Last updated: February 7, 2024 - 10:47am
BERWICK -- State Police escorted a used car dealer accused of cheating customers out of the magistrate's office in handcuffs Tuesday evening as half a dozen alleged victims and their families stood in the parking lot and cheered.
"A cop going to jail -- see you!" yelled one man as troopers placed Jeremy Talanca, 47 -- who also serves as Girardville's officer in charge -- in the back of a patrol car.
"Good job, troopers!" yelled another. "We're getting the justice we deserve!"
A few minutes before, Talanca had been arraigned on 133 charges related to auto sales gone wrong.
As he sat in the courtroom of District Judge Brenda Hess Williams, State Police were going through his office at Keystone Auto Exchange, 1334 Orange St., Berwick.
Meanwhile, a couple filed another civil suit against the company, alleging Talanca sold them a truck too rusted and damaged to drive. Talanca now faces four active civil suits, some of which were the subject of a Press Enterprise report on Sunday.
"It's just paperwork issues," Talanca told a reporter.
But State Police allege more.
More victims sought
Talanca sold 27 people vehicles even though he never had the titles and never registered them in the customers' names, said Tpr. Bruce Balliet of the vehicle fraud investigative unit of the State Police.
He wrote out bills of sale telling customers they had warranties even though they didn't, charges say.
Four of his victims were over age 60, State Police allege.
There may be more victims, they added. They asked anyone with additional information to call the Hazleton barracks at 570-459-3890.
Three of Talanca's customers -- Jaime Pacelli, Kimberly Bleiler and Peter Colone, speaking on behalf of his brother Antonio Colone -- contacted Balliet on Jan. 18.
Pacelli told the officer she bought a 2014 Chevrolet Impala in April from Talanca, court papers say. Her bill of sale showed the price was $3,000; that's also what was reported on the paperwork reporting the sale to the state.
But Pacelli had receipts showing she actually paid $4,100. She thought the extra money was for a vehicle warranty, but after she had problems with the car, she realized he never gave her the warranty paperwork, charges say.
Talanca ignored her phone calls, and it took about seven months for her to get the title, charges say.
The other two related similar stories, Balliet said.
Auditor: I was bullied
Colone had a use tax return and registration application -- a form used in car sales -- signed by Talanca as an issuing agent, Tpr. Balliet said. Talanca is not an issuing agent, he added.
Another customer, identified in court papers only as Birt, said Talanca gave him a bill of sale for a car he bought on Jan. 2, but told him he didn't have time to get the title. Instead, Talanca gave him a dealer plate, Balliet wrote. Birt is still waiting for his title, charges say.
Meanwhile, a PennDOT auditor accused Talanca of bullying her out of his office.
Auditor Jung Chon had gone to Keystone Auto Exchange Jan. 17 to conduct an audit and found multiple PennDOT forms filled out and signed by Talanca, charges say. Since he isn't a full agent or notary, he shouldn't have had them, she told Balliet.
When she started photographing them, she said, Talanca yelled at her. He told her he is a police officer, he knows his rights and she needed to leave, charges say. She asked the state trooper to accompany her to re-audit the company.
When Balliet, Chon and three other officers returned Jan. 23, Talanca refused to let them do the audit, State Police said.
Balliet said he tried to ask Talanca about the complaints of his three customers.
"Talanca was not cooperative," he wrote.
No longer policing
As he sat before the judge for his arraignment Tuesday night, Talanca's voice shook, and he rocked back and forth.
The borough of Girardville removed him from its schedule, he told her.
He blamed the bank that loaned him the money to buy the vehicles.
"They're holding the titles, and they're not releasing them after I pay them," he said.
"I've been working with the Pennsylvania State Police fully, and there are titles that are going to be recovered as early as today.
"... I've been 100% cooperative, answering everything. I've given them my keys, my safe combination, and I'll continue to do so."
Hess Williams questioned him.
"Did you turn yourself in?" she asked.
"I was going to drive up, but they pulled me over," Talanca replied. "I was in Hazleton on my way."
He was running about 15 minutes late to his appointment with Balliet, he explained. He had his children with him because he planned to drop them off at the dentist, he added.
"Please, your honor," Talanca said as he begged the judge not to send him to jail.
But Hess Williams said she had concerns.
"You're looking at 53 felonies," she noted. "These are very serious charges."
She set his bail at $50,000.
Talanca started to cry as she told him he could make some phone calls.
Talanca is charged with 27 counts of theft by deception, 26 counts of tampering with public records, one count of refusing an inspection of dealership records, 26 counts of engaging in unprofessional conduct, 26 counts of making false promises and 27 counts of making false applications for title registrations.
His preliminary hearing was set for 9:30 a.m. May 14 at the Columbia County Courthouse.
Susan Schwartz covers the Berwick area. She can be reached at 570-387-1234, ext. 1306, and firstname.lastname@example.org.