Man linked to Unity woman’s disappearance facing new charges from jail
Criminal charges continue to pile up against a Unity man who is under investigation in connection with the death of Cassandra Gross, who has been missing for more than a year.
State police Tuesday filed two new cases against Thomas Stanko, 48, accusing him of asking a woman to falsify a receipt for an all-terrain vehicle he allegedly stole and requesting she steal electricity from the Westmoreland County Housing Authority, according to court papers.
An arraignment hearing is scheduled Wednesday.
Gross, who would turn 53 May 17, was last heard from April 7, 2018, when she spoke with her mother by phone while driving to her Unity apartment. State police have officially deemed the disappearance a homicide.
Stanko has denied any involvement. No arrests have been made.
Attorney Dante Bertani said he believes police and prosecutors are abusing their power by repeatedly filing new criminal charges and other actions in past cases.
“They’re trying to do everything they can to keep him in jail because of something they cannot prove,” Bertani said.
Gross is Stanko’s “best witness” in some of those past cases.
“Why would he ever want to get rid of her?” Bertani said.
Investigators have been seen searching a few times in and around Unity Cemetery, which is near a property Stanko owns. In the days after Gross was reported missing, state police descended on Stanko’s Macey Road home and a White Fence Lane property where his mother lives.
They’ve also been listening to his phone calls from the Westmoreland County Prison, where he has been held since April 13, 2018, on the stolen ATV accusation and other unrelated matters, according to court papers.
In one of the new cases, troopers said Stanko wrote a 24-page letter postmarked July 26 begging a woman to “make a fraudulent receipt documenting purchase” of the ATV that was reported stolen in 1997. Troopers filed a receiving stolen property charge after finding the ATV at the White Fence Lane property. A June trial is tentatively scheduled in that case.
Police said Stanko requested the fraudulent receipt to be dated June 10, 2004.
“Stanko directs (the woman) to make the writing look old by writing the receipt, having it signed, then putting it in the oven to make it look 14 years old and just found in a cardboard box,” Trooper James McKenzie wrote in the complaint.
Stanko is charged with solicitation to commit forgery and solicitation to commit fabricating evidence in that case.
In that same letter, Stanko allegedly directed the woman to run a power cord from his Greensburg storage unit to a nearby Westmoreland County Housing Authority building to charge the battery in a vehicle, according to court papers. Police said he had a housing authority master key on a key ring and explained to the woman how to identify the right one.
Housing authority officials told investigators they didn’t know how Stanko had the key. Police seized the letter and key ring during the summer.
Stanko is charged with solicitation to commit burglary, solicitation to commit theft of services and receiving stolen property.
Stanko is in federal custody. He was indicted in December by a federal grand jury for illegally possessing 17 firearms and ammunition despite criminal convictions dating back to 1989, according to court records.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 21 in connection with state charges on allegations he allegedly instructed his elderly mother from jail to use his government benefits account containing $1,200.
Gross was declared legally dead by a judge in January.
Her credit cards have not been used since she disappeared. The only withdrawals from her bank account have been automatic transactions.
Baxter, her blind, diabetic dog, was found April 9, 2018, wandering alone in the Beatty Crossroads area. The next day, her Mitsubishi Outlander was found burned along a rail line near Twin Lakes Park. State police opened a missing persons investigation. They’ve conducted several searches, but Gross’ whereabouts have been elusive.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .