Nanticoke Police Department - 2019
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McNeal gets decades in prison for 2017 Nanticoke homicide

Convicted killer Antoine McNeal, 34, won’t be eligible for parole until he’s almost 66 under a sentence handed down Monday.
A jury in January found McNeal, of Wilkes-Barre, guilty on counts of third-degree murder, criminal use of a communications facility, robbery and tampering with evidence.
He was convicted of fatally shooting 20-year-old Brandon Smith in a van outside of Smith’s Nanticoke home in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2017.
At trial, prosecutors painted the attack as a robbery gone wrong, accusing him of going to Smith’s home to buy $500 worth of marijuana. Upon arrival, they said McNeal shot Smith twice and stole a handful of Percocet pills Smith had in his possession.
McNeal appeared in court on Monday before Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley for sentencing. The judge allowed members of Smith’s family to address the court first.
Smith’s sister, Destiny Crooks, had harsh words for McNeal.
“I don’t believe he’s sorry for what he did,” Crooks said. “I pray for him, I pray someday he’s remorseful for what he did.”
Briefly addressing the court himself, McNeal didn’t express any remorse, instead, maintaining he had nothing to do with the shooting.
“Condolences to the family but I had no part of what happened to your son,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
McNeal said nothing else.
A large part of McNeal’s defense throughout his week-long trial was that he was not involved with the crime, claiming that prosecutors did not have enough physical evidence to convict him. However, a cell phone that was eventually found to belong to McNeal was retrieved from the van Smith was shot in.
Before issuing her sentence, Gartley expressed condolences to Smith’s family.
“At the sentencing stage, there isn’t much to say,” she said. “Nothing will bring your son back.”
Gartley ordered McNeal to spend an aggregate 31 to 63 years in prison. McNeal was granted 678 days credit for time served.
He will be required to pay nearly $20,000 in restitution. The bulk of that money will go to the Pennsylvania State Police to cover for lab work done during investigation.
An additional charge of possession of a firearm by a felon, which had been severed from the trial, was withdrawn by prosecutors.
McNeal was remanded back to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility after sentencing pending transfer to a state prison.

Convicted killer Antoine McNeal was sentenced Monday to serve up to 63 years in state prison.
James Halpin - Citizens Voice

A jury convicted McNeal, 34, of third-degree murder, criminal use of a communications device, tampering with evidence and robbery following a trial in January.
Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley imposed the sentence Monday, ordering McNeal to serve roughly 31½ to 63 years in state prison. The judge gave McNeal credit for 678 days time served and ordered him to pay more than $18,100 in restitution.
Prosecutors alleged McNeal set up a drug deal to buy $500 worth of marijuana from 20-year-old Brandon Smith early the morning of Jan. 18, 2017. After arriving at Smith’s West Church Street home in Nanticoke, McNeal shot him twice in the chest and robbed him of Percocet pills Smith had in his pocket, prosecutors said.
The defense maintained that although McNeal set up the drug deal, he arrived at Smith’s home to find Smith with another, unidentified person. As McNeal was walking, gunshots rang out and he ran back to his girlfriend’s car saying, “We got to get out of here. They’re shooting,” according to the girlfriend’s testimony.

Man, 64, charged in Nanticoke hit-run crash
James Halpin - Citizens Voice

A Nanticoke man was charged Tuesday with fleeing the scene of a crash that seriously injured a 72-year-old man last month.
Police say John Charles Gajewski, 64, of 65 Hill St., spent the day drinking at a bar before hitting Harold Rinehimer and fleeing the scene in a panic the night of Jan. 20.
Rinehimer was hit as he crossed East Broad and Market streets around 10:25 p.m. Jan. 20. Officers say they found him lying in the northbound lane of South Market Street saying he had been hit by a car that “came out of nowhere.”
Rinehimer was seriously injured in the crash — sustaining broken bones, abrasions and contusions — but was released from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Twp., on Jan. 25.
According to the complaint, police got video from the area and identified a burgundy Chevrolet Malibu as the suspect’s vehicle. Video from an ATM showed Rinehimer going airborne after being hit and the car then swerving into the opposing lane — indicating the driver knew what had happened, police said.
On Jan. 29, police found a burgundy 2016 Chevrolet Malibu with fresh front-end damage parked outside of Gajewski’s home, police said.
Gajewski initially claimed a car had backed into his parked car at a supermarket, although he never reported such an accident, according to the complaint.
He went on to admit being at Larry’s Pizza at 400 E. Church St. from about 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. the day of the crash, police said. Gajewski told police he drank between eight and 10 cans of Miller Lite while watching football at the establishment, according to the complaint.
He claimed he had then driven home along Market Street, which police say would not have been possible because by that time the road was already closed due to the accident. Police say the surveillance videos also did not support Gajewski’s version of events.
Gajewski stood by his account, so police conducted further testing, according to the complaint.
An examination showed his car had damage “consistent with striking a person” in the form of dents and cracked paint — damage that was not observed during a vehicle inspection Gajewski had done on Jan. 16, police said.
Investigators also found what appeared to be human tissue on the vehicle’s grill, police said.
Confronted with the additional information, Gajewski admitted he had lied and that he was responsible for the crash, according to the complaint. He told police he panicked after hitting Rinehimer and was sorry for what happened, police said.
Police charged Gajewski with a felony count of fleeing the scene of an injury accident as well as summary counts of failing to stop and render aid, failing to report an accident, giving false information and careless driving.
Magisterial District Judge Donald L. Whittaker arraigned Gajewski on the charges Tuesday morning and released him on $100,000 unsecured bail.
A preliminary hearing was set for 9 a.m. March 13.

