Unidentified companies finally revealed by feds; defense promises government case will ‘crumble’

By Joe McDonald (Staff Writer)

The official veil of secrecy cloaking the identities of eight companies at  the heart of the public corruption case against former Commissioner Robert C.  Cordaro and Commissioner A.J. Munchak was lifted Monday as the long-awaited  trial got under way in a federal courtroom.

Lorna Graham, the assistant U.S. attorney who is the lead prosecutor on the  case, quickly read off the company names in an overview of the alleged schemes  the two former majority commissioners ran in a “money grab” that involved bribes  paid by some companies that wanted work, and others that were “shaken down.”

Without giving a number, Ms. Graham told the jury immunity had been granted  to some witnesses, who will “not be prosecuted, provided they tell the truth.”  Jerry Johnson, a former prosecutor from Pittsburgh who is co-counsel in the  defense of Mr. Cordaro, told the jury to be skeptical of the witnesses who  received immunity, claiming they “will say anything to save themselves.”

“Ask yourselves if prosecutors gave away the farm,” Mr. Johnson said, leaning  on the rail of the jury box. He suggested those witnesses told the government  “what they think they (prosecutors) wanted to hear.”

“There are some serious issues in this case when these people testify,” Mr.  Johnson said.

Prosecutors have lined up 36 witnesses, and Mr. Johnson said more than 10 of  them have immunity. The names of the 36 witnesses and those with immunity were  not revealed by the prosecution Monday.

“This is not going to be a picnic for her,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to  Ms. Graham.

The names of many of the key players in the prosecution’s case were revealed  not by Ms. Graham but by Christopher T. Powell, the lead lawyer representing Mr.  Munchak, during the jury-selection process earlier in the day.

Mr. Powell asked the potential jurors if they knew Michael Pasonick, a  principal of a Wilkes-Barre engineering firm that is identified as “Company #1”  in the indictment against Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak. Mr. Pasonick allegedly  gave $5,000 to Mr. Cordaro in connection with contracts at the  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Continuing down the list, Mr. Powell asked members of the jury pool if they  knew Ken Acker and P.J. McLaine, whose company, Acker Associates, is referred to  as “Company #2” in the indictment. Mr. Cordaro allegedly received more than  $360,000 from Mr. McLaine through an intermediary identified as Al Hughes, a  West Scranton funeral director.

Mr. Powell also asked if any of the prospective jurors knew Mr. Hughes – the  man prosecutors said passed $10,000 a month to Mr. Cordaro.

Ms. Graham told the jury that Acker Associates, which had 30 percent of its  business tied up in county contracts, had supported the Democrats, not Mr.  Cordaro and Mr. Munchak, the Republican candidates, in the 2003 elections.  Losing those county contracts would have left Acker “devastated,” Ms. Graham  said.

There were three occasions when Mr. Hughes wrote a check to Mr. Cordaro for  the monthly payments. Ms. Graham said Mr. Cordaro deposited them into his real  estate account, which she said is the basis of the three money laundering counts  against Mr. Cordaro.

Mr. Powell asked the jury the same question about three principals of  Highland Associates, a Clarks Summit architectural firm: Don Kalina, Dominic  Provini and Kevin Smith. Mr. Munchak allegedly received two $30,000 payments  from Mr. Kalina, and Mr. Cordaro allegedly received $30,000.

Ms. Graham told the jury the payments were made because “they were  afraid.”

Mr. Powell, in a foreshadowing of the defense’s case, said Mr. Kalina  received two paychecks, “one he shared with his family, and another paycheck he  had for other affairs, some of which are called girlfriends.”

Mr. Powell also asked the jury pool if anyone knew Don Marion, the owner of  Marion Maintenance, the company prosecutors claim paid $1,000 in exchange for an  $8,000 contract to clean the courthouse. And, if potential jurors knew Al  Magnotta, a principal of CECO Associates, an engineering firm in Scranton, who  made a $500 political contribution that Mr. Cordaro did not report, and Joseph  Ferrario, a principal of Henningan Ferrario Insurance, involving $4,000 Mr.  Cordaro received.

Mr. Powell did not mention Alicon, the environmental cleanup company that Ms.  Graham said “used” Charles “Chuckie” Costanzo to deliver $20,000 to Mr. Cordaro.  Alicon is the company that received a no-bid contract to remove tons of pigeon  dung from the Lackawanna County Courthouse.

Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo issued a court order Friday to  have Mr. Costanzo moved from the Schuylkill federal prison in Minersville to the  federal courthouse in Scranton “sometime” on Friday for the Cordaro/Munchak  trial.

Mr. Costanzo is serving a federal prison sentence for stealing $650,000 from  the county’s worker’s compensation fund, a post he was appointed to by Mr.  Cordaro.

Testimony resumes this morning.

Contact the writer:  jmcdonald@timesshamrock.com

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/unidentified-companies-finally-revealed-by-feds-defense-promises-government-case-will-crumble-1.1158231#ixzz1Qbg6v7Wb

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