The sky is falling; the sky is falling.
Please, Judge Kosik, make it stop. There are jobs and children’s futures on the line, and economic development as we know it will grind to a halt if you sentence Robert Mericle to prison.
So say Mr. Mericle’s employees in letters begging Judge Kosik to let their boss walk for his role in the infamous “Kids for Cash” scandal. He made a mistake, and he’s sorry, said Austin Burke, former president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.
A mistake? He mistakenly paid two sitting judges $2 million for helping him land a lucrative contract to build two juvenile detention centers? That is not a mistake. It’s yet another example of greasing the palms of an elected official to enrich oneself.
But let’s agree with Mr. Burke for a minute that Mericle made a mistake. Then we could argue that former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan also made a mistake when they took Mericle’s millions. And I’m betting they’re sorry too, now that they’re spending a good part of the rest of their lives in prison.
One employee begged Judge Kosik to show mercy, stating that children’s futures depend on the jobs their parents have with Mericle. His employees’ mortgages and transportation do too, he said.
Judge Kosik, do you really want to be known as a children hater and judge who puts people out on the street?
Mericle’s chief financial officer said she and her colleagues fear that the business and its projects could be jeopardized if Mericle is unable to oversee its operations because he is in prison. And then driving her message - warning – home, she said if her boss is imprisoned, construction likely would be suspended and suggested that the financial impact on Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services could extend to the broader community.
In six months? That’s the maximum sentence even federal prosecutors are requesting, and they’re actually okay with Mericle serving his sentence in comfy home confinement or probation, which, of course, would be an inconvenience, not a punishment. Furthermore, in a company as large as Mericle’s, are we expected to believe that he has no back-ups, no managers to cover for him if he’s away? Doesn’t he ever go on vacation?
The news media repeatedly refer to the “Kids for Cash” scandal as a $2.8 million kickback scheme. Is everyone forgetting that $2 million of that amount was what Mericle gave to Ciavarella and Conahan and in return likely made millions more in profits?
And one needs to ask why this beneficent man, who simply made “a mistake,” so willingly paid the “kids” here more than $17 million to drop their expected lawsuits against him? That was one costly mistake.
After reading some of the letters submitted to the judge, which our local newspapers published, there’s little doubt that Robert Mericle is a loving, compassionate, hard-working, caring, generous man, who, without thinking twice, helps out those in need as well as his community.
He’s also made a practice of slipping elected and appointed officials cash and gifts for helping him obtain exorbitant tax breaks and grants from public money. But when it became necessary to save himself, he brought down some of those very same officials.
It’s not the great guy portrayed in all those letters who faces prison time.
The one who does is the Robert Mericle who secretly paid two sitting judges a whopping $2 million, made yet another financial killing in the process and left behind a lot of collateral damage.
And it’s this Robert Mericle who deserves, not accolades, but certainly something more than home confinement or probation.
Otherwise, we’ll all just go on believing that it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. It’s not what you do, it’s your money that talks.
And that some people really are above the law.
- Betty Roccograndi