SCRANTON — If the weight of character testimony, charitable contributions and community service can tip the scales of justice, developer Robert Mericle’s attorneys unleashed a heavy load: 295 pages of letters touting Mericle’s qualities, nine pages summarizing at least $16 million in charitable contributions, 27 pages of photos of community projects he helped make happen, a news article and a transcript from his own arraignment and guilty plea.
As a followup to a sentencing memorandum filed Friday, Mericle’s attorney filed 357 pages of exhibits on Wednesday.
The charitable contributions list begins with “hundreds of hours of of his time and contributed substantial resources to help his family parish,” St Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception in Wilkes-Barre. It ends with an “other projects” list that is nearly three pages by itself, with 29 bulleted items ranging from help to public schools, homeless shelters, children services and wildlife protection efforts, to name a few.
In between his home church and his litany of “others,” the list hits on multiple projects at the YMCA, Candy’s Place Cancer Wellness Center, Junior Achievement, Geisinger Health System, Wyoming Seminary, Lend a Hand Community Parks and Athletic Fields Initiative, and flood cleanup for Luzerne County in 2011.
While not all of the projects have a price tag attached, those that do add up to more than $16 million in cash and in-kind donations made by Mericle over two decades.
Mericle , 51, of Jackson Township, pleaded guilty in September 2009 to misprision of a felony related to the “kids for cash” juvenile justice scandal in Luzerne County. He concealed his knowledge of the crimes committed by former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, charged in a $2.8 million kickback scheme involving the construction of two juvenile detention centers in Pittston Township and Butler County built by Mericle and the placement of youths in the facilities.
Federal prosecutors on Friday argued for a sentence as low as six months and left it up to Senior U.S. Judge Edwin Kosik to decide upon probation, prison or home confinement when Mericle appears before him on April 25.
Defense attorneys David Zinn and William Winning argued last week that Mericle’s “continued presence is an asset to the Northeastern Pennsylvania community, from the employment and job creation he provides to the extensive community service that he performs. Imprisonment would not achieve any public benefit.”
Testament to that presence came from some diverse voices, according to the exhibits filed Wednesday.
A helpful employer
Letters came from the banker who helped Mericle get money for his first business venture, buying and selling Cabbage Patch dolls, and a woman who remembers getting one of those dolls free after breaking her arm falling from “monkey bars.” There was the doctor who tended to Mericle’s parents, a Netherlands woman who came to America to work as an au pair for his parents and a refugee of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
That refugee, Endre Krajcsovics, wrote that his daughter works for Mericle and received the developer’s financial support for an unspecified medical procedure she needed to have a child.
“This is an expensive and intense process that is full of uncertainty. However, we were blessed, and on Jan. 30, 2008 we have had a grandchild,” Krajcsovics wrote. “Not many employers would provide such an incredible support for one of their employees. I have considered this gesture most extraordinary and a reflection on a very fine person.”
Then there was John Bonk, a Plymouth trucking company owner who said he first met Mericle while helping the Mericle family clean up Hurricane Agnes flood damage four decades ago on Sullivan Street in Wilkes-Barre.
“Even as a youngster, Rob was eager to help in any way he could,” Bonk wrote.
“I know Rob acknowledged a guilty plea,” Bonk concluded. “However, this occurrence is completely inconsistent with values and accomplishments with the Rob Mericle I know.”
But prosecutors last week also made it clear that the anticipated deluge of support should be kept in context.
“A defendant with his resources is always in a position to do much good, especially financial good, for the community,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith wrote. “However, the good works should not appear as a shield or cloak to avoid the consequences of criminal conduct.”