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January 14, 2014

Feds: Repak bribed with roof replacement, Steelers tickets and more

JOHNSTOWN — The long-time executive director at Johnstown Redevelopment Authority has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Ronald W. Repak, 62, of Gerry Lane in Richland Township faces charges of bribery and extortion, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton announced in a press release.

If convicted on all six counts of the indictment, Repak faces up to 90 years in prison and a fine of $1.5 million.

Formal arraignment is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 22 in the federal courthouse on Washington Street.

Repak is charged with getting multiple tickets to Pittsburgh Steelers game from one contractor, got a new roof put on his home by another contractor and got a third to do building demolition and grading work for his son’s business, Evolution Gym on Bedford Street.

All of the alleged crimes occurred in 2009.

Hickton would not comment on the investigation beyond the indictment, but left the door open to additional charges and indictments against more defendants. In general, those paying bribes are guilty of the same crimes as those accepting bribes, he noted.

“The investigation is ongoing and continues,” Hickton said. “We have announced these charges because they are ready to go.”

The six counts are related to three separate acts involving the alleged free gifts and services, Hickton explained.

Steelers tickets were provided from about Aug. 24 to Oct. 25, 2009, the indictment says, by a engineering and architectural firm with offices in Maryland, among other locations.

The roof work deal came in during September 2009 and involved a site development company that purchased equipment from Wisconsin and other locations, the papers say.

Work to prepare for construction of Evolution Gym was done Nov. 10-18, 2009, at the 1040 Bedford Street location in the Walnut Grove section of Johnstown. It involved a design and planning firm with offices in West Virginia, and other locations.

In each incident, Repak is charged with extortion under color of official right and with federal program bribery. The authority operates and pays its employees, in part, from federal grant funding, the indictment notes.

Reached on his cell phone, Repak said he was aware of the indictment, adding he would not discuss the accusations until he met with his attorney.

“I was surprised at the content,” Repak said.

If the charges are proven in court, Hickton said, bribery and extortion may signal bigger problems for the authority.

“Mr. Repak was director of the redevelopment authority, which is a position of public trust,” Hickton said.

“My view is, when you have corruption at the top, it permeates the entire operation of the organization,” he continued. “The culture becomes corrupt. No development authority can operate properly with its director engaging in corruption.”

Monsignor Raymond Balta, the authority chairman, said he does not believe Repak’s actions listed in the indictment affected the authority’s operation, but added that it helped perpetuate Johnstown’s reputation of backdoor deals and bad business.

He recalled meeting with a Texas businessman and trying to encourage him to expand to Johnstown. Balta said the business owner said he did not want to do business where you had to know someone and make deals to operate.

“Whether it’s perceived or reality, we’ll never know how many businesses did not come here,” he said. “We will never know how many opportunities were lost.”

The indictment lifted a weight of the authority board members, who were aware of the investigation for some time, but could not know what the allegations included, he said.

“This is a breath of fresh air,” Balta said. “This at least is going to show that is not the way to do business in this area.

“You don’t have to be afraid to come into this area to conduct some type of operations.”

Corruption is a double-edge sword, Hickton observed.

“When someone engages in bribery, they also can become a target,” Hickton said.

Repak was fired in February from his $92,828-a-year position, along with his administrative assistant, Deborah Walters.

Read the full indictment here: Indictment

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