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December 23, 2013

Probation officer: Kucheras will be strictly monitored

JOHNSTOWN — A home-detention sentence for a pair of former Windber defense firm owners doesn’t mean the brothers must stay home 24/7 for the next 18 months.

But it’s not a free pass to roam around freely either, a U.S. probation officer said Monday.

While a federal district judge’s sentence, in line with typical federal home- detention guidelines, allows William and Ron Kuchera to leave home for employment, church services and, potentially, other reasons if pre-approved by a federal probation officer, they’ll spend the next 18 months under electronic monitoring and strict schedules.

Those under home detention are also under the watchful eye of the probation office – and, oftentimes in higher profile cases, the public, U.S. Probation Officer John Kuklar said.

“This isn’t just an open window for people to go wherever they want,” said Kuklar, a 26-year federal probation officer. “You’re given a schedule, based on work and other factors, and you’re expected to follow it. If someone’s supposed to be working and they are caught at the movies, it’s going to be a problem.”

William Kuchera, 58, and Ron Kuchera, 52, were sentenced to five years probation and 18 months house arrest last week for their guilty pleas to major government fraud. They were also required to repay the Department of Defense and IRS millions and each pay $500,000 fines as well as other costs.

There are several ways those in the home-detention program, like the Kuchera brothers, are monitored, Kuklar said.

A base unit is installed in the offender’s home and is synchronized with his electronic monitoring bracelet, he said. An alarm is triggered and the probation office is immediately notified if someone wearing it moves farther than 150 feet from his residence at a time he or she is scheduled to be at home.

Probation officers also make unannounced visits at homes and other locations, including the workplace, “to ensure those in the home detention program are where they should be,” Kuklar added.

“We know when they are supposed to be home and we know when they aren’t,” he said, noting visits occur once a month, at minimum.

A third-party company, Colorado-based BI Inc., monitors offenders’ whereabouts through the bracelets 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Kuklar said typical offenders on home detention are charged between $3.18 and $5.63 per day for program costs, with the higher rates tied to offenders who use their cellphones as a primary contact instead of traditional landlines.

Kuklar said those on home detention are going to be seen in public, whether it’s on the way to work or grabbing a sandwich during a lunch break.

“People are going to see them,” he said, noting the reason might be totally legitimate, such as a doctor’s visit.

“But we receive a lot of calls from the public, people saying ‘Hey, I just saw so and so here or there,’ ” Kuklar said. “And we rely on that as a tool.  It’s like an extra set of eyes out there on the street.”

Kuklar said his two-officer office handles approximately 100 cases at any given time, although many are individuals on bond awaiting their day in court.

Others are simply individuals on probation, he said.

“We get our share of violations,” he said. “But the home- detention program works. People know the consequence is jail.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.

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