The LuLac Edition #1641, June 15th, 2011
BOB & A.J. TRIAL DAY 8
The prosecution rested its case against Bob Cordaro and A.J. Munchak today. After that action., A.J. Munchak took the stand. Munchak has always followed Cordaro into various business ventures like the attorney’s radio station holdings in the 90s as well as a far fetched political campaign in 2003 that shocked both men when they learned of their victory by a mere 200 votes over twenty year veteran Joe Corcoran. Munchak for better or wise hitched his wagon to Cordaro’s star. This morning, it looked far worse than better. Like Ed McMahon to Johnny Carson, like Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Munchak has always been there at Bob Cordaro’s side. Today it was A.J. Munchak alone in the dock trying to explain his way out of the mountains of damaging testimony hurled against him this week in Federal Court in Lackawanna County.
Five questions were posed by Attorney Chris Powell, as his testimony began. Munchak denied taking cash from Highland Associates executive Don Kalina and Louis Costanzo of L.R. Costanzo.
He said that he felt that cash contributions from Costanzo and auto dealership owner John Grow were honest campaign contributions that were all turned in to his political committee.
Munchak, said that he and Bob Cordaro segmented their Commissioner responsibilities to focus on fixing problems in the county that included $15 million in unpaid bills.
Munchak said he focused on the prison system, nursing home, human services, information technology, and the county's 911 center.
Regarding an alleged $500 cash payment from Grow, Munchak said that the money paid for a tailgate party , featuring his nephew, NFL Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, who was in court today to support his uncle.
A.J. Munchak testified that Grow gave him $500 to enter the party, which he passed to Cordaro's brother in discussing a lavish fundraiser at the former Whistle's Pub.
The money it is alleged bought Grow a seat on the Stadium Authority Board.
Munchak accepted gifts of $2500 on two occasions for the campaign at the home of Costanzo. The second $2,500 was given in an envelope during a fundraiser at the Clarks Summit home of Costanzo's son. Munchak said that money was used to pay Costanzo's entry into a $1,000 per-head fundraiser. Munchak said that the fundraiser cost $18,000 and included top-shelf alchohol, three carving stations, a .D.J, and more. That liquor must have been pretty top shelf.
In the afternoon, Prosecutors focused on Munchak's gambling habits, outlining $43,000 in casino markers paid through his PennStar Bank account from Jan. 1, to Dec. 31, 2005. That amount includes $8,000 in markers for New Year's Eve 2005.
Munchak agreed with questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney William Houser that his gambling habits increased after he became a majority commissioner. He said the gambling took him on trips to New Orleans, Atlantic City, Connecticut and Las Vegas.
The current minority commissioner was asked specifically about the alleged cash contribution of $500 from John Grow. The money was paid for a tailgate party in support of the campaign. Munchak first said he didn’t remember getting the money but then said that opinion changed after a dinner meeting that followed the indictment in March 2010.
Munchak also said that many of the campaign contributions were not reported by his political action committee.
Houser asked the commissioner questions about cash contributions given at the door of various fundraisers held by the Friends of Munchak and Cordaro.
Munchak said he only knew of one specific incident in 2007, when he paid $2,500 in cash for three members of the family of Louis Costanzo to enter a lavish fundraiser at the former Whistles restaurant.
He also conceded that he violated state laws when more than $25,000 in campaign contributions were reported in payments of $50 each and labeled “unidentified contributions -- deposit detail lost.”
"I broke a state violation, and reluctantly I have to take responsibility for that," he said.
Houser said Munchak's signature on campaign finance reports as a "lie."
"You're saying it was a lie," Munchak replied. "I'm saying it was a wrong act," he added, saying that he believed the reports to be true at the time he signed them.
Houser really hammered Munchak on the campaign finance reports saying the Commissioner perjured himself by signing off on the election forms. Munchak defended himself saying that he took control over the campaign finances and unknowingly broke a state law. He denied pocketing any cash.
It was a marathon session and at times Munchak seemed uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t when being grilled by prosecutors. Earlier Bob Cordaro’s defense attorney William Costopoulos asked how many vendors the Commissioners dealt with on the county level. Munchak replied that it was between 23 and 4 thousand. Munchak’s gambling hobby certainly didn’t do him any good in the eyes of a prospective jurors. But even though he took a beating from the Prosecutors, the only people who said Munchak pocketed money were people who made deals with the government. And as I said before if there is only one juror that has class envy, been jammed up with a bookie, overspent on a credit card or has sympathy for the wing men of the world, Munchak might have a chance to not be convicted. That of course is a big “might”
Testimony continues Thursday.