When Steve Santoro's toddler son asked him why a police officer kept stopping by his Robinson house while mom was home, the father "became suspicious," according to a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Thursday against Robinson Township, Kennedy Township and three individuals.
The tot's question, Mr. Santoro's complaint claimed, started a four-year legal struggle between the father, the mother and two police officers, one of whom he has accused in the federal lawsuit of conspiring to wreck the marriage. Mr. Santoro, 46, spent the better part of a year in jail, according to his attorney, Moon-based Gianni Floro, and that is the core of his allegation of malicious prosecution, false arrest and violation of free speech.
According to the complaint, Mr. Santoro got married in 2003, but shortly after he and his wife moved to Robinson, police Officer Frank Marko -- now a sergeant -- "began to make romantic advances to [wife] Dina Santoro."
The son's question and a tip from a cab driver clued Mr. Santoro into the romance, the complaint said. Mr. Marko and Ms. Santoro, 33, eventually "conspired in order to keep Santoro imprisoned and out of the purview of their torrid activities," it continued.
In October 2008, Ms. Santoro got a protection from abuse order against her husband, accusing him of past violence and claiming that he showed up drunk for a visit with their child and "repeatedly threatened to kill me."
In March of 2009, Kennedy police charged Mr. Santoro with making terroristic threats and harassment. The threats charge was dropped, and Mr. Santoro pleaded guilty to harassment, getting a three-month sentence on top of time spent in the Allegheny County Jail on a detainer.
"This gentleman sat in jail for close to 10 months for what ultimately turned out to be a [summary] charge that he should never have pleaded guilty to," said Mr. Floro, who did not represent Mr. Santoro in his criminal case.
The federal civil complaint said that at one point Mr. Santoro "was arrested ... on the totally unfounded suspicion that he was a member of the 'Mafia,' because he was of Italian-American [descent]." However, charges were dropped.
Robinson solicitor Sam Kamin said he had read the complaint but wasn't able to immediately comment. Individual defendants Mr. Marko and Ms. Santoro could not be reached. Also named is Kennedy police Officer Robert Hull, accused in the complaint of filing the harassment and threats charges.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.