SCRANTON — Federal investigators have charged a second Luzerne County Correctional Facility employee with extortion for allegedly granting unauthorized leave to work-release inmates in exchange for cash and other items.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged prison correctional officer John Stachokus Tuesday with extortion and tampering with a witness.
Former prison counselor Louis Elmy entered a guilty plea last month on charges of extortion and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
County Manager C. David Pedri said Stachokus, 41, of Plains Township, was placed on administrative leave Wednesday pending an internal investigation and scheduling of a hearing required before county employees can be terminated. The administration has been cooperating with the federal investigation and “thanks investigators for their hard work,” he said.
Stachokus, who was hired at the prison in 2007, received a salary of $50,272, records show.
According to allegations in a news release from U.S. Attorney Peter Smith and a criminal information filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday:
While acting in his official capacity as a county corrections officer from November 2013 through February this year, Stachokus extorted money and other items of value from work release inmates in exchange for affording them special privileges and unauthorized furloughs.
Prosecutors said Stachokus rotated work shifts at the prison and periodically was assigned to work at the work release center, located inside the minimal offenders’ building on Reichard Street, about a quarter-mile from the county’s Water Street prison.
The center houses inmates with court-ordered permission to leave the facility during the day to work or attend college and other educational programs. Inmates must return to the center at night.
County judges may “sparingly” grant work release inmates furloughs for certain religious practices, medical purposes or other “extraordinary reasons.” A court order signed by a judge is required in such instances.
A county judge had granted permission for an inmate identified in the information as “the CW,” a common term for a confidential witness, to participate in the work release program. The inmate obtained employment at a Nanticoke real estate business performing construction.
Stachokus was aware the inmate was “in significant financial distress” about earning money for his family during incarceration.
The inmate paid cash to Stachokus multiple times in exchange for unauthorized freedoms and privileges and furloughs to earn extra money in the construction business. Stachokus also agreed to “remain silent” about arrangements the inmate had with another prison employee regarding additional unauthorized furloughs and privileges.
At the request of the inmate, Stachokus also extended unauthorized furloughs and privileges to other work release inmates for a price, usually cash, that was funneled through the inmate, according to prosecutors.
In order to maintain the special privileges, the inmate also occasionally gave Stachokus alcohol and assisted Stachokus in obtaining cocaine.
Prosecutors said that on or about May 10, Stachokus tried to persuade a government witness to fabricate a false lawful explanation in connection with the extortion investigation.
Stachokus has signed a plea agreement that indicates the federal government will recommend a “three-level reduction” in his offense level if he adequately demonstrates he has recognized and accepted responsibility. The plea agreement will require court approval.
According to prosecutors, charges are the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski is prosecuting the case. Attorney Vincent Cappellini is counsel for Stachokus.
Under federal law, each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and as much as three years of supervised release after incarceration.
Smith said the maximums are not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence because the judge also is required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.
In the Elmy case, federal prosecutors said the 52-year-old Wilkes-Barre resident allegedly created phony court orders that had judges’ signatures physically pasted on them from older orders, then photocopied the fraudulent order for the file so the paperwork appeared legitimate.
The scheme was allegedly carried out for nearly three years — the same time period cited in the charges against Stachokus.
According to the court documents, Elmy extorted cash, alcohol and drugs from an inmate, also identified as the “CW,” who was granted work release at a Nanticoke real estate business — another similarity to the Stachokus allegations.
The inmate helped Elmy, a former Wilkes-Barre Area School Board president, obtain crack cocaine and also paid Elmy between $50 and $200 over the course of several weeks in exchange for unauthorized time outside work release hours as well as other privileges, according to court documents.
A sentencing will be scheduled at a later date, but Elmy faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to life in prison on the gun charge and up to 20 years behind bars on the extortion charge, prosecutors said.
The county administration placed Elmy on administrative leave without pay at the time the charges were filed, and Elmy resigned from the $58,413-a-year county position March 31 in lieu of termination.
The administration is exploring changing his departure as termination with cause, which could prevent him from receiving compensation for unused vacation and/or sick days.
Pedri said the administration continues to review both cases to determine if new protocol is warranted.
No date has been scheduled for Stachokus to enter a guilty plea.