Most counts dropped against store owner

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Almost all of the criminal charges have been dropped against an Altoona man who operated a secondhand store and was accused of using drug addicts to steal goods that he sold on eBay.

Michael Friedenberger, 43, appeared before Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron on Friday and entered guilty pleas to receiving stolen property and conspiracy to receive stolen property, both were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

The judge placed Friedenberger on four years’ probation and fined him $2,000.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman then asked that all charges be dropped against Freidenberger’s wife, Lynette, 39, and her mother, Pamela Marie Cross, 57.

The women were charged with setting up accounts into which the eBay money was funneled from the sales of stolen items.

A statewide grand jury issued a presentment against Michael Friedenberger, who operates Best Buys at 700 12th St., Altoona, and his family members, on July 27, 2006.

That started the legal wrangling that resulted in a mistrial in 2008 and a double jeopardy claim that was denied by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Last December, Milliron told Gorman, Michael Friendenberger’s Pittsburgh attorney, Patrick Thomassey, and attorneys for the two women, Steven P. Passarello for Lynette Friedenberger and Scott N. Pletcher for Cross, it was time to take the case to trial.

He set a tentative trial date of April 22.

Gorman said Friday that after so many years, the case could not be prosecuted.

“We were able to track some witnesses, but the three critical witnesses have died,” he said.

When it first attempted to try the case in 2008, the prosecution had listed 28 witnesses for a trial that was to take a couple of weeks. Many were former heroin addicts, and some were in prison.

The judge, during a status conference more than a week ago, was told that Thomassey and Gorman had arrived at a plea agreement, which the judge approved Friday.

Neither attorney nor the defendants offered any comment before the judge imposed the sentence.

Forty-six charges against Michael Friedenberger were dismissed. They included three different charges of corrupt organizations and dealing in the proceeds of a corrupt organization.

Six charges each were dismissed against the women.

According to the grand jury presentment, the charges against the Friedenbergers and Cross stemmed from an investigation into secondhand stores in Blair County.

Addicts were allegedly stealing items from industries and from stores throughout Blair County and in Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Williamsport.

An attempt to try the case in 2008 was halted in the second day of testimony after it was ascertained that 43 plea agreements between the prosecution and potential witnesses had not been revealed to the defense attorneys.

After the mistrial, defense attorneys asked that a second trial be barred because of constitutional protections. The Superior Court declined.