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Sex trips to Asia in probe of Pa. police

High-ranking state police brass owned up to the trips in a report.

HARRISBURG - Three state police lieutenants - including the former head of the elite detail that guards the governor - were investigated by the FBI and the state police for their alleged involvement with prostitutes during successive personal vacations to Southeast Asia.

Records in a case pending in federal court in Pennsylvania say the lieutenants all admitted hiring the prostitutes on trips between 2002 and 2008.

An Associated Press review of the internal state police records shows the supervisors evaded significant punishment, and a Right-to-Know Law request found no evidence they were discharged or demoted, the state police said Wednesday.

The investigative records were disclosed in an employment-discrimination lawsuit filed by retired Cpl. Joe Farthing, a former member of the Executive Service Section, which protects the governor, lieutenant governor, and their spouses.

Farthing, who is African American and who lives in Lancaster, alleges state police brass concocted a racially motivated claim that he had improperly milked overtime while guarding then-Gov. Ed Rendell. He was not implicated in the Asian trips.

Farthing worked closely with one of the three, Lt. John Kruse, as the two top-ranking members of the Executive Service Section.

Although it's not clear what triggered the FBI's interest, by 2007, it was investigating alleged sex-tourism trips by Kruse and Lt. Brad Lawver, who worked in legislative affairs. Kruse and Lawver told investigators they had been joined by a third member of state police brass, Lt. Douglas Martin of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, according to state police documents.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg said a federal investigation regarding the Asian trips was closed without charges being filed, and prosecutors declined to comment further.

Rendell told the AP he had heard rumors of the alleged prostitution trips "through the grapevine, stuff about trips to Asia and sexual hijinks, but again, I didn't know there was anything illegal about them."

The three men told FBI agents they hired prostitutes in Thailand and Vietnam, according to a February 2009 general investigative report regarding Martin filed by Sgt. Farzad Sharif with the state police Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards. Kruse and Lawver had just retired at the time.

Court records describe an unspecified number of private trips to Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore that combined tourist outings with hiring prostitutes, in some cases for a week at a time. An FBI agent told a state police supervisor that during one trip, the men - it's unclear which of them - were seen by the FBI drinking heavily and entering what was believed to be a house of prostitution.

Farthing's lawsuit was filed in February 2011, but the detailed disclosures about the lieutenants' alleged sex-tourism trips, the alleged abuse of overtime by members of the Executive Service Section, and evidence the unit was poorly run emerged in court documents this year. The state Attorney General's Office sought unsuccessfully to have Farthing's case thrown out.

As state police leadership and internal affairs looked into the trips, questions about the ages of the prostitutes arose repeatedly. The three state policemen have repeatedly insisted none were underage, records show.

"There was no indication, wherever they went, that there was any children involved, which is what our concern was," retired State Police Maj. Charles J. Skurkis, who headed internal affairs at the time, said in a deposition.

Child prostitution is a particular problem in Thailand and some other Asian countries.

"The age of the prostitutes they were with was not a concern to Lt. Martin [because according to him, they all looked old enough]," state police disciplinary officer Capt. Francis Hacken wrote. Hacken recommended in January 2011 that Martin be court-martialed, but Martin avoided it by retiring two months later.

Hacken wrote that Martin "indicated that prostitution is a culture that is accepted in Thailand."

Now-retired State Police Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski described the lieutenants' behavior as "sexual misconduct" during a September 2011 deposition.

"People suggested that they [prostitutes] were juveniles, but I was not privy to any of the evidence in the case that I could make my own conclusion," Pawlowski said.

Doubts about the illegality of prostitution in Thailand arose during the investigation, with Skurkis likening the men's conduct to someone visiting an area where medical marijuana is legal.

"California dispenses marijuana for medical use," he said in the deposition. "Pennsylvania does not allow that. If a trooper goes to California and a doctor prescribes marijuana and he smokes it there, is he in violation of the law? That case has to be looked at, and there's no immediate right or wrong answer."

Skurkis did not return a phone message seeking comment.

