CLEARFIELD – Jurors deliberated for approximately 30 minutes Tuesday night before finding a man guilty of causing nearly $10,000 worth of damage to a commercial property that he used to rent on West Long Avenue in DuBois.
Shawn M. Lesky, 34, of Grove City and formerly of DuBois, was found guilty of criminal mischief and theft by unlawful taking. Lesky could face a probation sentence or a minimum of nine months to a maximum of seven years of incarceration on the criminal mischief charge, said District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr.
Lesky will also be required to pay restitution.
DuBois businessman Joseph Palumbo testified first on behalf of the commonwealth. In June of 2010, he started leasing a property to Lesky on West Long Avenue, DuBois. He had a yearly lease with monthly rent of $450 and with Lesky responsible for the utilities, such as water.
Before he rented the property to Lesky, Palumbo said that he had it completely remodeled by his maintenance person. It also had fully-functional plumbing throughout. When Lesky looked at the property, Palumbo said he didn’t express any issues or concerns with it.
So far as the specific terms of his lease agreement, Palumbo told jurors that he never authorized Lesky to make any improvements or modifications to the property.
According to Palumbo, he and Lesky agreed to a lease, which spanned from June of 2010 through August of 2013. Because Lesky had gotten several months behind on his rent, he started to pursue the eviction process in February of 2013.
At the time Lesky was evicted Aug. 17, 2013, Palumbo found his property filled with garbage and animal feces. He also found that ceiling tiles and gridding had been removed, a wall had been ripped out and copper piping for the plumbing had been removed from throughout the property.
Before leasing the property to Lesky, he said it had two fully-functional bathrooms. At the time of the eviction, he said one neither had its toilet, sink and medicine cabinet nor the plumbing. In the other bathroom, he said the toilet was three-quarters full of human feces and not functional. He said there was used toilet paper on the floor, and the sink also was not functional.
“I had to repair the whole building,” said Palumbo.
Anthony Dubeck, who is employed as a maintenance person for Palumbo, testified next. He said that he remodeled and maintained Palumbo’s property on West Long Avenue prior to it being rented to Lesky.
He was present at the property with Palumbo when Lesky was served his eviction notice Aug. 17, 2013. He offered similar testimony as Palumbo about the condition of the property before and after it was leased to Lesky.
Toni Facchine, office manager, of Joe Krentzman & Son, DuBois, said she handled the day-to-day operations of the scrapyard, including maintaining reports. She said that Lesky brought in copper wire and brass between Aug. 23, 2013 and Aug. 28, 2013.
Under cross-examination, Facchine said her report didn’t include every transaction with Lesky and only the specific dates requested from her. She said that Lesky never misrepresented himself when he brought in items. One time Facchine said Lesky told her he’d been accused of theft but he would never be disrespectful to their business in that way.
John Null, a claims representative with Penn National Insurance, investigated Palumbo’s damage/theft claim. He determined that damage totaled $9,476.50, but Palumbo had a $500 deductible. Null said that Penn National Insurance issued a settlement check to Palumbo for $8,976.50.
Corporal Matthew Robertson of the DuBois City police testified last for the commonwealth. On Sept. 2, 2013, he said that Palumbo flagged him down while he was on routine patrol on West Long Avenue. Robertson said Palumbo took him inside the property and showed him the garbage, feces and total disrepair.
Robertson said that Palumbo had advised him about Lesky being the former renter of the property. Robertson proceeded to Lesky’s residential address on South Main Street. Lesky wasn’t at home and Robertson left his name and contact information.
Robertson said he later received a call from Lesky and requested he come into the police station to discuss the disrepair at his former commercial property. He said Lesky admitted he was the renter and had to leave in the middle of renovations. Robertson said that Lesky denied removing any of the copper piping from the property.
Robertson said he went to Krentzman & Son and found Lesky had turned in items consistent with that removed from Palumbo’s commercial property. As a result, he later filed criminal charges against Lesky.
Lesky took the stand in his own defense. He told jurors he had an extensive computer background and also had experience in maintenance and construction. In 2010, Lesky said he was looking to rent commercial space and agreed to lease Palumbo’s property.
Because the rent was $450 monthly, he said it was more affordable for him to renovate the property for his computer business. He said that Palumbo told him he could make improvements and repairs “as he saw fit” with the mutual understanding that Palumbo wouldn’t be billed for it.
Lesky said he made “vast improvements,” which he compared to being like him “giving a gift” to Palumbo. When he first started renting the property, he said Palumbo stopped in almost daily and he ran his plans for improvements by him.
According to Lesky, his business opened its doors about nine or 10 months after he started renting the Palumbo property. He said there was a grand opening ceremony with a ribbon cutting during the summer of 2011.
Lesky said he wanted to make the property “beautiful,” as he had hopes of purchasing it from Palumbo. He said he worked at the property in 1998 and it appeared the same to him when he started renting it in 2013. As a result, Lesky said he spent approximately $5,000 – $7,000 on improvements to the property.
When asked about the property’s conditions at the time of his eviction, he said it only ever had one functional bathroom. He said one room was mistaken as a bathroom while it contained a toilet. However, he claimed the toilet wasn’t installed and he moved it outside due to its smell.
When asked about the nonfunctioning toilet containing human feces, Lesky said he hadn’t seen the bathroom in that condition while he was occupying the property. He said this toilet wasn’t functional the last two months he occupied the property with the water being shut off.
When asked about the animal feces inside the property, he said it wasn’t from his dog. He said that he’s cleaned up after his dog, which cannot produce that amount of feces.
Lesky said he removed the drop ceiling to correct the wiring, so that it complied with code and to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard. “I didn’t have any intentions of damaging the property,” said Lesky. “If anything, I wanted to make it better.”
Lesky admitted the commercial property he rented was left in disrepair. He said he was given as long as the locksmith had to change the locks to remove items from the property. Lesky described it as a “rat race” to move out items belonging to his clients and much of his own belongings were left behind.
“Moving isn’t pleasant anytime let alone in the turmoil of a dispute,” he said. “While frantically moving out, I created a mess that I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to clean up.”
During his closing, defense attorney Scott White argued that Lesky wasn’t guilty and only “playing the role” as the defendant. He said it wasn’t reasonable to believe that Lesky would just take occupancy of a newly-renovated property to tear it apart.
White pointed out that Lesky was “forced out” and the damage occurred over time and not overnight. He said it would have made more sense if Lesky had abandoned the property after causing extensive damage.
Shaw countered, saying it wasn’t reasonable to believe a businessman, such as Palumbo, would permit a renter to just make modifications to their property. “Businessmen put these types of things in writing,” said Shaw.
Shaw reminded jurors that Lesky knew about the eviction proceedings from February through August of 2013. “And, he was going to get back at Joe Palumbo somehow,” he said.