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.
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