Fire Chief’s Conspiracy Suit Settles in PA

A lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania fire chief accusing a borough, its former police chief and its former council president of conspiring to create false allegations and criminal charges has been settled.

Fire Chief Daniel Smith accused former Upland Borough council president Ed Mitchell and former Upland Borough Police Chief Nelson Ocasio of fabricating a smear campaign against him culminating with a threat of criminal charges. Chief Smith served on the borough council for several years and claims he was retaliated against after he raised concerns about renovations to the Upland Borough Volunteer Fire Department’s station. The suit was filed last December in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In an article published today, reporter Alex Rose of the Delaware County Daily Times outlined the allegations contained in Smith’s original complaint, along with pointing out a complicated web of unethical dealings, criminal charges, and lawsuits involving Borough officials. The allegations in the complaint included:

  • Mitchell attempted to have the fire company pay for more of the work than it was legally obligated to under prevailing wage rates
  • Smith said he confronted Mitchell and refused to pay the additional funds on behalf of the fire company, pointing to an allegedly unapproved change order from the construction company as the culprit for the discrepancy.
  • Smith complained to others on [the] council that Mitchell had acted unethically and should have been precluded from any involvement in the project, after which Mitchell issued a change order in Smith’s name authorizing an additional $10,000 the fire company was not obligated to pay
  • Mitchell began a public smear campaign and colluded with Ocasio to harass Smith.
  • Ocasio instructed borough officers to target Smith… and an unnamed officer hand-delivered a letter to Smith’s place of employment informing him that he would be stripped of a vehicle issued to him as fire chief.
  • Ocasio and Mitchell allegedly told Smith he could either resign his position on council or be arrested.
  • Smith claimed the arrest threats were not based on any probable cause.

Rose also pointed out the following:

  • Ocasio has … filed a complaint in federal court alleging discrimination and related claims for wrongful termination after arresting borough council President Christine Peterson on forgery and theft charges last year.
  • Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan withdrew the charges against Peterson for lack of evidence.
  • Mitchell and businessman Thomas Willard have also been criminally charged in a $133,000 kickback scheme that includes allegations that Mitchell planted hidden cameras in borough hall.
  • The case against Mitchell and Willard was brought to the attention of law enforcement by Mayor Michael Ciach months before his own arrest in November for allegedly driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of an accident

According to a court order dated May 22, 2017, Smith’s suit was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Juan R. Sánchez. The details on the settlement were not available in the case file, and no additional information was available from the Delaware County Daily Times. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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