How did Luzerne County prison employee Louis Elmy’s alleged “habitual drug use” escape detection at work?

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | February 23rd, 2016 11:00 pm

Random drug testing of correctional facility workers stopped several years ago

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

WILKES-BARRE — Recent felony charges filed by the FBI against Luzerne County prison counselor Louis Elmy, alleging he was a “habitual drug user,” have raised questions about how he kept his job after county officials had launched a program to randomly drug test prison workers in 2006.

Deputy Warden James Larson said Tuesday the random tests actually had stopped several years ago under a prior administration when the prison budget “started getting tight.”

“It went by the wayside, but we definitely plan on doing the testing again this year,” said Larson, who may become interim prison overseer when Correctional Services Division Head J. Allen Nesbitt’s resignation takes effect March 4.

Elmy, a 51-year-old county prison counselor and former Wilkes-Barre Area School Board member, was arraigned last week in federal court on charges of distribution and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and possessing a firearm while being a habitual drug user.

The drug charge carries a fine of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison. The firearm possession carries a maximum fine of $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

Elmy was placed on administrative leave without pay last Friday when county officials were first informed of the pending charges against him.

It’s unclear if the charges are associated with his work at the prison because details about the case against him were not released in court and have not been posted to the online court docket.

When the prison began drug testing in 2006, officials hired an outside company that charged $75 per test.

The company used a computer program involving Social Security numbers to randomly select who would be tested in each batch, with roughly half of the employees tested annually.

Then-prison Warden Gene Fischi said in 2007 he was troubled by the results because seven employees had tested positive for drugs less than a year into the program. These employee were required to sign a “last chance” agreement and undergo counseling to return to work.

Larson said he did not have historical data on the drug testing results because he was not directly involved in that program.

Acting county Manager C. David Pedri said Tuesday the charges against Elmy have prompted the administration to start discussing the possible random drug testing of all employees.

County employees with commercial driver’s licenses and in some human service branches are the only ones who currently undergo random drug tests, he said.

“I am definitely open to looking at random drug testing going forward to make sure our county workers are in compliance,” Pedri said.

The administration must develop an estimated cost and review the matter with the county council, he said.

County Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik, who oversees human resources among other departments, said he supports the concept if there’s a way to cost-effectively test all workers.

A special drug and alcohol policy had been negotiated with unionized prison workers in 2006 to allow the random testing there.

A revised personnel policy and negotiation with some unions may be required for random testing in other offices.

The county’s personnel policy allows drug testing if employees are involved in an accident during working hours or if there is “reasonable suspicion” of on-the-job drug or alcohol use.

County officials have imposed layoffs and other cuts at the prison in recent years because the prison system remains the largest single department expense in the county’s general fund operating budget — $34.1 million of the $130.2 million budget this year.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.