Pikel pleads guilty in money laundering case
Daniel Pikel, 57, of Home, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy in the multimillion dollar embezzlement scheme against Falcon Drilling, a Rayne Township gas drilling company.
United States Attorney David Hickton said Wednesday that Pikel pleaded guilty to one count before U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was informed that between 2009 and 2012 Pikel conspired with another person to conceal through his business banking account approximately $2.9 million embezzled by former company controller Cheryl Brooks, 43, of Clymer, and another former company officer.
The other former company officer was not named in the announcement of Pikel’s plea, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci said in January that authorities plan to indict Larry Winckler, 52, of White Township, the former chief operating officer of Falcon Drilling, in connection with the stolen money. Winckler has not been indicted.
McVerry scheduled Pikel’s sentencing for Aug. 22. The law provides for a total sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based on the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation and the Pennsylvania State Police in Indiana conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Pikel.
The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh last month filed a bill of information against Pikel, who owns Pikel’s Universal Auto Repair and other businesses in Home.
In the bill of information, the U.S. attorney charged that Pikel conspired with Winckler to launder money stolen from the drilling company. The government charged that Winckler forged checks drawn against Falcon’s petty cash or operating accounts, signed the checks and issued them to “Universal Auto Service” or “Universal Bit Service.”
Also according to the U.S. attorney, as part of the conspiracy Pikel then falsified invoices representing that his company provided drill bits in exchange for the Falcon checks. Pikel fronted cash to Winckler, deposited the forged checks from Winckler into a bank account, and a few days later withdrew in cash the previously deposited checks.
The charges don’t say whether Pikel kept any money for himself.
The embezzlement scheme began to unravel in 2012 when Brooks admitted to Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty that she and Winkler stole millions of dollars from Falcon starting in 2005. State police originally filed 58 criminal charges against Winckler, accusing him of stealing $995,000 from Falcon, but those charges were dropped when federal prosecutors took over the case against Winckler.
Brooks in January pleaded guilty in federal court to seven charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and tax fraud. She is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 30.
Brooks obtained approximately $557,000 from the embezzlement scheme.