By Joe McDonald (Staff Writer)
March 30, 2011
A federal grand jury in Scranton on Tuesday returned a new superseding indictment against Lackawanna County Commissioner A.J. Munchak and former Commissioner Robert C. Cordaro on public corruption charges.
The 41-count indictment clarifies language and adds counts to the previous indictment handed down Oct. 5. Cordaro and Munchak were originally charged in a 39-count indictment with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, extortion and mail fraud. Cordaro also was charged with money laundering and engaging in illegal monetary transactions.
It was not immediately clear if the new indictment would delay the start of their trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection on June 6.
“It could possibly,” said Chris Powell, the attorney for Munchak, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he said he is preparing for trial. A decision whether the defense will file new motions will be made after meeting with Cordaro’s lawyer, William Costopoulos.
As for the latest indictment against Munchak, Powell said, “It’s the same type (as the others). I don’t think it changes anything for A.J. Munchak. This is just a hiccup in the road and we will handle it.”
Powell criticized the lack of specifics in the latest indictment.
“The government still paints the events with a broad brush in their second superseding indictment, Powell said. “I was hoping that they would be more specific with company names, dates and amounts.”
Beginning with the original indictment last March and continuing through a later superseding indictment in October, which was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that redefined and clarified what constitutes honest services fraud, prosecutors never identified the companies that allegedly paid cash to the former majority commissioners. The new, second superseding indictment does not provide any of those details, either.
Sources have said the company that allegedly slipped $360,000 in bribes to Cordaro through an unnamed middleman is Acker Associates, a former Moscow-based civil engineering company that federal prosecutors have referred to as “Company Number 2.” The payments to Cordaro, estimated at $10,000 a month, started in January 2005 through January 2008.
Company No. 3 – which allegedly gave Munchak $60,000 and Cordaro $30,000 through three principals – is known to be Clarks Summit-based architectural design firm Highland Associates. The indictment contains too few details to determine the other companies’ identities.
Among the alleged kickbacks listed in the indictment:
– Thousands in cash to Cordaro from a principal of Company No. 1 in order to maintain existing contracts at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
– Thousands in cash and checks to Cordaro, via a “nominee,” from a principal of Company No. 2 to be paid promptly for work performed by the county and to maintain existing contracts with the county.
– Thousands in bribes or kickbacks from a person at Company No. 8 to Cordaro in 2006 in exchange for a county contract.
– A free trip for Cordaro to the Playboy Mansion in California in March 2005, paid as a kickback by a person who was awarded a contract for the administration of the county’s Workers’ Compensation Fund. The indictment does not identify who got the contract, but Cordaro gave it to Charles “Chuckie” Costanzo, a boyhood friend from Dunmore, who was later convicted of pocketing almost $650,000 from the county’s workers compensation fund.
After the first indictment was returned last year, prosecutors said the federal investigation into Cordaro and Munchak started with the case against Costanzo, who was prosecuted twice, one involving the workers compensation case that sent him to prison for five years and 10 months, the other for a pigeon dung removal project at Lackawanna County Courthouse that prosecutors claimed involved extortion attempts. He was acquitted in that case, along with a fellow Dunmore man with alleged mob ties, Philip Forgione.
Cordaro, 50, a former Dunmore High School football player who earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania, was once considered for the U.S. Attorney’s post in the U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania, where he now faces charges that could put in prison for the rest of his life.
Munchak, 64, who remains in office, faces the same fate if convicted of all charges.
Both men also face millions of dollars in fines if convicted.