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Beaver Falls builder facing fraud charges

Hard work by Ohio grocery store clerk leads to Florida arrest

Thursday, January 16, 2003

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

An Ohio grocery store clerk, who said he was embarrassed after being duped by a contractor, took matters into his own hands when he saw court systems in three states repeatedly release the man from custody.

Stephen Hershberger kept tabs on the cases pending against Michael Scranton and, when he found that the 59-year-old Beaver Falls contractor had gone to Florida, Hershberger drove to Sarasota, where he persuaded authorities to arrest Scranton on outstanding warrants.

Yesterday, Hershberger was in the Allegheny County Courthouse when Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ordered Scranton jailed without bond pending a trial that has yet to be scheduled.

It was the second time this week that Hershberger had made the two-hour trip from his home in Portage, Ohio, because of Scranton, who owns Sunshine Home Services in Beaver County.

"I'm a little embarrassed after allowing myself to be taken like that," Hershberger said after the hearing.

"Mr. Scranton is not a person that I believe can be rehabilitated. I'm here because I hate to see things like this going on," Hershberger said. "I'm very disappointed in the court system."

Scranton is charged in Allegheny County with using deceptive business practices and two counts of theft by deception against an elderly Beaver Township woman who hired him to perform about $5,600 worth of work on a building she owns on Brookline Boulevard.

After nearly a year, Helen Hinkley had paid Scranton about $110,000, and the work still had not been completed, according to court papers.

Hershberger said Scranton did the same to him, but for far less money. He said he had paid Scranton $14,000 for work that never got done. In addition, Scranton already had pleaded guilty in a similar case in Portage and he is scheduled for trial next month in another case in Cuyahoga County, where he is charged with the $90,000 deceptive theft from another elderly woman, according to Hershberger.

Scranton had been free on $3,000 bail in the two Ohio cases when he was ordered to stand trial in Allegheny County.

At a bail hearing last year, Manning also allowed Scranton to post bond. He ordered the defendant to remain near this jurisdiction, either in Pennsylvania or Ohio, pending trial.

Hershberger, who followed both the Cleveland case and the local one, said that, when he learned in the fall that Scranton had fled to Sarasota, Fla. So, Hershberger said, he telephoned authorities there to report that Scranton was a fugitive.

When he got no results from the report, Hershberger said that he drove to Sarasota, where he apprised police of the outstanding warrants in Ohio. The officer allowed Hershberger to accompany him during Scranton's apprehension, Hershberger said.

Scranton waived extradition and he and his lawyer were to meet with Manning Monday.

However, while waiting so his attorney could ask Manning for yet another postponement, Scranton left the city. Manning said he left behind his attorney, who had ridden to Pittsburgh from Ohio in the car with Scranton.

Allegheny County sheriff's deputies contacted authorities in Ohio and Scranton was arrested while trying to board a flight to Florida from the Canton-Akron Airport.

He waived extradition and was returned here to face the hearing yesterday before Manning.

Scranton had no lawyer and Manning appointed Assistant Public Defender Joseph Paletta to represent him.

Scranton, dressed neatly in a turtleneck sweater and tan blazer, appeared smug as Manning read into the court record the events that led to the hearing.

Scranton made no comment.

"It is clear to this court that the defendant is a habitual absconder," Manning said.

Jim McKinnon can be reached at jmckinnon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939.

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