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Pennsylvania County Commissioner Barred from DA’s Email After Own Prison Record Is Purged and Jail Key Copied

by Kevin W. Bliss

On January 3, 2023, when Debi Domenick was re-appointed to serve as Vice-Chairwoman for the Board of Commissioners of Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County, she chided her colleagues to face their duties and not “worry about how it’s going to affect them politically.”

Which is ironic, since Domenick’s record of a 1995 incarceration at the county prison was mysteriously expunged “without proper authorization,” according to an August 2022 announcement by District Attorney (DA) Mark Powell.

Or is Domenick the one being unfairly targeted by the prison warden and his allies? Earlier in the year, a private investigator was hired to find out how she obtained a key to administrative offices at the prison. She says she doesn’t recall. Her election in 2020 coincided with the rise of Krista Purvis, 45, from a guard sergeant to deputy warden, all within a year. The two met while working together in the county public defender’s office in 2017.

Purvis was placed on leave in March 2022, accused of smuggling a crucifix necklace and wedding band to prisoner Steven Wong. In Powell’s ensuing investigation, she claimed the items were not contraband.

But the DA also discovered Domenick had accessed over 500 of his emails regarding the investigation. He then sued the county. On August 12, 2022, a county judge signed an injunction barring Domenick from accessing the DA’s information. Stipulating to the injunction, Domenick promised to make future requests through the state’s Right to Know Law (RTKL).

Before that, on June 15, 2022, the county prison board also fired Purvis. The reasoning was largely redacted from copies of the dismissal letter sent to her by Warden Tim Betti, which were obtained by the Scranton Times-Tribune with a RTKL request. However, Betti expressed concerns with Domenick’s influence on prison affairs to James Sulima, the private investigator looking into how she got a prison key.

“Secret meetings without my knowledge or attendance had been occurring between Commissioner Domenick, Purvis, and Bill Shanley [another newly appointed deputy warden] and they were developing their own agenda, independent of mine,” Betti told the investigator. “I felt threatened by these developments and the promotions and firings that occurred without even the courtesy of a discussion and I was in a mindset that the other two commissioners were not going to be supportive of any complaints I may bring to anyone’s attention.”

No doubt the warden was also rattled by a text that Domenick inadvertently sent him back in October 2020. “He tries to ice out Krista,” the Commissioner said in the text, as Betti relayed it to the investigator. “[H]e will be the one in the unemployment line.”

Purvis accused her former boss of misogyny and homophobia, saying he falsely suspected she was having an affair with a prison nurse — Purvis is married to a woman — and even staked out a hotel where he thought the two were having a rendezvous. She filed suit against the county in federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on December 1, 2022, alleging she was improperly fired because of her sexuality. See: Purvis v. Lackawanna Cty., USDC (M.D. Pa.), Case No. 3:22-cv-01907.

Meanwhile a jury in the same court acquitted Wong of his federal kidnapping charge on September 28, 2022. The following month, on October 19, 2022, he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Sentencing is scheduled for February 2023. See: USA v. Wong, USDC (M.D. Pa.), Case No. 3:20-cr-00310. 

Additional sources: Bradford Era, Scranton Times-Tribune, WNEP, WYOU

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