Man linked to Unity woman's disappearance, his mother charged with conspiracy, forgery
A Unity man under investigation in the disappearance of Cassandra Gross was charged Tuesday by state police for allegedly instructing his elderly mother to use his government benefits account containing $1,200 while he is in jail on unrelated charges.
Thomas G. Stanko, 48, and Almira Stanko, 82, also of Unity, are charged with conspiracy, forgery and access device fraud, among other offenses.
Almira Stanko is free on a recognizance bond. Her son’s bail was set at $25,000.
Thomas Stanko has been in jail since the end of April. He maintains he has no information about Gross’ disappearance on April 7. No arrests have been made in that case. Stanko has been held on unrelated charges troopers filed after searching two of his properties, as well as a new sentence in a 2015 case after he violated his probation with the April arrest.
Gross would have turned 52 in May.
According to court papers filed Tuesday, Thomas Stanko allegedly told his mother how to access his account and provided her his PIN number during a late October recorded phone call from the Westmoreland County Prison. Troopers allege Almira tried to make a $9.22 purchase at the Giant Eagle in Ligonier on Oct. 30, but the purchase was denied.
In a second recorded conversation later that day, Almira Stanko reported the rejected purchase to her son, police said. Authorities seized Thomas Stanko’s ACCESS card and the Giant Eagle receipt from her home near Unity Cemetery, the area of which has been the subject of a series of searches by state police.
Almira Stanko arrived at her arraignment using a cane and nodded her head while District Judge Mark Mansour read the complaint against her.
She told Mansour she believed she was permitted to use the card “because I have power of attorney.”
“Those are issues you’re going to need to talk to your lawyer about,” Mansour said.
She said she plans to hire a private attorney. David Shrager, who represents Thomas Stanko in other cases, said he will investigate the allegations and talk to his client about them.
“This is the first I’m hearing of these charges,” he said when contacted by a reporter.
Their preliminary hearings are set for Dec. 21.
Gross’ parents reported her missing April 9. The next day, her burned 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander was spotted by Norfolk Southern employees in a wooded area along train tracks near Twin Lakes Park. Her family believes she was killed and that Thomas Stanko, an acquaintance, was involved. Police continue to investigate.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @byrenatta.