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DelVal Ukrainian-Americans Hold Vigil for First Anniversary of Russian-Ukraine War

Several hundred people gathered at the Ukrainian Educational & Cultural Center in Abington Friday evening for a solemn candlelight vigil marking the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the emotional gathering, people prayed, sang, chanted “Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine), and listened to speeches, many holding small blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and tiny electric candles.

“Almost a year ago, the world’s leaders gave Ukraine only three days to survive, said Iryna Mazur, honorary consul for Ukraine in Philadelphia. “But today, we stay alive, stay strong and stay together. Ukraine’s response to Russia’s brutal invasion has received widespread international acclaim and recognition and has united millions of hearts in support of Ukraine.”

Iryna Mazur

“Like never before in my life, I see the similarities between the core values of our two nations and the American and Ukrainian people, Mazur, a Huntingdon Valley resident, said. “The ongoing nine-year war against Ukraine has lasted twice as long as World War II,” she said, counting the beginning from the Russian annexation of Crimea. “The last 300 years of Russia’s imperialism inflicted the systemic genocide of the Ukrainian nation when over 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death during artificially created famines when millions were killed in concentration camps and prisons of Siberia when for centuries Ukrainians have had to survive forceful and brutal ‘Russification’ because their language, art, and history were targeted.”

She thanked Americans and the Biden administration for their support. The U.S. had approved about $50 billion in military and other aid for Ukraine last year, with President Joe Biden announcing $500 million more in military aid on his recent trip to Kyiv. Sec. of State Anthony Blinken also announced additional sanctions against Russia as the anniversary loomed.

Eugene Luciw, master of ceremony, also spoke emotionally about what “Moscovite hordes” are doing in the ongoing war.

“They are murdering innocent civilians, they are blowing up hospitals, they are killing children, they are doing unfathomable things with our women,” Luciw said. “They are stealing our children, 260,000 of them, and placing them with families throughout Russia to disperse them. They are placing our men, women, and children in filtration camps; that’s concentration camps. Their ethnic cleansing and genocide know no measure.”

“Grief, terror, concern, worry. We cry, we suffer with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and yet, we take pride and joy in the accomplishments of our people,” he said. “So through this sadness, there is a resurrected feeling that we have finally turned the tide against this age-old enemy of Ukraine that’s tried to destroy us over centuries.”

“They tried to destroy the Ukrainian spirit, but they did not, and they will not,” he said. “They’re pushing them back, and if the assistance of the west continues, they’re going to drive them out.”

Protestant ministers and Catholic priests also spoke and led prayers in English and Ukrainian.

The Very Rev. Father Roman Pitula, the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, said Ukrainians are strong and united.

Philadelphia residents Olena and Shadvyi Vladyslav escaped the war in Ukraine six months ago.

“We stand on the side of the good and we fight against the evil,” he said. “Don’t cease to pray but pray to cease the war.”

Pastors Pavlo Nemesh of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Philadelphia said, “One of the things we discovered in our church and our community was the Book of Psalms. We sang a lot of psalms, and we read a lot of them, and they offered comfort and hope for us. I want to urge all of you to attend your churches, your parishes and pray, sing, and continue to ask God to send peace.”

Before the event, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal about his Ukrainian roots. His maternal grandparents were Ukrainians who were captured by the Germans during World War II and forced into slave labor camps. His grandmother worked on an assembly line making V-2 rockets. The Germans compelled his grandfather to clean tanks returning from the battlefields. They were liberated by American soldiers, whom his grandmother said were the first soldiers who were kind to her. After six years of living hand to mouth on the streets of Europe, they immigrated to the U.S.

“This is an important day for every one of us of Ukrainian descent, said Stollsteimer. “We are so proud of the Ukrainian people, who are fighting for freedom. The Ukrainian love of freedom is more powerful than the Russian repression.

The Soloveyky (nightingale) Children’s Choir sang the Ukrainian national anthem and “God Bless America.”

