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Autopsy shows Fayette lawyer had heart disease

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By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A Connellsville lawyer died of natural causes last month while visiting in New York, according to a spokeswoman for the New York City Medical Examiner's Office.

The findings debunked rumors that Michael J. Macko, 56, staged his own death to escape debts totaling more than $500,000.

Macko died Feb. 9 of heart disease and high blood pressure, according to spokeswoman Ellen Borahove. She said an autopsy confirmed the cause of death.

Although Macko's cremation surprised friends and colleagues, his wife, Karen, said that was her husband's wish.

Rumors have circulated in Fayette County political and legal circles that Macko may have staged his own death in order to escape financial and business problems rooted in his Connellsville law practice.

Karen Macko on Monday called the rumors "ridiculous," adding she does not know how they started. She said she knows nothing of her late husband's business or legal affairs.

She said they filed for bankruptcy in January, but the case was dropped after his death. She did not respond to a request for further comment Tuesday.

Although Fayette County President Judge Conrad B. Capuzzi was to appoint a conservator to handle Michael Macko's legal practice yesterday, a filing problem apparently delayed the appointment. Attorney Mark Rowan, who is expected to be named conservator, could not be reached for comment.

When he died, Macko left "thousands" of open cases in his Connellsville law office. Because he practiced alone, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel stepped in and asked for a court-appointed conservator to protect the rights of his clients, who will have to obtain new attorneys.

Macko appears to have had a busy practice, in which he handled a variety of cases and served as solicitor for a number of Fayette County municipalities and authorities. In the early 1980s, he was a partner of now-Judge John Wagner Jr.

Meanwhile, Macko's office is locked. Callers are greeted with a message informing them that the office is "temporarily closed" and clients will be sent notices after March 15 regarding their cases and their legal files.

Macko also left hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts from mortgage foreclosures and unpaid taxes. He also had been accused in a lawsuit of fraud and misrepresentation in connection with a civil case. He and his wife owe the U.S. government more than $512,000 in taxes, according to Fayette County records.

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