U.S. Attorney Scott Brady on Tuesday appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney to oversee the investigation and prosecution of scammers seeking to take advantage of people by fraud during the pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr has asked U.S. Attorneys nationwide to remain vigilant in detecting, investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis.  

“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr said.

“Scammers are using email phishing schemes claiming to be from legitimate health organizations, advertising counterfeit virus test kits, and fraudulently seeking donations for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations, all in an effort to exploit people’s anxiety and uncertainty,” Brady said.

“We will prioritize the investigation and prosecution of fraud related to the COVID-19 virus in order to protect the people of western Pennsylvania. All fraudsters should know that if you cross a state line, use your phone or the internet, DOJ can and will prosecute your crime.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s website now contains a front page button where visitors can quickly report fraud to the office and/or to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Western Pennsylvanians who believe they may have been the target or victim of a virus-related fraud scheme should visit www.justice.gov/usao-wdpa and provide detailed information about their experience.

Barbara Croce

Barbara Croce, executive director of the Chevy Chase Community Center, packed lunches for children and adults to be distributed today beginning at 11:30 a.m. Croce also noted that emergency food boxes are available for those who believe they need them. For more information, call (724) 463-0674.

AGING SERVICES

Aging Services Inc. is closing its main office at 1055 Oak St., Indiana, to outside visitors until at least March 30, when the agency will re-evaluate the risk to its employees.

However, employees will be at the office continuing to work and responding to phone calls at (724) 349-4500 or email at jmaust@agingservicesinc.com.

All senior centers are closed, but takeout meals are available. Meals also will be delivered to eligible homebound consumers between now and March 30.

Aging Services Inc. thanked the public for its patience and cooperation during this closure, as well as all of the people who called to volunteer to help the older adults of IndianaCounty.

PRICE GOUGING

 The state attorney general’s office has logged almost 1,200 complaints of price gouging in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro reported that his office’s dedicated price-gouging email, pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov, has received 1,171 emails from Pennsylvanians reporting price hikes.

“I’m grateful to everyone in the Commonwealth for reporting their concerns to our Office,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “During these uncertain times, taking advantage of consumers in need of cleaning supplies and paper products is not only outrageous, it’s illegal.”

Shapiro’s office reported Tuesday that it has followed up with 45 verified complaints and dispensed 34 cease and desist letters and subpoenas. For example, the attorney general’s office successfully halted a suburban Philadelphia store from selling a $2.00 bottle of hand sanitizer for $19.00, following a cease and desist letter from the Office’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the OAG reported.

“I urge consumers to stay vigilant for instances of price gouging in their communities, and to report them to our pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov email,” Shapiro said. “Our office is here to serve Pennsylvanians; we want to hear about any concerning price hikes for necessities in these next few weeks.

DISASTER DECLARATION

Homer City Borough Mayor Arlene Wanatosky on Tuesday declared disaster status for the borough due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The measure emphasizes but does not enhance restrictions so far imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“This is to prevent or alleviate the damage, loss, hardship or suffering of Homer City Borough and its residents,” Wanatosky wrote in the declaration.

The mayor urged all residents to follow up-to-date guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s recommendations regarding personal and community safety and hygiene during the pandemic.

The declaration is set to expire in one week; the borough council has called a special public meeting for 5 p.m. March 24 to consider extending the state of emergency.

BUSINESSES ON FACEBOOK

Indiana County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hilliard said his organization has created a Facebook page called “Indiana County Shop Local” for businesses to post what options they are offering during this time of crisis. Hilliard said the chamber is encouraging everyone to post and share their options.

COUNTY COURTS

Indiana County Judge William Martin clarified in a court statement issued Tuesday that the cancellation or rescheduling of criminal court proceedings through April 14 would include suspension of Rule 600 of criminal procedure. Lifting Rule 600 relieves the state of the obligation to grant a speedy trial or adjudication of charges against defendants in criminal cases.

NEW GIANT HOURS

The Giant Company, parent company of Martin’s, announced today several updates as part of its efforts to continue meeting the needs of its customers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including modified hours that help care for older members of the community.

“We are grateful for our team members who are working tirelessly around the clock to restock our store shelves and online fulfillment centers and continuing to serve our customers and communities during this unprecedented time,” said Nicholas Bertram, president. “While all of our stores remain open and operational, we do have some updates to share which will enable us to help get products on shelves sooner and continue serving customers while protecting the health and wellbeing of our team members.”

To allow more time for team members to sanitize, unload deliveries, stock shelves, and better serve customers throughout the day, all store hours will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. beginning Thursday until further notice.

