Today brings the second installment of a hearing to determine whether former Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro deserves a new trial. Serving 11 years in federal prison on public corruption convictions, Bob claims his attorneys were incompetent, which in effect denied him a fair trial.
I sat through every minute of that trial, and while Bob’s attorneys weren’t world-beaters, the biggest deficiency in their case was the defendant himself. A mountain range of evidence pointed to his guilt. A Dream Team of Clarence Darrow, F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran could not have argued it away.
When the evidence fits, juries don’t acquit.
Bob’s lead counsel was William Costopoulos, a caricature of the high-profile defense attorney — Matlock meets Wyatt Earp. His second chair, Alan “Jerry” Johnson, a former U.S. attorney from Pittsburgh, routinely pronounced Bob’s last name, “Cudarah.”
Yesterday at the federal courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Mr. Costopoulos testified, among other things, that he didn’t believe he could win the case and urged Bob to take a plea deal that would have had him home by now. They way I heard it during the trial, Bob’s family wanted him to take the deal. He said he would, but changed his mind.
Bob Cordaro has always been his own worst enemy, especially during the trial. Under oath, he “explained” the huge amount of cash he had spread around by claiming he cashed his paychecks rather than depositing them. Prosecutors then produced a stack of deposit slips proving that was a bald-faced lie. It was a cringe-worthy moment, one of many during the trial.
Bob has a real heavy-hitter representing him this time around. Former U.S. Attorney Brian T. Kelly made his considerable bones busting mobsters. If anyone can win Bob a new trial, Mr. Kelly is likely the guy. Staff Writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker is covering the hearing for The Times-Tribune.
A new trial seems unlikely, considering it would have to be granted by Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, who presided at the original trial. Judge Caputo heard the same evidence I did, therefore knows no amount of lawyering could have saved Bob from himself.
The government more than proved its case against Bob Cordaro, and would easily do so again. He was guilty then, and he is guilty now. A hundred new trials won’t change that.