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Pikel gets 27 months

by The Indiana Gazette on October 23, 2013 11:00 AM

PITTSBURGH — Indiana County businessman Daniel Pikel was sentenced Tuesday to serve 27 months in prison for his guilty plea to a count of conspiracy connected to a money laundering scheme at an area drilling business.

Pikel, 57, of Griffith Drive, Home, the owner of Pikel’s Universal Auto Service and the BP Inn, both in Rayne Township, admitted to laundering through his accounts almost $3 million in funds embezzled from Falcon Drilling LLC, of Indiana.

Federal prosecutors charged that Pikel accepted and cashed checks from Falcon’s former chief operating officer, Larry Winckler, between 2009 and 2012, when a company employee, Cheryl Brooks, approached authorities to report the ongoing embezzlement.

Brooks and Winckler both were initially charged by Pennsylvania state police but Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty withdrew the cases, allowing federal officials to take over the investigation.

Brooks has been indicted and has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing. The feds so far have not indicted Winckler.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci and Pikel’s defense lawyer, Robert Ridge, of Pittsburgh, filed dueling pre-sentence motions before U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry.

Ridge cited Pikel’s otherwise clean criminal record and his 25 years of service with the Marion Center Volunteer Fire Department, and presented 74 pages of character endorsements from family, friends, neighbors and business associates who praised Pikel’s acts of personal kindness and generosity as reasons to be lenient. Ridge also held federal prison overcrowding and burgeoning justice system expenses as cause for sentencing Pikel to probation or house arrest.

Melucci downplayed the suggestion that Pikel, a friend of Winckler since the 1980s, had been cajoled into the years-long laundering scheme by the air of trust and friendship bred of his upbringing in the community of Home. While the court filings put Falcon’s loss, attributable to fraudulent billing for non-existent products and services provided through Pikel’s accounts, at $2,972,314, Melucci said it is unclear how much Pikel was personally enriched through the scheme.

While alluding to Pikel not needing to borrow money to invest in a renovation project at the BP Inn tavern, Melucci said Pikel has only admitted “that he accepted a few thousand dollars” for his participation.

Court records show Pikel faced a possible sentence of 24 to 30 months in prison, and McVerry ordered him to serve the median, just over two years, and to spend three years under court supervision following his release.

View or download documents filed at the United States District Court in Pittsburgh.

Attorney Melucci pre-sentence memorandum

Falcon Drilling executive Daniel Donahue victim impact statement

Attorney Ridge pre-sentence memorandum

Community members' character statements

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