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Those in arrears get chance to make amends in Franklin Co.

November 22, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chief Probation Officer Richard Mertz does not expect to collect the $2,362,841.19 owed by one man, but amnesty is being offered to Jeffrey A. Byington and more than 500 other people who have failed to pay all their fines, fees, restitution and supervision costs to the Franklin County Probation Department.

"This is our first try at this to clear up some old cases and get people off the books," Mertz said of the amnesty program. Judge John R. Walker last week signed a court order establishing the amnesty program to any of the listed individuals who pays up by Feb. 1.

"If it's just money owed, we'll close the case and that's it," Mertz said. "If there's a bench warrant, we'll vacate the bench warrant and close the case."

Byington, 31, whose last known address was Newport, Maine, owes most of that $2.3 million in court-ordered restitution for the 1995 arson that destroyed the former St. Paul United Methodist Church in Chambersburg.

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Although Byington received a state prison sentence of 3 1/2 to 10 years in 1996, Mertz said the county is still responsible for collecting the amount due. The figure is so high, however, he never expects Byington to pay it.

The list is posted on the department's Web site, www.fcpd.com, he said, and includes names, case identification numbers, dates of birth, last known addresses and amounts due, along with available photographs of people the department has lost contact with over the years.

Those wanting to clear their records can do so by paying the full amount in cash or by certified check made out to: Payment Division, Franklin County Adult Probation, 440 Walker Road, Chambersburg, Pa. 17201. Along with the check, the person must provide a current address to which the department can send a closure of case order.

Those paying in person at the department will not be arrested, the Web site states, and the offender does not even have to be the person making the payment.

"We're not partial to who pays," Mertz said.

There are about 575 people who have not made complete payments in recent years, Mertz said. Many of the cases are from 2004 and prior years, he said.

"Why they want to run around with a bench warrant looking over their shoulders, I don't know," he said. Being pulled over for speeding or a burned-out taillight could result in many of them being arrested on outstanding bench warrants.

One Greencastle, Pa., man could have his case closed just by paying $51. Some, however, will have to ante up thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

"A lot of those big ones are for restitution" to victims, Mertz said. The total owed, including Byington's big bill, exceeds $3.6 million, he said.

Many of the offenders are from Franklin County, but there are substantial numbers from elsewhere in Tri-State area and as far away as Florida and California. Mertz does not expect to cross hundreds of names off the list, but anyone who comes in will save themselves and the criminal justice system a lot of trouble.

Everyone brought in for failure to pay costs them time and money, as well as the time, money and resources of the police, courts, prison and probation department, he said.




On the Web



The list of people who owe fines, fees, restitution or supervision costs to the Franklin County Probation Department is posted on the department's Web site, www.fcpd.com.

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