WILKES-BARRE —Attorney Al Flora, who represented disgraced ex-Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella, said Friday’s sentence of one year given to developer Robert K. Mericle was just.
Flora took appeals of Ciavarella’s 28-year sentence all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court without success. He said Mericle’s lawyers and prosecutors served the administration of justice well in arguing their respective positions, leaving U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik with a difficult decision.
“The sentence handed down by Judge Kosik also serves the administration of justice,” Flora said. “I don’t think anyone should second guess that sentence.”
Flora said it would be difficult for any judge to make a decision regarding sentencing in a case like Mericle’s.
Steve Barrouk, vice president of business development at Mericle Development, was one of several employees who wrote a letter to Kosik on behalf of his boss asking for leniency.
“My initial reaction to the sentence is disappointment,” Barrouk said. “I understand we have a justice system and we have to respect it. I knew something was going to happen, I just didn’t know to what degree.”
Barrouk said he wrote the letter to Kosik on Mericle’s behalf because he felt Mericle and his company’s presence in the community has a significant impact on the community’s welfare.
“I think Rob’s presence has been a major factor in job creation here,” Barrouk said. “He has done so much. We can’t afford to miss any job-creation opportunities by missing even one beat, let alone for 12 months.”
He said he has no idea what Mericle’s commercial development company will do in his absence. He also could not assess what the ramifications would be on the Wyoming Valley with Mericle not being “on the scene” for a year.
“I’m not aware of any contingency plan in place,” he said. “Rob’s good works have been so significant — far greater than most in this community.”
Barrouk said he stands by his letter.
“I would absolutely and unequivocally stake my reputation on what I wrote and Rob’s impact on the community,” he said.
‘Kids for Cash’
Sandy Fonzo, a parent who has become an outspoken figure in the “Kids for Cash” corruption scandal, was in the courtroom Friday when Mericle’s sentence was announced. She said entering the courtroom she had considerable respect for Judge Kosik — and that impression was only strengthened.
“I was hopeful he would see through to the real injustice here, and he did,” Fonzo said of Kosik. “I feel he rendered a just sentence. If Mericle hadn’t received any jail time, I think it would have been a slap in the face of all of the victims and parents and the public.”
Fonzo’s 23-year-old son, Edward Kenzakoski III, committed suicide in 2010. He had been jailed by Ciavarella at age 17 for a minor offense. Fonzo said her son was never the same, developing serious anger issues and depression.
Fonzo said the sentence shows that you can’t buy your way out of jail.
Like others who have been found guilty, Fonzo said, Mericle will have to leave his family and business and live in a jail cell for one year.
“He’s a grown man, a businessman who did wrong,” Fonzo said. “I’m very happy with Judge Kosik. He is sending a message that corruption has to end, that we must clean it up. And this is a step in the right direction.”
Fonzo said the Mericle sentencing brings a certain amount of closure to her and many of the others affected by the corruption scandal.
“But it will always be with me,” she said. “And it will always bother me.”
Fonzo said she and several others were traveling Friday to State College for another screening of Robert May’s documentary film “Kids for Cash.” She said she would be in a much better state of mind while watching the movie this time.
“It actually feels good that something is turning around and maybe our society can change because of all of this,” she said. “We have to keep getting the message out — if you do the crime, you’re going to pay.”
Patty DeViva, director of communications at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, issued a one-sentence comment on behalf of the school. “Wyoming Seminary respects both the decision of U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik and the privacy of the Mericle family.”
Last year a Wyoming Seminary field that had been named in honor of the Mericle family by the school’s president caused a public flap. The board of trustees then said the Mericle name would be removed from the renovated Nesbitt Memorial Stadium.
Mericle, who had close ties to the school, donated to the field renovation and had served on the the school’s board of trustees.
Comments were sought from several other organizations that Mericle has been closely associated with, either as a financial donor or on the boards of directors. None of the following returned messages seeking comment: Wilkes-Barre YMCA, Junior Achievement of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Commission on Economic Opportunity/Weinberg Food Bank and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.
A message left with Jim Cummings, vice president of marketing at Mericle Development, was not returned, nor did “Kids for Cash” filmmaker May return calls.
Joseph Musto, brother of the late former state Sen. Ray Musto, who died on Thursday, declined comment.