Thursday, July 10, 2014

Former neighbor gets jail time for stealing from woman

Plains Township man took $118,000 from 97-year-old

January 30. 2014 11:42PM

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WILKES-BARRE — A Plains Township man who admitted to stealing from the bank account of a 97-year-old former neighbor was sentenced Thursday morning to serve three to 24 months, minus a day, in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for theft by unlawful taking.

Luke Marek asked county Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. for house arrest. The judge denied the request but granted Marek work release. Marek, 36, must report to jail at 9 a.m. Monday.

Sklarosky also ordered Marek to spend 24 months on probation, repay $78,000 in restitution he still owes to the woman’s estate, pay court costs, undergo mental health and drug-and-alcohol evaluations and perform 25 hours of community service.

Marek and his attorney, Brian Corcoran, requested house arrest, noting Marek is caring for his two children as he goes through a divorce. They said he also was trying to get his job back with Plains Township. He was fired last fall after his arrest, his attorney said.

Corcoran told the court Marek expects to get his job back.

“He anticipates he will succeed in arbitration and be reinstated,” the attorney said.

But Sklarosky said, “I don’t believe house arrest is appropriate in this case.”

Plains Township police arrested Marek, whose last known address was Burke Street, Plains Township, in October, alleging he wrote three checks totaling $118,000 to himself in July and August from Josephine D. Szalkowski’s checking account. Szalkowski died Monday.

Marek was arraigned on three counts each of theft and forgery, and one count each of identity theft, computer trespass, unlawful use of a computer and criminal use of communication facility. He repaid some of that money and later pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking under the plea agreement, which included repaying the remaining $78,000.

Prosecutor Jenny Roberts told the court on Thursday the prosecution entered into the plea agreement because of the Szalkowski’s declining health.

“At the time the commonwealth got involved in the case, the victim was in a nursing home,” Roberts told the judge, adding the woman later returned home. “Our concern was to get money back to her to pay for 24-hour, at-home care.”

Police said the elderly woman told them she inherited $1.1 million from her sister who died about eight years before. She discovered three suspicious withdrawals from her checking account, noticing Marek wrote checks to himself for $13,000 on July 7, $30,000 on July 26, and a $75,000 check with no date, according to the complaint.

The woman told police she had known Marek for years when he lived next to her and he cut her grass and did other yard work. Police said a computer traced to a Burke Street address where Marek lived in June was used to set up online banking with the elderly woman’s checking account. Police said Marek’s email and mobile number were used to set up the online bank account.

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