The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 29, 2013

Court no-show lands property owner in jail

Justin Dennis

PORTAGE — The owner of the former Rex Theater along Gillespie Avenue in Portage has landed in jail after dodging hearings and court deadlines by which he was ordered to tear down the blighted building.

Nicholas Sekerak was booked on June 22 into the Cambria County Jail after a bench warrant was issued the Friday afternoon prior. Sekerak was facing another contempt hearing that day – once again, he failed to show.

According to Tracy Swope, Cambria County sheriff’s deputy, Portage police picked up Sekerak and turned him over to the Cambria County sheriff’s office to await a contempt hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Portage Borough Manager Bob Koban said that among the multitude of excuses Sekerak gave for his noncompliance with the borough’s demolition orders, lack of funds was a recurring theme. However, at a June 17 borough meeting, Koban presented a deed transferred to Sekerak the Thursday prior – a new building for his business, Mickey’s Amusements.

When Koban brought that to the attention of Judge Norman Krumenacker on the morning of Sekerak’s hearing – and Sekerak was later absent – Sekerak’s bench warrant was issued. As is the nature of bench warrants, Sekerak will be stuck in jail until he’s brought to his hearing in police custody.

“We’ve never had a situation go to this extreme,” said Koban. “We’ve been very patient through this process with Mr. Sekerak, as far as giving him extensions, working with him, trying not to get to an extreme like this.”

Koban said the council became aware of public concern regarding the structure’s integrity in 2011.

When an inspection was conducted by engineering firm Stiffler & McGraw in January 2012, it was found that about 30 feet of the roof had col­lapsed, adding extra stress to the building’s walls, which are bowing and cracking.

“Whatever the judge does – above and beyond, our goal is to have the building torn down,” Koban said. “Without burdening the taxpayers more than they (are).”

Although Koban called it an extreme, Swope said bench warrants issued and arrests made for civil issues are fairly common.

She said she’s currently zeroing in on a contractor who simply bailed on a job and took off with a customer’s money.

“Whether it’s civil or criminal, (if) you don’t show up for a hearing, it’s contempt,” Swope said. “You need to show up for the court if they tell you to.”

The alley adjacent the old theater has been cordoned off. Inspectors said if the building were to collapse, it would likely fall into it. Koban said he hopes Sekerak’s arrest will show that Portage Borough is serious about the danger Gillespie Avenue poses to the community.

“When we’ve been working on these civil cases with the district magistrate or county court, we’ve not had someone go to jail, especially for a property issue like this,” he said. “Hopefully, it sends a message.”

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