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Press Release

Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charged Federally With Stealing Department Funds

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania

     The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that a criminal Information has been filed in U.S. District Court in Scranton charging the Chief of the Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Fire Department, John Yuknavich, age 51, of Wilkes-Barre Township, Pennsylvania, with stealing in excess of $5,000 from the fire department and Wilkes-Barre Township in the course of his duties as Chief of that fire department between 2008 and 2011.

     According to United States Attorney Peter Smith, Yuknavich was responsible for ensuring the deposit of monthly funds received from Wilkes-Barre Township, as well as all other funds received either through charitable contributions or annual state aid received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Yuknavich allegedly deposited only part of the monthly $3500 check received from Wilkes-Barre Township intended to pay fire department bills, and took the remainder of the check in cash, most of which he used for his personal benefit.

     Federal law prohibits theft or intentional misapplication of $5,000 or more from local government programs that receive more than $10,000 in federal funds annually. 

     The Government also filed a plea agreement with Yuknavich which must be approved by the U.S. District Court.  The agreed upon restitution included in the plea agreement is $45,000.  An additional term of the plea agreement requires Yuknavich to resign his position as an officer or any other official title he holds with the Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Fire Department within ten days of the entry of the plea.

     The prosecution is the result of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, and the Pennsylvania State Police with the assistance of the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General. Prosecution is assigned to Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Olshefski.

      Indictments and Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.

     A sentence following a finding of guilty is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

     In this case, the maximum penalty under the federal statute is 10 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Judge is also required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant’s educational, vocational and medical needs. For these reasons, the statutory maximum penalty for the offense is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specific defendant.

Updated April 9, 2015