And the Prometheus Ukrainian Male Chorus of Philadelphia sang a rousing Ukrainian folk song. The group then chanted in support of Ukraine.

“Let’s get it done!” said Luciw. “Let’s beat back that snake in Moscow!”

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 Progress Report on The Chester Parternship for Safe Neighborhoods

From a press release 

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), and members of Delaware County Council gathered Thursday to provide a progress report on the work of the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods (CPSN) in curbing gun violence in the city.

District Attorney Stollsteimer announced that “Over the past two years, as a result of the work of my office, the Mayor’s office, the Chester Police Department, and Delaware County Council – with unwavering support from our partners Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon – CPSN has continued to have an extraordinary impact on the level of gun violence in the City of Chester.” A few of the highlights include:

  • There has been a 59.7 percent decrease in non-fatal shootings since 2019;
  • There has been a 60 percent decrease in gun violence homicides since 2020; and
  • There has been a 55 percent decrease in gun violence incidents since 2019.

Stollsteimer stated that “the progress that has been made in reducing gun violence in Chester is making a difference every day in the lives of City residents – and we would not have achieved these results without the support of all of our partners. We are particularly grateful to General Shapiro and Congresswoman Scanlon for their support of our efforts to obtain a $2 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to continue and to expand the work of CPSN.”

“The Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods is an example of the positive impact that a focused, intelligence-based enforcement approach can have on a community. I commend the great work being done by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and the people of Delaware County to reduce the gunviolence that puts our neighborhoods and public safety at risk. There is still more work to be done, and together, through programs like this, we will make our communities safer for all who live there,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

“Everyone deserves to live in a safe community,” said Scanlon. “I’ve worked hard in Congress to deliver the resources critical to making community safety a reality. I’m proud to work with District Attorney Stollsteimer and the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods to bring evidence-based solutions to prevent crime and help restore safety in our neighborhoods. While many offer nothing but meaningless rhetoric about being tough on crime, the DA’s office and the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods are doing the actual hard work of keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them and addressing the root causes of violence by connecting individuals to opportunities such as meaningful employment, educational programs, and appropriate mental health care.”

In October of 2020 Stollsteimer launched CPSN, which is a deterrence-based program aimed at reducing gun violence premised on a data-driven model developed by Swarthmore College alum David Kennedy. The program, similar to ones implemented years ago in Boston and Philadelphia, works on a “carrot and stick” approach that begins by calling in influential people involved in crime, explaining that law enforcement knows who they are what they are responsible for, and giving them the ultimatum: “If you let us, we will help you; if you make us, we will stop you.”

The help may come in ways big and small, from simply getting a suspended license reinstated, or a present for someone’s daughter while they are in prison, to getting an offender into an educational or vocational program so they can improve their lot in life legally. With the financial support obtained through PCCD, additional staff will be hired to work with program participants. With the support of County Council, a community resource specialist was hired in 2020, and he continues to work on the streets of Chester every day connecting at-risk individuals with needed services. With funding from PCCD, three additional community resource specialists will be hired, and recently the Green Family Foundation has added its support to CPSN by contributing the funding needed to pay the salary of one of the outreach workers.

Kirkland said, “The Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods is a truly collaborative effort bringing public agencies, law enforcement, and community groups in our City together behind the shared goals of improving the public safety and quality of life for Chester residents. I am appreciative of all of our partners who encourage and support this life-saving work.”

“Delaware County Council is committed to the public safety concerns of our community and we are committed to ensuring that every resident in every neighborhood feels safe and protected,” said Delaware County Council Chair Monica Taylor, Ph.D. “Today’s announcement demonstrates what can be achieved through genuine collaboration, and on behalf of County government, I’d like to commend those who are a part of the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods program and who have worked to reduce homicides and gun violence in the City of Chester.”

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Thieves Scam Millions From Struggling Chester Upland School District

A romance scam, cryptocurrency, and hacked email accounts were part of an attempted theft of large sums of money from the Chester Upland School District.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity held a press conference Friday to disclose the results of their investigation.

