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.
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