Forgery Suspect May Hold Key To ‘target’ Of Mysterious Arson Case
WILKES-BARRE — The Plains Twp. forgery suspect entwined in a mysterious arson case on Wednesday got a new lawyer because she might know something about the unidentified “target” of the investigation, according to court documents filed Thursday.
Linasheri D’Onofrio, 50, of Plains Twp., is awaiting trial on forgery and theft charges alleging she wrote nearly $3,000 worth of stolen checks to her missing mother. In the meantime, investigators have collected her DNA as part of an arson investigation into a blaze that broke out in February, resulting in the discovery of human remains.
Police say D’Onofrio’s disabled son is also missing.
In a court filing Thursday, Chief Public Defender Steven M. Greenwald wrote that prosecutors think D’Onofrio has information into an “ongoing, separate” investigation that is related to the forgery case and want to question her about what she knows.
“While (D’Onofrio) has not yet decided whether or not to cooperate with the commonwealth, it has been learned that the subject or target of that investigation and (D’Onofrio’s) potential cooperation is a public defender client,” Greenwald wrote.
The filing does not identify the target of the investigation but requests D’Onofrio be appointed outside counsel to avoid a conflict of interest. Luzerne County Judge Joseph F. Sklarosky Jr. approved the motion Thursday.
The order comes a day after Sklarosky rejected an effort to reduce D’Onofrio’s $300,000 bail in the forgery case.
Earlier this month, Assistant Public Defender Girard J. Mecadon filed a petition for a bail reduction, writing that D’Onofrio is indigent and unable to post bail as set. The filing sought a reduction to a “reasonable amount and an amount that (D’Onofrio) can afford to pay.”
Sklarosky denied the motion in a video hearing held Wednesday, according to court records. The ruling was without prejudice, meaning D’Onofrio can seek a reduction in the future.
The forgery charges D’Onofrio is facing were filed after police began investigating the fire that broke out Feb. 24 near the mobile home where D’Onofrio was staying in the East Mountain Ridge Mobile Home Park, Plains Twp. When firefighters extinguished a burning shed, they found a human skull and bones, according to police.
During the investigation, neighbors told police that a “crazy lady” who had a disabled child lived nearby, but nobody recalled seeing the child recently before the fire.
Police say D’Onofrio initially claimed that the person neighbors thought was her son was actually her brother. But investigators subsequently learned the missing person was in fact her son Shain, who had cerebral palsy and autism, police said.
Investigators have collected a swab of D’Onofrio’s DNA as part of the arson investigation into the fire, but no charges have been filed in that case.
As police were investigating the fire, the brother of the man D’Onofrio had been staying with at the mobile home park told police she had been stealing from the resident, who is now in a nursing home in Carbondale.
According to the charges against her, D’Onofrio was supposed to be caring for the resident’s cats in August 2014, when she wrote six of his checks totaling $2,980 to her mother, Mary Mikulak.
The charges say that Mikulak moved into a trailer on another lot in the park with D’Onofrio in 2007, but that family members haven’t heard from her since. If she’s still alive, troopers say Mikulak would be 96 years old.
Bank records showed that $2,327 of the stolen money had been spent from a joint account D’Onofrio had with Mikulak, according to police.
D’Onofrio is due back in court for a preliminary hearing in the forgery case next month.