Hazleton Area School Board Member and Pennsylvania state auditor Anthony Bonomo allegedly had a blood alcohol content of 0.178% – more than twice the legal limit – when he crashed into multiple vehicles on September 10 in West Hazleton.
One of the vehicles, a parked truck belonging to West Hazleton residents Sharleen Graaf and Marvin Graaf, was totaled.
According to reporting by Fox 56, officers pulled over Bonomo’s vehicle “and noticed he had slurred speech with bloodshot and glassy eyes.” When police asked him to turn off and get out of the car, he replied “no.”
The report continues…
“Once the officer ordered Bonomo to step out of the vehicle, he refused again. Bonomo then became agitated and belligerent and even cursed out the officer, according to the complaint. Two officers removed Bonomo from the car and escorted him to a patrol car.”
But here’s what has many local working class residents feeling suspicious, wondering whether this case represents yet another instance of corruption among Hazleton elites: The crash happened on September 10, yet the police were silent about it for weeks.
“We had been down to try and get the report and they kept telling us that the accident was under investigation,” Sharleen Graaf told Fox 56.
Marvin Graaf added, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are. If you break the law, you should get punished… If they took that long to file the report, I don’t think it was proper.”
Another local resident cited Pennsylvania’s “Five-Day Rule” to argue that the investigation did indeed take too long. Several others had shared the information with local media outlets within days of the incident, but nothing was reported.
In fact, no action was taken until a citizen-produced video of the arrest began circulating on social media the evening of October 28.
After obtaining the video, local media began covering the case on October 29. Fox 56 was the first, sending a reporter to Bonomo’s home for a comment. When the reporter arrived, Bonomo refused to open the door and was seen driving away moments later in his Lexus.
It was not until this public exposure that West Hazleton police to finally charged Bonomo on October 30 – exactly 50 days after the incident.
It has since been revealed that the police didn’t send Bonomo’s blood sample to the lab until October 1, three weeks after the accident. Even though the tests took some time to get back – police reportedly received the results on October 18 – they still went nearly two weeks before filing charges.
Why the delay?
We cannot say for sure, but, for many local residents, the elephant in the room is that Bonomo is up for re-election on November 5. How convenient, many have been saying, if the incident were to not go public until then, if at all? In a county that’s long been plagued with corruption, including especially on the Hazleton Area School Board, it’s hardly surprising that people have their suspicions.
Thus far, the West Hazleton Police Department (WHPD) has provided nothing to erase public doubts. In an interview with Andy Mehalshick, West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Buglio defended his department’s procedure, commenting:
“It really didn’t take that long. This is very typical of a DUI arrest. We take people into custody for suspicion of DUI or driving under the influence of alcohol. We don’t arrest them on the spot. We need to get concrete evidence that comes from the state police crime lab. We get the lab results, that’s when we file the charges.”
What his answer doesn’t account for is the nearly two week gap between when the WHPD received the lab results (Oct 18) and their filing of charges (Oct 30).
With suspicions still running high, many Hazleton / West Hazleton residents are wondering about Bonomo’s relationship to Buglio.
Anthracite Unite has been told by an eyewitness that Bonomo allegedly said to the responding officers, “Call the chief, he will get me out of this.”
Buglio has been in his current position since January 2009. However, it is worth noting that in 2004 he was fired from the Kidder Township Police Department after rape allegations were filed against him and two other off-duty officers. Authorities eventually deemed the sex act was consensual.
On November 1, a group of former school board members – Dr. Robert Childs, Elaine Maddon Curry, Steve Hahn, and Carmella Yenkevich – wrote an open letter published by the Standard-Speaker asking Bonomo to step down.
“We simply cannot afford to teach our children that there are stern consequences for bad behavior for them and leniency for those “connected” individuals who break the law and face no meaningful punishment,” they wrote, citing the 816 cases of HASD students who were sent “to local magistrates for a variety of rule infractions, including substance abuse” over the past three years.
In February, when a HASD police officer used excessive force against a young woman of color, grabbing her by the ponytail and slamming her head against a cafeteria table, Bonomo was in agreement with others who insisted that the officer acted justifiably. Neither the officer or the district’s controversial police chief faced any meaningful repercussions in that case.
On the ground in Hazleton, this case also reinvigorated suspicions about Bonomo’s real estate dealings. He has been buying up a lot of residential property in Hazleton over the past few years. In 2016, he managed to purchase five properties for a combined $9,420; the year prior, he purchased seven properties for just $11,700. In late September, after the alleged DUI incident but before charges were filed, the Times Leader reported that “Anthony Bonomo was the top bidder in this week’s Luzerne County back-tax auction, paying nearly $311,000 to purchase 10 properties in Hazleton.”
The former school board members asked “all area voters to reject Anthony Bonomo’s cynical apology and vote him out of office this Tuesday.” Bonomo is running on a ticket with Bob Fiume, Wister Yuhas, and Jackie Scarcella.
This case happens as a group of Anthracite Unite members are actively conducting a grassroots investigation of corruption within HASD. If you have any knowledge of this case or other potential instances of corruption within HASD or local police departments, you can confidentially reach out to us at AnthraciteUnite@gmail.com.
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Keep up the good work!
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Wow, great reporting! Sounds very troubling.