News and Press Releases
August 13, 2009

FEDERAL OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE THE FILING OF A CRIMINAL INFORMATION AND PLEA AGREEMENT AGAINST A LUZERNE COUNTY BUSINESSMAN ACCUSED OF AIDING MARK CIAVARELLA AND MICHAEL CONAHAN TO AVOID DETECTION IN TAX FRAUD SCHEME

Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; Janice Fedaryck, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Don Fort, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, jointly announced today that a criminal Information and plea agreement have been filed against Robert K. Mericle, age 46, of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. The criminal Information charges Mericle with concealing and failing to report a felony to federal authorities.

According to the charge filed today in federal court, Mericle had knowledge of the actual commission of a felony, a conspiracy between Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciaveralla, Jr. to defraud the United States of income tax due and owing for tax years 2003 and 2005 through 2007. The information alleges that Mericle concealed and failed to disclose his knowledge of this crime to federal investigators, to a federal grand jury, or to a judge or other person in civil or military authority. Mericle faces a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. According to a criminal information filed against Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella in January of this year, Conahan and Ciavarella received income in the amount of $2,147,600 in connection with the construction of juvenile detention facilities owned by PA Child Care, LLC and Western PA Child Care, LLC and thereafter attempted to conceal that income. As part of his plea agreement with the government, Mericle has agreed to pay $2,150,000 for the purpose of funding programs for the health, safety and general welfare of children of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

According to U.S. Attorney Pfannenschmidt, Mericle is the eleventh person charged with criminal conduct since late January of this year in an on-going public corruption investigation targeting public corruption in Luzerne County. In January 2009, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, the former President Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, were charged with engaging in honest services fraud and tax conspiracy. William Sharkey, the former Court Administrator of Luzerne County, has pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges and is awaiting sentencing. Sandra Brulo, the former Deputy Director of Forensic Programs for the Luzerne County Probation Office, has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and is awaiting sentencing.

In addition, On April 20, 2009, Brian Dunn, age 45, a member of the school board for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, was charged in a criminal complaint with allegedly accepting cash in connection with the hiring of teachers and the awarding of contracts by the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. On May 18, James Height, age 53, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who resigned recently as President of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District Board of Education, was charged in a criminal information with allegedly accepting $2,000 in cash in connection with support he provided to a contractor in connection with an attempt by the contractor to obtain a contract with the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. On May 20, 2009 Dr. Ross Scarantino, age 63, of Duryea, who recently tendered his resignation as Pittston Area School District Superintendent, was charged in a criminal information with allegedly accepting $5,000 in cash in connection with support he provided to a contractor in connection with the contractor obtaining a contract with the Pittston Area School District. Scarantino and Height have both pleaded guilty to these charges and agreed to cooperate in the on-going investigation.


On June 9, 2009, Attorney Robert Powell was charged in a two-count information with misprision of a felony and being an accessory after the fact. Powell has pleaded guilty to the charges and is awaiting sentencing. On August 4, 2009, Karen Holly, age 51, of West Pittston, Pennsylvania, was charged in an information with theft of more than $5,000 from the Wyoming Valley Sanitation Authority, an agency receiving federal funds. On August 10, 2009, Joseph Oliveri, a former member of the school board for the Pittston Area School District, was charged in an information with the corrupt receipt of a reward for his official action concerning the awarding of a contract by the Pittston Area School District.


Also as a result of the investigation, former Luzerne County Prothonotary Jill Moran resigned from her office and voluntarily agreed to the entry of a court order directing her to cooperate with the on-going federal public corruption probe looking into allegations of misconduct at the Luzerne County Courthouse.


On April 8, the FBI issued a statement requesting the public’s assistance in this on-going investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the public corruption task force toll free at 1-855-789-1868.


This case is part of an on-going investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service and is being prosecuted by a team of federal prosecutors led by Senior Litigation Counsel Gordon Zubrod and includes Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Houser, Michael Consiglio, Amy Phillips and Criminal Division Chief Christian Fisanick. Pfannenschmidt praised this team of investigators and prosecutors for their tireless efforts on behalf of the people of Luzerne County.


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An Indictment or Information is not evidence of guilt but simply a description of the charge made by the Grand Jury and/or United States Attorney against a defendant. A charged Defendant is presumed innocent until a jury returns a unanimous finding that the United States has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or until the defendant has pled guilty to the charges.

Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt
U.S. Attorney
(717) 221-4482

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