By Joe McDonald (Staff Writer)
Standing on the federal courthouse steps before TV cameras, Lackawanna County Commissioner A.J. Munchak and former Commissioner Robert Cordaro on Thursday predicted they will be acquitted of public corruption charges at their June trial.
Mr. Munchak, predicting total vindication, said he wanted to go to trial “tomorrow.”
“I’m innocent, and I’m confident that my name will be cleared,” Mr. Munchak said.
Mr. Cordaro, appearing drawn, was more expansive criticizing prosecutors and the “deals” they made with witnesses in the 41-count indictment against him.
A lawyer himself, Mr. Cordaro referred to the three indictments prosecutors returned against him in the last 12 months. Minutes earlier, the former majority commissioners entered not guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt.
The last two indictments, called superseding indictments, were essentially refinements of the first indictment, returned last March, that accused Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak of making under-the-table deals in the form of kickbacks and bribes with companies looking for county contracts.
Mr. Munchak and Mr. Cordaro are charged with mail fraud, honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy, theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, extortion, racketeering, tax fraud and tax evasion. Mr. Cordaro is additionally charged with money laundering and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity.
The latest indictment, handed up Tuesday, includes two new money laundering counts against Mr. Cordaro, raising his maximum possible prison term, if convicted, to 499 years from 459 years.
“I’ve never seen this before,” Mr. Cordaro said, flanked by his lawyer, William Costopoulos, who stood silent. “It seems like everything is done for the maximum publicity purposes.”
In an apparent reference to witnesses who were granted immunity by prosecutors, Mr. Cordaro said, “I thought my government should be concerned about the truth.”
He then turned to “the deals they have made with people, the promises they made, the things they told people to get them to make the statements that bring us here today.”
“All those things don’t seem intended to get to the truth,” he said. “They seem to be intended to convict someone and to prosecute someone, and I don’t think that’s the way the government should be proceeding.”
“But that’s what we have here,” Mr. Cordaro said. “Politics is often a dirty business here in Lackawannna County.”
Mr. Cordaro also criticized prosecutors for withholding information involving the companies that allegedly paid the kickbacks, saying “we asked for more details. … We are entitled to know when these things happened, who said what.”
Referring to the trial, Mr. Cordaro said, “We want to do it and get it over with. We are very comfortable with the truth of this case.”
Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo has not ruled on a defense motion to move the trial, expected to last about three weeks, to Scranton from Wilkes-Barre.
Jury selection is scheduled June 6.