New Castle News

April 12, 2011

Local contractor pleads guilty to lying to grand jury

Debbie Wachter Morris
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A New Castle contractor pleaded guilty yesterday to lying to a grand jury investigating the Affordable Housing scandal.

U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond accepted Michael Trover’s guilty plea to one count of lying about paying for work.

The grand jury was investigating claims Trover had paid kickbacks in exchange for contracts for the Shenango Township housing rehabilitation program, the Lawrence County Housing Authority and Affordable Housing of Lawrence County.

Robert Ratkovich — who was the housing authority’s maintenance supervisor and a consultant for Affordable Housing and Shenango Township — told federal investigators Trover had paid him a total of $25,000.

Trover, 43, of 609 E. Long Ave., appeared in the Pittsburgh court with his attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay, to change his plea to guilty of one count of lying in connection with the Shenango work.

Two similar charges, involving Affordable Housing and the county housing authority, were dismissed.



SENTENCING SET

Diamond has set Trover’s sentencing for 10 a.m. Aug. 10 in Courtroom B of the federal courthouse.

He faces a maximum of five years in prison and $250,000 fine. He also could receive three years of supervised release and be ordered to pay restitution.

Diamond, in reviewing the charge before Trover, said the question asked of Trover before the grand jury was whether he had received any payments in exchange for having been awarded contracts.

Trover was asked questions in front of the grand jury about whether he had made payment to Ratkovich for his work for Shenango Township.

When Trover answered no to those questions, “you were doing it as false testimony,” the judge said, asking Trover, “Do you understand that’s what you’re charged with in the indictment in this case?”

Trover answered, “Yes, your honor, I do.”

During a sidebar conference with Trover, his counsel and assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan T. Conway, the judge asked Trover if, in entering his plea, he had entered into a cooperation agreement with anyone, and Trover said he had not.

After yesterday’s hearing, Lindsay said that when Trover decided to enter a guilty plea, “It was a decision that he made. He felt it would be best to handle the case this way.”



RATKOVICH COOPERATES

According to paperwork filed by prosecutors, during an Aug. 7, 2008, interview with investigators, Ratkovich described kickbacks he had received from Trover.

Ratkovich, a former New Castle City councilman, told investigators he had directed contract work to Trover through his positions with the Shenango Township Community Development Block Grant program, the housing authority and Affordable Housing.

Ratkovich said that in exchange, he received money and services from Trover.

A memorandum cites Ratkovich’s claim that Trover had contributed $6,000 in cash for lawyer fees for Gary Felasco, a former Lawrence County treasurer, who faced felony theft and related charges involving activities in that office.

Ratkovich told investigators he had received a total of $25,000 in exchange for contracts for Trover by inflating invoices and by having Trover perform work on Ratkovich’s New Castle home.

He told authorities he would meet with Trover to determine which projects Trover would bid on, and how those bids could be inflated with phony labor costs, the court paperwork noted.

Ratkovich also told authorities that in the later years, Trover received 60 to 75 percent of the Shenango Township work.



OTHER CHARGES

Ratkovich also was charged in the Affordable Housing case. He cooperated with prosecutors in exchange for avoiding jail time with house arrest and probation.

The investigation also led to the indictment of Nicholas DeRosa, who was sentenced March 22 to 41 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to bank fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

DeRosa, a former city councilman and retired assistant superintendent of the New Castle school district, also was ordered to make $312,000 in restitution.