Search warrant: Suspect stole from club to fund gambling habit
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

The suspect in the massive theft from a city social club admitted to embezzling funds to support his lifestyle and a secret casino gambling habit, according to a search warrant obtained by Nanticoke police.
Search warrant documents identify the suspect as Daniel Wozniak, who was treasurer the past five years at the Honey Pot Club in the city’s Honey Pot section.
Investigators say tens of thousands of dollars are missing from the club’s coffers.
The theft came to light recently after utilities were shut off to the club’s building at 13 Honey Pot St. The utility shut off forced the Honey Pot Volunteer Fire Department out of service. The fire company is an affiliated, but separate, organization which shares the building with the club.
City police said they recently were approached by board member Julianna Kobylarz, who reported the utilities were shut off due to months of unpaid bills. She and other members then discovered the club’s three bank accounts were “depleted,” police said.
The next day, Wozniak’s wife, Jennifer, also a board member, came to police headquarters to report Wozniak was “missing” for several days, according to the search warrant. She said he had sent her an email admitting to stealing from the club.
Police say Wozniak surrendered on Thursday and admitted to stealing from the club for several years.
Wozniak, the club’s treasurer since 2014, said he initially wrote himself several checks, but mainly stole money each night from cash deposits, the search warrant says.
When there wasn’t enough money to pay bills, he would transfer cash from the club’s savings account to its checking account until the point there was no money left, police said.
Wozniak said he used the cash for personal purposes and to “fund his closeted casino gambling habit,” the search warrant says.
Police say charges are pending the completion of the investigation and an analysis of the club’s financial records.
Efforts to reach Wozniak on Friday were not immediately successful.

Fire volunteers out of service due to theft
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

The Honey Pot Volunteer Fire Department is out of service as city police investigate a massive theft from its affiliated social club that led to its utilities being shut off.
Nanticoke police Chief Tom Wall confirmed his department is investigating the theft of tens of thousands of dollars from the Honey Pot Club social hall and a suspect turned himself in to confess.
The hall and fire department, which are affiliated but are two separate organizations, share the same building at 13 Honey Pot St.
Wall said the thief came to light when the utilities were shut off recently due to unpaid bills.
"That was one of the things that gave it away. He was supposed to be doing that," Wall said.
Wall said the suspect turned over a computer and told police how he had been skimming from the organization's finances for several years. Charges are pending the completion of the investigation and analysis of financial records, the chief said.
The volunteer fire company announced on Facebook on Wednesday it was out of service for most calls because utilities were shut off to its building.
"We feel the community should be well aware of the issue at hand and the fire company is not the one being investigated, as we have two organizations in the building," the fire company wrote on Facebook.
The fire company said residents still would be in great hands because of the "amazing fire department here in the City of Nanticoke."
The volunteer department in the city's Honey Pot section is one of several that supplement Nanticoke's full-time department.
When contacted, a representative of the fire department declined further comment.
Nanticoke Fire Chief Kevin Hazleton said fire and rescue service will not be harmed while Honey Pot is out of service.
"They are an independent agency. We cover Honey Pot, so it will not affect service one bit," Hazleton said.
Meanwhile, a post on the Honey Pot Club's Facebook page says there will be an "emergency meeting" for members of the private club at 6 p.m. Friday at the West Side Park clubhouse on West Grand Street.
"We will only be able to issue a basic statement due to the active investigation and be open to help/thoughts to try to get things moving forward," the post said.

