Judge weighing sentencing for area developer

Last updated: April 17. 2014 11:41PM - 3818 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Putting Robert Mericle in prison would threaten the livelihood of his 235 employees and those who work for his more than 200 regular local subcontractors, his chief financial officer said in a letter to the court.

Jennifer Kebles, a certified public accountant who has worked for Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services and its affiliate companies for eight years, said she and her colleagues are concerned the business and its projects “may be in jeopardy” if his is incarcerated or unable to oversee the operation.

Mericle, 51, of Jackson Township, the county’s largest commercial real estate developer, is scheduled to appear before Senior U.S. Judge Edwin Kosik next Thursday for sentencing on a felony related to the “kids for cash” juvenile justice scandal in Luzerne County.

At least 38 employees were among the 163 people who wrote letters to Kosik urging leniency.

“I respectfully ask the court to consider the financial impact on Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, its subcontractors, and the broader community in deciding Mr. Mericle’s sentence,” Kebles wrote.

Construction activities likely would be suspended if Mericle is indisposed because he directly oversees many “moving parts” of the company, she said. Mericle is heavily involved in attracting commercial clients to Northeastern Pennsylvania and is critical in obtaining financing for the company’s projects, she said.

Mericle’s employees receive an annual salary of $77,000 plus benefits, she said. He also “insists” on using local subcontractors and vendors on his projects wherever possible, she wrote.

Pending projects would develop an additional 14 million square feet of new construction, housing an estimated 11,000 new jobs, she said.

Mericle pleaded guilty in September 2009 to misprision of a felony for concealing his knowledge of the crimes committed by former county judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, charged in a $2.8 million kickback scheme involving two juvenile detention centers and the placement of youths in the facilities Mericle built in Pittston Township and Butler County.

Employee Robert Waseleski, Mountain Top, told Kosik many families look up to Mericle.

“Their mortgages, their transportation and their children’s future all depend on their job at Mericle,” he wrote.

Many employees cited examples of Mericle’s charitable work and his quiet generosity providing emotional support and extended time off with pay when they were struggling with family illnesses.

Some testimonials from workers:

• “He does things out of the goodness of his heart, not for the publicity,” said Michael Gallagher, Duryea.

• “I will say without question that Rob is the nicest, most hard-working, down to earth and genuine person anyone would want to know,” said Sheryl Weaver, Dallas.

• “I can tell you that Rob Mericle is the most generous human being I have ever met,” wrote Joseph DiMaggio. “There are countless times that I’m aware of that Rob has helped people, friends or strangers with personal or financial troubles.”

• “While I was writing this letter, it occurred to me that in my lifetime, I cannot recall ever hearing more positive and flattering comments from so many people about the good deeds of any single individual more than I have heard about the generosity of Rob Mericle,” wrote Jim Hilsher, Kingston.

Online comments

Online Times Leader comment boards quickly filled up with mostly negative responses as the letters were made public in recent days.

The general consensus was that at least some of Mericle’s profits resulted from his willingness to “play the system.” Many urged the judge to base his decision on facts, not emotional pleas.

“To let Mericle walk, sends the message that it is OK to pay off elected officials, as long as you throw some of your ill-gotten gains back to the community. But is that really fair?” one website reader wrote.

Another compared the situation to a bank robber who gives some money to charity, with the beneficiaries of those donations vouching that he is a “great guy” to the judge.

Some pointed to juvenile victims who were not included in the charitable efforts outlined by supporters in the letters to the court.

“There are over 300,000 people in Luzerne County. At sentencing I hope the judge recognizes only a couple hundred sent letters and consider the motives of many of those. Keep it in perspective,” another wrote.

Others said the 300-page packet of letters to the judge was too complimentary.

“Folks … if you read some of the letters … you will realize that the supernatural is occurring. Rob Mericle isn’t who you think he is. HE IS JESUS INCARNATE! THIS IS THE 2ND COMING!” one wrote.

“Is this a memorial service or a sentencing?” another wrote.

More support

But many letter writers urged the judge to put the situation in perspective, arguing Mericle’s behavior was out of character.

“So many people in our area seem to take pleasure in tearing down those that find business success or the financial means that often comes with it,” wrote Wyoming resident and Mericle employee William Letwinsky. “They go out of their way to take shots and criticize when they don’t really know, truly know, the person or how they live their life.”

Bryan McManus Sr., Wilkes-Barre, senior vice president for Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, told the judge he witnessed many examples of Mericle’s volunteerism.

“Rob’s commitment, dedication and support would be sadly missed by his family, friends, employees and the community if he were separated from this role. I know that Rob is willing to accept responsibility for his actions, however, I believe that he is deserving of consideration and mercy.”

Patrick Sammon, West Pittston, a real estate broker and appraiser who has completed work for Mericle in the past, described Mericle’s generosity and economic development contributions.

“I do not understand why Mr. Mericle did what he has admitted to have done in the matter before the court. Nevertheless, I believe it was an aberration,” Sammon wrote. “I cannot envision Rob Mericle ever engaging in such behavior again.”

Daniel Nulton, president and chief executive officer of Landmark Community Bank, wrote in a 2009 letter that Mericle was never a client of the bank, but he got to know him while serving on charitable boards and economic development organizations.

“The Rob Mericle I know is committed to his family and his community. Rob clearly made a serious mistake but I hope that the courts can balance the good he has done against the mistake he has made and acknowledged,” Nulton wrote.

Austin Burke, former president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a 2009 letter that he was “dismayed” Mericle’s “error in judgment” could “deprive us of a driving force that has done so much good here.”

“I was saddened to learn of the mistake that Rob made and which he acknowledges. I was saddened personally for Rob because I feel it was a singular lapse by an otherwise honorable and astute person,” Burke wrote.

Charles Cheskiewicz, president of DeadSolid Simulations Inc., in Pittston, told the judge Mericle has demonstrated he is sympathetic.

Cheskiewicz said his business suffered financially in 2008, when his wife died and the recession hit. He rented space from Mericle and owed $300,000 in back rent for almost four years, but Mericle didn’t force the business to move out.

“Rob did this out of compassion for me and my situation with my wife’s death and the continued employment of my people,” Cheskiewicz wrote.

Several family members also wrote letters to Kosik, including Mericle’s wife, Kim Mericle. She said she can’t capture “the sheer goodness of my husband’s character” in a two-page letter and said she is confident the judge will make a “fair decision.”

“If there is one thing I would like to convey, it is that he is truly a very good person, with a great heart, and an honest soul, who clearly made a very bad decision, for which is is deeply sorry.”

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