New Castle News

August 15, 2013

DA withdraws charges against school board candidate

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Charges of dealing in alleged stolen meat against acting city fire chief Mark Panella and two others have been withdrawn.

Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa, in a prepared statement issued Wednesday, said insufficient evidence exists to prosecute Panella. He said his office conducted a thorough review of the case prior to reaching that conclusion.

Preliminary hearings for the three, scheduled for Wednesday morning, were canceled.

Last month, Union Township police charged, Panella, 53, of 2010 Glendale Ave., Donald L. Macarella, 67, of 115 Friendship St., and Wayne E. Randall, 52, of 808 Court St., with two counts of receiving stolen property and two counts of disorderly conduct.

Officers said $2,766 in meat, soap and paper products — allegedly stolen from Walmart between July 2, 2012, and July 13, 2012, — had been sold at a reduced rate to Panella’s business, Buzz and Rich’s Tavern, on the city’s South Side.

In addition to being a city firefighter and businessman, Panella is a candidate for the New Castle school board.

According to his statement, Lamancusa decided not to prosecute after additional information was made known to his office. He said that information was not available to the Union Township police at the time the charges were filed.

Lamancusa cited phone records, hotel receipts, witness statements and rental contracts that showed Panella had not been in Lawrence County when the accuser, Michael Aeschbacher, claimed to have sold illegal goods to him.

In addition, he said, the state conducted an inventory of Panella’s establishment and an inspection report showed Panella did not have goods or food items in his inventory that were not supported by purchase receipts.

Finally, Lamancusa noted, the only evidence supporting the filing of criminal charges was the statement from Aeschbacher. Further investigation revealed Aeschbacher had been convicted of seven crimes of dishonesty since 2006.

“My office has a long track record of prosecuting political and other high-visibility figures if they violate the law,” Lamancusa said. “However, despite our record I am aware that some will view the dismissal of Mr. Panella’s case as being motivated by other interests.

Noting he does not really know Panella, Lamancusa said “given the overall lack of evidence, the lack of credibility of his accuser and the amount pretrial publicity in this case, I thought it necessary to explain in a public manner why the case was being dismissed.”

Lamancusa added the Union Township police are considering charging Aeschbacher with making false reports to law enforcement.