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LMD president sentenced in sewer fraud case

Judge decides to 'err on side of mercy'

Saturday, July 14, 2001

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sharon Antonucci, who admitted her company stole $350,000 from the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, will serve six months in a work release center so she can take care of her elderly parents and mentally retarded brother.

Sharon Antonucci, center, in black dress, leaves U.S. District Court yesterday surrounded by family members after she was sentenced to six months in a work release center for admitting that her company stole $350,000 from the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

Antonucci, 48, president of LMD Inc. in Homestead, faced a maximum of 21 months in federal prison before her sentencing hearing yesterday.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cindrich determined that the condition of Antonucci's parents and brother and their dependence on her care justified a lesser sentence.

Cindrich, translating a Latin verse he displays on his office wall, said "it is safer to err on the side of mercy" in a case such as Antonucci's, where her incarceration would deprive her family of care.

"These are very difficult cases, and there are no easy answers," Cindrich said before he sentenced Antonucci. "It isn't like there's a computer I can feed this into to tell me what to do."

In addition to the reduced prison term, Cindrich also ordered Antonucci to pay $121,549 in restitution to the water and sewer authority, as well as a $40,000 fine to the federal government.

The $121,549 in restitution, paid yesterday, represents the difference between the $350,000 that accrued to LMD from its fraudulent practices and the amount the water and sewer authority still owes the company, said authority Executive Director Gregory Tutsock.

The authority may seek more money from Antonucci after it reviews its records and compares them with the information provided for the sentencing, Tutsock said.

LMD, formed 15 years ago with an office in Lawrenceville, had contracts with the authority to clean catch basins and sewers. Catch basins are the drains which collect debris from storm sewers.

Antonucci, who lives in Hampton, was indicted last year on 13 mail fraud counts and charged with overbilling the authority for the work. She admitted she overbilled for the disposal of waste by dumping in a cheaper city landfill, but did not acknowledge she knew LMD billed for catch basins that were not cleaned.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar refuted Antonucci's denial yesterday with transcripts of grand jury testimony from four LMD workers -- Harry Doleno Sr., Harry Doleno Jr., Jeffery Galleghor and John Mackey.

The workers, all drivers who operated trucks that vacuumed debris from catch basins, told a grand jury last year that Antonucci set a quota on the number of catch basins that needed to be cleaned to collect the maximum amount in the contract and that she knew LMD billed for catch basins that were not cleaned.

Antonucci, during brief testimony yesterday, denied she knew of the catch basin scheme and said the drivers lied during their grand jury testimony.

Cessar, however, noted that the drivers testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution, which he said has a "tremendous ability to clear the mind."

Cindrich refused Cessar's request to add extra time to Antonucci's sentence because of her role in the catch basin overbilling scheme after her attorneys presented FBI records in which one of the drivers appeared to contradict his grand jury testimony.

Antonucci's attorneys, William F. Manifesto and Cynthia Reed Eddy, presented testimony from a psychologist and videotaped interviews of Antonucci's parents and brother during the four-hour hearing.

Her parents, Bernard, 81, and Wilma, 73, each have a variety of physical problems, including heart ailments, that require daily care, psychologist Thomas Sheridan testified.

In addition, Antonucci's brother, William, 43, is mentally retarded with an IQ of about 75 and also suffers from heart problems, Sheridan testified.

Sheridan called the Antonuccis a "severely dysfunctional family." Sharon Antonucci's sister, Bernadette, and another brother, John, have said they cannot take care of their parents or brother and left the job instead to their sister, who has been performing it since she was in her late teens, Sheridan testified.

Sharon Antonucci is a like a "snake charmer" because of her ability to persuade her parents and brother to listen to her, Sheridan testified.

Bernard and Wilma Antonucci said in the videotaped interviews that they were dependent on their daughter's care for such needs as their meals and disbursement of their daily doses of prescribed medications.

William Antonucci's condition is such that he refuses to allow strangers into his home and will not allow anyone to provide care except his sister, Sheridan testified.

Cessar admitted the issue of a longer prison sentence versus a shorter sentence in a work release center for Antonucci was a "close call."

Cindrich acknowledged Cessar's argument that nurses and other home care providers could probably care for Antonucci's parents if she was in prison, but he said it was unlikely her brother would receive the proper care if she were not available.

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