Allegations of Conflicts and Influence-Peddling in Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office Are As Old As the Jimmy Snuka Murder Cold Case Itself

Published September 30th, 2015, Uncategorized

by Irvin Muchnick

 

 

This article is about what I’ve taken to calling “the third Jimmy Snuka story.”

The first Jimmy Snuka story is the alleged 1983 murder of Nancy Argentino itself. Snuka was finally indicted for this crime a month ago. Under law, a plea or trial will establish whether he is guilty.

The second Snuka story is a suspected role of WWE (then known as TitanSports / World Wrestling Federation) in how their then most popular wrestler ducked charges for so long. This aspect is fueled in part by a cryptic verbal pipe bomb in Snuka’s 2012 autobiography: the observation that Vincent K. McMahon was carrying a briefcase into a June 1, 1983, meeting with Lehigh County prosecutors.

Considering the source, we should note that Snuka could very well have been putting out not only a non sequitur, but also a fabrication. Another possibility is that reference to a briefcase is a red herring, anyway. For if there was indeed McMahon and WWF influence-peddling, it didn’t necessarily have to be transmitted via the proverbial cash in an attache — or by cash at all. In those days, WWF was the circus that came to Allentown and Hamburg every three weeks for television tapings; though not yet the billion-dollar publicly traded corporation it is today, the company did have a substantial economic and cultural footprint in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Which brings us to the newly emergent third story: the idea that the first two may be windows into an even wider tale of corruption and cronyism in the Lehigh Valley. I already had hints of this, starting with my initial encounters with provincial paranoia there all the way back in 1992.

In addition, there’s the reality that, for all the kudos Allentown Morning Call reporters Adam Clark and Kevin Amerman got for the 2013 “cold case” article that pushed District Attorney James Martin to revisit the Snuka case, the piece simply filled in details well known by the authorities from the start. Assiduously, the Morning Call allowed Detective Gerald Procanyn to walk back his 1992 lies to me — without disclosing those lies to its readers in the first place. (If you find my construction judgmental, change to “without at least quoting my original reporting and 2007 book to that effect.”)

Later, the newspaper censored a measured and well-written op-ed essay by Nancy Argentino’s sisters. Louise and Lorraine would publish the piece, on the rebound, at the Wrestling Observer Newsletter website (see http://concussioninc.net/?p=9842 and http://concussioninc.net/?p=9845).

Except for a single self-serving headline five days after the September 1 indictment, the Morning Call has never seriously attempted to answer the fundamental question “Was the original investigation botched? And if so, how and why?”

Local critics say this is in keeping with a pattern of the newspaper’s exceedingly soft coverage of D.A. Martin. One of those critics, Bill Villa of the blog “Lehigh Valley Somebody” (http://bloggingdottie.blogspot.com/), said reporter Amerman — now city editor of The Citizens’ Voice in nearby Wilkes-Barre — wrote a story smearing Martin’s 2011 reelection opponent. Villa labeled Amerman “the D.A.’s lap dog.”

In the course of encountering such cross-references to figures running through the Snuka saga, I have come to appreciate Villa as a resource. I don’t pretend to have done sufficient due diligence on each and every item at Lehigh Valley Somebody in order to be able to represent it as the definitive record on these matters. However, in weighing the Villa material alongside my brushes with the selfsame investigative subjects, I have a strong sense that “you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.”

What might be the clincher in the preponderance of my sympathies is a current defamation suit by Martin against Villa — an extraordinarily petty (not to mention groundless) bit of speech-chilling vindictiveness by a public official against a critical citizen-journalist.

Some of the other players here include former Morning Call reporter Debbie Garlicki, now “executive aide” to Martin (see http://concussioninc.net/?p=10359). And even if Detective Procanyn has not yet made it into Villa’s muckraking coverage, Lehigh County sources confirm that Procanyn is just one of several well-connected retired cops who double-dip on their municipal pensions with investigator gigs for the D.A.

As for Pennsylvania Senior Superior Court Judge William Platt — the 1983 D.A. who let Snuka skate — he is widely described as Martin’s mentor.

Finally, Platt’s assistant D.A. at the time, Robert L. Steinberg, now a Lehigh County judge, happens to have earned distinction as the heartbreaking raison d’être of the blogging career of Villa, an advertising agency copywriter by trade.

On her 25th birthday in 2006, Bill and Angie Villa’s daughter Sheena was a passenger in a car driven by 27-year-old Robert LaBarre, who had a .24 blood-alcohol level. Sheena was killed when he slammed his sport utility vehicle into an oak tree at an astounding 85 mph.

The Villas were incensed when they discovered not only that Steinberg, the presiding judge, had let LaBarre go free on unsecured $0 bail, but also that the defendant promptly spent ten days vacationing in Belize, with no consequences. The next year LaBarre pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while DUI, and he was sentenced to pay restitution and serve prison time. The Villas were not even notified of the hearing, but found out about it on their own and attended it.

Bill Villa believed the extreme facts of the case, which included the defendant’s admission to Judge Steinberg that he knew he was susceptible to blackouts from intoxication, combined with legal precedents to establish the viability of a third-degree murder charge, which was not brought. In its infinite scrupulousness, the Morning Call reported the victim’s family’s dissenting contention. But by not quoting the half-dozen case citations supporting it, the newspaper also made sure to marginalize Villa. (This on top of never even reporting LaBarre’s holiday frolic in Central America.)

If D.A. Martin dragged his feet in prosecuting LaBarre, if Judge Steinberg gave him a free pass pre-trial, and if the local newspaper covered it all with a yawn, then Villa suggests that this might have something to do with the fact that LaBarre’s father, Donald LaBarre, is a partner in the Allentown law firm of Gross McGinley — counsel both to the Morning Call and to District Attorney Martin himself in a 2011 ballot petition challenge.