Man charged in 2017 attempted homicide in Tarentum found dead in jail cell

By Terri Hill | September 9, 2018

A 64-year-old Tarentum man who was charged in the 2017 attempted murder of his son was found dead inside his cell Saturday afternoon by an Allegheny County Jail corrections officer.

“At approximately 4:40 p.m., an officer making rounds on Pod 8D noticed that a cell window on the pod had been covered. Attempts to make contact with the inmate in that were unsuccessful. The officers on duty opened the cell and found the inmate, a 64-year-old male, unresponsive in the cell with bindings around his neck,” said Warden Orlando Harper in a statement.

Medical aid including CPR was administered by jail workers until paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead at 4:54 p.m., the statement said.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the man as Dana Abraham.

According to media reports and court documents, Abraham was arrested by county police on July 24 after he threatened to shoot his wife and fired shots at his son during a dispute.

During an argument Abraham’s son and wife fled to a neighbor’s house, followed by Abraham while firing shots towards his son. Inside the house police say he held a gun to his wife’s head and threatened to shoot her.

Police from surrounding communities and the Allegheny County Police SWAT team responded. After a brief search, police found Abraham hiding behind an automobile repair shop.

According to online court records Abraham was scheduled scheduled for a non-jury trial in November before Judge Randal Todd.

Terri Hill can be contacted at terri.hill@grantstreetnews.com

 

 

Trio accused of taking almost $200,000 from elderly woman in home improvement scam

By Amanda Klein | September 7, 2018

Pennsylvania State Police have accused a trio of bilking a woman in her 80s out of nearly $200,000 over a five-year period.

The alleged theft was uncovered by the woman’s Power of Attorney who was reviewing the woman’s finances after she was placed in an assisted living facility.

Police allege in court documents that Dannie Cook, 49, Deborah Cook, 63, and Gina Zazac, 56, all from Beaver Falls, bilked the woman for the money by agreeing to perform work on her Slippery Rock home, but never completing the work.

Due to a five-year statute of limitations the Cooks and Zazac can only be charged for thefts totaling $122,000, police said.

The woman wrote most of the checks payable to Mr. Cook, but also wrote checks totaling $40,000 to the two women.

Dannie Cook, who an extensive criminal past for home improvement fraud, according to online court records, promised the woman he would repair her roof, fix her sidewalk and many other projects, but never completed the projects, police say.

Dannie Cook faces charges of theft by deception, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, and receiving advance payment for services he did not perform.

Deborah Cook and Gina Zazac face charges of criminal conspiracy for theft by deception, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, and receiving advance payment for services not performed.

Mr. Cook waived his right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing for both women is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at amanda.klein@grantstreetnews.com

Alleged bank robbery spree suspect admits to two robberies in 2013

By Terri Hill | September 6, 2018

For his role in a 2013 bank robbery spree, Matthew David Stanley, of Pittsburgh, pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of bank robbery in federal court.

Court documents allege that on August 19, 2013, Stanley acted as the get-away driver while another man identified in court papers as Raymond Zwibel, stole $3700 from the First Commonwealth Bank in New Alexandria, Pa. by passing a demand note to a teller.

Four days later on August 23, 2013, Stanley entered the Citizens Bank in Latrobe and handed a teller a demand note and got away with $2413.  Zwibel acted as his get-away driver.

Stanley’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 1 before Judge David Cercone.  He faces a possible sentence of up to 40 years in prison, a fine of up to $500,000, or both.

Zwibel previously pleaded guilty to all of his own charges and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Cercone on Sept. 12 at 10 a.m.

Pending sentencing, Stanley was ordered back to a state corrections facility where he is serving a sentence on an unrelated drug offense.

Terri Hill can be contacted at terri.hill@grantstreetnews.com

Erie lawyer appointed to be new federal magistrate

By Steve Pope | September 6, 2018

A partner in an Erie law firm was selected Thursday to become the newest federal magistrate in Erie.

Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti announced the selection of Richard A. Lanzillo to the post vacated by Judge Susan Paradise Baxter upon her swearing-in as a District Judge.

Mr. Lanzillo earned his undergraduate degree from Mercyhurst University in 1983 and his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1987, where he graduated summa cum laude. He serves as Vice Chairman and Member of the Board of Trustees at Mercyhurst College.

Currently Mr. Lanzillo is Vice President of Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, P.C., where he practices commercial, employment and civil rights law.

