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Former Greene detective accused of misrepresenting military service ordered to stand trial

Greene County District Attorney David Russo found himself in the unusual position Thursday sitting in the witness stand and testifying against one of his former detectives who allegedly embellished his resume and insinuated he had served in the military.

Timothy Nease Sr. worked as the county’s chief detective for just two weeks in the summer of 2021 after Russo testified that he heard inconsistent statements and changing stories about military service.

Russo said the county commissioners suggested he consider hiring Nease in June 2021, and he interviewed him a few days later and hired him on the spot after reviewing his five-page resume.

“His resume is impressive, to say the least,” Russo said.

But just a few days after Nease started in late June, Russo overheard his new county detective “bragging” about being a sniper in the U.S. Navy, only to later change the branch to U.S. Marine Corps in another conversation. That prompted Russo to request Nease’s discharge papers and all certifications for police and firearms training he claimed to have in his resume.

When Nease came back the following week with a stack of paperwork, Russo began perusing them, but was unable to look through the entire stack when Nease appeared agitated by the request challenging his qualifications. Nease promptly resigned from his position, although Russo told county officials that he was actually being terminated.

Russo “approved” an investigation into Nease’s background and police certifications, and county Detective Zachary Sams charged Nease, 63, of Hickory, last November with multiple counts of falsely pretending to hold a professional license, unsworn falsification to authorities and misrepresentation of member of veteran of the military.

At the heart of the accusations is Nease’s description in his resume of time working as a licensed captain with the Merchant Marine that included the abbreviation for the U.S. Coast Guard in the title and alluded to him as being “retired.” While the Coast Guard is the government branch that licenses merchant mariners, the position is held by civilians and not within the military.

Special Agent John Garland of the Coast Guard Investigative Service, who testified through video conferencing during Nease’s preliminary hearing Thursday, said the Merchant Marine is “loosely affiliated” but does not fall under the Coast Guard. He added Nease’s abbreviation of the word “retired” in the title on his resume could be misconstrued that he had once served in the military.

“The abbreviation for ‘retired’ is not something we would normally see,” Garland said of Merchant Marine captains who allow their license to expire. “This is not typical designation we see on retired Merchant Marine captains.”

Nease never served in any branch of the military, according to Special Agent Amanda Grayham with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

But there was also confusion about his training certificates as a police officer. While Nease had some clearances, he did not have all of the firearms training certificates that he claimed in his resume, Sams testified. Other aspects of Nease’s resume included statements that his Canonsburg-based company, International Maritime Security Network LLC, served as a contractor for the Department of Defense, although there is no history in the federal government’s database showing contract work by Nease or his company.

Nease’s defense attorney, Christopher Blackwell, argued that his client had all of the credentials he included in his resume and that he never claimed to be a veteran, despite the wording of his title in his job with the Merchant Marine.

“It’s all based on their assumptions,” Blackwell said of how the district attorney and his investigators interpreted the resume. “Was he puffing up qualifications? Everyone does that. He’s not knowingly lying. They’re picking their assumption of it. It’s just not there. It’s a resume.”

But Deputy Attorney General Alicia Werner, who took over prosecuting the case due to Russo’s involvement in hiring and firing Nease, said anyone hiring him would’ve been drawn to the conclusion that he once served in the military due to the wording within the resume.

“I think he’s missing a bit of context,” Werner said of Nease’s explanation of his work history. “The point is Mr. Nease wrote out his resume – and in the defense’s own words – to oversell or puff up his qualification.”

More importantly, Nease was being hired for a “prominent position in a law enforcement office” where he was expected to be trusted, Werner said. Nease’s resume also included a variety of military training programs that could not be confirmed by government investigators, according to testimony.

“He knows what he’s doing (with) inferences about affiliations with these branches,” Werner said. “There is a very big difference in word choice by the defendant on his resume.”

After listening to testimony for more than two hours, District Judge David Balint ordered Nease to stand trial on one count each of falsely pretending to hold a professional license, unsworn falsification to authorities and misrepresentation of member of veteran of the military. Balint dismissed additional counts within each charge, but said he found that there was enough evidence to bound the case over to the Greene County Court of Common Pleas.

“I think the certifications and the military service is the issue,” Balint said.

Nease is free on $10,000 unsecured bond while awaiting his case to go to trial.

Goodwill encourages shoppers to bring their own bag

If you have plans to shop a local Goodwill thrift store later this month, you’ll want to BYOB – bring your own bag.