Giant, Martin’s and Giant Heirloom stores will also have seniors-only hours from 6 to 7 a.m., beginning Thursday.  Only those 60 and older will be allowed to shop during that time.

This will allow customers in this age group to practice social distancing in a less crowded environment. Although team members will not request ID for entry, the company asks its customers to please respect the purpose of the early opening  and do the right thing for your neighbors.

Beginning immediately, Giant is placing a limit of “two” on key categories throughout the store, including paper goods and disinfectant products.

REA DRIVE-THRU

Starting today, REA Energy Cooperative Inc. will limit access to its Indiana and Ebensburg offices to employees only, closing lobbies in both locations indefinitely. However, a drive-thru window will remain open at the Indiana office for members to pay their bill or sign up for service.

REA also offers online options for paying bills and signing up for service at www.reaenergy.com. Members also can download a free mobile app available on the App Store and Google Play.

REA Energy remains a 24-hour operation with employees and linemen on call. It can be reached to respond to any power outages at (724) 463-7273 or (800) 332-7273. Members with questions about their bill or service can call the cooperative at (724) 349-4800 or (800) 211-5667 or email memberservice@reaenergy.com. REA Energy also can be reached by email at reaenergy@reaenergy.com.

POTTS BENEFIT

The date of a benefit spaghetti dinner/basket raffle to be held for Brian “Bud” Potts at the Plumville Fire Hall has been changed. The event will now be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 30. Cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 4. Raffle tickets will be available at the Plumville Fire Hall. Drawings will be held at 5:30 p.m.

Potts has been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and will need a liver transplant.  

The hall will be open at 9 a.m. on May 29 for drop-offs, or items may be dropped off at Barb Potts’ house, 1306 Redding Run Road, Creekside, between now and then. Anyone who would like to donate a basket, other item or dessert, or if other arrangements need to be made, please contact Potts at (724) 397-2397 or Vickie Weston at (724) 801-2606.

STATE POLICE CHANGES

State police spokesman Trooper Cliff Greenfield said Tuesday that there have been no significant changes to state police field operations amid the coronavirus situation. He said there are plans in place to shift resources as necessary to meet operational needs, include a shift of manpower from other stations and/or troops to support a station experiencing a staffing shortage due to illness or other factors.

PRESBYTERIAN CLOSINGS

The Presbytery of Kiskiminetas, Presbyterian Church USA, has suspended operations at its office in Yatesboro, effective yesterday. The presbytery said its staff will continue to work as they can from home or if needed from the office, but the building in Yatesboro is closed.

Meanwhile, 20 congregations in the presbytery have suspended worship services because of coronavirus.

Locally, that includes:

• Calvary Presbyterian Church, Indiana, until the end of March.

• Cherry Tree and Heilwood churches, each through March 29. Both churches will re-evaluate options for April.

• Crete Presbyterian Church, Armstrong Township, canceled all activities and March 22 worship but will review again on March 25.

• Gilgal Presbyterian Church, Marion Center.

• Jacksonville Presbyterian Church, through the end of the month when it will re-evaluate its options.

• Marion Center Presbyterian Church suspended worship service until April 5. All meetings at the church are also suspended.

• NuValley Presbyterian Church, Rural Valley, suspended its worship service and activities through April 30.

• Plum Creek Presbyterian Church, Willet, has suspended worship on March 22 and March 29 with the hope of meeting again on April 5 but will re-evaluate the situation at that time.

• Rochester Mills Presbyterian Church.

• Shelocta Community Presbyterian Church suspended worship and activities through March 29. The session will meet again on March 30 and consider the next steps. Audio of its sermons are posted on www.sheloctapc.com.

OUTREACH CENTER

There will not be a Pennsylvania Deutsch Buffet on April 4, at the Penn Run Christian Outreach Center in Penn Run.

NARFE MEETING

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Chapter 2124 have agreed to cancel the March 25 luncheon/meeting at Hoss's Steak and Sea Family Restaurant. 

ARTIST HAND GALLERY

The Artist Hand Gallery in downtown Indiana will offer a online reception for the “Mudslide” exhibit.

Mudslide refers to both late Spring’s mud season and the beautiful creations that ceramic artists make from wet clay. The exhibit features work by L.A. Gallanar, Kyle Houser, Ron Korczynski, Deb English-Frew, and J.R. “Jimmy the Potter” Sherburne.

The gallery expects to reopen in April and reschedule the public reception that was set for Friday.

For more information, visit www.theartistshandgallery.com.

DAYTON METHODIST

The Dayton United Methodist Church, 105 E. Church Ave., Dayton, has canceled all church activities and church services until April 1.