SCRANTON — Attorneys on both sides in the Robert Mericle case agree he deserves a break at his upcoming sentencing, but disagree on how much.
Federal prosecutors Friday argued for a sentence as low as 6 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 would like to see a shorter sentence.
Prosecutors oppose any further reduction for the community service and good works detailed in letters from several hundred Mericle supporters referenced in the more than 40-page filing by defense attorneys asking for probation for the prominent real estate developer.
“A defendant with his resources is always in a position to do much good, especially financial good, for the community,” wrote U.S. Attorney Peter Smith. “However, the good works should not appear as a shield or cloak to avoid the consequences of criminal conduct.”
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 and the placement of youths in the facilities Mericle built in Pittston Township and Butler County.
The prosecution said Mericle’s actions “nearly resulted in the investigation moving in other directions,” but his substantial assistance later on kept the probe from derailing and as a result he should be given a break.
However, the prosecution made no reference to his assistance in the corruption investigation of former state Sen. Raphael Musto. The case against the 85-year-old Democratic lawmaker from Pittston Township has been in limbo due to his deteriorating health.
Defense attorneys David Zinn and William Winning pointed out that in addition to testifying against Ciavarella, Mericle provided “valuable information that has resulted in a number of additional prosecutions and guilty pleas” including Musto.
They also offered snippets of the more than 200 letters of support for Mericle to argue for probation. Friends, family, community leaders and employees of Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. described his generosity, compassion and tireless work ethic. The writers included: Monsignor Thomas Banick; Dr. Douglas Coslett; Stephen Yokimishyn, regional director of the Governor’s Action Team; Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski; Peggy Cunningham, founder of Candy’s Place Cancer Wellness Center; and Kip Nygren, president of Wyoming Seminary.
The attorneys acknowledged the sentencing guidelines discourage against considering good works to lower a sentence, but the courts allow it in exceptional cases such as Mericle who over the past 15 years donated more than $19 million, more than 20 percent of his gross income to non-profit organizations.
“His 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,” they wrote.