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From left, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, update reporters on Democratic efforts to pass President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda Thursday at the Capitol in Washington.

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Kraynak pleads guilty to 12 felonies; agreement calls for maximum prison sentence of 15 years

WILLIAMSPORT — On the 11th day of his scheduled four-week federal jury trial, Dr. Raymond Kraynak unexpectedly pleaded guilty to 12 felony counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance.

Chief U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew William Brann accepted Kraynak’s plea Thursday morning that calls for the defendant to spend a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.

When asked by Brann whether he was guilty of the crimes alleged against him, Kraynak hesitated for a few seconds before saying he was.

Each of the 12 counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, meaning Kraynak was facing a maximum penalty of 240 years in prison and $12 million in fines.

Five felony counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance resulting in death and two felony counts of maintaining locations at 28 E. Fifth St., Mount Carmel, and 235 W. Spruce St., Shamokin, for the purpose of unlawfully distributing controlled substances were dismissed under the plea agreement.

Although Kraynak did not plead guilty to the illegal distribution and dispensing of controlled substance resulting in death, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe said the former doctor admitted in the plea deal that his prescribing of opioids resulted in the death of five of his patients.

Kraynak, 64, of Mount Carmel, will be sentenced at a later date following a pre-sentence investigation. His sentencing will culminate an approximate four-year legal battle.

The plea was entered as the defense was set to present its case Thursday morning after the prosecution rested Wednesday afternoon following 10 days of testimony by multiple government witnesses at the federal courthouse in Williamsport.

In addition to the prison sentence, the plea agreement calls for a fine, court fees, costs, probation and potential restitution to the victims’ families.

Brann said a three-year term of supervised release on each count will be imposed against Kraynak in addition to the prison sentence.

Kraynak, whose medical license had been suspended, cannot practice medicine anymore and is prohibited from possessing a firearm under the plea agreement.

He had practiced medicine in the Mount Carmel-Shamokin area for 33-plus years prior to his suspension that followed his arrest in 2017.

Kraynak, who initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, which prompted the trial, testified under oath to the judge that he fully understood his rights and ramifications of his plea, which he agreed to under his own free will.

The defendant, who told the judge he was taking multiple prescription medications, said he was satisfied with his representation by Assistant Federal Public Defenders Thomas Thornton and Gerald Lord.

Kraynak remains free on $500,000 unsecured bail. Behe, who read the plea agreement to the court, didn’t oppose Kraynak remaining free until sentencing because the defendant has shown up for every legal proceeding and has not violated any of his bail conditions.

Following the plea, Behe said, “This brings comfort and satisfaction to the victims and their families, and they can put this behind them. The case was compelling and everything we expected it to be. I am pleased the public has been able to hear the entire scope of the case so there is no mystery or confusion about the prosecution of the case, which was based on fact. I believe the defendant entered the plea after recognizing the strength of the case against him. We were prepared to finish the trial, but we are happy with the plea agreement.”

Behe was assisted in the prosecution by Assistant U.S. Attorney George Rocktashel.

Kraynak was indicted Dec. 21, 2017, on the charges filed by Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Investigator Lou Callavini. The indictment stated Kraynak prescribed more than six million opioids such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and fentanyl between May 2012 and July 2017, and was responsible for the deaths of five patients — Rosalie Carls, 43, of Frackville; Andrew R. Kelley, 48, of Mahanoy City; Debra F. Horan, 56, of Elysburg; Mary Anne Langton, 55, of Mount Carmel, and Catherine Schrantz, 35, of Hellertown.

In addition to Carls, Kelley, Horan, Langton and Schrantz, seven other patients Kraynak prescribed opioids to died from drug overdoses. They included Donna Bynum, 36, of Mount Carmel; Wanda Ebright, 34, of Mount Carmel; Francis Gaughan, 47, of Lost Creek; Randy Wiest, 50, of Coal Township; Faith Herring, 42, of Atlas; Teresa Madonna, 49, of Schuylkill Haven; and Jessica Slaby, 38, of Coal Township.

