Federal prosecutors seek stiffer sentence for Robert Mericle
February 15. 2013 9:52AM
Rob Mericle, local developer, is yet to be sentenced.
Aimee Dilger /the times leader
Mericle plea agreement modification
SCRANTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed a modification to the plea agreement with Robert Mericle that will likely increase the sentence he faces for his guilty plea related to the Luzerne County corruption probe.
The amendment, filed Thursday, alters a section of the plea agreement that stated the U.S. Attorney’s office would recommend Mericle be sentenced to the minimum under federal sentencing guidelines. In its place, the government inserted language that says it is now free to recommend a higher sentence, up to the maximum.
The government has also included language that would allow it to seek a higher sentence for Mericle based on “obstructing or impeding the administration of justice.” The document does not state what action Mericle has allegedly taken to obstruct justice.
In addition, the agreement also removes language that gave Mericle a reduction under sentencing guidelines for acceptance of responsibility – a standard reduction given to defendants who agree to plead guilty and spare the government the expense of a trial.
The changes, which must be approved by a judge, increase the sentencing guideline range from four to 10 months in prison, to 12 to 18 months. The guidelines are utilized by a judge in determining an appropriate sentence, but they are advisory, meaning the judge could reject the recommendation.
Mericle pleaded guilty in September to withholding information on a crime for taking actions that prosecutors said helped former judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan conceal the source of $2.8 million Mericle and Attorney Robert Powell had paid them.
Prosecutors allege the money, roughly $2.1 million of which was paid by Mericle, was a reward for rulings the judges made that ensured two juvenile centers once co-owned by Powell maintained a high occupancy rate. The centers were built by Mericle’s company, Mericle Construction.
Mericle admitted he created documents that helped Conahan and Ciavarella disguise the source of the revenue by describing it as “brokers fees” that were paid to Powell by Mericle. In reality all parties knew the money was going to Conahan and Ciavarella, prosecutors have said.
Mericle is expected to be a key witness against Ciavarella at his trial, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 7. Conahan pleaded guilty last year to one count of racketeering conspiracy and may also be called as a witness.
Heidi Havens, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith, declined to comment regarding the government’s reasons for seeking the amendment. Mericle’s attorney, William Winning, concurred with the filing of the amendment. Winning did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
For the complete story read Friday's Times Leader.