HARRISBURG – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that on August 5, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied former Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert C. Cordaro’s latest appeal regarding his 2011 conviction on multiple public corruption charges. In a 26-page precedential opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo holding that the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. United States was not grounds to overturn Cordaro’s convictions.
According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Cordaro’s claim that the McDonnell decision required that his convictions for Hobbs Act extortion, bribery and racketeering must be vacated and that he be granted a new trial because Cordaro failed to show that he was “actually innocent” under the McDonnell standard. The Appellate Court stated that “The District Court correctly concluded that Cordaro cannot show that he is actually innocent, that is, that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror properly charged under McDonnell would have convicted him.” In reaching that conclusion, the Appellate Court exhaustively analyzed the facts of the case and rejected all of Cordaro’s arguments to the contrary.
Cordaro was convicted in 2011, along with former Lackawanna County Commissioner Anthony Munchak, on multiple charges including racketeering and other public corruption offenses relating to the Commissioner’s demands for payments and other benefits from individuals and entities doing business with Lackawanna County. Cordaro was sentenced on January 30, 2012, to serve 132 months’ imprisonment and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on May 31, 2013. Munchak was sentenced in 2012 to serve 84 months’ imprisonment and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence on May 31, 2013.
After Cordaro’s conviction and sentence were affirmed, Cordaro filed a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence based on alleged ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. A three-day hearing was held in January 2015 and Judge Caputo denied the motion in August 2015. Cordaro appealed that ruling and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court.
Following the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell, Cordaro filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on February 3, 2017, and Magistrate Judge Mehalchick issued a Report and Recommendation denying the Petition on September 1, 2017. Cordaro objected to the Magistrate’s findings and by Order dated December 11, 2017, Judge Caputo adopted the Report and Recommendation and upheld all of Cordaro’s convictions. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision and denied Cordaro any relief in yesterday’s ruling.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service. At trial, the government was represented by Assistant United States Attorneys Lorna N. Graham, William S. Houser and Bruce Brandler. Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Cerutti, Chief of Appeals, handled the appeal.
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