06.17.2011

Day 10: Testimony Wraps Up In Corruption Trial

BY DAVID SINGLETON  (STAFF WRITER)

The testimony is over, and the fates of former Commissioner Robert C. Cordaro  and Commissioner A.J. Munchak will soon be in the hands of a federal jury.

After a whirlwind final day of testimony that saw 14 people called or  recalled to the witness stand, including a brief second appearance by Mr.  Cordaro, Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo dismissed jurors for the  weekend on Friday just before 2:25 p.m.

They will return Monday morning to hear closing arguments, receive final  instructions from Judge Caputo and begin deliberating the racketeering,  extortion, bribery and other corruption-related charges against the former  majority commissioners. Mr. Cordaro faces 39 counts; Mr. Munchak faces 25.

Mr. Cordaro, who testified for almost 5½ hours Thursday, was recalled as the  trial’s final witness to rebut testimony earlier in the day from FBI Special  Agent April Phillips about an appointment in the former commissioner’s  electronic calendar from March 17, 2004.

The entry indicated an appointment was scheduled that day – St. Patrick’s Day – from 3:30 to 4 p.m. with businessman Michael J. Pasonick, owner of a  Wilkes-Barre architectural-engineering firm. The meeting’s subject was listed as  “planning commission.”

Mr. Pasonick testified June 10 he twice gave 10 $100 bills to Mr. Cordaro in  a bid to keep work for his firm at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International  Airport and to obtain new county contracts. The second of those payments was  made during a meeting in Mr. Cordaro’s office on March 17, 2004, Mr. Pasonick  testified.

In his testimony Thursday, Mr. Cordaro categorically denied taking cash from  Mr. Pasonick or any of the other individuals or companies from whom the  government alleges he received bribes or kickbacks.

Under questioning Friday by his lead counsel, William Costopoulos, Mr.  Cordaro testified he was unfamiliar with the calendar entry. He did not know to  whom it was directed and had not even seen a document of its type, he said.

“I have not seen this format before. I have not seen this document before,”  he said.

Mr. Cordaro also said it is “impossible” that he met with Mr. Pasonick on  March 17 because he was at McMullen’s, a pub on East Market Street, that  day.

During cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Houser, Mr.  Cordaro acknowledged his secretary, Jill Sensi, scheduled appointments and made  his calendar as part of her job. But he said he did not use a computer or  Blackberry to access it.

“I have never seen a document of this type. I have never been provided with a  document of this type,” Mr. Cordaro reiterated.

When Mr. Cordaro mentioned Mr. Pasonick’s calendar indicated their March 17  meeting was at 10:30 a.m., Mr. Houser reminded Mr. Cordaro that the businessman  also testified he had to wait a long time to see the commissioner.

“Yeah, in a lobby that didn’t exist,” Mr. Cordaro shot back.

The commissioner paused, then added, “Well, I’ll try to not do what I did the  last time” – a reference to his combative cross-examination Thursday during  which Judge Caputo had to warn Mr. Cordaro several times to limit his answers to  the questions asked.

Mr. Cordaro’s contention that he spent St. Patrick’s Day in 2004 at  McMullen’s was bolstered by Timothy Earley, a Dunmore insurance consultant and  broker who has known the former commissioner since 1978. He testified he and Mr.  Cordaro met at McMullen’s almost every year on St. Patrick’s Day, beginning in  1993.

He specifically remembered the former commissioner was there in 2004, he  said. Mr. Cordaro, a Republican, had recently taken office as majority  commissioner, and both men were concerned because of McMullen’s reputation as a  Democratic hangout, he said.

Mr. Earley testified Mr. Cordaro was already there when he arrived at 11:30  a.m. and was still there when he left around 5 p.m.

Mr. Costopoulos asked if the men were together all that time.

“Unless he was in the men’s room, yes,” Mr. Earley replied.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler asked Mr. Earley on cross-examination  about other details of the day, including Mr. Cordaro’s clothing, the weather  conditions and what other people in the bar looked like.

“I don’t recall,” Mr. Earley replied to almost every question.

Mr. Brandler seemed to rattle Mr. Earley when he asked about contributions  the witness made to Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak’s campaign committee. Mr. Earley  testified on direct examination he did not give any money to the campaign before  2007, when the majority commissioners were seeking re-election.

The prosecutor produced a series of seven checks showing Mr. Earley  contributed a total of $4,275 to the campaign, with the donations beginning in  2004 and continuing every year through 2007.

“Is that your signature?” Mr. Brandler asked, displaying a check from 2004 on  screens in the courtroom.

“It looks like one of my signatures,” Mr. Earley said.

But the witness continued to insist he did not contribute prior to 2007, even  when Mr. Brandler suggested that Mr. Earley’s recollection may not be as sharp  as it once was.

“I can’t explain this,” Mr. Earley said.

Another defense witness, Victor DePhillips, president and chief executive  officer of Signature Building Systems, testified about an Easter vacation his  family took to a Bahamas resort, Atlantis, where they ran into the families of  Mr. Cordaro, West Scranton funeral director Al Hughes and businessman Glenn  Gress.

Mr. DePhillips testified the vacation happened in 2005 but wavered on  cross-examination, saying it might have been 2004.

