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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Allegedly threatened retaliation for investigation against neighbor

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  • PIKE COUNTY- The Westfall Township supervisors chairman, who is also a police commission member for Eastern Pike Regional Police Department, was arrested Wednesday, June 18 on numerous charges, including intimidating witnesses and victims.
       State police allege that Lawrence Flansburg, 54, engaged in a series of bizarre acts between September 2012 and May 2014 in which he allegedly undermined the police force, strong-armed cops into dropping charges against a neighbor and tried — while seated on a tractor — to intimidate the assistant police chief with vague threats worthy of a B-grade mob movie.
       Flansburg of Millrift was taken into custody Wednesday night by state police at his home, arraigned Thursday by Magisterial District Judge Alan Cooper and released on his own recognizance.
        He is charged with perjury, retaliation for past official action, criminal attempt to obstruct administration of law or other governmental functions, false swearing in an official proceeding, intimidation of witnesses and victims and a Sunshine Act violation.
       State police say the investigation is continuing and further arrests are possible.
    ••• Fire department theft
        In October 2012, Flansburg intervened when it was discovered that former Millrift Fire Department Treasurer Massiel Edwards was to be charged with stealing $10,288 from the department, according to the criminal complaint.
       Eastern Pike Regional Police Department Assistant Police Chief Eric Stewart investigated the theft, which was reported to police by Thomas Lamb and Kenneth Zielazny, members of the fire department, according to court documents.
       Stewart advised them to inform Westfall supervisors, since taxpayer money had been taken.
       Lamb later told Stewart that he had informed Flansburg and Supervisor Ray Banach.   
       Lamb told   Stewart that Banach did not want Eastern Pike Regional Police investigating the case and that he wanted the case turned over to the Pike County District Attorney's Office, documents say.
       The next day, Flansburg contacted Eastern Pike Regional Police Chief Chad Stewart — brother of Eric Stewart — and asked what would happen if the fire department decided not to pursue charges against Edwards.
       Chief Stewart said he would never recommend to a victim not to pursue charges, documents say.
    ••• Hints at retaliation
        The following day, Lamb contacted Assistant Chief Eric Stewart and said that Flansburg had approached him, Zielazny and Robert Mills at a fire department meeting and asked to speak privately.
        Flansburg said he was speaking on behalf of Westfall Township supervisors, and they did not want the fire department to pursue charges against Edwards, according to court papers.
       The three department members told Flansburg the department still wanted to press charges, however, and Flansburg said if they didn't change their minds, it could impact the department in a negative way, court papers say.
    Page 2 of 4 -   Flansburg wanted to set up a meeting with department members and Edwards, but they refused because the issue was being handled by police.
        Flansburg, who, as a supervisor, determined part of the fire department's budget, again told them they should consider their decision because it could affect the department's future, court papers say.
    It was later discovered that Flansburg and Banach had not immediately informed the other supervisors of the theft, and Flansburg was not speaking on behalf of the supervisors.
        Eric Stewart spoke with Flansburg about the conversation at the firehouse and told Flansburg that he was out of line approaching the volunteer fire department members and that they felt threatened by his comments, court papers say.
        Flansburg then asked Stewart if they could work something out where the money that was stolen could be considered donations instead of tax dollars.
       Stewart said the investigation would continue and that Flansburg needed to step away from it.
       As Edwards' charges advanced, negative consequences were felt by the local police and fire department, as detailed in the criminal complaint and news reports.
       Flansburg started pushing to merge the Millrift Fire Department with the Westfall Fire Department; the Millrift Fire Department budget was cut, and the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department budget was frozen as Banach and Flansburg made threats and moved to disband and discredit the department.
    ••• Intimidation charges
        Court records also list numerous instances of alleged intimidation:
        In October 2012, Flansburg called Chad Stewart to his home and said he did not appreciate the way Eric Stewart spoke to him regarding the Edwards investigation.
