Podlucky evidence at risk

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The multimillion-dollar fraud prosecution of Gregory J. Podlucky could face a hurdle because inspectors listed one address on a search warrant, but went hunting for gems, gold and computer records at a different address.

A defense motion filed late Tuesday in the federal case against the former Le-Nature's Inc. boss seeks to toss out evidence gathered in the 2007 search at the center of the prosecution's case. Other motions seek to sever from the case a defendant who talked with law enforcement, and to move the scheduled July 5 trial out of Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Podlucky, 50, his wife, Karla, their son, G. Jesse, and three former business associates face charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. All have pleaded not guilty.

The Podluckys are accused of getting hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to invest in Latrobe beverage firm Le-Nature's, then using some of the money to buy gold, sapphires, six-figure watches and other items. At bankruptcy, Le-Nature's had assets of about $100 million and debts exceeding $700 million.

A warrant dated Jan. 22, 2007, obtained by a postal inspector from a federal magistrate, lists 345 Cobblestone Lane, Ligonier, as the address to be searched. Agents were permitted by the warrant to seek jewelry, precious metals, gems, business records, personal financial records, computers and money.

But a motion filed by Alexander H. Lindsay, representing Mr. Podlucky, said that address has been a vacant lot since 2001. Instead agents searched the Podlucky home at 297 Sunrise Lane.

The two addresses are about 1,000 feet apart as the crow flies, and 2,000 feet apart as the car drives the U-shaped route between them. Westmoreland County assessment records list the Podluckys' address as 345 Cobblestone, but also show a new house on Sunrise.

"Since ... the wrong address was sought in the warrant application suppression of the evidence is required," Mr. Lindsay wrote in the motion.

"It does seem to me that this is a live issue," said David Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a specialist in search and seizure. "The court has struck down searches for putting down the wrong information.

"These things are not easy to win," he added.

The Constitution's Fourth Amendment allows searches and seizures only with warrants "particularly describing the place to be searched." The U.S. Supreme Court has found that warrants must include "enough information so that a reasonable police officer can determine where he or she is supposed to go and search," Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Lindsay would not comment. U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton's office, which is prosecuting, declined comment, as did the Postal Inspection Service.

A separate motion asks that the case of co-defendant Donald Pollinger be separated from Mr. Podlucky's. Mr. Pollinger, according to the motion, "was debriefed by the government on two occasions, without counsel and it is believed that he made statements ... which implicate" Mr. Podlucky.

Mr. Lindsay also asked that the case be moved from the Western District of U.S. District Court, where it is being handled by Judge Alan N. Bloch, to another district. That motion said that in Western Pennsylvania there is "so great a prejudice against this defendant that it is not likely that a fair and impartial trial could be had," adding that "daily papers ... have carried sensational stories purporting to relate facts pertaining to the various counts."


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542


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