AP NEWS

Former Hazle Twp. Solicitor Sentenced To Four Years Probation

October 26, 2016 GMT

SCRANTON — The former Hazle Township solicitor who admitted to stealing more than $105,000 that was held as part of a development agreement was sentenced Wednesday to four years probation, with the first eight months served under house arrest. Charles Pedri, 65, pleaded guilty in July to a felony count of theft from a program receiving federal funds, admitting he raided an escrow account entrusted to him for his personal benefit. During a brief statement in court, Pedri apologized for his conduct. “I once again apologize to the court and my family for what I’ve done. I was wrong,” Pedri said. “I’m truly sorry. (I) would never do it again.” The crime called for a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, although the guideline range based on his record was a sentence of 12-18 months in jail. Prosecutors argued that was an appropriate range, characterizing the crime as a serious offense in which Pedri stole more money than the average person makes in a year by abusing his position of trust. “The offense involves not just a theft, but a series of thefts over an 11-month period,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. O’Hara argued in court. But Pedri’s attorney, Melinda C. Ghilardi, countered that he had led an exemplary life until this case, which was motivated by a rough patch and Pedri’s feeling of “financial despair.” “He made one mistake,” Ghilardi said, arguing for a probationary sentence. According to prosecutors, Pedri — the father of Luzerne County Manager David Pedri — stole money that came from Hazle Spindle, a business based in Tynsboro, Massachusetts, as part of a plan to develop an energy storage frequency regulation plant in the Humboldt Industrial Park. The business got township approval and put up a $105,587 payment to be held in escrow for security on completion of improvements to the property. Pedri, who signed an agreement as escrow agent in February 2013, was supposed to hold the money in trust in a separate account from other funds under his control, prosecutors said. But after the township inspected the site and authorized the release of the money, Pedri repeatedly delayed the transfer, saying he was busy but would soon get to it. When he finally did send a check, it was not from the escrow account and Hazle Spindle couldn’t cash it because Pedri had placed a stop-payment order on the check, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors alleged that Pedri was in fact spending the money for his personal benefit and that by November 2013, the cash had been depleted. Pedri eventually admitted taking the money after Hazle Spindle threatened a lawsuit. He was fired and the money was subsequently repaid. But in court Wednesday, O’Hara noted it wasn’t Pedri who repaid the debt — he was seeking probation because he now needs to repay the debt to an unidentified female relative. “Restitution has not been made by the defendant,” O’Hara said. “Restitution has been made for the defendant.” Ghilardi called O’Hara’s comment “unfortunate,” saying the important element in such a case is making the victim whole, not the source of the money. “It’s not his money because he doesn’t have any money, and that’s what caused him to commit this offense in the first place,” Ghilardi said. She described Pedri as the patriarch of a “perfect family” who attends church and community events. But his “wonderful life” fell on hard times in 2012, when his mother died and he grew depressed, Ghilardi said. Pedri took the money with every intention of putting it back, but then found he couldn’t repay the debt, she said. In addition to needing to work to repay the debt, Pedri deserved a probationary sentence because his wife, Sharon, has suffered a stroke and now cannot perform daily activities such as shopping, driving and other chores, Ghilardi said. O’Hara maintained that only a prison sentence would send the right message about Pedri’s conduct, saying that the hardships Pedri claimed Wednesday were not so extraordinary to warrant a departure from the guideline sentenc. “There are family hardships in every criminal case,” he said. Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy agreed that many families suffer as the result of criminal conduct, but found Pedri’s circumstances “extraordinary indeed.” As an attorney Pedri “should have known better,” but a probationary sentence was not an outrageous departure from the guideline range, the judge said. He ordered Pedri to serve four years of probation, the first eight months on house arrest with electronic monitoring. The judge declined to impose a fine but ordered Pedri to perform 50 hours of community service as part of his sentence. Pedri declined to comment to reporters as he left the courthouse. Whether he will ever return to the law remained unknown. Effective in June 2015, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended Pedri’s law license for five years because of the theft allegations. Ghilardi said she didn’t know his plans after the suspension is up but noted he will be pushing 70 by that time. Pedri, who practiced law for 38 years, had no prior disciplinary history with the board. 570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin