06.20.2011

Split Verdicts Reached at Cordaro, Munchak Trial

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By Sofia Ojeda, Dave Bohman and Sarah Buynovsky
8:01 p.m. EDT, June 21, 2011

Lackawanna County politicians Robert Cordaro and A.J. Munchak have been found guilty of some of the charges against them at their federal corruption trial in Scranton.

Just hours after the verdict, Munchak announced he will resign as a Lackawanna County commissioner.

The verdict was reached shortly after 5 p.m.

“I guess it’s the old saying, you lay down with dogs, you get fleas, I really didn’t think it made you a dog,” said Cordaro, expressing disappointment at the verdict.

Current Commissioner A.J. Munchak was convicted of about half of the 21 counts against him including extortion, theft or bribery, and conspiracy to commit theft or bribery. He was found not guilty of mail fraud and racketeering.

“Surprised? Yes, I’m innocent!” Munchak said after leaving the courthouse. “They did a financial colonoscopy on me and they couldn’t find that money. I don’t understand it. ”
Jurors began deliberating around 10 a.m. after receiving final instructions from the judge. The jury was made up of six men and six women.

Jurors asked at least three questions before reaching their verdict. Court officials did not reveal the nature of those questions.

Before deliberations began, three alternate jurors were sent home. They left the federal courthouse in Scranton without commenting to the media.

Federal prosecutors alleged 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, attorneys for each side gave closing arguments. 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.
Chris Powell, Munchak’s attorney, accused the prosecution of going after the wrong people.

The guilty charges against Cordaro carry a total maximum penalty of more the 200 years in prison. Munchak faces a maximum sentence of more than 90 years.

Sentencing for both men has been scheduled for September 28th, 2011.

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