City man wants to withdraw his pleas

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An Altoona businessman who was placed on probation in March for conspiracy and receiving stolen property wants to withdraw his guilty pleas because, he said, the prosecution knew it didn’t have a case against him and never revealed that fact.

Michael Friedenberger, 43, who operated Best Buys, a city secondhand store, was arrested in July 2006 and charged with 50 offenses.

Police believed he and other family members were using drug addicts to steal items from area stores that were then sold on eBay.

The case against Friedenberger, his wife, Lynette, and his mother-in-law, Pamela Marie Cross, languished in the courts for years because of defense claims that the prosecution did not tell defense lawyers about plea agreements between the prosecution and many witnesses who themselves were in trouble with the law.

After Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron stated late last year that the case would go to trial in April, Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman and the defense attorneys plea bargained the case.

Under the agreement accepted by Milliron, Michael Friedenberger entered pleas to one count each of conspiracy and receiving stolen property and was fined $2,000 and placed on probation for four years.

All other charges against him, his wife and Cross were dismissed.

After the hearing, Gorman said that prosecution came to a plea agreement because three of the key witnesses had died.

On April 3, a couple of weeks after the judge imposed the sentence, Altoona attorney Steven P. Passarello, representing Michael Friedenberger, filed a request to withdraw the pleas because, he argued, the deputy AG had certified that the government was ready for trial, when, according to the press reports, the case could not be prosecuted because of the deaths of key witnesses.

“The Commonwealth never informed defense counsel, the defendant or the tribunal of the fact that the Commonwealth was unable to prosecute the case,” the Passarello petition stated.

He concluded, “Because this information was not provided, the defendant’s plea was not knowing, intelligent or voluntary.”

Passarello contended the withholding of information from the defense violated the responsibility of the prosecution under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct.

Milliron on Friday denied Passarello’s request to allow Michael Friedenberger to withdraw his pleas.

The judge at the same time issued an order that the evidence in the case was to be disposed of, an indication he considered the case closed.

Passarello said Tuesday he does not intend to drop the issue.

He said he will appeal Milliron’s order to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Attempts to reach Gorman on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.