A solemn feeling in court


Like dazed mourners at a wake, those who will miss Bob Cordaro lined up to say goodbye.

The former Lackawanna County commissioner, sentenced moments earlier to 11 years in prison, took each of his five children into his arms and pressed his lips to their wet cheeks.

“It’ll be OK,” Mr. Cordaro whispered to Michael, 24, his oldest, who shuddered as he pulled his dad close. Christopher and Peter, both 22, and Anna, 20, reached out next. Bobby Jr., 18 and a senior at Dunmore High School, was the last to kiss his father before the 50-year-old was escorted out a side door by federal marshals.

Monday’s sentencings of Mr. Cordaro and A.J. Munchak on federal public corruption convictions had the feel of a funeral from the outset. Packed with stone-faced family and friends of the convicted former commissioners, Courtroom 1 of the William J. Nealon Federal Building might have been mistaken for a viewing room at a funeral parlor.

The air was thick with loss and anxiety. Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak were convicted in early summer, and had spent many sleepless nights in anticipation of the reckoning that came Monday. All that time, their families had tossed and turned along with them.

Discharged from Regional Hospital of Scranton on Sunday, Mr. Munchak arrived in the courtroom at 9:27 a.m., walking gingerly to the same table at which he and attorney Christopher Powell had mounted an unsuccessful defense seven months earlier. Mr. Powell was at Mr. Munchak’s side again, explaining that an “acute health event” had caused the hospital stay. He declined to elaborate.

Mr. Cordaro appeared at 9:45 a.m., 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time. He stopped to greet Mr. Munchak, who shook his hand but remained seated. A shaft of sunlight cast Mr. Cordaro’s face in sharp relief. He looked exhausted, ready to have the ordeal over with, whatever the cost.

At 9:50, the hiss of mechanical shades choked out the sunlight and the shadows that had been gathering since June rose up the walls like dark water.

Judge A. Richard Caputo took the bench ready to take care of business. He quickly dispensed with lingering objections and explained the formula used to calculate the sentences before inviting Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak and their advocates to make a final pitch for leniency.

Citing his many years of charity work, Joelle Munchak called her father “a humble man who does things without an ulterior motive.” She said it “would serve no purpose” to send Mr. Munchak to prison, and that doing so would damage more than just his family.

“The cost to the community would also be great,” Ms. Munchak said, “because he would no longer be able to serve the community he loves.”

Anthony Munchak Jr. pointed to his father’s long history of donating blood to the American Red Cross, a major element of Mr. Munchak’s defense and his failed bid for a radically reduced sentence.

“My dad has donated more blood than everyone in this courtroom put together,” Anthony Munchak said, adding that his dad is a devout Christian who reads the Bible “publicly and privately.”

“He may not be Tim Tebow, but he takes the good word quite seriously,” he said, begging the judge for leniency.

“Please don’t let my dad finish his life in a cell,” he said. “That is not where he belongs.”

Mr. Munchak stood up for himself next, beginning by saying, “I feel like I’m listening to my own eulogy.”

“I hope the sentence that you determine I get is not a death sentence,” Mr. Munchak told the judge. “They are asking you for leniency; I am begging you for mercy.”

Mr. Munchak took “full responsibility” for his conviction and apologized for “disgracing” his family and friends and for “staining the office of commissioner.” He said he accepted that “the law requires punishment,” but “I literally throw myself on the mercy of the court.”

Former county employee and longtime friend Thomas Bell spoke up for Mr. Cordaro, calling him a “demanding, fair and tough leader” who has been a mentor to many and deserves a second chance.

“To be standing here today is surreal,” Mr. Bell said. “I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience… I understand that they are guilty and must be punished,” but both men deserved mercy.

Michael Cordaro spoke for his siblings, thanking his dad and mother, Mr. Cordaro’s ex-wife Joanne for being devoted parents.

“Obviously, we are all hurting,” Michael said, drawing a few chuckles with stories about his dad’s lessons about sports, hard work and leading an honorable life. He recounted his father’s reaction to Michael pumping his fist after striking out a batter in a Little League game.

“‘That’s not what we do,’ he said to me,” Michael said. “You don’t show people up, you don’t bring attention to yourself.”

While he said he understood that his father had to be punished for his crimes, Michael begged the judge to consider the impact Mr. Cordaro’s incarceration will have on his family and the community.

“The Scranton Times and the media can paint him however they want, but I know he’s a good man,” Michael said, accepting a tissue from his father.

“He has too much good in him not to get another shot.”

Mr. Cordaro told the judge he was solely to blame for his downfall and lamented that his administration’s accomplishments would be overshadowed by his conviction. He said he and his family had suffered greatly over the past 4½ years, attributing some of that pain to The Times-Tribune.

Mr. Cordaro said he “trembled” in fear of “banner articles” in The Sunday Times that shamed his parents at morning Mass and overshadowed his children’s accomplishments.

“Those kids had to think, ‘Will we lose our father?'” he said. “My parents had to think, ‘Will we lose our son?’

“This family will be torn apart for each painful day, each painful hour of my imprisonment,” Mr. Cordaro said. “I ask you to consider that.”

Judge Caputo lauded Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak for their performance as parents and their charitable works, but said the sentences had to “send a message to other public officials that you don’t do this.”

“Unfortunately, these things tear families apart,” the judge added. “They simply do. I can’t take responsibility for that. My job is otherwise.”

With that, Judge Caputo sentenced Mr. Munchak to 84 months in prison, but agreed to let him report for incarceration on April 3.

An accountant, Mr. Munchak gazed down at the table and did the math – 84 months is seven years. If he serves all that time, Mr. Munchak will be 72 when he is released.

Mr. Cordaro was sentenced to 132 months – 11 years – and the judge insisted he be taken into custody immediately.

Judge Caputo wished Mr. Cordaro good luck and left the room. The marshals who minutes later would lead Mr. Cordaro out of the building in chains kept a respectful distance as he said his goodbyes.

After a final embrace with Bobby Jr., Mr. Cordaro lingered in the doorway for a few seconds, a father, son, brother taking a last, mournful look at those he was leaving behind.

The door clicked closed, and he was gone.

Contact the writer: ckelly@timesshamrock.com

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/a-solemn-feeling-in-court-1.1265053#ixzz1l2j6zr6p

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