The scheme involved a Florida resident trying to steal, and then launder, millions in state funding for the CUSD. Agencies collaborated to recapture $10.3 million owed to the district.

“The scope and complexity of the scheme are, however, alarming and remind us all of the importance of keeping our technology protected, as well as the perils of conducting financial transactions with–or on behalf of–individuals unknown to you,” Stollsteimer said. “Thanks to quick action by the treasurer’s office, this audacious attempt to steal from the school children of Chester and the taxpayers of the commonwealth was thwarted.”

In February 2021, the treasurer’s office learned from one of its banking partners that a payment request for about $8.5 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) was flagged as potentially fraudulent. It came after several other payment requests from PDE had already been processed and paid to an account thought to belong to CUSD.

Officials alerted the appropriate agencies of their findings, worked quickly to identify misdirected funds, and pursued recall of the misdirected payments.

“We are hopeful that the additional missing $3 million that the district was to receive in state funding will be returned to Chester Upland. Our district faces significant economic challenges, and we are doing our best to allocate as much money as possible to our classrooms and provide appropriate and adequate staffing. An additional $3 million can make a difference for our students. We are also exploring our options with our insurance carrier,” Nafis J. Nicholas, receiver for CUSD, said in a press release. “We are very pleased that $10 million of the $13 million that was intercepted from the district has been returned and recovered to the district.”

The district has been plagued by financial difficulties for decades.

Detective Sergeant Joseph Hackett and Detective Edward Silberstein from the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division (CID) uncovered a two-part, complex scheme that allowed international fraud rings to misdirect the state education funds intended for CUSD.

The CID detectives identified that, in the first part of the scheme, CUSD email systems had been compromised by a sophisticated hacker. Further investigating the channels of the misdirected funds, CID detectives determined that the second part of the scheme employed a money mule to funnel the misdirected funds to other individuals.

That led to CID tracking down, identifying, and interviewing a Florida resident who served as the money mule in the case. After the investigation, it was established that the individual, recently widowed, was a victim of a romance scam.

“Our investigation has determined that this scheme is tied to individuals in Nigeria, and we have alerted all relevant federal authorities in the furtherance of the international investigation,” Stollsteimer said. “By using a widow as a conduit, and by directing those funds be transferred using cryptocurrency, the individuals behind this scheme obscured their identity and made tracing the funds far more complex.”

Quickly after the Treasury learned of these fraudulent payments, the Account Verification System (AVS), a system designed to detect suspicious transactions and prevent fraud, was implemented in the Governor’s Budget Office’s Bureau of Payable Services of Comptroller Operations.

Stollsteimer and Garrity advised residents to be vigilant for cybercriminals and hackers.

“This incident should remind everyone—businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, and—always be alert for fraudsters and cybercriminals. We must take every possible step to prevent fraud. In this case, my team and I were very pleased to work closely with District Attorney Stollsteimer and others to recover $10.3 million for the CUSD,” Garrity said. “It’s clear my highest priority is serving as a fiscal watchdog to protect taxpayer funds.”

Treasury was authorized to implement AVS for all Treasury payments as part of the Fiscal Code approved alongside the 2022-23 state budget.

“This was truly a team effort and could not have been possible without the help of the Delaware County District Attorney’s office and its detectives, the staff at the Treasury, and the Bureau of Payable Services Office of Comptroller Operations,” Garrity said.

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Philly Crime Hasn’t Crossed Into Suburbs; These DAs Think They Know Why

As Philadelphia’s crime crisis makes headlines every day, fears grow that the violence will spill into the suburbs. However, two years since that crime surge first started, those fears remain unfounded. For example, homicides in Montgomery County actually declined in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

And despite a rise in homicides in Delaware County in 2020, crime is falling in its most-violent municipality, Chester.

