One of the ethics violation allegations made against former Cambria County War Memorial Authority Chairman Dean Gindlesperger is that, during his tenure, a business arrangement – the purchase and installation of a scoreboard at the facility – took place that benefited a family member, his son, Ryan Gindlesperger.
An investigation, recently conducted by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, determined Amphype Signs, a company co-owned 50% by Ryan Gindlesperger, provided the service at a price of $131,040.
Dean Gindlesperger, with only a few exceptions, does not dispute the overall findings of the report that was released earlier this month.
But he vehemently denies knowing his son was involved with Amphype, which organized as a limited liability company on Sept. 11, 2015 – a little more than a year before Dean Gindlesperger signed the scoreboard contract as the “authorized buyer” on Oct. 8, 2016.
“I did not know that he had anything to do with that company,” Dean Gindlesperger said in his first in-depth interview since allegations against him broke in 2017. “He wasn’t involved in anything going up to that point.”
When asked if he realized that explanation might seem hard to believe to some people, Gindlesperger responded: “There’s no question. Absolutely no question. I totally acknowledge that.
“But, let me tell you, we all have a judgment day and I have no problem going to that day with what I did and what I had up here,” when pointing to his head.
Details about the scoreboard were included in a 73-page report that laid out events related to multiple allegations against Gindlesperger, and details about the $18,000 in fines and $2,000 in investigation costs levied against him.
The section about the scoreboard is prefaced with a statement that Gindlesperger disputes the findings and denies wrongdoing, but “agrees that if this matter went to hearing, the investigative division could meet the requisite evidentiary standard to convince a fact finder” that he, as chairman, entered into a contract with Amphype “without an open and public process.”
“I did not deny any of this,” Gindlesperger said. “Never once did I deny any of this stuff, except knowing whether he was part of that business or not. And I’ll deny that to the day I die and I won’t have any problem with my conscience. None.”
The report also states: “Ryan Gindlesperger denies that his father knew of his association with Amphype.”
Calls and training?
The authority received previous quotes for the price of scoreboards, but none that went through a formal bidding process. Members had generally authorized a scoreboard purchase earlier, but did not get new ratification for buying one from Amphype.
The report determined that the purchase of a scoreboard by Amphype was never presented to the authority for a formal vote.
The ethics commission also wrote: “It is Gindlesperger’s recollection that the Authority Solicitor approved the purchase of the new scoreboard in an executive session of the Authority Board in the summer of 2016. The Authority Solicitor never advised Gindlesperger or the Authority Board that the purchase of the new scoreboard needed to be publicly bid.”
The Ethics Commission cited multiple occasions when phone calls occurred among the Gindlespergers; Amphype co-owner Dan Kennedy; the arena’s former general manager, Steve St. John; and others involved in the purchase shortly after authority meetings when the scoreboard was discussed or after email communications about the subject. St. John, in the report, denies knowing Ryan Gindlesperger was a partner in the company.
After the multiple listings of phone calls, the report states that the investigative division of the commission was unable to confirm the content of the conversations, while including denials from Gindlesperger that the conversations were about the scoreboard.
Dean Gindlesperger said he was often in communication with his son and St. John.
“They showed a snapshot of telephone calls,” he said. “If they show all the phone calls, that didn’t change throughout the year with the exception of Kennedy being involved in there.”
The ethics report details that Ryan Gindlesperger and Kennedy provided what were described – by the commission – as “training” services for the scoreboard on Dec. 29, 2016 when Dean Gindlesperger showed up and the father and son “spoke briefly to one another.”
“I go over the night whenever the scoreboard’s being unveiled, I go up into the press box,” Dean Gindlesperger said. “That’s the first thing I say, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I brought a camera down,’ which he did, to give to Steve to use and he was showing them how to use it. I said, ‘OK.’ That’s where they said I was present with them during training. I said, ‘What training? I didn’t even know there was training.’ I stopped in the freaking (arena) to see if everything was OK, and I left. That’s where that’s not really accurate in that report.”
‘Leasing of storage space’
The scoreboard allegation led to Cambria County Commissioners Tom Chernisky and William “B.J.” Smith asking Gindlesperger by letter to resign in August 2018, while Commissioner Mark Wissinger did not sign the letter. Gindlesperger submitted a letter on Aug. 14, 2018, “effectively resigning his position” per the report.
