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January 30, 2012

Lengthy (but below-guideline) federal prison terms for corrupt local PA politicians

This local story, headlined "11 years behind bars for Cordaro, seven years for Munchak," provides a good high-profile example of how severe even below-guideline federal sentences can often be for white-collar offenders.  Here are the basics:

Robert C. Cordaro was sentenced today to 11 years in prison while A.J. Munchak got seven years for extorting kickbacks and other crimes while running Lackawanna County as majority commissioners.

Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ordered Mr. Cordaro jailed immediately. Mr. Cordaro hugged and patted the backs of tearful family members and friends before U.S. Marshals led him out of the courtroom. The judge gave Mr. Munchak until 2 p.m. April 3 to report so he can deal with undisclosed health problems that cropped up last Wednesday and required him to spend days in the hospital....

Judge Caputo gave both men shorter sentences than the sentencing guidelines he outlined. Under the guidelines, Mr. Cordaro could have received between 15 years and eight months and 19 years and seven months.  Sentencing guidelines for Mr. Munchak called for between eight years and one month to 10 years and one month.

Prosecutors sought a 15-year prison sentence for Mr. Munchak and 20 years for Mr. Cordaro.  Mr. Munchak's attorneys asked for no more than three years for him, Mr. Cordaro's lawyers wanted no more than four years for him.

Before the judges sentenced the men, witnesses testified that Mr. Munchak and Mr. Cordaro deserved leniency and mercy. "Please don't let my dad spend the rest of his life in jail. That is not where he belongs," said Anthony Munchak Jr., Mr. Munchak's son.

The former commissioner said listening to his son's testimony was like listening to his euology. "I am begging for mercy," A.J. Munchak said during his 25 minutes of testimony. "I brought shame to my friends. I stained the office of county commissioners." He also spoke about his illness, noting that doctors told him he could have died. Mr. Munchak, who was hospitalized late last week for dizziness and shortness of breath, did not elaborate on his condition during the hearing or afterward in a brief meeting with reporters....

Facing multiple corruption charges, Mr. Cordaro said he has no one to blame but himself, while lamenting financial losses and the effect the scandal has had on his family. "I understand I am here today and have no one to blame (but) myself," Mr. Cordaro said.

Mr. Cordaro asked for the court's mercy for his family and that the court delay his sentencing until the end of March so he can see his son perform in a play. Noting he was a person "of some means," Mr. Cordaro said he has "lost every material possession and asset I own."...

Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak took office as majority commissioners in 2004. Mr. Cordaro lost his bid for re-election in 2007, and Mr. Munchak resigned in June the day after he was convicted on eight of 21 charges at a federal trial. At the same trial, Mr. Cordaro was found guilty of 18 of the 33 counts against him, including extortion, racketeering and money laundering. Both say they're innocent and will appeal.

At the trial, jurors heard from witnesses who testified about paying tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Mr. Cordaro and Mr. Munchak in exchange for lucrative country contracts. Additionally, prosecutors have said both men were implicated in a scheme involving about $1 million in fraud connected to a federal project to build a bus and rail terminal on Lackawanna Avenue in downtown Scranton.

I have not followed this case at all, so I cannot speak to the specifics of the crimes and sentences.  I do still, however, find notable the report that the feds here were apparently seeking an above-guideline sentence of 20 years for Cordaro (who is age 50) and of 15 years for Munchak (who is age 65).  I cannot help but wonder why the feds thought the lengthy guideline ranges were insufficiently severe for these offenders, and I cannot help but note that the sentencing judge apparently concluded that even the guideline ranges were greater than necessary to achieve congressional sentencing purposes.

January 30, 2012 at 06:26 PM | Permalink


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It is mind-boggling to me that the prosecutors sought above-guideline sentences in these cases.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jan 31, 2012 9:50:17 AM

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