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Unity Township man linked to woman’s disappearance indicted on federal gun charges

Paul Peirce
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WPXI
Thomas G. Stanko

A Unity Township man linked to the disappearance of a Westmoreland County woman was indicted by a federal grand jury for illegally possessing 17 firearms and ammunition despite multiple criminal convictions dating back to 1989, according to court records posted Thursday.

The Pittsburgh grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Thomas G. Stanko, 48. He has been linked to the April disappearance of Cassandra Gross, who would have turned 52 in May.

Stanko has not been arraigned on the federal charges.

According to the first count of the indictment, Stanko possessed two .22-caliber revolvers, a .38-caliber handgun and a .25-caliber handgun in April. The grand jury noted that Stanko was prohibited from possessing firearms as a result of felony convictions in Westmoreland County in 1989 for forgery, a 1992 conviction for receiving stolen property and a 1995 conviction for retaliation against a witness, criminal conspiracy and carrying firearms without a license.

In addition, the grand jury alleges between April and August investigators learned Stanko also possessed eight rifles, four revolvers, and a 12-gauge shotgun. Authorities also allege that he possessed ammunition for the firearms.

Stanko’s private attorney David Shrager of Pittsburgh said he had not seen the indictment, but noted that at an April 30 preliminary hearing Unity Township District Judge Michael Mahady dismissed unlawful possession of firearms charges brought by state police during their investigation into Stanko because of lack of evidence he owned the firearms. Those firearms were recovered at Stanko’s mother, Almira’s property, on White Lane Road in Unity, where troopers maintained Stanko resided.

According to testimony during the hearing, Almira Stanko, 82, said the numerous firearms troopers found at the residence belonged to her late husband, Thomas, who died in 2011. She also testified she “made a mistake” when she told troopers that her son resided with her.

“We were able to defeat the charges at the state level. I will have to do a complete and thorough review of the federal allegations to determine an appropriate path to litigate these new complaints,” Shrager said.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is seeking that all the firearms and ammunition confiscated during the investigation be forfeited.

U.S. Attoreny Scott W. Brady noted that federal law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

The law provides for a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or both. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives along with the Pennsylvania State Police conducted the investigation leading to the Indictment in this case, according to Brady.

He reported the case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods. Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.

State police this week charged Stanko and his mother, Almira, with conspiracy, forgery and access device fraud, among other offenses. Troopers accuse Stanko of instructing his mother to use his governmental benefits account, which contained $1,200, while he is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison on unrelated charges.

Almira Stanko tried to make a purchase with her son’s card at the Ligonier Giant Eagle on Oct. 30 for $9.22, but was denied. She reported the rejected purchase to her son in a phone call recorded at the jail, according to court papers.

Thomas Stanko has been in jail since the end of April. He maintains he has no information about Gross’ April 7 disappearance. Gross’ parents reported her missing April 9.

No arrests have been made in that case. Police continue to investigate.

Stanko has been held on unrelated charges troopers filed after searching two of his properties, as well as a new sentence in a 2015 case after he violated his probation with the April arrest.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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