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Agents seize generator, tank from property of lawmaker

Saturday, September 11, 1999

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

What was a state lawmaker doing with an electrical generator big enough to light up a football stadium and a 500-gallon storage tank?

Federal and state agents on Thursday seized those items from property owned by state Rep. Tracy Seyfert, near Erie.

No charges were filed and authorities would not comment on the reasons for the seizure. Seyfert, R-Erie, was not available for comment and her attorney, Tim Lucas of Erie, would not say why she had the items.

Lucas said an FBI agent told him the 10-ton generator and tank were acquired through a federal program that disposes of surplus property. Lucas said there may be a question of whether Seyfert, as an individual, was allowed to buy the equipment.

A search warrant in the case, which would list the probable cause for the seizure, was sealed.

The equipment was seized Thursday afternoon at Tracy's Ridge, where Seyfert lives, on West Ridge Road in Millcreek, Erie County. Lucas described the property as multiunit dwellings.

He said the generator and tank apparently were stored there and were not being used. The generator was so large and heavy that agents had to bring special equipment to remove it.

Lucas said Seyfert, a first-term legislator, would likely issue a statement on the matter next week.

Matt Peters, a manager for Cummins Interstate Power, which sells electric generators, said a 10-ton unit equates to 1,200 to 1,500 kilowatts. He said a 1,500 kilowatt unit is big enough to power a lumber yard or coal mine or provide emergency power to the USX Tower, Allegheny General Hospital or the new stadiums being built in Pittsburgh.

He said two 1,000 kilowatt units are being installed at the new Pirates stadium.

A new 10-ton unit would cost about $160,000 and would require a crane and flatbed truck to move it. "That's a big monster unit," Peters said.

Last month, Seyfert held a seminar in Edinboro to assist communities in her district with acquisition of surplus federal property.

Lucas said it was conceivable that Seyfert acquired the equipment in the mistaken notion that it was OK to do so. "Something could have been done improperly but mistakenly," he said. "Ideally for her, there would be no criminal charges because whatever was done was not done knowingly or willingly, but mistakenly.

"I don't want to make light of it," Lucas said, "but I don't know what paper trail is necessary to obtain these items or whether she appears on the paperwork."

State police, the FBI and officials in the U.S. attorney's office in Erie declined comment.

A staff member of U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter in Erie said the search warrant was under seal pursuant to a motion by the U.S. attorney's office.

Seyfert's staff in Girard and Harrisburg referred reporters to Lucas.

Seyfert, 57, a psychologist, was elected to the House in 1997 after serving 12 years on Erie County council. She represents parts of Crawford and Erie counties.

House Minority Leader John Perzel was accompanying Seyfert on a tour of her district Thursday as agents searched her property, and later he witnessed the commotion caused by the raid.

Perzel spokesman Stephen Drachler described Seyfert's reaction to the search as "stunned."

"She said that from what sketchy knowledge she had, that it involved some questions over some equipment," Drachler said.

Perzel had done a radio show and joined Seyfert in taping two cable television programs about successful businesses in her district. On the way back to the airport, his car passed Seyfert's place.

"It was kind of odd, surreal, you could say," said Drachler, who also was in the car. They did not stop.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Kristen Ostendorf and John M.R. Bull and The Associated Press.

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