Carlow gets 35-month fraud term

But judge does not impose restitution

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Michael P. Carlow, who served six years in prison for perpetrating what a federal judge called "vast and pervasive" fraud, was sentenced Friday to 35 months in prison for obstructing federal tax collection efforts.

U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone did not make repaying back taxes a condition of Mr. Carlow's sentence.

Federal prosecutors had sought restitution of $10.1 million in taxes and penalties, including $6.4 million related to Carlow's prior conviction. They told Judge Cercone that the statute of limitations on using liens, garnishments and other traditional means of collecting those taxes has expired and that making restitution a condition of his sentence was the only way to collect from Carlow.

The judge also did not impose a penalty on Carlow, saying the 62-year-old defendant was unable to pay one.

The maximum sentence the judge could have imposed was 36 months.

"The sentence adequately reflects the seriousness of the offense," Judge Cercone said.

The punishment comes more than two years after Carlow, one of Western Pennsylvania's more enduring white collar criminals, was indicted on far more serious charges that were dropped after he accused U.S. Attorney David Hickton of misconduct.

A six-count indictment in April 2011 alleged Carlow began orchestrating his second offense in 2000, two years before he completed serving time for his first offense. In 1996, Carlow pleaded guilty to bank fraud and tax charges related to a $31 million check-kiting scheme.

The 2011 indictment alleged Carlow hid assets and income he was required to disclose to federal authorities as part of his 1996 plea agreement. Those charges could have made Carlow's second prison stretch as long as 22 years.

Carlow has been free on a $25,000 bond since the 2011 indictment.

Following the indictment, Carlow sought to have the charges thrown out because Mr. Hickton, the federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh, hired a former white-collar defense attorney who previously took part in preliminary discussions about representing Carlow, then assigned her to his case. Carlow said that violated his attorney-client privilege.

Mr. Hickton excused his entire office from the case, which was assigned to prosecutors from the U.S. Justice Department's tax division.

Carlow's attorneys had asked for less than the three-year maximum prison sentence. They supplied Judge Cercone with letters of support from Carlow's family, friends and employer, who cited the Uniontown native's strong work ethic, his dedication to his family, and the selfless support he has provided to them and others. About a dozen family members and friends attended the sentencing hearing.

Regina Carlow described her older brother as a kind, compassionate man who followed their mother's advice to take care of the underdog.

"Football, girls and college shifted his pre-teen desire to enter the priesthood to follow in his father's footsteps as an entrepreneur," she wrote the judge.

Their father, Frank V. Carlow, was sentenced in 1998 to 87 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud, conspiracy and other charges. He died in 2000.

Clifford Wise, chairman of Specialty Steel Products, said he hired Michael Carlow to work at his Braddock transportation company, where Carlow persuaded him to develop a program for hiring ex-inmates.

"I would invite him to share my fox hole any time," Mr. Wise wrote.

But victims of Carlow and some former associates say the former Uniontown High School quarterback is more persistent than most creditors and law enforcement officials he comes up against. They say he frustrates them by shifting assets around to various companies, a process outlined in the 2011 indictment, until they grow weary of pursuing him.

One former associate summed up his method of operation as "always trying to sneak the sun up past the rooster."

Elizabeth Jones, Carlow's longtime companion, was also implicated in the scheme. Federal prosecutors said Carlow put her nominally in charge of businesses he formed after being released from prison in 2002. The Upper St. Clair woman has been free on bond since pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge in August 2011.

Ms. Jones had been scheduled to be sentenced Friday as well. But court records indicate her attorney intends to make a case that Ms. Jones cooperated with the government's investigation of Carlow.

Because of that effort, her sentencing has been postponed until Dec. 18.

Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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