With the streets of Philadelphia engaged in what sometimes appears to border on open warfare, why has the violent crime problem crossed over into the Delaware Valley suburbs? Local district attorneys say it is because preventative efforts have slowly gained favor in law enforcement.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele is a career prosecutor who has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years.  During that time, he watched law enforcement evolve from reacting to crime after it happens to proactively trying to prevent it.

“The role of a prosecutor has expanded from kind of looking back at that law-and-order type of thing,” Steele said. “I think where we’ve moved to is looking at prevention.”

Jack Stollsteimer, district attorney for Delaware County, cites the city of Chester’s fall in crime as a perfect example. He credits an initiative between the district attorney’s office and Chester’s mayor and police. The program looks to identify those who are committing crimes and then intervenes by giving them a choice.

“You go to them and you give them the opportunity to say, ‘We will help you if we can, but we will stop you if we must,’” Stollsteimer said. “You remove those people by getting them to stop killing, or you put them in jail.”

But the program does more than that. It establishes relationships within the community and involves every aspect of it as part of the effort to reduce crime. That includes the local basketball association, which helps create programming to keep kids out of trouble, Stollsteimer said.

It is all about a holistic approach to combating crime. “Everybody has a role to play in this story,” Stollsteimer explained. “It’s not even just getting law enforcement and (the) community to work together. It’s to get other government agencies, businesses.”

Steele points to Pottstown as another success. When he came into office in 2016, he said the town had a lot of unresolved shootings. The office used many different tools to eventually discover the suspects causing the violence and prosecuted them successfully. However, the story did not end there.

“We embedded a group of prosecutors in Pottstown to work with the police, with community leaders, with schools, with elected officials,” Steele said. These ‘community justice’ units stayed after the crime was solved to work to rebuild. “Now, if you look at a community like Pottstown, you hear about economic development, about the rising prices for housing in the area. It’s an area to go after.”

Despite the good news, Steele said Montgomery County still has problems. Those most important to him involve the preservation of life: Overdoses, violent crime, domestic violence, and child abuse.

On overdoses, Steele supports initiatives like drug take-back days to get pills out of medicine cabinets, where they might be readily available to addicts. There’s also a year-round effort like take-back boxes in every police department. And having Narcan in every police car to treat overdoses immediately can also prevent deaths.

With overdose deaths in Montgomery County falling last year even as ODs rose nationally, Steele sees evidence these efforts are paying off.

Guns remain the biggest issue in violent crime and straw purchasers–those who purchase firearms for others who legally cannot–are one of Steele’s greatest concerns. It is why Montgomery County is working collaboratively with neighboring counties to go after these purchasers, trying to get those guns back before they can be used in other crimes.

Montgomery County has a close relationship with local victim agencies, like the Laurel House, a domestic violence shelter, and Mission Kids, a child advocacy center. They work with experts collaboratively to prevent abuse while also accommodating crime victims.

“The saves are hard to quantify,” he said. “But if you look at what’s going on around us, and the direction that other places are going that aren’t doing the things that we’re doing, I think that that’s a very important thing to look at.”

In Delaware County, Stollsteimer said challenges depend on the specific community. There is an increase in car thefts in more affluent Swarthmore, but violent crime appears to be rising in Upper Darby.

Some of it may be due to a spillover from Philadelphia, Stollsteimer said, with many Delaware County municipalities bordering the city. However, years of neglect and rises in poverty in some areas may also play a role.

“There are people who have been predicting now for a generation if you don’t invest in the housing stock and businesses (in the first generation suburbs),” he said. “You’re going to see the same problems you’re seeing in urban neighborhoods.”

But initiatives like that of Chester may be the guide to successfully turning back the tide.

“The roadmap is there,” Stollsteimer said. “We just have to follow the plan.”

Delaware County also has not been shy about criminal justice reforms similar to those blamed on the increase in Philly crime since progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner took office.

Stollsteimer supported the de-privatization of the county prison and recently started a central arraignment process involving his office, the courts, and public defenders, where bails are actively reviewed.  And defendants are given access to lawyers early in the process.

