Returning my call from Pittsburgh, where he was appearing at a signing session for his book, “A Nation Of Wusses,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said yesterday that he didn’t recognize the notorious gangster when the admitted criminal showed up at a Wilkes-Barre book signing the previous Friday night.
Convicted federal felon Rob Mericle stood in line holding his book and spoke to the governor when his turn came. Rendell said he only recognized Mericle when the multi-millionaire hoodlum and one-time almighty political campaign contributor introduced himself.
Mericle is unrepentant and simply can’t be trusted as he awaits sentencing for his role in the “kids for cash” scandal that condemned children into penal slavery in exchange for profit for two Luzerne County judges whom Mericle bankrolled in exchange for doing business with the public trust.
Mark Ciavarella is serving 28 years in a federal penitentiary for his role in the child slave trade. Partner in crime Michael Conahan is serving 17 for his role in that despicable enterprise.
But Mericle is still a man about town, standing in line waiting to recall the good old days with a Democratic Party powerbroker who figures prominently in the re-election bid of President Barack Obama.
The U.S. Justice Department continues to pamper Mericle because prosecutors say they need him to make the case and supposedly testify against another once famous state Democrat, former Sen. Ray Musto, whose trial on public corruption charges has been postponed three times because of his poor physical condition.
Musto didn’t seem all that sick when I reached him on the telephone after the second postponement and the 83-year-old former U.S. congressman argued that he had every right to stop by the local gambling casino with his wife one night when people seemed awed enough by his appearance to call and tip me off.
But that didn’t stop the nice federal judge from granting Musto yet another favor.
Favors, both legal and illegal, constitute a big piece of our political problems in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s culture of corruption. If you’re connected, and every elected and appointed public official caught in the ongoing federal public corruption probe is connected, you have privilege.
But nobody here seems to have privilege like Mericle.
When Vice President Joe Biden stopped by Duryea after the September flood that hammered the sad little town, he singled out Mericle’s company by name and complimented its deep community commitment.
Standing in the street listening to Biden, I was stunned. It takes a lot to daze me but I was downright bewildered. Duryea’s mayor later told me that he had put the bug in Biden’s ear because Mericle is a friend of Duryea and that I should lay off the friendly businessman.
I told the mayor to stick it.
Biden’s staff later claimed that Biden had no idea that Mericle had admitted to shredding federal law and ripping off people who deserve far better than the political clout that Mericle money can buy.
We know that Mericle money bought judges and maybe a senator.
But who else wears a price tag?
That’s the big question?
That’s also why I have to laugh whenever I see Mericle show up at one event after another, smiling and waving and being treated like royalty by the licentious lap dogs that will always lower their noses to sniff the wallet pocket of a potential benefactor.
I laugh because I wonder if Mericle is wired.
Neither prosecutors nor Mericle have acknowledged whether Mericle is cooperating with law enforcement agents in the continuing federal investigation that has thus far netted about 40 corrupt public officials and their benefactors.
But everybody seems to agree that Mericle will be the star witness against Musto.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rat goes on about his big business, continuing to cut deals and receive special government treatment with tax breaks and public perks for his spacious commercial development.
Mericle recently showed up at the YMCA ribbon cutting in downtown Wilkes-Barre and got his picture in the paper posing with the other “dignitaries.” He did it again in Lackawanna County as he dug into the earth with a golden shovel to break ground for another project. Lackawanna County Commissioner Pat O’Malley and Chamber of Commerce head Austin Burke posed with other “model citizens” holding their own shovels in the same picture as they smiled and helped bury the public trust.
The community “leaders” whom embrace Mericle enable the next generation of white-collar criminals to blossom. Either they can’t see the damage they do or refuse to acknowledge the harm to the community they foster.
Worse, is that some of these louts might actually revel in the conspiracy, consciously taking pride in developing future gangsters in our community who might one day line the pockets of their crooked descendants.
Like father like son?
It’s no coincidence that organized crime is comprised of families. When it comes to lawbreaking, political parties, corporations, outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Mafia and other savage tribes are ultimately all the same.
Never forget that jailbirds of a feather flock together.
So the next time you see Mericle, I suggest that you go the other way. It’s only a matter of time before he’s pecking crumbs in a prison yard. And you’ve got to wonder who he might want to take with him.
I’d treat every conversation with Mericle like it’s being recorded.