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Sparring continues over Just For Jesus

December 1, 2010

Jack Wisor

BROCKWAY — Another dust-up between Jack Wisor, founder and director of the Just For Jesus Homeless Outreach Challenge, and state Sen. Joe Scarnati could be developing.

Scarnati said in a press release Tuesday that Wisor deliberately disobeyed a newly-enacted law, Act 95 of 2010, which states that a group home — such as Just For Jesus — that takes on a convicted murderer must notify the county and municipal governments within 48 hours of the murderer’s arrival.

“... Convicted murderer Ernie Simmons was recently released by Cambria County Judge Timothy P. Creany, after violating multiple terms of his probation, and ordered to return to the Just For Jesus homeless shelter,” Scarnati’s statement read. “The Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole informed Scarnati’s office that Just For Jesus staff had picked up Mr. Simmons on Monday, Nov. 22, in order for him to return to the shelter. However, according to officials in the Jefferson County Commissioners’ and Snyder Township Supervisors’ offices, as of Monday, Nov. 29, neither had been notified of Mr. Simmons’ arrival ...”

County Commission Chairman Paul Corbin confirmed Tuesday that notification, which was expected via certified mail, had been received by neither the county commission nor the county department of probation and parole.

Scarnati said Wisor “simply chose not to abide by it (Act 95), and Wisor said he did not have to notify local governments because Simmons was not a new resident at Just For Jesus, and Just For Jesus was Simmons’ legal address before Act 95 went into effect.

“The law is very clear and unmistakable,” Scarnati said. “Without question, it was ignored by Mr. Wisor and his Just For Jesus group as they continue to be a safety concern for many citizens in the Jefferson County area.”

“It was complete public knowledge,” Wisor said of Simmons’ living arrangements, as Simmons had been living at Just For Jesus for nearly six months. “It was in the newspapers and on TV that Ernie would be coming at 1 p.m. Monday. It was already his residence. It was already his home before the law came into effect.”

Wisor said further that he thinks Act 95 is a good idea, saying, “I pushed for that. I have no problem with that. I was doing that before the law took place, but this was his address, his residence. He is not coming here for the first time. This is completely out of context.”

“I disagree,” Scarnati said. “He was incarcerated again and released from prison, so in our opinion, that should trigger the 48-hour requirement to report. I certainly think the law is pretty clear. I believe the township and county have the right to have a public hearing.”

Wisor said that before the act was in place, Just For Jesus would fax all information about incoming guests to the state police and the county department of parole and probation. Just For Jesus also contacted the Snyder Township supervisors and asked if they wanted the same information, and therefore, he said there is no reason he would try to withhold information on Simmons from the township now.

Wisor said Scarnati presented the charge to defame the Just For Jesus shelter, saying, “All I see is another attempt to try to degrade and hurt the ministry simply because they don’t want Ernie Simmons or anybody like that in their community. It is discrimination. For Scarnati to attack a minister and a church the way he is, I can’t think of a better way to describe it than despicable and an abomination to God.”

Futhermore, Wisor said Scarnati wrote a letter to the judge attempting to influence the judge’s decision, which Wisor said is against the law.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” he said. “How can he say that and then write a letter to a judge and try to get the judge to change his ruling? If he wants to bring this up, then Mr. Scarnati needs to be brought up on charges of usurpation and despotism for trying to influence a judge.”

Wisor said he is “making arrangements” for a state impeachment of Scarnati and feels Scarnati’s position toward the ministry is unwarranted.

“Ernie was living here, and the judge sent him back,” Wisor said. “If there was one thing wrong with this ministry, he would have never been sent back. The judge ruled that we were qualified and properly staffed. That is a witness in itself.

“Mr. Scanati has to work with us and not against us. He is saying the judge is wrong, the judicial system is wrong, parole and probation is wrong, the Department of Corrections is wrong, the minister is wrong, and the faith-based ministry is wrong,” he said.

“If all of those systems are in agreement that this is credible and a good place for Ernie to be, and Scarnati is the only one that isn’t, how can he say that everybody else is wrong, and he is right? What does that say about the lawmaking that he has been in charge for all these years?” Wisor said.

“I think he’s been wanting to impeach me for some time,” Scarnati said. “Jack will have his opportunity at the ballot box. I haven’t committed any violation in my writing to the sentencing judge.”

Act 95 would allow local governments to hold a public meeting regarding the housing of the murderer, but Corbin said such a meeting would have limited impact.

“We would consider it, but I don’t know what the benefit would be,” he said. “We have no control over what goes on out there (at Just For Jesus).”

Scarnati said he would urge the county and township to hold the public hearing.

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