DA drops charges against Scranton School District security guard in shoplifting case

March 8 – SCRANTON – Lackawanna County prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against a Scranton School District security officer accused of under-ringing items at a Taylor store by changing price stickers.

Prosecutors dropped charges against 60-year-old Robert W. Zukoski during a brief central court hearing before Magistrate Judge Joanne Corbett at the Criminal Justice Center.

In a separate hearing for Corbett, his co-defendant, Melinda M. Shoppel, 42, pleaded guilty to a non-traffic charge of shoplifting.

Taylor police charged the pair with placing 50-cent tumbler price codes on five higher-priced items and then scanning the higher-priced items through a self-checkout station at Walmart in Taylor on Jan. 15.

Police charged Zukoski, 710 S. Keyser Ave., Scranton, and Shoppel, 30 Cherry St., Plymouth, with receiving stolen property, shoplifting and criminal conspiracy.

District Attorney Mark Powell said the decision to drop the case against Zukoski came after his office reviewed video surveillance of the incident and Shoppell “accepted full responsibility and claimed she acted alone.”

“We have an obligation to follow the evidence, both testimonial and video evidence. … After watching the tape, we didn’t feel we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a co-conspirator,” Powell said.

Taylor Police Chief Brian Holland said the video evidence was reviewed Tuesday by First Assistant District Attorney Judy Price and Assistant District Attorney Kim Moraski.

As he left the courtroom after his hearing, Zukoski said the charges were dropped because he had done nothing wrong.

“They looked at the tapes and realized I wasn’t doing anything,” he said.

In filing her IOU, Shoppel paid $70 to Walmart and was fined $218.25 in courts, according to online court records. The other charges against her were also dropped.

Holland said the charges were dropped at the direction of the district attorney’s office, but it was not clear why.

Holland said he stood with his officers and their actions.

“We looked at the case and it definitely seemed strong,” Holland said.

According to the arrest affidavit, city officials who viewed the Walmart video surveillance said it showed Shoppel taking cups from a shelf and handing them to Zukoski. After moving to a different aisle, the pair removed price code stickers from the tumblers and affixed them to other items in their shopping cart, the affidavit said.

Zukoski worked as a city police juvenile officer until he was approved for a disability pension in 2006. He also worked as a security guard at Lackawanna County Prison between July 2012 and December 2014 and as a part-time booking agent under the district attorney’s office between August and October, a county spokesperson confirmed.

JOSEPH KOHUT, staff writer, contributed to this story.

Contact the writer: dsingleton@timesshamrock.com, 570-348-9132

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