court briefs for thurs

First Posted: 5/8/2013

WILKES-BARRE — A Luzerne County senior judge has allowed attorneys representing former Luzerne County Chief Public Defender Al Flora in a lawsuit to amend their suit to include that Flora no longer works in the office and to add three new plaintiffs.

Senior Judge Joseph Augello also said the trial will be continued at the request of attorneys for the county and will likely occur sometime in September. The trial was originally scheduled to begin June 24.

Mary Catherine Roper, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said at a hearing this week the lawsuit needs to be updated because facts in the case have changed. Flora is no longer the chief public defender and three new plaintiffs will be added to the suit who will be affected by inadequate representation because of problems within the Public Defender’s Office.

Flora filed the suit in April 2012, claiming the Public Defender’s Office was so underfunded and understaffed it could not provide adequate defense to indigent clients. The situation had become so dire, Flora argued, he was compelled to limit the type of cases the office would accept

Attorney John Dean, who represents the county and county Manager Robert Lawton in the suit, objected to the amendments, noting there were two entirely new accusations. Dean noted that if the amendments were allowed, a later trial date would be needed so attorneys can prepare for the trial.

WILKES-BARRE — A Luzerne County judge has removed himself from presiding over the case of a Hanover Township man charged in a fatal hit-and-run last year.

Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr., in a one-page order, recused himself from the case of Daniel Loughnane, 40, who is charged with driving away after striking Rebecca McCallick, 19, in front of a Hazle Avenue residence on July 24. McCallick died at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.

Sklarosky did not give a reason for the recusal in his order and asked that another judge be assigned to the case.

Loughnane had been schedule for a pretrial hearing on May 9, but that hearing will now be continued pending the assignment of another judge.

HARRISBURG — A Wilkes-Barre man is one of three Bloods gang leaders who pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court on drug distribution charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced.

Gilberto Lanzot Jr., also known as “Pops,” 32, of Wilkes-Barre; Renard Durant, a/k/a “Black” and “SB,” 27, of Bloomsburg, and Shelton Cochrane II, a/k/a “Sett,” 37, of Mt. Carmel, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana.

The pleas were entered in U.S. District Court in Williamsport before Judge Christopher C. Conner. Their sentencing has been scheduled for Aug. 19. The three are members of the Pennsylvania branch of the Almighty Renegade Gangsta (ARG) Bloods gang and distributed the drugs in Columbia, Northumberland and Luzerne counties.

U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith said Durant and Jeffrey Tripp were indicted in June on charges of drug distribution in Northumberland and Columbia counties. Indictments charging Cochrane and Lanzot for their involvement were returned in December and March.

Durant, Cochrane and Lanzot held positions of leadership within the Pennsylvania branch of the ARG Bloods operating in Columbia, Northumberland and Luzerne counties. Durant served as the leader of the local ARG Bloods, managing a network of approximately 10-15 gang members who included Cochrane, Lanzot and Tripp, who distributed heroin, crack cocaine, and marijuana from various suppliers in Hazleton and New York, Smith said in a press release.

From July 2011 through 2013, Durant agreed with Cochrane, Lanzot, and Tripp to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams of heroin and 112 grams of crack cocaine. Tripp pleaded guilty in December and is scheduled for sentencing on June 11.

The case was investigated by Pennsylvania State Police, the Columbia County Drug Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Prosecution has been assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney George J. Rocktashel.

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Senior Judge Chester Muroski on Tuesday jailed three defendants and issued arrest warrants for 21 other people who were found in contempt for allegedly failing to pay child support.

Those who were jailed: Thomas Rossmell, Canal Street, Shickshinny, $4,099; Juan Toro, Four Seasons Court, Hazle Township, $1,611; Charles R. Kizis, Hilltop Drive, Dallas, $3,895.

Those for whom warrants were issued: Damien M. Yates, Kennedy Rive, McAdoo, $4,177; Juan Basilio, West 3rd Street, Hazleton, $723; Bobby J. Hittinger, Walnut Street, Freeland, $1,809; Sara Cordona, Penn Estates Drive, East Stroudsburg, $4,439; Lezah L. Davis, Graham Avenue, Hanover Township, $357; William Witts, Ruckle Hill Road, Wapwallopen, $5,924; Joelle Dunbar, Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, $468; Derrick Ford, Grove Street, Wilkes-Barre, $2,461; George Shotwell III, Wyoming Avenue, West Pittston, $5,544; Khalif Epps, Nottingham Street, Plymouth, $1,122; Charles Hess Sr., State Route 18, Sweet Valley, $1,063; Jarrel Mapp, Washington Street, Wyoming, $3,087; James Skoniecki, Bennet Street, Luzerne, $872; Joshua Smith, East County Road, Avon, Ind., $5,110; Heather Stoss, Valley View Park, Dallas, $503; Daniel Eddy, Willow Street, Plymouth, $1,500; Joseph Rodriguez, Sobertown Hill, Hunlock Creek, $681; Christopher Simonson, Trethaway Street, Wilkes-Barre, $2,670; David A. Venson, South Garfield Avenue, Scranton, $1,867; Sir Reginald Cobb, South Grant Street, Wilkes-Barre, $2,436; Robert Rios, III, Hanover Village, Hanover Township, $591.