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Published: Friday, 8/15/2003

Mobile-home park owner sentenced to 30 days in jail

A Michigan woman who refused to pay a $94,000 civil fine for failing to provide safe water to residents at a mobile-home park she owns in southwest Lucas County was sentenced yesterday to jail.

Judge Michael Kelbley of Seneca County imposed a 30-day jail sentence on Pat Gitler after she failed to appear for a contempt of court hearing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest.

Mrs. Gitler and her husband, Mel, of Waterford, Mich., are the owners of Peaceful Acres Mobile Home Park in Providence Township, seven miles west of Waterville. About 150 people live there.

In November, 2001, Judge Kelbley ordered the Gitlers to correct problems with the water supply system and pay an $85,800 fine. The judge threatened her with a jail sentence in August, 2002, if she did not pay it, and increased the penalty to $94,575 in September.

The Ohio attorney general's office asked Judge Kelbley in February to impose the sentence. Judge Kelbley granted the request, but stayed the 30 day-sentence pending an appeal to the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals.

After the appellate court dismissed the case in April, representatives of the attorney general's office again asked for the jail sentence when she failed to make a substantial payment.

Mrs. Gitler paid $1,000 toward the fine in June when she appeared on the contempt charge. Last month, Judge Kelbley denied a motion filed by her attorney John Rust to dismiss the case.

When reached by telephone, Mrs. Gitler began sobbing when told that the judge imposed the sentence. She said she did not know that a hearing was scheduled. “If I had known I would have been there,” she said.

The state attorney general sued the Gitlers in October, 2000, alleging the water system was in violation of state drinking water laws. They said the owners failed to maintain safe chlorine levels and properly disinfect the water.

After a trial, Judge Kelbley ordered Mrs. Gitler to hired a certified operator to operate the system and test the water for copper, lead, and contaminants. State EPA officials said the park is in compliance with state drinking water regulations.

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