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April 25, 2012

Santillos claim incompetent counsel, seek hearings

NEW CASTLE — The Mahoningtown couple jailed for taking more than $470,000 from St. Vitus Church claim they had poor legal advice.

August Santillo, 54 — who pleaded guilty to theft by deception and theft of movable property and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison — is scheduled for a post-conviction relief hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday before Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge.

His wife, Kimberly Santillo, 50 — who pleaded guilty to theft by deception and conspiracy, and was sentenced to 12 to 23 months less one day in a state correctional institution — last month filed a post-conviction relief petition challenging the effectiveness of her attorney, Brian F. Levine. He represented her during pre-trial, her guilty plea and sentencing.

A hearing had been scheduled before Hodge for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. However, on Monday, Santillo, through her court-appointed attorney James R. Papa, requested the matter be continued.

Papa said Santillo recently learned she had been paroled from Muncy State Correctional Institution and her release date is set for May 1.

He said he will meet with her following her release to determine if she intends to continue with the post-conviction petition or to withdraw or amend it.

He added that Gregory Simatic of the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, has no objection to continuing the matter. Hodge continued the hearing to 1:30 p.m. July 24.

In his hearing, scheduled for Wednesday morning, August Santillo claims his attorneys David S. Shrager and Stanton D. Levenson, provided ineffective counsel and that his attorneys’ incompetence caused an “unknowing and involuntary plea.”

The couple was convicted of taking $471,562.65 from St. Vitus Church between May 1, 2001, and Aug. 26, 2008. During that time, Kimberly Santillo had been a secretary/bookkeeper and August Santillo was a fundraiser for the school. The couple lived a lavish lifestyle that included designer clothing, late-model cars, foreign vacations and expensive jewelry and computers.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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