Before then, an allegation surfaced that Gindlesperger improperly benefited financially from having SMG, the arena’s operating company, store glycol, a refrigerant for hockey ice, at Allegheny Field Services, a business he co-owned.
In 2016, as part of the process to install a new ice-making system, glycol was removed and stored in 19 or 20 containers. They were originally placed in the arena’s concourse and then moved outside the facility. St. John soon received notification that the glycol could not be stored in an area with sunlight exposure, which could cause the substance to degrade.
With the reusable glycol valued at $80,000 to $90,000, St. John “viewed the need to store the glycol as an emergency,” according to the report.
Gindlesperger and St. John agreed to a storage contract of $1,200 per month at the AFS warehouse, located at 619 Elder St. in Johnstown, with no contract or authority vote. Nor did either of them update authority members about the storage during monthly meetings in June, July or August 2016.
AFS received $3,600 for three months of storage.
Afterward, St. John and Gindlesperger negotiated a contract – at a cost of $600 per month – for storage of other arena materials, with an effective date of September 2016, but, “the subject of leasing of storage space at 619 Elder St. was not disclosed to the Authority Board as a whole until the Authority’s July 24, 2017, meeting.” according to the report. A vote was taken at that time to find quotes for storage.
“I said, ‘We can’t afford to pay it – the arena, and I can’t afford to give it to you for nothing, but I’ll do the best I can,’ ” Gindlesperger said. “Not only give them that, I gave them all my trucks to use to transport all that stuff out. And then I gave them my fork truck to offload them. I never charged them a penny for that. I’m not looking for credit for that. I’m not looking for credit for anything.”
The arena continued to use AFS for storage until September 2018.
AFS received 23 checks from the SMG-controlled arena operating account, totaling $14,400.
“When it came to the storage of the glycol, the report’s pretty clear on that as how it transpired,” Gindlesperger said.
‘It’s been a nightmare’
Gindlesperger said he does not think he did anything wrong in terms of the scoreboard purchase and storage arrangement.
“There was nothing done sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to pull something over on these people,’ ” he said “I’m not that stupid. You don’t pull things over on people, especially in this type of an environment.”
Gindlesperger said he did not receive any ethics training, which led to a lack of understanding of what was permissible.
“People don’t know these rules,” he said. “They don’t know them. I’m hurt more about that facility right now. I’m going to get through this.
“In my mind, yes, in hindsight, I see it pointed out to me that mistakes were made in the process. OK, I accept that.
“It’s a procedure that I didn’t know anything about.”
He would like to see required ethics training for all boards associated with the county.
Gindlesperger also disagrees with the commissioners asking for his resignation because the experience of learning about ethics laws “would make me wiser.”
“That would never happen again,” he said. “But, no, let’s just get rid of the guy.”
Looking back on his tenure, Gindlesperger thinks he and the authority did a good job of improving the arena with new lights, dasher boards and safety equipment, getting $720,000 in naming rights from 1st Summit, supporting the effort that saw Johnstown named Kraft Hockeyville USA, backing veterans programs and shoring up the facility’s financial condition, which included paying down an approximately $100,000 line of credit and eliminating other debt.
“We owed SMG over $400,000 because the monthly management fee had not been paid for years. … By the end of it, with the two contracts that I negotiated, it wiped that debt out,” Gindlesperger said.
“And that’s a debt that we never would have been able to pay, never would have been able to pay. That only benefited the taxpayers, 100%.”
He added: “We didn’t make one decision without weighing how does this affect the arena, how does it affect the taxpayers and how does it affect the veterans. We were very sensitive to the veterans, very sensitive.”
Gindlesperger said he decided to enter the consent agreement with the Ethics Commission after his attorney told him to “put your business hat on” and realize the possible cost of legal fees, which had already topped $30,000, and large fines.
“I didn’t decide it,” he said. “My attorney decided it, to be honest with you.”
And now, with the investigation complete, “Honestly, I just want this thing to get in the rearview mirror and move on. It’s been a nightmare. There’s no question about it.”