WILKES-BARRE — An attorney who represented children in Lackawanna County Family Court was sentenced Wednesday to one year in prison for filing false tax returns for two years with the Internal Revenue Service.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo imposed the sentence upon Danielle Ross, 37, of Jermyn, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud in December.
A federal grand jury indicted Ross in February 2013.
“Tax evasion is a serious offense. It’s a pure act of dishonesty,” Caputo said during the hearing.
Federal prosecutors said Ross was appointed sole guardian ad litem for Lackawanna County Family Court, earning a $38,000 annual salary. A contract between Ross and Lackawanna County allowed her to bill private paying clients above her county salary at a rate of $50 per hour.
Ross managed and exercised control over her private billings and income, which was not known to Lackawanna County, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said Ross filed tax returns for 2009 and 2010 listing only her county salary and not income she earned by private billings.
“This is a serious offense; she is a lawyer,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski. “She should have known better. She was in a position of trust and she violated that trust.”
Sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 10 to 16 months in prison.
Ross’ attorney, David J. Solfanelli, sought probation, saying Ross worked tirelessly on behalf of children involved in parental custody disputes.
“I don’t think incarceration is required,” Solfanelli said. “She’s a lawyer, she’s been suspended from the Pennsylvania Bar (Association), she faces substantial hurdles coming back.”
“I’m not here to sentence you for your performance in Lackawanna County; I’m here to sentence you for tax evasion,” Caputo said before he imposed the sentence of one year followed by one year of supervised release.
Ross was ordered to surrender at a federal correctional institution when one is designated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on May 2, and ordered to pay $63,124 in restitution.
Ross’ husband, Walter J. Pietralczyk, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return with the Internal Revenue Service in 2010. His sentencing hearing has not been scheduled but Olshefski said he will likely receive probation.