The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 18, 2014

Corruption case puts ex-youth leader in rehab program

PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP — The former commander of the local Civil Air Patrol squadron has been admitted into a diversionary program to resolve a criminal case, but the conditions of the program all but forbid his involvement with CAP, his attorney said.

James A. Vessella, 68, of 106 17th St., Pymatuning Township, has been accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a probation-like program, for two years.

If Vessella, who had been charged with corruption of a minor and unlawful contact with a minor, completes the program, the charges will be dismissed.

The Mercer County District Attorney’s Office said in court that Vessella’s age, lack of a prior record and the fact that Vessella is not accused of touching the victim factored into its decision to allow Vessella to enter ARD, said defense attorney Randall T. Hetrick.

No specific order was imposed concerning Vessella’s further participation in CAP, but an ARD condition forbids him from having unsupervised contact with anyone under 18, Hetrick said.

“I would think that (CAP involvement) would be almost impossible with that provision,” Hetrick said.

Vessella was suspended by CAP in December, following the filing of charges. A spokesman at CAP national headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama said Thursday Vessella’s membership expired in May, and that CAP had not been notified of the resolution to his criminal case.

Vessella joined CAP in July 2003 and achieved the rank of major. Along with being Mercer County Composite Squadron 122 commander, he was public affairs officer for the region that includes Mercer County, and was PAO of the Year for 2010.

Vessella was not paid for his CAP activities.

Hermitage police took the report of a 15-year-old girl – she’s now 16 – who detailed the deterioration of her relationship with Vessella. The girl was a member of Vessella’s squadron for about two years.

She testified in January that he would pull her aside to talk with her if she missed a meeting, and take her to McDonald’s, with her mom’s permission, to use the restaurant’s free wireless Internet service so she could study CAP drills and jargon on her computer, she said.

Vessella started bringing up the girl’s boyfriend, said he was cheating on her and that she should dump him, the victim said.

He also told the girl her boyfriend had given her an infection and that he had medicine for it, but that he had to come to her house to take it, the girl said. He also said he had a wash that she had to use on her vagina, but he would need to examine her first, she said.

Vessella told the girl he would show her a “slutty” movie, and offered to buy her a toy, which she took to mean a sex toy, she said.

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