HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission says Lower Paxton Township Supervisor Bill Hornung used a township employee for personal use.
The Ethics Commission launched an investigation when someone who lives in the township filed a complaint after seeing an ABC27 story investigating allegations that Hornung used information technology employee Gary Weisinger to work on the computers at his store, Hornung’s Ace Hardware, over a period of several years.
ABC27 used public records, information from sources, employee sign-out sheets, and surveillance photos to pinpoint Weisinger’s whereabouts. After the investigation aired, additional sources reached out to ABC27 about Hornung’s “frequent use” of Weisinger at his store.
Weisinger stopped working for the township before the story aired.
A viewer sent ABC27 a video of Tuesday night’s public board meeting when Hornung addressed the results of the Ethics Commission investigation.
“As the result of an unpopular decision, I was reported to the State Ethics Commission for allegedly using my authority to utilize a township employee to work at my place of business five years ago,” Hornung read from a prepared statement. “It was found that I did receive some help of an insignificant amount from a township employee that was not worthy of an investigation nor any disciplinary action. As such, the case is closed.”
ABC27 discovered that’s not entirely true. The letter the Ethics Commission sent to Hornung says a preliminary investigation determined he used a township employee at his store. However, the Ethics Commission cannot take the investigation to the next stage and discipline him because it could not prove how much money was involved.
The Ethics Commission did not have subpoena power in this situation and in such cases must rely on witness interviews and public records.
The letter also says Hornung filed deficient Statements of Financial Interest. Those statements are disclosure forms meant to prevent public leaders from using their positions for personal gain. The Ethics Commission has the ability to discipline Hornung for that violation. It has been forwarded to the Commission’s Assistant Counsel of the Investigative Division for “review and appropriate action.” The letter says Hornung will “be further advised through the Commission’s civil citation proceedings.”
ABC27 called Ethics Commission Executive Director Rob Caruso. He said the could not comment on this specific case because it is not completely resolved.
What about the taxpayers?
“It’s pretty clear he abused his public power for personal gain,” political watchdog and Lower Paxton taxpayer Eric Epstein said. “And when you have somebody using a public employee for personal gain, it’s not just that he’s enriching himself. He’s also depriving taxpayers of a service they’re paying for.”
Epstein would like to see the Ethics Act strengthened so the commission could more easily enact discipline in these situations.
“Once you begin to abuse power, it becomes seductive,” Epstein said. “It tends to grow and not go away on its own.’
“The issue isn’t how much corruption or how much abuse of power,” he added. “There should be zero tolerance. The threshold is zero tolerance. You don’t put a number on this.”
Although the Ethics Commission cannot force Hornung to repay taxpayers, it does have the ability to refer the case to the Office of the Attorney General, which can launch an investigation and file charges in an attempt to get restitution. District Attorney Ed Marsico also has the power to launch an investigation or refer the case to the attorney general.
Epstein would like to see Hornung voluntarily pay back the tax dollars that were paid to Weisinger while he was working at Hornung’s store on township time.
“You have to pay the money back,” Epstein said. “You have to make the taxpayers whole, and that’s when this chapter could potentially be closed out.”
ABC27 called Hornung on his cell phone Wednesday and left a message. He did not call back.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Hornung said he did not intentionally break any laws.
“Many of you who truly know me understand I am a man of faith in my family, community, and in my place of business,” Hornung read. “I also know in my heart I was not trying to be deceptive, but understand the perception may be different.”
Hornung went on to say he became aware of surveillance photos showing Weisinger working at his store five years ago. However, when ABC27 first called him about the allegations, he denied having any knowledge of the pictures.
Epstein says it’s up to voters to make sure accountability doesn’t end here.
“This case doesn’t end until Election Day,” Epstein said. “Mr. Hornung is up for re-election. The ultimate judge of Mr. Hornung’s behavior will be the voters.”