By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO July 11, 2006 One dark chapter in Sullivan Countys history appears to be drawing to a close with the guilty pleas on Thursday and Friday by former Department of Public Works Commissioner Pete Lilholt and Deputy Commissioner Phil Nicoletti on felony charges of grand larceny and defrauding the government.
The two officials worked out an agreement with Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen whereby Lilholt will receive six months in jail and five years of probation. Nicoletti will be given a sentence of one year in jail at their sentencing hearing in September in front of Judge Burton Ledina, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The pair were charged with stealing power washers, parts washers, welders, a backpack blower, carts, a rotary tiller and other items estimated to range in value from $13,000 up to $20,000 total, said Lungen. His office is still tabulating the value of what was taken from the county.
The two will be ordered to pay full restitution as part of the agreement.
Nicoletti received a harsher punishment because, explained Lungen, it was believed he played a more central role in the ordering and theft of the equipment. He also played a larger role in other ways that Lungen said he couldnt presently discuss.
The revelations were initially revealed as part of a county investigation that began with break-ins by the two and other DPW employees into the county personnel office. Allegations of misconduct and abuse inside the department followed, culminating in a stunning hearing in which Lilholt admitted to many of the charges and singled out his fellow cohorts.
DPW Director of Parks, Recreation and Beautification Richard Caraluzzo was fired for his part in the break-ins and the attempted blackmail of County Legislator Kathleen LaBuda.
DPW Chief Fiscal Officer Amy Winters was also alleged to be part of the blackmail and break-ins. Her disciplinary hearing was held in May, but no official decision has been reached on her employment. Robert Trotta, the Chief Engineer for the department who was named in at least one of the break-ins was never charged.
Lungen said the guilty pleas reflect long-term employees that are forced to leave the county in disgrace. They have thrown out their careers and are going to jail. It shows that it doesnt matter who you are and what your position is in this county. You will be prosecuted. There is no favoritism in this office.
The DA went on to comment about the impact all of the charges have had on the Department of Public Works, which has the most employees in the county.
They have undergone significant scrutiny, he said.
The verdict? Most of the employees are honest and hard-working, he stated.
Hopefully, this will put to rest the rumors and disparaging remarks and allow them to put this behind them. They have taken some good hits from what has been said.
Lungen does not expect to charge any other DPW employees.
However, an investigation into the fire at the Sullivan County Government Center is continuing. The fire, considered arson, occurred on the first day of hearings regarding the DPW scandal.