The government did not charge Kraynak in connection with the deaths of the seven other patients, but all 12 overdose victims were listed in the indictment in relation to the illegal distribution of controlled substances.

Thornton said the decision to plead guilty was made by Kraynak on Wednesday evening after the prosecution rested its case. He said the government previously offered a plea deal prior to trial.

“It is the best result we could achieve for Mr. Kraynak based on the facts the government presented at trial,” Thornton said. “It became clear to Mr. Kraynak that it was time to accept responsibility for what happened.”

Kraynak and his family and friends in attendance declined comment following the guilty plea. Family members of the drug overdose victims and some of Kraynak’s former patients also reserved comment.

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'Duty to others'

OVERLOOK — “Helping other people at all times” is a main clause of the Scout Oath that youth in the Boy Scouts of America are asked to follow. Scouts are encouraged to look for people that could use a hand and provide aid for community services as ways to live by the oath.

Local Scouts Patrick Lobos and Robby Beach have fulfilled that commitment by completing projects that improved the aesthetics of the Ralpho Fire Co. in Overlook. Lobos, of Troop 247, Elysburg, led the effort to install a 30-foot aluminum flag pole in front of the station. Beach, of Troop 254, Shamokin, painted the walls of an apparatus bay.

On behalf of the company, president Erik Santor recognized the efforts of the young men by presenting them with a plaque. Santor also donated $400 back to Troop 247 that remained following installation of the flag pole.

“We appreciate what the Boy Scouts have done for our station,” Santor said during a presentation Thursday night inside the station. “We are extremely grateful.”

Santor said the new paint and flag pole are fine additions to the station, adding that the company whole-heartedly supported the Scouts and their respective troops during the projects.

Beach, who is also a member of the company, repainted the walls of a bay following discussions with senior members. The colors were changed from light red and gold to dark red and gray. The project took more than 30 hours over the course of three days in August 2020.

“It was a long-time coming,” Beach, 18, of Overlook, said of the walls. “The gold needed to be changed out and it needed a new coat of red. It was a different shade a red and was disgusting.”

A few months later, Lobos reached out the fire company to determine if any work needed to be done. A plan was soon put in motion to replace a rusty flagpole on a grassy hill near the front of the station and enhance it with landscaping blocks, decorative stone and a boulder with a plaque honoring past and current members of the station.

“Originally, it was just one big hill and nothing really there except the flag pole. So, I thought it would look a little better if something was added,” the 15-year-old from Elysburg explained. “So, I came up to one of their meetings and proposed it, and they went through with it.”

Physical work began in May with primary work wrapping up in early July. Lobos and fellow Scouts dug a trench 2-inches deep to place landscaping blocks, which have a radius of 4 feet from the pole.

“I just like to thank everyone who helped,” he said of fellow Scouts, firefighters and those who funded the project.

In order to obtain the rank of Eagle, Scouts must complete various requirements, such as earning at least 21 merit badges, demonstrating Scout spirit, serving in a leadership position, finishing their service project and completing a board of review.

Beach earned the rank on Feb. 22. His achievement was recognized with a Court of Honor ceremony attended by Scouts and leaders, area dignitaries, family and friends. Lobos will meet with program leaders Sunday to discuss his project and other requirements.

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Mother, daughter charged for their alleged role in dog attack

SHAMOKIN — A city mother and daughter have been charged for allegedly owning pit bulls that have a history of escapes and attacks, including an incident Sunday during which a domestic dog was killed.

Vanesa Lehman, 32, and Michelle Martz, 50, both of 1103 N. Pearl St., have each been charged by Cpl. Bryan Primerano with misdemeanors a public nuisance and disorderly conduct and summaries of harboring a dangerous dog resulting in injury to a domestic animal, owning a dog with a history of attacks without provocation and owning a dog with a propensity to attacks without provocation.

According to the affidavit, police were dispatched 9:20 p.m. Sunday to 924 E. Kase St. for a report of an animal attack. A female witness said two pit bulls attacked and killed a Shih Tzu on the street just east of her residence.