Police: Suspect identified in hit and run

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Nanticoke police seek U-Haul truck driver in hit-run
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Man, 72, seriously hurt in Nanticoke hit-run .. Black sedan with damage to front bumper.

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McNeal found guilty of murder
James Halpin and Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

After nearly six hours of deliberations, a jury on Friday night found Antoine McNeal guilty of third-degree murder.
McNeal, 34, was accused of setting up a drug deal to buy $500 worth of marijuana from 20-year-old Brandon Smith early the morning of Jan. 18, 2017.
Prosecutors alleged that after arriving at Smith’s West Church Street home in Nanticoke, McNeal shot him twice in the chest and robbed him of Percocet pills Smith had in his pocket.
McNeal was also found guilty of criminal use of a communications device, tampering with evidence and robbery.
The jury found him not guilty of first- and second-degree homicide.
Prosecutors struggled to understand how the jury found McNeal guilty of robbery, but not guilty of second-degree murder, which is a killing during the commission of a felony, such as robbery. A second-degree murder conviction would have carried a penalty of mandatory life in prison, while the third-degree conviction carries a maximum penalty of 20 to 40 years in prison.
Still, prosecutors were satisfied with the verdict.
“We were confident from the beginning Mr. McNeal pulled the trigger,” said Assistant District Attorney William Finnegan.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 25 at 1 p.m.
The defense maintained that although McNeal set up the drug deal, he arrived at Smith’s home to find Smith with another, unidentified person. As McNeal was walking, gunshots rang out and he ran back to his girlfriend’s car saying, “We got to get out of here. They’re shooting,” according to the girlfriend’s testimony.
“Mr. McNeal is disappointed. He maintained his innocence and expected a not guilty verdict,” defense attorney Demetrius Fannick said.Z
During his closing argument, Fannick focused on testimony by Smith’s own mother, who testified her son was a drug dealer who had made enemies in the Tunkhannock area because of ripping people off. When Smith was bleeding out on his living room floor, he was shouting, “They shot me!” according to her testimony.
Fannick noted that Smith and McNeal worked together and knew each other well.
“This was a very close encounter, and if it was a close encounter with someone he knew he would have told his parents who it was,” Fannick said. “He doesn’t know who shot him. He says, ‘They shot me.’ ... That’s reasonable doubt right there.”
But Fannick also noted that the bullets recovered from the crime scene were a different type than the unspent rounds recovered from McNeal’s girlfriend’s house. While girlfriend Wakeelah Moore’s .38 Special revolver — which she claims had been previously stolen — was the same caliber of the murder weapon, Fannick noted that a prosecution gun expert testified that millions of similar guns could have fired the bullets that killed Smith.
He also blasted police for a “crap” investigation, alleging they failed to even bother testing evidence including a cigarette butt and a soda can recovered from outside the van where Smith was fatally shot.
“Forensically, there’s nothing in this case,” Fannick said, noting that police only recovered one partial fingerprint from the vehicle. “How is that possible? That’s mind-blowing, if you think about it.”
During the prosecution closing, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans reminded the jury that Moore admitted in court that she drove McNeal to meet Smith moments before the shooting.
“A few minutes later, Brandon is running into his house to his mother, Tina, screaming, ‘They shot me!’” Hogans said.
The prosecutor downplayed the significance of Smith’s use of the word “they,” noting that in earlier text exchanges McNeal had informed him he was coming with Moore.
“Most importantly, there is zero evidence that anybody else was coming to see Brandon that night,” Hogans said, noting Smith’s phone contained no text messages indicating anyone else planned to meet him.
He also noted that Smith’s mother said he had been “frantic and scared” as he laid on the floor screaming that he couldn’t breathe and that he didn’t want to die.
“His world’s already closing in on him,” Hogans said. “He was breathing his last breaths. Brandon was not worried about who shot him.”
Hogans urged the jury to focus on what the evidence shows: That Smith was killed by a single shooter using a single revolver during a drug robbery. The defense, he alleged, was trying to confuse the fact that the evidence conclusively puts McNeal inside the van.
“He doesn’t want you to think about the fact that the defendant’s phone was on the passenger seat of the van — with Brandon’s blood on it,” Hogans said.