      Flansburg said he would let it go this time, but in the future, Stewart had better show him some respect.
       On Nov. 19, 2012, Flansburg asked Eric Stewart to come to his home because he had a secret he wanted to tell him. Flansburg said he had enough votes with Westfall supervisors to pull out of the police department.
       That same evening, Flansburg, Banach and Supervisor Robert Ewbank voted to give a one-year notice to pull out of the jointly funded Westfall/Matamoras police department.
       In May 2013, Flansburg called Chad Stewart to complain that Eric Stewart had called his employer and complained that he was being unprofessional.
       Flansburg works as a delivery driver for UPS. Chad Stewart said it was not Eric but his wife who called the company, and the only reason she had called was to prevent further conflict, court papers say.
       In September 2013, Flansburg again called Chad Stewart regarding the complaint that had been made to UPS, and warned that the police budget could be affected once he gets on the police commission.
    Page 3 of 4 -     * Before an October 2013 supervisors meeting, Flansburg told Chad Stewart that he was still upset over the complaint made to UPS. Flansburg said he and Banach would be on the police commission in the coming year and asked Chad Stewart how Stewart thought Flansburg should vote on the police budget considering the conflict between Eric Stewart and Flansburg.
        * In March 2014, Eric Stewart was doing yard work at home when Flansburg drove past Stewart's home on an unregistered tractor. When Flansburg started to back up the tractor, Stewart took a photo with his cellphone.
       Flansburg stopped the tractor, turned it off and stared at Stewart, who switched his phone to the video mode.
      Flansburg then started yelling at Stewart, according to court documents.
      "Obviously, you don't know who you are messing with. Do you think that is smart, Eric? Obviously, you don't know Ray Banach's position and you obviously don't know (Supervisor Jerry) Dotey's position."
       Stewart did not respond.
       After a pause, Flansburg added: "OK, we will talk about this tomorrow. We will talk about it. You watch."
      And then drove away on his tractor.
       Eric Stewart provided a copy of the video to state police during the investigation.
    ••• Political friction
        Also in March, police commission solicitor Tom Mincer told state police that he had a letter from the Westfall supervisors sent to the police commission requesting information on an independent investigation of Eric Stewart and other department information.
        It was personnel information that should have been handled during an executive session where all supervisors would have been present.
      The letter was signed by Banach, Flansburg and Dotey. Mincer said it violated the Sunshine Law because three members had a quorum on the matter.
        Investigators learned that supervisors Lester Buchanan and Bob Melvin were unaware of the letter, court papers say.
         In March, state police interviewed Dotey, who took office in January 2014.
         He said the three of them alone — Flansburg, Banach and Dotey — agreed to send the letter, but that he was new and didn't know all the rules, court papers say.
          Dotey said the whole issue seemed to be political between Westfall and Matamoras, and that Dotey is in favor of disbanding the joint police force because he believes the municipalities should have their own forces.
    ••• Seeking motive
        State police interviewed Edwards, who is in jail awaiting a hearing on the fire department theft charges, to learn why Flansburg was so intent on protecting her.
    Page 4 of 4 -     She said Flansburg was her neighbor and he was good friends with her estranged husband.
         Police asked if they had an intimate relationship, but she denied it, saying she only spoke to him as a neighbor, and she was not sure why Flansburg had intervened on her behalf, court papers say.
         State police also interviewed her estranged husband, John Edwards.
         He told police that he did not know about the theft until a friend told him about it on Oct. 31, 2012. When Massiel Edwards arrived home that evening, he confronted her and asked her to move out of the house, court documents show.
        About a week later, Flansburg went to the house to speak with him and told Edwards that there was a rumor going around that Flansburg was having an affair with Massiel Edwards, but that it was not true.
       After that, Edwards confronted his wife about the rumor, but she denied it. Edwards told police he didn't know if his wife was telling the truth and that he didn't know why Flansburg intervened in her case.

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