Officers later received information that the pit bulls reside at 1103 N. Pearl St. Martz advised police that the dog warden was already at the residence. She told police that her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend knew that three dogs escaped from the residence Sunday night. She expressed remorse over the domestic dog being attacked and dying.

Martz allegedly admitted that another pit bull had escaped from her yard and killed a neighboring dog. That dog, she said, had been surrendered to the SPCA. She explained that there are four pit bulls inside the residence. She claimed ownership of two and said the others are owned by Lehman and a man incarcerated in jail.

She allegedly stated that all the dogs have escaped numerous times from the property over the past few weeks, and that one of those dogs killed a family cat.

Records show that Martz was the owner of two pit bulls that were involved in two separate attacks, one on Oct. 25 that involved the death of a neighboring dog and the other on March 17, 2019, during which a dog attacked another dog and person.

Gavin Garcia breaks free on his way for a touchdown during Friday night’s victory over Loyalsock at Tiger Stadium.

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YMCA at 'square one' in process of bringing services to southern North'd County

The Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA is conducting a feasibility study on bringing a facility to southern Northumberland County.

Bonnie McDowell, who serves as CEO of the regional organization, said Thursday the nonprofit is at “square one” of an effort that began when Kulpmont Borough council filed correspondence in December stating its desire to attract a branch.

Councilman Steve Motyka said he believes the area is a prime candidate for a YMCA facility, noting the greater Shamokin-Kulpmont-Mount Carmel area is home to about 40,000 residents.

“Everything I’ve been hearing, from people on the streets, board members, community groups I attend — they are all in favor of bringing a YMCA here,” he said. “As we researched this, we were looking for something to bring the biggest change we could do for our community and the Y came into view. ... The biggest eyeopener was when we talked with (McDowell) — when she explained all the different aspects of the Y.”

Motyka said the YMCA is not just a recreation center, but it also serves as the largest childcare provider in the country, provides food distributions, back to school programs and other services.

Community decides outcome

McDowell oversees five YMCA locations within the greater susquehanna valley region, all of which offer varying programs dependent upon community interest. She said over the course of her career with the organization she has seen both successful and failed attempts at bringing YMCA branches at new locations.

The key to success, she said, is community support.

“Success has to come from the community — like Steve has done,” McDowell said. “Our current board of directors does not go out looking for where we can place the next branch — people in communities like in southern Northumberland County must tell us what they need and want in the community.”

McDowell said she is searching for community leaders within the greater Shamokin, Kulpmont and Mount Carmel areas that can continue to foster the momentum that has been generated.

“We need key leaders to put together focus groups — to find out what is offered in communities so we don’t step on toes and what facilities are needed,” McDowell said. “We start small like that and if a large facility becomes in-demand from there, that’s a discussion we would have.”

McDowell said in Mifflinburg the YMCA has a small operation that consists of a program director who runs classes out of church basements or restaurants.

Motyka said a small start doesn’t bother him or the other Kulpmont council members who are helping to attract the organization to the area.

“Even though we might start small with programs, this is the single biggest thing happening in our area,” he said. “This isn’t a Kulpmont thing, it’s a regional thing and we’re using our position on council in Kulpmont to help make the whole area better.”

Needs assessment survey

McDowell said a community needs assessment was launched Thursday as step one of an ongoing process the organization will take to decide if the YMCA is a good fit for the area. Step one of that process is the rollout of a community survey.

“Steve talked to a group of folks on Monday night and shared our information and in two or three days there have been 300 responses to our survey,” she said. “Right now, we have only been talking to a small group of people but we have plans to reach school districts, local businesses and local officials. This survey is the very first step.”

The survey can be found online at bit.ly/Thanks4HelpingUs. mail&ust=1632528359385000&usg=AFQjCNFtIHeREWrfc_4e-Hh-10kPxLG9_A”}bit.ly/Thanks4HelpingUs{/a} or by scanning the QR code found on the front page of today’s edition of The News-Item.