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Court inspects ethics accuser

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

(1/28) The man behind an ethics complaint against two Emmitsburg commissioners is himself being investigated by the U.S. government for allegations of fraud and lying under oath in his personal and corporate bankruptcy proceedings.

David B. Runkle, operator of Custom Image Printing (CIP Printing), is being investigated by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to court records obtained by The Gazette.

Runkle filed a written complaint against town commissioners Bill O'Neil and Art Elder because he believes Elder and O'Neil pressured the town's planning and zoning department to repeatedly investigate his business, allegations that both Elder and O'Neil deny.

Runkle's ethics complaint

Runkle told The Gazette in December that he filed the ethics complaint because he thought it was unethical for the two commissioners to urge the town to investigate his business.

He said he believes the pressure by O'Neil in particular was because Runkle competes with Chronicle Press, a printing company owned by Lisa Elder, Commissioner Elder's cousin.

Commissioner Elder has said that Runkle's ethics complaint is the result of bitterness because Elder foreclosed on Runkle for a business transaction that went bad.

In September 2003, Runkle filed for bankruptcy and the court told Elder to repossess the business to recoup some of his losses. He did so and then sold the business to his cousin, Lisa Elder.

O'Neil came into the picture when Lisa Elder asked him for help investigating Runkle's business after Runkle filed several complaints with the town against her company. Commissioner Elder has said he had nothing to do with his cousin's complaints about Runkle's business.

CIP Printing operates as a home occupation, meaning it is a business permitted in the homeowner's house under specific and restrictive guidelines. Lisa Elder complained because, she said, Runkle does not live in Emmitsburg as his permit requires.

Runkle's wife and family live in Pennsylvania but he lives in Emmitsburg. He and his wife are not separated, but live "interesting lives," he told The Gazette.

Bankruptcy reopened

Runkle's bankruptcy was reopened by order of Judge Paul Mannes in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Jan. 12 based on a complaint filed by the U.S. trustee W. Clarkson McDow Jr.

Charges detailed in the complaint include filing false statements under penalty of perjury in his personal and corporate bankruptcies and transferring clients from his corporation, Ry West Inc., to Custom Image Printing within a year of the bankruptcy.

The complaint states Runkle told the bankruptcy court under oath that his wife, Donna M. Basehoar Runkle, was in the printing business, but that he personally was not involved in the printing business and was in "delivery."

But the government believes Runkle was "actively involved in the printing business" when he was under oath and that "he has been continuously in the printing business since Jan. 4, 1999."

The complaint against Runkle states that he "caused" Custom Image Printing to be formed in April 2003 and that he continues to control that business.

No pending criminal charges are mentioned in the written complaint. The document does indicate the government is requesting the bankruptcy to be re-opened, which effectively would mean starting over from scratch for Runkle in resolving his debts.

John Daugherty, the attorney for U.S. trustee W. Clarkson McDow Jr., declined to comment.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle, whose office is not involved in the case, said Monday that perjury, or lying under oath, in Maryland is punishable by up to a 10-year sentence. However, any case related to a bankruptcy would be prosecuted by U.S. District court and not the county, he said.

Runkle said Monday that there is no basis for the government's allegations, and that there was no transfer of a customer list to his new business. He said it was not necessary to transfer the list because his new business operated out of the same address as the old business. Customers kept coming to him, he said.

Runkle said his attorneys are trying to get the case dismissed.

But Runkle's real concern is finding out how the case was reopened and who supplied information to the government. He said he should be able to get that information under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Right now my attorney is looking into how the case was reopened. If Bill [O'Neil], Art [Elder] or Lisa [Elder] were involved, there will be a major lawsuit," he said.

O'Neil said this week that he was "not involved in any way" with the investigation.

"Again [Runkle is] pointing fingers and making false accusations and I'm frankly growing tired of it," he said.

Art Elder said this week that he had received a notice that Runkle's bankruptcy would be re-opened, but knew nothing else of the matter. Lisa Elder declined to comment on this story.

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