July 12, 2008

Wecht prosecutor leaving U.S. attorney's office

Friday, July 11, 2008

The federal prosecutor who led the case against former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht is leaving the U.S. attorney's office.

Stephen S. Stallings, 40, who came to the Pittsburgh office from Miami, will join the Pittsburgh law office of Dreier LLP as a partner.

His focus will be on white-collar criminal defense, internal investigations and commercial and securities litigation.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said she spoke with Mr. Stallings long ago about his plans to return to private practice. She had asked that he stay on through the Wecht trial.

"I feel he has honored his commitment to the office," Ms. Buchanan said. "It's unclear when the Wecht case will be resolved, and I wouldn't expect for him to delay his plans indefinitely."

The first trial ended in a hung jury in April. The government has said it will retry the case, but it is currently on appeal with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Stallings came to Pittsburgh, his wife's hometown, in 2004 after spending three years in the U.S. attorney's office in Miami. There, he prosecuted domestic and foreign public corruption cases, including a $170 million bank fraud case.

Since his arrival here, he has led a number of high-profile public corruption cases, among them the prosecutions of several members of the Allegheny County sheriff's office including Chief Deputy Sheriff Dennis Skosnik, who pleaded guilty to bribery, tampering with a witness, mail and wire fraud and money laundering.

Leo M. Dillon, chief of the U.S. attorney's criminal division, will replace Mr. Stallings in the Wecht case.

Jerry McDevitt, one of Dr. Wecht's defense attorneys, said that with Mr. Stallings leaving the office, the case against his client should end.

"The decision of the lead prosecutor responsible for the investigation and unsuccessful prosecution of Dr. Wecht to move on with his life is yet another reason -- not that any more were needed -- to formally end this case so that all concerned can move on with their lives also," Mr. McDevitt said.

"With the departure of Mr. Stallings, all the prosecutors involved in the underlying investigation are now no longer even on the case, and the lead FBI case agent was reassigned to administrative duties long ago."

Former U.S. Attorney Frederick W. Thieman said that turnover in the federal prosecutor's office is normal.

"It's not unusual at all to have an attorney pick up a case in mid-investigation, at the time of trial or at the time of retrial," he said.

The more complicated a case is, he said, the more difficult a transition it might be.

"In a perfect world, you would like to keep the team intact, but the office is set up to handle that," Mr. Thieman said. "It's not like you lose all institutional knowledge."

Mr. Dillon was an Allegheny County assistant district attorney who helped prosecute the former coroner in Common Pleas Court in the early 1980s. A jury acquitted Dr. Wecht on one charge of theft of services after deliberating for 10 hours.

Mr. Dillon spent 11 years as an assistant district attorney before joining the U.S. attorney's office in 1988.

He has been reviewing transcripts in the Wecht case for the past several weeks, Ms. Buchanan said.

At New York City-based Dreier, Mr. Stallings will join Thomas J. Farrell -- another former assistant U.S. attorney -- and Jay K. Reisinger, who practice sports law.

It is not Mr. Stallings' first stint in private practice. Before becoming a prosecutor, he practiced complex commercial civil litigation in Miami for 10 years.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.
First published on July 11, 2008 at 12:00 am

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