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March 16th, 2009
05:32 PM ET

Pennsylvania Labor Secretary arrested

Editor's Note: A lot of you were outraged about our story last week detailing how states are issuing unemployment benefits via debit cards, and banks are charging fees on those cards. In our attempt to find out why, we literally chased down Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of labor. But Sandi Vito decided she did not want to be interviewed and took off like a politician caught in a scandal. We thought it was rather odd behavior. Now we’re learning the rest of the story. Hours after that encounter, Vito was under arrest. Here’s the news version of what happened.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/03/16/vito.rehab/art.sandi.vito.cnn.jpg caption="Sandi Vito, Pennsylvania's acting labor secretary, has entered a rehab program, the governor's spokesman says."]

Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry has entered a rehabilitation program for at least two weeks after her arrest on a public drunkenness charge, only a few hours after she ran away from a CNN Correspondent who was attempting to ask her questions about the state's use of debit cards to pay unemployment benefits.

According to Gov. Ed Rendell's chief spokesman, Chuck Ardo, Sandi Vito, who was appointed Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry in February of 2008, "has entered a treatment program for two weeks."

"The governor awaits her return before making any final decisions on her future," Ardo told CNN on Monday.

CNN had been invited to a public appearance Ms. Vito was making in Allentown, Pa., to ask her about the fees banks impose when the unemployed receive debit cards in Pennsylvania. Those fees range from forty cents to check a balance by telephone to $1.75 if the debit card is used outside the two free withdrawal periods banks allow. Approximately 925,000 Pennsylvanians were unemployed in February of 2009 and most used debit cards to receive payments, Pennsylvania officials said.

"Arrangements have been made for you to interview Department of Labor & Industry Acting Secretary Sandi Vito in Allentown tomorrow at approximately 1 p.m., to discuss our unemployment compensation debit card program," David Smith, a spokesman for the department emailed CNN prior to the encounter.

Yet when CNN Correspondent Drew Griffin, accompanied by a camera crew, attempted to interview Ms. Vito, she said she did not have the time and ducked out the back door of an elementary school where the public appearance was being staged.

Later that same night, Ms. Vito was arrested on a charge of public drunkenness at the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg, Pa., according to Harrisburg Police Chief Charles Keller. News of her arrest did not become public until late Friday.

"I deeply regret that my actions earlier this week caused embarrassment to the administration and the commonwealth," she said in a statement issued to CNN by her office. "I take full responsibility for those actions."

"This incident has had a profound personal effect on me," her statement continued. "Today, I am entering an alcohol treatment program because it is the right thing for me to do."

According to public records, Ms. Vito earns a salary of $136,120 annually. Her appointment as permanent Secretary of Labor and Industry was to have been brought before the Pennsylvania legislature in a few weeks.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Larry L.

    May one assume that she is a Democrat ???

    March 17, 2009 at 9:40 am |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Sometimes a job can dirve one to "drinking." A nice political move to get her out of the main stream media for a while--she has a lot of explaining to do--let's see how RIndell is going to react to this-–will he support her---or will he watch her take the fall-–

    March 17, 2009 at 9:10 am |
  3. Dulcie - Denver

    Oh Drew Griffin, you drove her to drink!

    I shouldn't make light of a serious situation, but honestly, in this economy what else can you do?

    March 17, 2009 at 8:14 am |
  4. Maren in Oregon

    Give that woman a debit card, and make sure she uses it often enough to eat up her benefits in fees! The whole concept is disgusting, and now one of the people who runs this pozi scheme against the citizens of Pennsylvania has engaged in insulting and embarassing behavior – and I was not talking about being drunk!

    March 16, 2009 at 9:33 pm |
  5. Franky

    Ohh yeah, I think I remember this. Of course, the old style and way of getting drunk in public...classic.

    Yeah, I think her life is over, LOL!!

    March 16, 2009 at 9:32 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    Sounds like the governor needs to start looking for a replacement. With some of the other reasons that legislatures disapprove of appointments, I don't much see her as getting a pass from this one.

    March 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  7. A.D Wilson

    Unfortunately, I'm not suprised by this type of thing happening. I am a Pennsylvania resident and am a bit saddened that actions like this transpire.

    March 16, 2009 at 6:39 pm |
  8. Sam

    Wow, no wonder she ran from the camera's. Did the police thank you for getting her on film!

    March 16, 2009 at 6:36 pm |
  9. Pati Mc Camp Hill, PA

    Disturbing to say the least. .

    As an unemployed Pennsylvanian, I was shocked to learn about the debit card fees charged to Unemployment Compensation recipients. My checks are direct deposited, so I was not issued a debit card. Hearing this, I must say I am thankful for that.

    Not that y;all have not considered this possibility, but if I were you, I would find out which banks issue the cards and then research whether or not there are some sort of kickbacks involved.

    Perhaps Ms. Vito was drinking because she "knew too much"?

    March 16, 2009 at 6:15 pm |
  10. tobikiriakujin

    Interesting that you leave off her party affiliation, she's a Democrat. Why do I get the feeling that if she was a Republican it would have been referenced in the title?

    March 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm |
  11. Marcy

    isn't Rehab the answer for everything now a days?!

    Marcy
    Mobile, AL

    March 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm |