The Times Leader by Terrie Morgan-Beseckertmorgan - April 9, 2011
SCRANTON, PA – Decrying Michael Toole for bringing disrepute to the judiciary, a federal judge on Friday sentenced the former Luzerne County judge to 2 years in prison for his guilty plea to corruption and tax-related charges. Former Luzerne County Judge Michael Toole arrives at the federal courthouse in Scranton on Friday for sentencing. In addition to jail time, Toole must pay a $5,000 fine. Below, spectators leave the courthouse. The sentence, which also included a $5,000 fine, was in the middle of federal sentencing guidelines, which called for Toole to serve between 27 to 33 months in prison. In deciding the sentence, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy acknowledged Toole was a respected member of the community prior to his arrest, but said those accomplishments must be balanced against the seriousness of his crime. “It’s a sad day for you, but an even sadder day for the citizens of Luzerne County,” Conaboy said moments before he imposed the sentence. “I can’t think of a more horrible offense than selling your service as a judge.” Toole, the son of retired Luzerne County Judge Patrick Toole, acknowledged as much in an approximately five-minute address to the court in which he repeatedly derided himself for the shame and humiliation he brought to himself, his family, the county and the judiciary. “I can’t possibly explain how extremely sorry I am for my conduct. My actions, your honor, were not just wrong, they were a serious violation of the public’s trust,” Toole said. Several of the more than dozen family members and friends who accompanied Toole dabbed tears from their eyes as Toole, his voice steady and unwavering, spoke of being “consumed” by guilt to the point he is barely able to function. “I failed to be the son, husband, father and public servant I was expected to be. It is an absolutely devastating realization that I will struggle with for the rest of my life,” he said. “The shame I feel is overwhelming and, at times, crushing,” he later continued. “The community that once put its faith in me to serve with fidelity now, rightfully, treats me with disdain and disgust.” Toole’s supporters consoled each other outside the courtroom following the sentencing. His father, who continues to serve as a senior judge in Luzerne County, and other family members declined to comment. Toole, 51, of Wilkes-Barre, pleaded guilty in November to corrupt receipt of a reward for official action for accepting free use of a beach house owned by attorney Harry Cardoni. Federal prosecutors alleged the free rental was a reward for Toole, who had appointed an attorney Cardoni wanted to hear an uninsured motorist arbitration case. Toole also admitted he failed to report on his 2006 income tax return a $30,000 referral fee he received from a different attorney in an unrelated case. Cardoni has been suspended from practicing law, but has not been charged with any crime – an issue Toole’s attorney, Frank Nocito – mentioned Friday in seeking a reduced sentence for Toole. Nocito stressed he was not trying to excuse Toole’s actions, but asked Conaboy to consider Cardoni’s fate as part of sentencing guidelines that suggest a judge not impose disparate sentences on offenders charged with similar offenses. Conaboy lamented that the government must sometimes make those types of agreements in order to obtain a conviction of another person. “I have no respect for people who offer a bribe. I think sometimes the briber is as guilty and responsible as the bribee,” he said. That did not lessen Toole’s culpability, however, he said.
Nocito also sought leniency for Toole based on his lifelong contributions to the community, including serving as a little league baseball and basketball coach and his volunteer work with the Catholic Youth Center. Toole, an admitted alcoholic and gambling addict, has also made significant strides in his rehabilitation since his arrest, Nocito said. The depth of his community involvement was expressed by 156 people who wrote letters on Toole’s behalf, including members of Alcoholics Anonymous who met Toole at meetings he attends. Conaboy on Thursday publicly released the majority of those letters, but withheld others that contained private family information. At the sentencing hearing, Conaboy acknowledged Toole’s background and his accomplishments toward rehabilitation, but said the harm Toole caused could not be overlooked. “You have badly stained the reputation of your family and every judge in the nation who strives on a daily basis to keep up the integrity, honesty and decency the community expects,” Conaboy said. Toole was among 30 persons who were charged in connection with the Luzerne County corruption probe that was headed by the FBI and IRS. In a press release, U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith said Toole’s sentence was appropriate. “Today’s sentence is a major step towards correcting the harm done by the defendant’s actions,” Smith said. Conaboy allowed Toole to remain free pending his report date, which was set for May 2.
