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The Morning Call (Allentown)

June 14, 1995

COUNTY HIRED PRISON INVESTIGATOR

A private investigator from New York City was paid more than $ 7,500 by Northampton County to investigate alleged improprieties in the prison, Controller Jean Lewis confirmed yesterday.

Michael G. Kessler & Associates spent nearly six weeks in the prison guiding a controller's office investigation into alleged abuses of sick and vacation time by warden Robert Olander and other prison employees.

"We believe it was money well spent," Lewis said. "This type of investigation is very new to us. We didn't want to make a wrong move that could open us to a lawsuit later."

Kessler, an investigator who Lewis says has served as a special correspondent to ABC news, worked in the prison from April 17 to May 31, assisting controller's investigators as they interviewed more than 20 prison employees about alleged abuses.

Kessler was given access to prison employees and records and paid $ 7,548 to help conduct interviews. In addition, he was charged with doing background checks on some employees.

"He was mainly there to keep us from going down the wrong path and to keep us from asking inappropriate questions, just in case this whole thing ends up in court," Lewis said. "Additionally, he had access and the expertise to certain computer records needed for researching an employee's background. These are things we simply didn't have any experience at."

When Olander went on medical leave in February, administration officials began to question how he could have accumulated nearly 220 days of sick time while reportedly missing several weeks of work each year for medical reasons.

With endorsement from the Prison Commission, Brackbill asked the controller's office to investigate.

Brackbill yesterday said Lewis initiated the hiring of Kessler, but he endorsed it. Lewis said the money to pay the investigator came out of her 1995 budgeted funds.

"I applaud them for their efforts," Brackbill said. "Anytime an agency hires a consultant so that they can do their job better, I think that's commendable."

"We felt we needed to bring in outside counsel because a man's career and his retirement are on the line," Lewis said. "It's not something we took lightly. We wanted to make sure we had the proper expertise to do this right."


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