Workers at a coroner’s office in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains respond when someone dies under unusual circumstances, but lately they’ve also had to respond to lurid allegations in a sex scandal that’s generated two lawsuits and a police investigation.
Allegations about the Monroe County coroner’s office were laid out in recent court filings: Sex between a deputy coroner and a police officer at a death scene; stealing prescription drugs and other items from the deceased; an extramarital affair in the woods, carried out during working hours; and showing co-workers cellphone photos of a lover’s male genitalia.
County prosecutors took the unusual step this week of announcing publicly that their investigation into “allegations of misconduct” began before a fired deputy coroner sued in federal court in late August and another deputy, disciplined but still on the job, filed a similar county lawsuit on Sept. 8.
“Right now, it’s just an investigation into some allegations, that’s all,” Chief County Detective Eric Kerchner said this week. He said the goal is “to get an overall view of what’s been happening in the past.”
Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen, a Republican who has held the job for 25 years, insists the descriptions of an office spinning out of control are “all false, false allegations” timed to hurt his chances at re-election in November.
“Anything to make sure I don’t win the election,” Allen said Tuesday, before ending a brief phone interview.
The federal case filed Aug. 24 by former deputy coroner Lauren Fizz against the county, Allen, and his wife and top aide Kathleen “Traci” Allen said Traci Allen has essentially taken over the office, including decisions about hiring and firing. Traci Allen did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The complaint alleges Traci Allen created a sexually hostile work environment by telling co-workers about her marital problems and her own infidelity, showing them obscene photos of one of her lovers, bragging about a “friends with benefits” relationship with someone she met on social media and talking “about leaving work early for a liaison in the woods.”
Fizz’s lawsuit said Traci Allen and an unnamed co-worker, described as “her deputy coroner paramour,” concocted a false story that Fizz “had had a sexual encounter with a police officer at a death scene in April 2016.”
“Lauren categorically denies that this happened,” her lawyer, David Deratzian, said Wednesday. As for the officer who is supposed to have been her partner, Deratzian said, “It is highly unlikely he would have been at the scene to allow this to happen.”
Kerchner, the county detective, said that so far he has found no evidence that the death-scene sex occurred.
Fizz gave the county a written complaint about Traci Allen on June 17, a little more than a month before Bob Allen fired her.
Her federal lawsuit says that the defendants or others made stigmatizing and false statements about her and that she was dismissed on trumped-up grounds. She’s seeking back pay, damages and reimbursement for her costs.
The other lawsuit, by chief deputy coroner Michael Sak, said he turned down sexual overtures that Traci Allen made toward him in early 2016 and again this July.
He claims she became angry, which drew her husband’s attention, leading Sak to tell him about Traci Allen’s alleged misconduct. He says Traci Allen then kicked over a chair and tried to attack him.
Both Allens then accused Sak of exposing himself to bodily fluids by not following safety procedures. He was given a formal warning.
Sak wants his discipline overturned and to be protected under the state’s whistleblower protection law.
The Democratic candidate in the November election, funeral director Thomas Yanac, wants to improve the office’s working environment.
“My basic message is to stop the deputy coroner turnover in the office, which is costing taxpayers money,” Yanac said. “And stop the nepotism and stop the dysfunction in the office.”