The criminal fraud trial of an elderly Unity woman will be delayed because her son and co-defendant remains in federal custody on unrelated offenses.
Almira Stanko, 83, is awaiting trial in Westmoreland County on three felony counts, including conspiracy and fraud, in connection with allegations she attempted to use her son’s government benefits account while he is jail awaiting trial on pending gun charges.
County prosecutors, in court documents filed Tuesday, said federal authorities have refused to transport Thomas Stanko from the Mahoning County Jail in Youngstown, Ohio.
In December, Thomas Stanko was indicted on two counts of illegally possessing 17 firearms and ammunition despite multiple criminal convictions dating back to 1989. Similar charges filed against him by local authorities had previously been dismissed following a preliminary hearing April 2018. At that time, District Judge Michael Mahady ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove Thomas Stanko owned 28 weapons confiscated at his home during a property search.
State police in December charged Thomas Stanko with the same fraud offenses as his mother. Prosecutors consolidated both cases so they will be tried together.
In June, Common Pleas Court President Judge Rita Hathaway ordered Thomas Stanko be transported by U.S. marshals to attend his preliminary hearing in the fraud case.
Thomas Stanko, because of the federal government’s refusal to transport him back to Westmoreland County, is still awaiting a preliminary hearing in the fraud case. His mother’s case was scheduled for trial this week before Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Bilik-DeFazio.
According to court documents, defense attorney Allen Roth said Almira Stanko, who has been free on a nominal bond, agreed to her trial’s delay.
Thomas Stanko has been in state and federal custody since April 2018, after initially being named a suspect in the disappearance of his former girlfriend, Cassandra Gross. Investigators have said they believe Gross, who was last seen earlier that month, is dead. Numerous searches in and around Unity, including Thomas Stanko’s home and property owned by his mother, have been unsuccessful in locating Gross. Thomas Stanko has repeatedly denied any involvement in Gross’ disappearance.
As those searches continued, Thomas Stanko was charged by local police with possessing a stolen all-terrain vehicle, re-sentenced to serve up to four years in prison for violating probation on a prior assault conviction from 2015 and is awaiting trial for another case in which he was charged with assaulting a man in a local bar.
In the fraud case, police contend Thomas Stanko allegedly told his mother how to access his $1,200 account, providing her his PIN number during a late October recorded phone call from the Westmoreland County Prison. State police troopers allege Almira Stanko tried to make a $9.22 purchase at the Giant Eagle in Ligonier on Oct. 30 that 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.