The Goodwill of Western Pennsylvania announced earlier this week that it will discontinue the use of plastic bags in stores throughout Western Pennsylvania, beginning March 15.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for quite some time,” said David Tobiczyk, vice president of marketing and development. “We think it’s our responsibility to be good stewards to the environment. We recognize it’s a trend. It’s an important trend for us to be a part of. We really want to be at the forefront of making sure we’re doing the right thing.”

Goodwill’s move to discontinue plastic bags follows a national trend in eco-friendliness, a trend that began in 2016, when the state of California banned single-use plastic carryout bags.

Other states and companies have been quick to follow suit.

Some municipalities and cities are passing ordinances banning plastic bags, while companies make the switch from plastic to something more sustainable.

In March 2022, Aldi announced the company, which in many stores sells reusable plastic bags at checkout, would remove plastic bags completely from all 2,200 locations nationwide by the end of 2023. CEO Jason Hart said in a public letter the removal of plastic bags from all Aldi stores will eliminate 4,400 tons of plastic waste each year.

Last fall, Giant Eagle announced it was phasing out blue plastic bags, beginning with their discontinuance in Central Ohio last October, with the end of single-use plastic bags in Pennsylvania stores to follow.

“At Giant Eagle, we remain committed to protecting our environment and recognize the responsibility we have to help provide our families with a clean environment to play, swim and enjoy for generations to come,” Giant Eagle spokesperson Dick Roberts said in an email. “We aspire to eliminate single-use plastics throughout our operations and, to date, have removed single-use plastic bags from all GetGo locations companywide as well as supermarket locations in northeast and central Ohio and Erie, Pa. Through these efforts we have been able to divert millions of pounds of plastic from entering our waste stream.”

Each year, Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags, which are not biodegradable and take more than 500 years to decompose in landfills. Pennsylvanians, according to the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment, use about 4.75 billion single-use plastic bags annually.

Plastic bags contribute to litter. They can clog storm drains, thereby increasing flooding in neighborhoods, and often wind up in oceans, where they threaten wildlife, among other environmental hazards.

According to a 2021 report by PennEnvironment, microplastics were found in 100% of those Pennsylvania waterways tested.

When all 34 Goodwill thrift store locations in Western Pennsylvania do away with single-use plastic bags March 15, the nonprofit expects to eliminate more than 300,000 plastic bags from landfills, roadsides, waterways and more annually, according to a press release.

“I think we all know the data on how plastic is accumulating on our world. We think we should do everything we can ... for that not to happen,” said Tobiczyk.

Goodwill shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags, preferably reusable, when the stores shift forever away from single-use plastic. Goodwill will offer fabric totes at checkout for $1 per, or folks may grab a free box before getting in line.

“A lot of donors bring donations to us in cardboard boxes. That’s another area where we’re able to reuse the boxes that come to us,” Tobiczyk said, noting nearly all clothes donated to Goodwill are sold, upcycled or sent to third-world countries. “We even have a recycler that we work with that purchases single shoes and works to match them up with other shoes.”

Last year, Goodwill of Western Pennsylvania kept 56 million pounds of donated household items out of landfills through its thrifting, reuse and recycling, and repurposing initiatives, according to a report. Ending the use of plastic bags is just another step in the organization’s path to greater sustainability.

“We appreciate the patience and the thoughtfulness of our customers to join us in this journey,” Tobiczyk said.

Biden rolls out budget plan, challenges GOP to follow suit
President Joe Biden chose a union training center in Philadelphia to lay out his new 10-year budget proposal and challenge congressional Republicans to release their own spending blueprint
  • Updated

PHILADELPHIA – As political gridlock puts the government at risk of defaulting, President Joe Biden on Thursday made an opening bid with a budget plan that would cut deficits by $2.9 trillion over the next decade – a proposal that Republicans already intend to reject.

It’s part of a broader attempt by the president to call out House Republicans who are demanding severe cuts to spending in return for lifting the government’s legal borrowing limit. But the GOP has no counteroffer so far, other than a flat “no” to a Biden blueprint with tax increases on the wealthy that could form the policy backbone of Biden’s yet-to-be-declared campaign for reelection in 2024.

Striding around a stage at a union training center in Philadelphia, Biden seemed to be in full campaign mode as he spoke about his plan for the government’s finances and how his values contrasted with Republican priorities.

“I just laid out the bulk of my budget,” Biden said. “Republicans in Congress should do the same thing. Then we can sit down and see where we disagree.”

Yet the president doubted that GOP lawmakers could make their numbers match their calls for a balanced budget and he suggested that any efforts to do so could come at the expense of middle-class families.

“How are they going to make the math work?” Biden said. “What are they going to cut?”

Biden’s package of tax and spending priorities is unlikely to pass the GOP-run House or the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim edge, as proposed.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s proposed deficit reduction was inadequate. “It just seems like it’s going to create the biggest government in history. I don’t think that’s what we need at this time,” he said.

In addition to deficit reduction, Biden’s 10-year budget largely revolves around the idea of taxing the wealthy to help fund programs for the middle class, older adults and families. It would raise $4.7 trillion from higher taxes, with an additional $800 billion in savings from changes to programs.

The tax increases include a reversal of the 2017 tax cuts made by President Donald Trump on people earning more than $400,000 a year.

Biden has floated a new 25% minimum tax on households worth $100 million or more. Also, the tax that companies pay on stock buybacks would rise fourfold and those earning more than $400,000 would pay an additional Medicare tax that would help to keep the program solvent beyond the year 2050. Medicare could negotiate on the prices of more prescription drugs, helping to save the government money.

Accompanying that would be $2.6 trillion worth of new spending, including the restoration of the expanded child tax credit that would give families as much as $3,600 per child, compared with the current level of $2,000. That credit would be “fully refundable,” which means households could receive all of that sum even if they don’t owe any taxes. The budget proposal would impose a $35-a-month cap on insulin prices, matching a change that Biden already put in place for Medicare recipients.

At a time of increased tensions with Russia and China, the budget shows a decline in military spending as a share of the U.S. economy over the next decade. But federal spending would be equal to roughly one-quarter of economic output as the spending on Social Security and Medicare climbs, essentially keeping the government the same size as it is currently.

The budget would seek to close the “carried interest” loophole that allows wealthy hedge fund managers and others to pay their taxes at a lower rate, and prevent billionaires from being able to set aside large amounts of their holdings in tax-favored retirement accounts. The plan also projects saving $24 billion over 10 years by removing a tax subsidy for cryptocurrency transactions.

McCarthy has called for putting the U.S. government on a path toward a balanced budget. But by refusing to raise taxes or cut Social Security and Medicare spending, GOP lawmakers face some harsh math that makes it hard to reduce deficits without risking a voter backlash before a presidential election. He has said his plan’s release was pushed back because Biden’s proposal was only now coming out.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed skepticism that McCarthy has any coherent plan that House Republicans can coalesce around. “Enough with the dodging, enough with the excuses,” Schumer said. “Show us your plan. And then show us how it’s going to get 218 votes on your side of the aisle.”

Biden’s deficit reduction goal is significantly higher than the $2 trillion that he had promised in his State of the Union address last month.

With the economy already in a fragile state because of high inflation, if Biden and Congress cannot agree to raise the statutory debt cap of $31.4 trillion by this summer, the government could default on payments and perhaps shove the country into a recession.

The budget also shows the shadow of Trump’s legacy, as provisions in his 2017 tax cuts will expire after 2025. Biden wants to eliminate elements of that overhaul, arguing that lower taxes failed to produce the growth that Trump promised. But Biden’s budget does not address tax cuts that benefited households making less than $400,000: Their expiration could amount to a tax increase that would violate a pledge by Biden to only raise taxes on the wealthy.

Based off the data, the cost of extending the tax breaks for people making less than $400,000 would be $1.5 trillion, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a senior fellow at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. That would halve the deficit savings being promoted by Biden, but Pomerleau cautioned that his estimates might be high because the president’s plan includes the cost of the expanded child tax credit.

Biden’s proposal would increase the top marginal tax rate to 39.6% on income above $400,000. For households with $1 million in income, earnings from capital gains, such as stocks or property sales, would no longer enjoy a discounted tax rate compared with wages. The president would increase the corporate tax rate to 28% and increase the tax rate on U.S. multinationals’ foreign earnings from 10.5% to 21%.

In February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the national debt held by the public will grow by more than $20 trillion over the next decade. The publicly held debt, which reflects the cumulative impact of yearly deficits, would be equal to 118% of U.S. gross domestic product, compared with 98% this year.

Biden’s budget would reduce the debt, though it would still be high relative to historical levels.

Boak reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.