06.19.2011

Closing Arguments at Cordaro, Munchak Trial

9:26 p.m. EDT, June 20, 2011

The federal corruption trial of two prominent politicians in Lackawanna County is nearing an end.

Deliberations will begin Tuesday at the trial for Robert Cordaro and A.J. Munchak.

On Monday, federal prosecutors and attorneys for Cordaro and Munchak gave their closing arguments. After a break for lunch, the judge began giving the jury instructions. That process will continue on Tuesday, and then deliberations will begin.

Cordaro, a Republican, is a former Lackawanna County commissioner. Munchack, also a Republican, is currently the minority commissioner.

The two each face dozens of federal counts, including mail fraud, extortion, tax evasion and racketeering. Cordaro faces additional charges of money laundering.

Federal prosecutors allege that the two, while they were the majority commissioners, took thousands of dollars in kickbacks from contractors looking to do business with Lackawanna County.

On Monday, each side had one last chance to sway the jury. The federal prosecutor, Lorna Graham, accused the defense of trying to create a smokescreen by painting prosecution witnesses as liars. Graham also called the testimony from Cordaro “self-serving, arrogant and controlling.”

Cordaro’s attorney, William Costopoulos, reminded the jury that several of the prosecution witnesses had been granted immunity. He said they had been coached as to what to say.

Costopoulos told Newswatch 16, “I can tell you, our presentation to the jury, it’s going to rise and fall on Hughes and Kalina. If [jurors] believe them, the convictions will flow quickly, but if there’s doubt, the acquittals will flow very quickly.”

Chris Powell, Munchak’s attorney, accused the prosecution of going after the wrong people.

After court recessed for the evening, Munchak spoke to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Scranton, saying, “I’m anxious of course. But, I’m happy with what I heard today. I believe in the American justice system and I’m confident they’ll find me not guilty.”

If convicted on all charges, Cordaro faces a maximum sentence of 509 years. Munchak faces a maximum of 343 years.

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