At some point, the department's own lawyers researched the matter and concluded the men's actions "arguably" did violate Thai law. Hacken's court-martial report for Martin said a customer soliciting a prostitute violates Thai law if the solicitation is done openly or shamelessly and causes a public nuisance.

A 1996 Thai law on prostitution prohibits hiring minors for prostitution, soliciting prostitution activities in public places, and the buying or selling of sex "where people are available for prostitution," said Janice Raymond, a board member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

Those laws in theory would apply to the customers of prostitutes, but Raymond said the reality was that the women are the ones who end up arrested and charged.

As the FBI investigation was starting, the state police received a complaint from another trooper on the governor's detail alleging that Kruse and Farthing assigned themselves disproportionate amounts of overtime and accrued it under circumstances where it was not needed or when they were not performing work for the pay.

The handling of the Asian sex scandal relates to Farthing's lawsuit because he contends the department was tougher on him, a black man, than it was when disciplining white employees, including the three lieutenants in the unrelated case.

Farthing was pulled from the governor's detail and assigned to duty at the lieutenant governor's mansion while he was investigated for alleged overtime abuse. He retired about a year later.

Farthing disputes that he abused overtime, and says he was forced to retire in October 2008, believing he had been singled out for punishment because of the color of his skin.

The state police have denied racial animus was behind any actions taken against Farthing but said management of the Executive Service Section had been improved and the overtime issue had been addressed.

Farthing subsequently filed an employment-discrimination lawsuit, which is pending before District Judge Henry S. Perkin in Allentown. His case was recently scheduled to go to trial next summer, with Rendell among possible witnesses.

According to documents filed in Farthing's lawsuit, the agency moved to discipline him and Kruse for alleged overtime misuse only after both had retired, rendering any action meaningless.

Reached at his home outside Lewisberry, Kruse at first denied any knowledge of the matter, then declined to comment and referred questions to his lawyer, Jerry Russo, who did not return messages. Martin, who lives in Mechanicsburg, and Lawver, also of Lewisberry, did not respond to requests for comment.

Farthing's attorney, Harold Goodman, declined to discuss the case on the record beyond what was in the court file. The Attorney General's Office, which represents the state police in the civil case, declined to comment for this article.

The overtime allegations against Kruse and Farthing were reviewed for potential criminal violations, but the local prosecutor took a pass. Kruse and Farthing ranked No. 1 and No. 2 within the detail in total overtime from 2002 to 2007, with each collecting well over $200,000.

In September 2007, Dauphin County Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo told a state police internal affairs investigator he believed Farthing had put in for overtime when he was not working, which "would support culpability for the offense of theft by deception." But, he said, there was a lack of oversight and Kruse allowed it.

Chardo, who recently announced his candidacy for county judge, also declined to prosecute overtime-related allegations against Kruse in March 2009, saying it was not in the public interest, partly because Kruse had agreed to retire immediately.

Kruse was denied an honorable discharge, and an internal state police report issued a few months later said "sustained overtime misconduct" practices would have justified court-martialing him and Farthing. Troopers who are not honorably discharged do not get to keep their badges or service hats, matters of great symbolic importance within the agency.

Kruse had been recommended for a two-rank demotion to trooper, a 25-day suspension, and an involuntary transfer; Farthing a one-rank demotion and 20-day suspension, according to a declaration by then-Deputy Commissioner John R. Brown.

The state police found that total overtime in the 20-person Executive Service Section fell from $612,000 in 2006 - a busy election year for Rendell, and the year before the investigation began - to $474,000 in 2007 and $346,000 in 2008, when Kruse no longer ran the detail. It skyrocketed in Rendell's final year, 2010, however, to $739,000, and was at $533,000 in 2011.

A good overtime year can yield dividends for the rest of a trooper's life, because pension amounts are based on peak pay years. Farthing retired in October 2008 with a $130,000 lump payment and now has a $72,000 annual pension. Kruse retired in January 2009, collected $84,000, and gets a $45,000 pension.

Lawver and Martin apparently were not investigated for alleged overtime abuse. Lawver retired in January 2009, received a $106,000 payment, and collects a $63,000 pension; Martin retired in March 2011 - weeks after Hacken informed him he faced court-martial - collected $131,000, and has a $69,000 pension.