previous raids. At the time of the most recent surprise visit, agents followed one steward to his home, where they seized more money.
How can the police be expected to trust a government official who was the responsible officer for an outfit that was cited seven times before last year's raid? Doesn't this place the fox in the hen house?
Borough police have little to do with gambling. They rely on PSP. But they do have jurisdiction over Crimes Code violations. That would include skimming, which is theft.
After that raid, the social clubs got together and were able to out the undercover officer responsible. They made sure the identity of this person was disclosed at a Super Bowl Party held at Holy Family. But the fun was just beginning.
One Nazareth cop, despite being dumped on from every direction, was sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. That cop is Freddy Lahovski
He began hearing complaints from officers at the Vig that Strye had been skimming from the club. Not just $8,000. Lahovski went to Commissioner Randy Miller. "He ignored me,": Lahovski states. "You're only going to be around as long as you're useful to me," is what Lahovski reports Miller told him.
Lahovski also went to Carl Fischl, the Borough Council member in charge of the police committee, and was ignored there, too.
Realizing he would get no help from a department being run by the person under suspicion, Lahovski took his concerns to the District Attorney. The only person who knew about this was his immediate supervisor, Chief Thomas Trachta, who had gone through the same thing himself when Council member Stoudt wanted him to run the plate of a suspected state police agent. . .
I have been highly critical of Trachta in the past for his arrogance, but he at least is an honest cop and attempted in no way to interfere. Miller, on the other hand, was unhappy when Lahovski told him he had gone to the DA, after the fact Lahovski asked the DA to handle the matter because he knew that the DA had the resources, especially an Investigating Grand Jury. Detective John Casciano was assigned, and began the painstaking task of putting together the evidence.
Freddy knew this would be a death sentence to his job as a Nazareth cop. "I'm out of a job, but it was the right thing to do," said Lahovski. "I would do it again."
Eventually, I approached Mayor Carl Strye, who vigorously denied any wrongdoing. He did say he was looking forward to an appearance before the Grand Jury. In my last contact with him, he said he had "no comment."
What is clear is that the Mayor and Borough Council used their positions to retaliate against the very people tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public.
Strye is represented by Bob Eyer. Though Eyer is the Chief Public Defender, he is reportedly representing Strye as private counsel.
As I made my way back home to write this story, I saw a Nazareth police officer. "I'm tired of all this," he told me. "I just want to do my job."