His office last year also created a program with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro known as the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, where individuals can contact law enforcement to seek treatment for addictions without any fear of prosecution or arrest.

Stollsteimer called that a more long-term investment than policy changes, but says he hopes it will allow the office to help communities more.

“If we have only the maximum number of people incarcerated for as long as required for the conditions of justice, then we can use some of those savings to reinvest in people,” he said, about not solely relying on incarceration.

But the most important key to success, said Steele, is the level of trust his office has built between residents and law enforcement.

“That’s earned. You can’t just say, ‘trust me,’” Steele said. “You have to earn it, every day. And you earn it by making a difference in people’s lives.”

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Parents of DUI Victim Hope Deana’s Law Will Protect Others

Deana Eckman, 45, was a wife, a daughter, and an animal lover when a man driving while under the influence crashed into her car on February 16, 2019. The impact killed her.

The head-on crash that claimed Eckman’s life was also David Strowhouer’s sixth drunk driving arrest. Previously, a judge had permitted his sentences to run concurrently for his prior convictions. That was why he was not in jail that night but traveling on a Delaware County road, careening across the yellow line in a borrowed pickup truck.

Now Deana’s name is on a Pennsylvania law requiring drunk drivers to serve consecutive sentences after their third conviction.

Her parents, Roseann and Richard DeRosa, joined Rep. Chris Quinn, (R-Media) at a press conference Friday to announce Gov. Tom Wolf had signed the bill into law. It takes effect in 120 days.

Deana DeRosa Eckman

Quinn’s legislation, Act 59 of 2022, also increases prison sentences for offenders. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/MontgomeryBerks).

“She was a vibrant young woman and beloved by a wide circle of family and friends,” said Quinn. “Her killer had a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit and he robbed Deana of decades of life.”

The legislation previously failed to pass, but Quinn shepherded it again through the legislative process and it was overwhelmingly approved by large bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate.

Quinn credited Sen. John Kane (D-Delaware/Chester) who, along with former Sen. Tom Killian, teamed up with Mensch to help guide the bill through the Senate. Quinn also thanked Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford) for his work on the bill. Williams is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“Seeing your daughter’s name on a piece of legislation is never a good sign,” said Richard DeRosa. “It means that something terrible has happened and, in our case, that’s certainly true. Deana’s Law will go a long way to correct some of the judicial errors that permitted David Strowhouer to be on the street to kill after five previous DUIs. We anticipate and sincerely hope that this law will save lives and prevent multitudes of injuries.”

“There are no words strong enough to describe the pain of outliving your child,” said Roseann DeRosa. “It’s an out-of-order process.  Deana’s death left a wound in our lives that will never fully heal. Deana’s tragic and senseless death was a result of a failure of our criminal justice system.

“Our passion for Deana’s Law is to prevent this from happening to other families,” she said. “And bring awareness to the many people who drive impaired. Every DUI is a potential homicide,” she added.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who also supported the push for Deanna’s Law, praised the DeRosas for trying “to turn their personal tragedy, that as a parent I can’t imagine what it feels like. They’re trying to turn that personal tragedy into something positive for other families. And they’ve done it by passing this law, thanks to Chris Quinn’s help and my good friend Sen. John Kane, who gave a really amazing speech on the Senate floor.

Stollsteimer noted that, in the era of ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, there is no excuse for driving while impaired. And certainly not multiple times.

“Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimate that 40 percent of DUI fatalities on our roads in America are caused by people with multiple DUI convictions,” said Stollsteimer. “They should never be allowed back on the road, and thanks for this legislation some of them will not be.”

Quinn also thanked the many stakeholders who participated in crafting Deana’s Law, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, MADD, the Pennsylvania DUI Association, Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, and Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.

Strawhouer, 33, was convicted last year and sentenced to 24 to 51 years in prison for killing Eckman in the DUI homicide.

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