Under direct examination by Mr. Costopoulos, Mr. DePhillips said he was  walking through the resort casino when he saw Mr. Hughes playing at a blackjack  table and stopped to watch for about 10 minutes.

As Mr. Costopoulos took the witness through a progression about the amount of  the bets Mr. Hughes was making, Mr. DePhillips kept telling him go higher,  stopping at $10,000.

“During the time I was there, he was playing $10,000 a hand,” Mr. DePhillips  said.

The timing of the vacation is critical to both sides in the case.

Earlier in the trial, Mr. Hughes testified he passed $10,000 a month, mostly  in cash, to Mr. Cordaro from the owners of Acker Associates so the now-defunct  engineering firm could keep its county contracts and possibly obtain new work.  According to his testimony, the monthly payments began in January 2005 and  continued until January 2008.

Mr. Cordaro’s attorneys are expected to suggest during their closing that Mr.  Hughes kept the money he received from Acker to support his gambling habit.

Mr. DePhillips, who testified his family visited Atlantis a number of times  between 2002 and 2007, said repeatedly during his testimony he believed the  vacation was in 2005. It was the only vacation, he said, when all four families  were at Atlantis at the same time.

On cross-examination, Mr. Houser showed Mr. DePhillips an album of  photographs from 2004 – apparently taken by Mr. Hughes’ wife – that depicted  members of all the families at the resort and asked if it refreshed his  memory.

“Again, I believe that it was 2005,” Mr. DePhillips testified. “It may be  that it was 2004.”

But Mr. DePhillips shifted again when asked about the year on redirect  examination.

“Your best recollection is 2005?” Mr. Costopoulos asked.

“I’m absolutely positive,” Mr. DePhillips replied.

Mr. Houser and Mr. Brandler looked at each other in exasperation at the  response, but prosecutors opted not to question Mr. DePhillips further.

Mr. Cordaro’s attorneys called eight character witnesses to testify on behalf  of the former commissioner, including Paul Taramelli, who served as county chief  of staff during the Cordaro-Munchak administration. He said he has known Mr.  Cordaro for about 20 years.

“For as long as I have known Bob, I have never known him to do anything  wrong,” Mr. Taramelli testified.

Mr. Taramelli added when asked by Mr. Munchak’s attorney, Christopher Powell,  that he also would have nothing adverse to say about Mr. Munchak.

During his cross-examination, Mr. Houser asked Mr. Taramelli about cash and  checks collected at golf tournaments for Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak’s campaign.  Mr. Taramelli said he would get the proceeds, along with slips saying who paid  what, and give them to either Mr. Cordaro or Mr. Munchak, who would pay out some  of the cash in tips.

When Mr. Houser asked if Mr. Taramelli’s opinion of the defendants would  change if he knew none of the cash payments were reported on the commissioners’  campaign finance reports, Jerry Johnson, Mr. Cordaro’s co-counsel, objected.  Judge Caputo sustained the objection.

Mr. Houser then asked if Mr. Taramelli passed cash from golf tournaments to  Mr. Munchak and Mr. Cordaro.

“Yes,” he replied.

The other character witnesses were Brad McDermott, Mark Cavanaugh and Mark  Lockett, all Philadelphia-area attorneys who have known Mr. Cordaro for more  than 25 years; Catherine Richmond Cullen, a curriculum specialist for the  Northeast Educational Intermediate Unit; William Genovese, executive chef at  Gubbio’s restaurant in Dunmore; Peter F. Della Porta, director of technology for  the City of Philadelphia, and Brian Scanlon, an ordained minister who is married  to the sister of Mr. Cordaro’s ex-wife, Joanne.

All were asked the same question, with minor variations, by Mr. Johnson: “Do  you have an opinion concerning his reputation for truthfulness, honesty and  being a law-abiding citizen?”

All spoke highly of Mr. Cordaro’s honesty and integrity.

“I would trust Bob, without a fraction of a second, with my life,” Mr. Della  Porta told the jury.

Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator Denise Cole, who originally  testified Tuesday about tracing checks written by Mr. Hughes to Mr. Cordaro, was  recalled to the witness stand twice on Friday – first by Mr. Costopoulos and  later Mr. Brandler.

Mr. Costopoulos asked Ms. Cole whether she had tried to obtain information  about markers – a form of credit – that Mr. Hughes received from casinos or  reviewed his banking records from any institution other than First National  Community Bank. She testified that she did not.

Under questioning by Mr. Brandler, Ms. Cole testified that Mr. Cordaro’s bank  records indicated he deposited all but 30 of the 104 paychecks he received as  commissioner from 2004 through 2007. The former commissioner had testified  Thursday he almost always cashed the checks he got from the county.

IRS revenue agent Ray Eppley, who also testified on Tuesday, was recalled by  the prosecution to testify about adjustments he made to an analysis of Mr.  Munchak’s income and tax liability in 2005, when the commissioner allegedly  failed to report $60,000 in cash bribes. The adjustments were based on testimony  Wednesday by Mr. Munchak’s accountant, Thomas H. Douaihy.

As he did Tuesday, Mr. Eppley acknowledged on cross-examination by Mr. Powell  that the alleged unreported bribes would not be a problem if the jury decides  the bribes did not happen.

Contact the writer:  dsingleton@timesshamrock.com

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/day-10-testimony-wraps-up-in-corruption-trial-1.1163752#ixzz1QbmBWeS9

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