The only thing the U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t do this week to accomodate admitted criminal Robert Mericle was issue him a public apology for dragging him into this “Kids for Cash” mess in the first place.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Peter Smith implied that Mericle may have violated the terms of his plea agreement and so scheduled a hearing. Now his office and Mericle have come to a secret resolution, whereby it’s okay with prosecutors if Mericle serves his sentence in the comforts of his own mansion.
Let’s face it, no one expected that the powerful and connected Mericle, KOZ king and sugar daddy to elected officials, would spend time in prison just because he secretly paid two county judges $2 million for helping him land a cushy contract. And so what that he did so through a third party to further conceal that transaction.
We’re still left wondering why a so-called legitimate “finder’s fee” wasn’t paid directly to the judges on a Mericle Construction company check. But it wasn’t, so Mericle was charged - not for being part of that clandestine payment scheme – but for witholding that little tidbit of information when the feds questioned him.
Wonder how the rest of us might fare if we lied to federal prosecutors investigating racketeering activity.
But for Mr. Mericle, all’s well that ends well. He originally faced four to 10 months in prison, per federal guidelines. Then in 2011, federal prosecutors called for him to spend 12 to 18 months locked up.
Now they’re okay with six to 12 months of whatever. On Monday, federal officials declared that “the United States” will not declare that Mericle breached his plea agreement and will recommend a minimum sentence. Where? It doesn’t matter to them. The Times Leader reported that prosecutors will make no recommendations as to where.
We have an idea that fits right in with this puzzling turn of events. Let Rob serve his sentence in Disneyland with his family, get him out of the public spotlight for awhile and let everything blow over.
What will not blow over; however, is public cynicism that in this county, state and country, it’s not what you know or what you did, it’s who you know and how much money you have.
Make no mistake here. Robert Mericle was a central player in this racketeering case, which brought down two county judges on the take, even though he was only charged with a rather minor offense. Who offers an outrageous fee of $2 million for a contract with seemingly little if any competition for it? Mericle, with his reputation and expertise, surely could have gotten that contract on his own. But if Mark Ciavarella and Michel Conahan didn’t close the county-owned juvenile detention center, there would have been no opening for the construction of privately-owned ones, and Mericle wouldn’t have made who knows how many millions of dollars building them.
Which leads us to ask, now with his sentencing on the horizon, did Robert Mericle call in some favors from higher ups? Did his lawyers threaten to file a civil suit against the government for prosecutorial misconduct? Do the feds possibly fear a wealthy developer who has greased more palms than a short order cook does frying pans?
Or perhaps Mericle offered to build a new, state-of-the-art headquarters for U.S. Attorney Smith, on the house, of course. Hey, he and/or his minions made a similar offer to another area pay-to play player, former state senator Raphael Musto for his influence in Harrisburg to further enrich Mr. Mericle.
No one can blame anyone for thinking the worst here. After all, Robert Mericle dug up chump change, $17.5 million, to make those “kids” go away and drop their lawsuits against him.
The public has a right to know what transpired here, not a no comment at this time, which is what Smith’s office spokeswoman Amanda L. Endy told The Times Leader.
When, then? And where is head honcho U.S. Attorney Peter Smith, who led the charge in the “Kids for Cash” racketeering case? His assistant Michael A. Consiglio was the one who signed the new plea agreement, which cuts Mericle some slack.
But hold on to your hats because it may be a little premature for Mericle to be popping open a bottle of champagne.
On April 25, he faces U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik, who informed Mr. Mericle, that, ”The court is not completely bound by the plea agreement, you understand?”
Mericle surely must remember how his buddy Ciavarella, who is starring nationwide in the explosive documentary “Kids for Cash,” fared before Judge Kosik. Ciavarella ended up with about 20 more years in prison after he threw the dice and opted for a jury trial after Kosik rejected his original plea agreement.
Judge Kosik will also decide whether to make public letters some people wrote on Mericle’s behalf. His lawyers expressed concern that some of the letters could reveal sensitive, personal information. Then why did he allow them, especially knowing that the media in the past has rightfully demanded to know who wrote letters asking for leniency for other area officials facing sentencing for crimes of corruption?
No, those letters need to be released. For all we know, there’s one tucked in there from President Barack Obama, or Attorney General Eric Holder or Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis.
Although it’s unlikely Ms. Salavantis took the time to pen a letter. She’s far too busy, having spent more than two years and still trying to find out what happened to all those gallons of missing fuel in Wilkes-Barre.
- Betty Roccograndi