According to the firm’s website, Mr. Lanzillo has had a successful career representing both corporate and government organizations in a variety of cases. He has also served as a mediator and neutral evaluator in federal court.

The search to fill the judgeship began in 2016 when a selection panel, comprised of attorneys and non-lawyer leaders in the community was formed. The panel solicited and reviewed a number of applications before making its final recommendation.

Mr. Lanzillo will be sworn-in and assume his duties on September 24, 2018. A formal investiture ceremony will be scheduled at a later date.

Steve Pope can be contacted at steve.pope@grantstreetnews.com

Pennsylvania prisons adopt new procedures to curb contraband

By Steve Pope | September 5, 2018

After a meeting Wednesday between Governor Tom Wolf  and Department of Corrections staff at SCI-Greene, major changes were announced in mail handling, visitation and drone detection policies at the state’s correctional facilities.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel detailed the new policies and procedures, which are already being implemented. Wetzel said he hopes the process will be completed within the next 90 to 100 days.

All non-legal mail will be processed at a Florida facility where the mail will be copied and sent to inmates. Legal mail will still be received at the facility, but copied in the inmate’s presence and the copy given to the inmate.

All facilities will eventually receive drone detection technology.  Specific protocols for when a drone is detected, especially procedures for when a drone is present when inmates are in a recreation yard will be developed and implemented.

Each facility will receive two body scanners, one each for visitors and staff.  Visiting room staff will be doubled and there is a temporary ban on purchasing items from vending machines.

The state will be transitioning to e-books, and the library system will engage in central purchasing for books and magazines.

“Pennsylvania’s corrections officers put themselves in harm’s way to make our commonwealth safer, and it is up to us to provide them protection from harm,” Gov. Wolf said. “I met with several of the corrections officers here at SCI Greene today and I want to assure them that their concerns are valid and were heard.”

All facilities have been on lockdown since Aug. 29. Since May 31, 57 staff members have been sickened from what officials believe is a form of synthetic marijuana, that is clear and odorless and can be concealed on papers, or in books or on pictures.

On Saturday inmates at some of the facilities were allowed to spend time out of their cells, to take showers and exercise, in what’s been described as “modified” time outside their cells.

Steve Pope can be contacted at steve.pope@grantstreetnews.com

 

 

Rostraver man in jail after leading police on chase through 4 towns

By Amanda Klein | September 5, 2018

Police arrested a Rostraver Township man early Tuesday alleging he struck a police car and led them on a high-speed chase through four towns.

Brody J. McFadden, 48, of Webster, faces charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, drug possession, DUI and numerous traffic offenses.

Police said in a criminal complaint they first spotted McFadden around 2:30 a.m. as he was leaving the Sheetz in Monogahela, while they were responding to a public drunkenness call.

A police officer attempted to pull over McFadden, but he sped off and led them on a chase through Carroll Township, New Eagle and Union Township at speeds, that at times reached 70 miles per hour.

During the chase McFadden allegedly struck a police car as officers were attempting to keep him from leaving a ditch, that a police officer moments before had pushed him into by hitting McFadden’s rear bumper.

Because McFadden refused to get out of his car, police had to forcibly remove him. At first, he gave police a false name, but once they learned his real name, police determined he had an outstanding warrant for parole violation.

McFadden told a police officer “I was paranoid,” when asked why he fled.

McFadden is currently in the Washington County Jail in lieu of posting a $100,000 bond. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at amanda.klein@grantstreetnews.com

 

 

Police find 22 marijuana plants growing in Aliquippa home.

By Terri Hill | September 4, 2018

An Aliquippa man is in jail facing drug charges after police found 22 marijuana plants growing in the man’s home on Monday.

Police say they were alerted to a possible marijuana grow operation at 1117 Irwin Street around 12:30 p.m. and when they approached the house they smelled marijuana. Police then observed the plants that were growing over a fence surrounding the home.

Tychonn McCoy Jr., 40, who police say arrived at the home while they were waiting for a search warrant, is facing charges of possession of a prohibited firearm, possession with intent to deliver, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

After obtaining a search warrant police found 22 marijuana plants that ranged between 4 and 8 feet high, marijuana seeds, UV lights and packaging materials. A handgun was also found.

The growing patch used to grow the plants measured 45 1/2 feet long and 11 feet wide.  Police estimate the plants weighed 200 pounds.

McCoy is currently in the Beaver County Jail after being unable to post a $25,000 bond and faces a Sept. 10 preliminary hearing, according to online court records.

Terri Hill can be contacted at terri.hill@grantstreetnews.com