Former Family Court Attorney Pleads Guilty
WILKES-BARRE — On her way to federal court in Wilkes-Barre, Danielle Ross and her attorney were confronted by Bruce Levine.
“Don’t touch me, don’t tell me what to do. Get your hands off me,” shouted Levine as he brushed up against lawyer David Solfanelli.
Levine is one of several parents in Lackawanna County who claimed that some of Ross’ custody recommendations in family court cases were biased.
“She is just the tip of the iceberg, the story needs to be told,” said Levine outside the federal courthouse.
For almost five years, Ross was paid to represent the interests of children in custody cases in Lackawanna County, then make custody recommendations to family court.
Lackawanna County paid Ross $38,000 a year in base salary. She also received an additional $50 an hour paid for by parents, or by the county if parents could not afford the services.
Federal prosecutors said Ross did not report more than $200,000 from the hourly billings on her federal income taxes.
And more than 10 months after she claimed she was innocent of federal tax charges, Ross changed course, and pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted tax evasion.
“After reviewing everything, Miss Ross has taken responsibility has taken responsibility for her acts of omissions, and looking forward to getting this part of her life behind her, and moving on,” said Solfanelli.
The investigation started in 2011, when FBI agents seized Ross’ billing records from her office in the Lackawanna County Courthouse Annex.
Ross’ charges stem from failing to pay taxes, not her recommendations in custody cases.
“If it’s tax charges and she gets imprisonment and she gets a lot of money, restitution she has to pay, that’s a good start,” said Levine.
In the past two years, two family court clerks and Lackawanna County Court Chief Judge James Munley were called before a federal grand jury investigating the Lackawanna family court system.
Sources tell Newswatch 16 that Judge Munley and the clerks were not the targets of the investigation. Ross is the only one who has been charged.
The plea agreement calls for Danielle Ross to pay restitution that could amount to $80,000.
Ross is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
The maximum sentence for her crime is five years, but her lawyer says he plans to ask that Ross avoid any time in federal prison.