Toole sentenced to 30 months in prison
The Times Leader - April 8, 2011
SCRANTON, PA - Former Luzerne County judge Michael Toole has been sentenced to 30 months in prison on corruption-related charges. Toole, 51, of Wilkes-Barre, appeared before U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy on charges of corrupt receipt of a reward for official action and tax evasion. Toole admitted he accepted free use of a beach house owned by attorney Harry Cardoni as a reward for using his office to influence a uninsured motorist arbitration case that was handled by Cardoni. He also admitted failing to report on his income taxes a $30,000 referral fee he received in an unrelated case. Conaboy said he considered Toole's background before sentencing and felt that a prison sentence was warranted, given the violation of judicial trust. "I can't think of a more horrible offense than to sell your service as a judge," Conaboy said. Before being sentenced, Toole apologized to his family, friends and community. "I failed to be the son, the husband, the father, the friend and public servant I was expected to be," Toole said. "I am absolutely devastated by that realization and will struggle with that for the rest of my life."
Federal court Former judge wanted courts to depart from government’s recommended sentence for guilty plea
- Among the issues raised was whether Toole received more than one gratuity when he was offered the use of a beach house by attorney Harry Cardoni of Kingston.
- U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy issued a 14-page memorandum that explained his reasons for approving the guideline range prepared for Toole by the federal probation office.
SCRANTON, PA – A federal judge Friday rejected a request to depart from the government’s recommended sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison for former Luzerne County Judge Michael Toole. Toole, 51, of Wilkes-Barre will be sentenced April 8 for his guilty plea made last November to filing a false tax return and corrupt receipt of a reward for official action, namely accepting the use of a New Jersey beach house owned by an attorney whom he helped win an uninsured motorist arbitration. In rejecting defense attorneys’ arguments for leniency Conaboy noted Toole’s former elected position set him apart from other defendants. “Of particular importance in this case is the fact that the defendant was a public servant … who violated the public trust in a manner that is extremely significant,” wrote Conaboy. Still he said he will allow further comment from attorneys in the case at the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, Scranton. Conaboy had already heard arguments March 25 on the sentencing and prior to that reviewed documents supporting each side’s position on what punishment Toole should receive for his role in the corruption uncovered in the county court and government, local school districts and municipal governments. Among the issues raised was whether Toole received more than one gratuity when he was offered the use of a beach house by attorney Harry Cardoni of Kingston. Conaboy dismissed the defense argument “the distinct uses of the beach house were separate installments of a single gratuity.” Instead, he determined the offers were made for separate vacations in 2006 and 2008 and as a result, the sentence should be increased to reflect multiple gratuities. The value of the gratuities further increased the sentence, Conaboy determined. He sided with federal prosecutors who calculated the week-long rentals at $6,500 in 2006 and $7,500 in 2008. Defense attorneys argued the house was offered for use when Cardoni was not renting it to others and therefore the cost was lower. In addition, Toole used the house for no more than two days at a time instead of the full week, they argued. “The house was offered for a week at a time, the realtor’s documents show it was set aside for a week at a time, defendant accepted the use of the house on a weekly basis, and there is no indication that the use was in any way limited by the owner,” wrote Conaboy. Toole’s attorneys pointed to his ongoing recovery for alcohol and gambling addictions in their request that Conaboy depart from the sentencing guidelines and impose a lesser sentence. “While we commend (Toole) for his progress and efforts at rehabilitation and rebuilding family relationships, we conclude (he) is not entitled to a downward departure based on extraordinary rehabilitation,” Conaboy wrote. Still to be decided is a request by Local TV LLC and WNEP, on behalf of WNEP-TV, for the release of letters received by Conaboy on Toole’s sentencing. Conaboy said he “would like to hear” the views of the attorneys in the case and the television station on the WNEP’s entitlement to the letters. He set deadlines of 4 p.m. on April 5 for briefs to be filed on the request. email@example.com
Judge releases messages, saying it is vital to give access to sentencing factors.
