Salem Twp. solicitor points finger at Pasonick in new Musto charges

Author: Bob Kalinowski
Date Published: 11/23/2013
Jason Farmer / Times-Shamrock Michael Pasonick, right, leaves the William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton on March 9, 2012, after he was sentenced to one year in prison for bribing an unidentified school board member.
Jason Farmer / Times-Shamrock Michael Pasonick, right, leaves the William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton on March 9, 2012, after he was sentenced to one year in prison for bribing an unidentified school board member.

The solicitor for Salem Township said the person who controlled the process to secure an $11 million loan at the heart of new corruption charges against former Sen. Raphael Musto was local engineer Michael Pasonick.

FBI agents seized records related to the loan last year, but no township official or employee has been interview or investigated, according to attorney Anthony McDonald.

Read the most recent indictment

“If there is some connection between the $11 million, the FBI, and the sewer project, the only common denominator I’m aware of is Mr. Pasonick,” McDonald said Friday.

The new indictment says that days before a state-run board, PENNVEST, was to vote on Salem Township’s loan application, a person “affiliated with” the township paid Musto a $1,000 cash bribe for his support and vote. The person, identified in court papers only as “Participant No. 2,” had been paying bribes and kickbacks to Musto for political favors for decades as part of a “stream of benefits,” the indictment claims.

Pasonick, founder of a prominent Wilkes-Barre engineering firm that has since restructured and changed names, has a history of bribing public officials. He was sentenced to a year in jail in March 2012 for paying an unidentified school board member in Luzerne County between $1,000 and $5,000 to win the board member’s support for his efforts to secure school district contracts.

In addition to that, Pasonick has been publicly implicated in two other corruption cases. He testified in 2011 that he paid $2,000 to former Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro in an effort to keep engineering contracts with a public sewer authority. Cordaro is serving 11 years in prison on several corruption charges. Pasonick has also been identified as the contractor who paid a $1,400 bribe to a former board member at the Luzerne County Housing Authority. That payment led to criminal convictions of two members of the board.

Pasonick had a history of “seeking friendships and the company of public officials, being kind and generous to them and then bribing them,” to secure government contracts, a federal judge said at his March 2012 sentencing.

Federal prosecutors on Friday would not confirm if “Participant No. 2” in Musto’s new indictment is Pasonick, or if the person would be charged. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.

In addition to the kickback for the Salem Township work, “Participant No. 2” also paid Musto another $1,000 bribe in June 2008 for his support of another project that was awarded more than $1 million in PENNVEST loans, the indictment alleges. Details in the indictment are too vague to determine which project federal authorities were referencing.

Pasonick, who ceded control of the engineering firm after his name was linked to the county’s corruption scandal in 2011, could not be reached for comment Friday. Calls placed to relatives who work at the engineering firm were not returned and his attorney, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., did not return a phone message.

At his gated home off Jumper Road in Plains Township, Pasonick’s wife said he wasn’t home, but she would pass a reporter’s phone number to him. Asked if they had heard about the new allegations against Musto, she replied, “We don’t get the paper.”

The indictment against Musto claims the ex-lawmaker accepted a bribe days before he helped secure a low interest loan of $11 million on Oct. 24, 2006, from PENNVEST, a state-run authority that funds sewer, stormwater and drinking water projects around the state. PENNVEST records reveal the loan awarded that day was to Salem Township to provide sewage collection to about 1,200 dwellings.

Pasonick won the bid to design the sewage project and controlled the process of obtaining the funding, McDonald said. Pasonick’s firm received nearly $750,000, but an exact number was not immediately known , he said. Township officials said they would not be able to comply with a Right-to-Know request because the FBI still possesses the files.

McDonald said the federal government’s characterization of the person who bribed Musto as someone who was “affiliated with” Salem Township government led people to mistakenly believe it was a township employee or elected official. He said Pasonick could be described as an “agent” or independent contractor who was awarded a bid through a competitive process.

“There is not a single Salem Township official, other than Mr. Pasonick, who has been investigated, indicted, interviewed or charged. Salem Township may be a part of Luzerne County, but that’s not how we do business down here,” said McDonald, who has been solicitor of the township that borders Columbia County since 1995. “The only person that would have benefited was Pasonick Engineering. They got the work for the engineering.”

570-821-2055, @cvbobkal