Facing allegations that the local fire company president is a convicted sex offender, the Falls Township board of supervisors this week called on the longtime official to resign his position.
The request comes after evidence surfaced that Gary N. Margerum pleaded guilty to charges of official oppression and corruption of minors in 1989.
According to court documents obtained by the Bristol Times (formerly Midweek Wire) the incident took place in April 1988, and involved a 15-year-old girl from Levittown. Margerum was operating in his official capacity as a Tullytown police officer at the time of the incident. He was 32 years old.
Margerum, who also pleaded no contest to indecent assault, was placed on country probation for three years and ordered into 300 hours of community service. Additionally, he was ordered to leave police work and to avoid contact with young girls.
That ban, which was issued well before today’s tougher sex abuse laws were enacted, was not permanent.
According to the Falls Township Fire Department website, Margerum is a “life” member, having served the company for more than 15 years. During that time, he has also taken part in the company’s Christmas activities.
According to at least one Courier Times article from December 2015, Margerum has been “assisting Santa Claus” for 20 years as members of the fire company visited neighborhoods and gave candy to youngsters.
Members of the Falls Township board, as well as this newspaper, received an anonymous email last week containing court documents and news clippings detailing the arrest.
The original affidavit of probable cause for arrest from 1989 details the statements of the then-15-year-old girl in question.
She stated that Margerum, in uniform as a Tullytown Borough police officer, took her into custody and instructed her to get into his squad car and lay across the back seat so no one could see her. Margerum drove her to the Penn Warner Park in Tullytown. There, he began French kissing her and fondling her buttocks.
The girl was then instructed to lay across the back seat again while Margerum drove to the Levittown Shopping Center and dropped her off.
When questioned by Detective Frank Dykes of the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, according to the affidavit, Margerum admitted to transporting the girl without her consent and kissing her. He confirmed he was aware of her age.
Falls Township Board chairman Robert Harvie said the information they received was verified by the township solicitor.
“We are confident that, in terms of what we’ve looked at … it’s easy to validate and our solicitor validated it,” said Harvie. As a result, he continued, “The board made a formal request that he resign as the president of that company and as a volunteer of that company.”
The order is not binding, however, because the township does have authority to force fire department volunteers to resign, according to Harvie, because they are not township employees.
When reached for comment, Margerum directed this newspaper to the HiIl Wallack, LLP law firm. According to attorney Vince Magyar, the firm was retained by Falls Township Fire Company this week to address “a personnel matter.” Magyar could not comment further because the firm is still gathering information.
The fire company itself has the authority to vote on whether Margerum can stay on should he opt not to resign. As a volunteer company, it does not answer to any other organization regarding its decisions. The company owns the land where its firehouse resides and purchases all its own equipment.
Harvie said other members of the company have been made aware of the issue. The township has not received any word yet regarding any decisions made by Margerum or the company.
Firefighters exist in a “gray area” regarding background checks, Harvie said. Unlike police officers or teachers, for example, they generally are not required to undergo checks into child abuse.
Additionally, Margerum’s case is old enough that court records and newspaper accounts of the incident are not online.
The incident predates Megan’s Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register in a public database. It also predates stricter child abuse clearance regulations put in place following the 2012 conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.