FEDERAL OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE THE FILING OF A CRIMINAL INFORMATION CHARGING LUZERNE COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS
JUDGE MICHAEL T. TOOLE WITH HONEST SERVICES FRAUD AND SUBSCRIBING TO A MATERIALLY FALSE FEDERAL INCOME TAX RETURN
Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; Janice Fedarcyk, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Don Fort, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division; and Mary Mitchelson, Acting Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General jointly announced today that an Information was filed today charging Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael T. Toole with honest services fraud and subscribing to a materially false federal income tax return. The charges together carry a maximum possible penalty of 23 years in prison and a fine of $350,000.
Judge Toole, age 49, of Wilkes Barre, is alleged to have corruptly abused his position as a judge by concealing an ongoing financial relationship with an attorney who appeared before him and by improperly ruling in the attorney’s favor in a proceeding relating to an uninsured/underinsured motorist arbitration matter. Judge Toole is also alleged to have received a cash referral fee of approximately $30,000 during calendar year 2006 which he failed to report on his federal income tax return for that year. Because the Information contains a charge relating to a tax matter, the Office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania was required to obtain separate approvals for the charge from Department of Treasury and Department of Justice officials in Washington. Approval for the charge was received today.
According to U.S. Attorney Pfannenschmidt, Judge Toole is the twentieth person charged with criminal conduct since late January of this year in an on-going investigation targeting public corruption in northeastern Pennsylvania.
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. Ciavarella and Conahan were indicted by a federal grand jury on racketeering and other charges on September 9, 2009.
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.
On May 18, 2009 James Height, age 53, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who earlier had resigned 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. Mr. Height has pleaded guilty to the charge and is awaiting sentencing.
On May 20, 2009 Dr. Ross Scarantino, age 63, of Duryea, who 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. Dr. Scarantino was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison on October 8, 2009.
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. Ms. Holly pleaded guilty and was sentenced on November 23rd to 2 years’ probation to include 30 days to be served in community confinement.
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. Mr. Oliveri has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
On August 13, 2009, Robert K. Mericle was charged with misprision of a felony. Mr. Mericle has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Gerald Bonner, a member of the Luzerne County Housing Authority, was indicted on September 1, 2009, on a charge of corrupt receipt of a reward/bribe.
On September 11, 2009, William Maguire, another member of the Luzerne County Housing Authority, was also charged with corrupt receipt of a reward. Mr. Maguire has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
On September 15, 2009, current Wilkes-Barre Area School District Board of Education member Frank Pizzella was charged in an indictment with conspiracy to corruptly give $5,000 in cash to a member of the Board of Education in connection with the hiring of a teacher in 2004.
On October 1, 2009, Luzerne County resident Barton Weidlich was charged with attempted obstruction of justice.
On October 15, 2009, Howard Allen Bellas, who had been recently suspended as director of the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority, was charged in an Information with corrupt receipt of a reward.
On October 15, 2009, Luzerne County businessman Richard Emanski was charged with providing free carpet and carpet installation in the personal residence of a member of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District Board of Education to reward the Board of Education member for support the school board member provided to a contract that benefitted Emanski’s company.
On October 21, 2009, Hanover Area School District Board of Education member Anthony Spinozza was charged in an Information with corrupt receipt of a cash reward from a contractor who did business with the Board of Education.
On October 26, 2009, Wilkes-Barre Area School District Board of Education member Brian Dunn was charged with accepting a cash reward in connection with support provided by Dunn for the hiring of a prospective teacher.
On November 12, 2009, Luzerne County Deputy Clerk William Brace was charged with corrupt receipt of a reward for official action in connection with Brace’s alleged acceptance of a tailor-made, monogrammed suit of a value of approximately $1,500, intending to be rewarded in connection with support provided by Brace to a contract award while Brace was acting in his official capacity as a deputy clerk for Luzerne County.
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.
This case is part of an on-going investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the United States Department of Education 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 northeastern Pennsylvania.
Pfannenschmidt also praised the members of the public who have provided important information to investigators during the ongoing investigation. Pfannenschmidt noted that a number of private citizens have provided investigators with information relating to alleged bribes and rewards the citizens themselves have allegedly been required to pay to public officials. U.S. Attorney Pfannenschmidt appealed for further public assistance noting that, although the investigation is progressing, there is still much work to be done and investigators and prosecutors cannot succeed alone.
Anyone with information is asked to call the public corruption task force toll free at 1-855-789-1868.
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
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