Woman accused of smashing her way into borough office
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

A woman smashed her way into the borough's municipal building early Monday, seeking to steal documents from the police station about an investigation targeting her, police said.
Police said Ashley Keister, 27, of Nanticoke, used a large cigarette butt receptacle to smash glass doors to the building and gain entry around 12:45 a.m. Once inside, she started rummaging through filing cabinets, police said.
West Wyoming police Chief Curtis Nocera said Keister had been under investigation for harassing a borough cop who arrested her last year.
"She wanted to have a relationship with him," Nocera said.
He said no one was in the building at the time Keister entered, as police were out on patrol.
Prior to breaking in, Keister called 911 and asked for an officer to meet her at the station in 10 minutes, police said.
Investigators said Keister first bashed the cigarette receptacle off the police department door, causing damage, before using it to break into the borough building.
She never gained access to the police station, Nocera said.
After Keister exited the building, police said she picked up the cigarette receptacle again and smashed out more of the glass door.
Police said Keister then retreated to her vehicle and waited for police to arrive. When an officer arrived, Keister charged at him and swung at his head, police said.
She was then taken into custody.
The incident was caught on surveillance footage, police said. Police released footage from the department's video doorbell that they said depicts Keister smashing the cigarette container off the door.
Investigators said Keister admitted to breaking into the borough building to try to remove documents involving a police investigation targeting her.
Keister was charged with aggravated assaulted on a police officer, burglary, institutional vandalism, loitering and prowling at night time, criminal mischief, and harassment.
She was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Joseph Carmody. Carmody ordered her jailed in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Trial set to begin in drug robbery killing

Attorneys on Friday picked a jury and opening statements are set for Monday in the case of a Wilkes-Barre man accused of killing a man during a drug robbery in Nanticoke.
Antoine McNeal, 34, is accused of murdering Brandon Smith, 20, who was shot dead outside his West Church Street, Nanticoke, home on Jan. 18, 2017. Prosecutors allege McNeal killed Smith after meeting him to buy marijuana.
The prosecution recently succeeded in adding a robbery charge against McNeal based on recorded jailhouse phone calls in which McNeal referenced Smith having 30-milligram oxycodone pills in his pocket at the time of the shooting.
“The (expletive) had other drugs in his pocket so evidently someone else was coming to see him besides me,” prosecutors have quoted McNeal as saying.
Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley granted the prosecution request over the objections of the defense, which maintained the additional charge would severely alter the case. However, the judge pushed back the trial date of Dec. 3 to give the defense time to adapt.
Opening statements are now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Judge allows Nanticoke man to withdraw guilty plea in alleged sex assault

A Nanticoke man will take his chances with a jury now that a Luzerne County judge permitted him to withdraw his guilty plea on a sexual assault charge.
Dylan Charles Monelli, 22, of South Hanover Street, was charged by Nanticoke police with having sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl from June 2017 until December 2017. Monelli claimed the encounters were consensual and the relationship ended when the minor’s parents found out, court records say.
Despite the claim of a consensual relationship, Monelli was charged with a felony statutory sex assault charge due to the age difference involving a minor.
Monelli on Oct. 15 pleaded guilty to the felony charge while prosecutors withdrew a misdemeanor count of corruption of minors.
But when Monelli appeared in court to be sentenced Dec. 10, his lawyer, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., advised Judge Michael T. Vough that Monelli wanted to withdraw his plea.
Sklarosky confirmed again Friday that Monelli wanted to take back the plea, which Vough allowed.
“He maintains it was a consensual relationship, clearly it was consensual,” Sklarosky told the judge. “If a jury hears the case, they would acquit him.”
Vough scheduled Monelli’s trial for March.
In an unrelated case, Monelli was sentenced last month to one year on probation and 50 hours of community service for conspiring to steal items from the Turkey Hill store on West Main Street in Nanticoke on May 4.

Jury selection to begin Friday for 2017 Nanticoke homicide

Jury selection is set to begin in a 2017 homicide case.
Antoine McNeal, 34, will appear before Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley on Friday morning. McNeal is accused of fatally shooting Brandon Smith, 20, while Smith sat in a van outside a Nanticoke home Jan. 18, 2017.
McNeal is facing a total of five charges, including an open count of criminal homicide, prohibited possession of a firearm, criminal use of a communication facility and tampering with evidence.
Smith was shot and killed in the early morning hours. Previous testimony suggested the homicide was a result of a drug deal gone wrong. Smith’s mother, Tina Letavish, said Smith was on the couch of their Nanticoke home texting someone before heading outside around 2 a.m.
He ran back inside shortly later, shouting “they shot me” before falling to the floor.
Investigators said they later found a texting trail between Smith and a number that belonged to McNeal. The text messages were aimed at setting up a drug deal, authorities report.
Court records show McNeal’s trial is scheduled to last all of next week. He’s been locked up without bail in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility since his arrest in April 2017.