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State trooper charged, suspended

January 29, 2020
by Philip A. Holmes, special to the Luminary (pholmes@sungazette.com) , The Luminary

A 10-year veteran of the state police faces several charges, including theft by deception and impersonating a public servant for allegedly "pretending to conduct a police drug investigation" while off duty in order to obtain money from another individual, according to an affidavit.

Trooper Johnathan Buynak surrendered Wednesday afternoon, Jan.22 after charges were filed by Cpl. John Powis, a member of the state police Internal Affairs Division.

Powis alleges that Buynak and Amanda Fenderson conspired together on three occasions in August to get money from Thomas Dykstra "for a fictitious state police investigation." The money was requested from Dykstra who was told that the cash was needed to conduct drug 'buys' as part of what was a bogus investigation, Powis said.

Fenderson, who has not been charged with any offenses in the case, introduced Dykstra, a friend of hers, to Buynak on Aug. 21, one week after the trooper posted Fenderson's bail so she could get out of the Lycoming County Prison.

A relationship between Buynak, 37, of Hughesville, and Fenderson, 32, of Montoursville, began early last year when the two met at a city bar while the trooper, assigned to the patrol division at the Montoursville barracks, was off-duty, Powis said.

'They spoke and exchanged phone numbers during the interaction, and later communicated through text and telephone conversations," Powis said.

On Aug. 8, Fenderson was arrested by Montoursville Borough police on charges of burglarizing Cellini's Sub Shop, 378 Broad St., and allegedly stealing $500 on July 27. She spent six days in jail until Buynak paid a bail bondsman to get her out on Aug. 14.

During Buynak, Fenderson and Dykstra's initial meeting on Aug. 21, which took place at Dykstra's home in the Newberry section of the city, "Buynak confirmed he paid for Fenderson's release. Dykstra offered to assist with the associated costs for her bail," and later the same day, he gave Buynak $500 cash, Powis said.

It is believed that Buynak gave the money "to Fenderson after she asked for it to pay 'past debts,'" Powis said.

The following day, Aug. 22, Fenderson called Dykstra and told him "she was working with Buynak on an undercover state police drug investigation, and that requests for funds were delayed. The two needed money to make drug buys in order to continue the investigation," Powis said in the affidavit.

Dykstra agreed, went to a bank that day and withdrew from his account $400, the amount Buynak and Fenderson had requested, Powis said.

Dykstra then gave the cash to the off-duty trooper and Fenderson outside the bank, Powis said. The same thing happened again the very next day when Buynak and Fenderson requested an additional $300 that supposedly would be used for more drug buys, Powis said.

Then on the following day, Aug. 24, Dykstra received a text he believed was from Buynak, requesting more money. The text read "My boss wants one more solid buy," Powis said.

Dykstra withdrew $200 from his account and gave it to Fenderson. "On this occasion, Dykstra informed Buynak and Fenderson that he would not provide any additional money to either one of them, and he questioned the validity of the undercover investigation," Powis said.

In a separate criminal complaint, Powis has accused Buynak of abusing his power as a state trooper, charging him with obstructing the administration of law and two counts of official oppression.

"Buynak used his employment with the state police to intentionally affect and impair the administration of law with respect to an active criminal investigation of which he was the lead investigator," Powis wrote in a criminal complaint.

The suspect in that investigation was Fenderson, Powis said.

While on duty on July 26, Buynak was dispatched to the home of Gary and Kristen Burkhart in Wolf Township to investigate a possible case of theft and forgery.

"Fenderson had been hired by the Burkharts two weeks earlier as a personal caregiver. The Burkharts alleged items were stolen from the home, including a personal check that was forged," and there also was an unauthorized withdrawal of $60 from a debit card account, Powis said.

"Fenderson was immediately identified by the couple as the suspect," Powis said, adding that Fenderson was at the house at the time and was "interviewed by Buynak at the scene. The trooper did not give the Burkharts any indication that he knew Fenderson personally," the couple told the investigators.

No charges have been filed against Fenderson in this case.

During the next three weeks, Kristen Burkhart left four voicemail messages for Buynak at the barracks concerning the theft investigation, asking that he return her call, but none of the calls were returned, Powis said.

In one of the messages, Burkhart told the trooper that other things were discovered missing from the house, including a handgun and some pills.

In a subsequent message, Burkhart told Buynak that a prescription pill bottle that belonged to her was found allegedly on Fenderson when she was arrested by Montoursville Borough police on the burglary charges on Aug. 8.

Four days after Fenderson was incarcerated, on Aug. 12, Buynak, while in uniform, responded to the prison in a state police vehicle and met "with Fenderson in an interview room," Powis said. The two met alone for about 40 minutes, the investigator said, adding that "the interaction was reported to be social and not related to the criminal investigation. Furthermore, Buynak did not take any notes during the interaction."

One day after Buynak posted Fenderson's bail, his investigation into the thefts at the Burkharts home was re-assigned to another trooper, Powis said, adding that Buynak's report contained "no documentation of investigatory actions or interviews."

On the same day, Aug. 15, a supervisor at the Montoursville barracks issued Buynak "a no contact order," prohibiting him from having any contact with Fenderson.

However, between Aug. 21 and Aug. 24, "Buynak and Fenderson were observed together on several occasions each day, often traveling together in Buynak's personal vehicle," Powis said.

On Aug. 26, Fenderson was again locked up in the Lycoming County Prison, this time on two sets of felony theft-related charges filed by state police. She waived her preliminary hearings in both cases and is free on a total of $25,000 bail.

Buynak, arraigned before District Judge Christian Frey on the theft-related charges, was released on $5,000 bail. Regarding the other misdemeanor charges, those filed at the office of District Judge Jon E. Kemp, Buynak will be sent a summons to appear for a hearing.

The trooper has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal investigations as well as the ongoing internal investigation, Ryan Tarkowski, a state police spokesman, said Thursday afternoon.

 
 

 

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