The Times Leader by Terrie Morgan-Besecker - April 8, 2011
SCRANTON, PA – Acknowledging the importance of transparency within the court system, a federal judge on Thursday ordered the release of the majority of letters written on behalf of former Luzerne County Judge Michael Toole relating to his sentencing today on a corruption charge. U.S. District Judge Richard P. Conaboy agreed that letters written by public officials, court workers, friends and co-workers should be released, but denied the release of letters written by certain family members, members of Alcoholics Anonymous, religious officials and Toole’s alcohol counselor. Conaboy said he believed the letters from public officials should be released in their entirety because those persons, by virtue of their positions, do not have the same expectation of privacy as private individuals. The letters from court employees, friends and co-workers should also be released, he said, because those people should know that by writing a letter, they were giving up some of their privacy rights. He declined to release letters from Toole’s mother, father, wife and children and members of Alcoholics Anonymous, finding that those letters contained highly personal information; therefore those persons’ right to privacy took precedence over the public’s right to know. Regarding the alcohol counselor’s letter, Conaboy said it contained confidential information regarding Toole’s medical history. He left open the possibility he might release that letter, family letters and those from Alcoholics Anonymous at a later date with certain information redacted.
Toole, 51, of Wilkes-Barre, will be sentenced today at 10 a.m. for his guilty plea to corrupt receipt of a reward for official action and tax evasion. Authorities say Toole accepted free use of a beach house owned by attorney Harry Cardoni as a reward for influencing an uninsured motorist arbitration case involving Cardoni. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison. The defense presented Conaboy with 156 letters written on behalf of Toole in hopes of convincing Conaboy to show leniency. The conference Thursday was called to address the request for the letters that was initially made by WNEP-TV reporter Dave Bohman. The Times Leader was granted permission to intervene in support of the television station’s request. Frank Nocito, Toole’s attorney, had objected to the release of any of the letters, arguing that many of them contained highly personal information and that the authors had written them under the assumption they would remain private. Conaboy acknowledged the court had been presented with an unusual situation as he had never before been asked to release letters written on behalf of a criminal defendant. “This is a bizarre meeting, to say the least,” the 86-year-old Conaboy said as the meeting began in a conference room. “I’ve been a judge for 50 years and I never had a request (like this) before.” Conaboy said he initially agreed to allow Bohman to see the letters, but then decided he should contact Toole’s attorneys and the government before releasing the information. Conaboy originally planned to meet only with attorneys for Toole, the government and the media outlets. In an unusual move, he allowed reporters, who typically are precluded from any hearing that is not held in open court, to attend and report on the meeting. The judge candidly acknowledged that he was “struggling” to make a decision regarding the letters was “looking for as much guidance as I can get.” “In fairness to the public, I thought you should know what I’m struggling with,” he said. Ralph Kates, attorney for The Times Leader, and Michael Genello, attorney for WNEP, sought the release of all the letters, arguing the public had the right to know all the information Conaboy would utilize in deciding Toole’s sentence. That was particularly important because Toole was a judge charged with violating the public’s trust.
Kates also argued that if those who wrote the letters appeared in court to testify on his behalf, their statements would be open to the public. “I have difficulty understanding how you would consider that evidence differently because it is in written form versus testimonial form,” Kates said. “The fact it is in written form does not change the public’s right to know the factors presented to you to influence your decision.” Kates acknowledged that the letters written by Toole’s father, Patrick, a retired county judge who now serves as a senior judge, and other family members likely contained highly personal information. The release of that information would undoubtedly cause the family pain, but that was not a valid reason to withhold them, he said. “Public disclosure in a very real sense would pour salt into a wound. But personal discomfort is not a reason to deny the public access to information you think is important in making your decision,” Kates said. Conaboy said he understood the attorneys’ positions, but he felt compelled to keep letters written by Toole’s family confidential because they contained intimate information. “I think they are entitled to privacy for these letters that, by nature, are very emotional,” Conaboy said. Conaboy said the letters from members of Alcoholics Anonymous also presented a quandary because that organization is predicated on a person retaining their anonymity. Kates and Genello suggested a compromise could be attained by releasing the letters and redacting the writers’ names. Conaboy said he is willing to reconsider that possibility, but held to his original decision to deny disclosure.
Speaking after the hearing, Erik Schrader, news director for WNEP, said he was pleased by the judge’s decision. “We are very happy the public is going to see the information that, by the judge’s own admission, he plans to use in influencing his decision,” Schrader said. “The things we did not get, I understand the reason for why we didn’t get it.” Kates said overall he was also happy with the judge’s decision. He said he remains hopeful Conaboy will agree to release the other records with certain redactions. “I think he is troubled by withholding information from the public and will reconsider his decision,” he said. firstname.lastname@example.org