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06/19/09 06:49 AM

Embattled toll collector returns to work

Thruway employee still faces hearing

By T. J. Pignataro

The Grand Island toll collector who is in hot water over allegations he sent threatening e-mails to an anti-toll activist has returned to work and is seeking to have aggravated harassment charges reduced.

Toll collector David Zelonis, 52, returned to his job at the Grand Island bridges June 6, according to Donna Luh, a Thruway Authority board member from Western New York. He faces an Aug. 11 disciplinary hearing with the Thruway Authority, she said.

Zelonis is accused of targeting Grand Island resident Rus Thompson with the e-mails over the last two years, including one that suggested a fire breaking out in Thompson’s house.

His attorney, Terry Brennan, was in Grand Island Town Court on Wednesday filing a motion that seeks a reduced charge in the case and an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Brennan pointed out that Zelonis has pleaded not guilty.

Zelonis was not in court Wednesday; his case is adjourned until July 15.

Thompson, who intends to fight any reduction in Zelonis’ charge, said he was “completely dumbfounded” to learn Thursday that Zelonis had been back at work for nearly two weeks.

“I cannot believe they did this. It just blows my mind,” Thompson said. “I would think that with the charge laid against him at the time, they would run the disciplinary hearing within his 30-day suspension.

“This is disgusting, and it’s all too typical of the unionized, thug mentality we are dealing with here.”

Luh said the Thruway Authority is

bound to abide by Section 75 of the Civil Service Law, which provides that an employee’s suspension without pay pending a disciplinary hearing must not exceed 30 days.

Zelonis was suspended without pay May 7, just days after his arraignment on the aggravated harassment charge, and remained off the job for the maximum 30 days, Luh said.

“Based on Civil Service Law, we had to let him come back,” Luh said. “So far, his supervisors have reported things have been pretty quiet. He’s doing his job.”

Last month, Thruway Authority officials speculated that their internal investigation was likely to result in Zelonis’ firing. That can’t happen now, however, until the disposition of the August disciplinary hearing.

Meanwhile, Thompson is now calling for a State Police investigation into possible collusion in the case. Zelonis, he said, obtained information about Thompson using Thompson’s E-ZPass account. That is information he wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.

Thompson thinks someone else on the inside gave it to Zelonis.

“These people and what they do is what gets me going after them even more,” Thompson said.

It is alleged that Zelonis sent the intimidating e-mails to Thompson because he thought Thompson’s ongoing push to have the Grand Island toll barriers removed would cost him his job.