Lackawanna County's guardian ad litem charged by feds with income tax evasion

By Jon Campisi | Feb 14, 2013

An investigating grand jury has indicted Lackawanna County’s guardian ad litem with two counts of tax evasion and two counts of filing false federal income tax returns, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced this week.

Attorney Danielle Ross Pietralczyk, 37, of Jermyn, Pa., allegedly failed to report any income she received from private clients while she was contracted with Lackawanna County as the guardian ad litem for the family court division.

The guardian ad litem is a lawyer or mental health worker who is appointed by the courts to conduct inquiries of families experiencing child custody disputes.

U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith, who signed the 13-page indictment, charges that Pietralczyk only reported income in 2009 and 2010 that came from her gig as the guardian ad litem.

As an independent contractor with the court system, Pietralczyk gets a 1099 tax form from the county on which she is to report the income she earned through work.

The indictment alleges that as the sole guardian ad litem for the Lackawanna County Family Court, Pietralczyk was provided with an annual compensation in the amount of $38,000.

Her contract with the county, however allowed Pietralczyk to bill private paying parties above her county compensation at a rate of $50 per hour.

The government charges that the extra income was only known to Pietralczyk, and not the county, which was not required to approve the private billings.

Pietralczyk, who has been the county’s guardian ad litem since 2008, and who was given rent-free office space by the court, maintained her own records and had “complete control over the records,” the indictment states.

She would generally accept checks and cash for the services she provided to the private paying parties.

The indictment alleges that the 1040 IRS tax forms, which Pietralczyk jointly filed with her husband annually, showed that the attorney failed to report any income she received through checks and cash from the private paying parties in addition to the income she received from Lackawanna County.

“In summary, from the beginning of her contracts with Lackawanna County through 2010, Ross willfully reported on her annual federal income tax returns that her only income was what Lackawanna County and her former employer had paid her as indicated on 1099 Forms and fraudulently and falsely did not report income, and willfully attempted to evade additional tax due and owing on the income that she had received from private paying parties,” the indictment reads.

The indictment states that Pietralczyk and her husband reported joint taxable income for 2009 in the amount of $50,985 with the amount of tax due being $14,324, and that the couple reported joint taxable income of $27,076 for 2010 with taxes owed in the amount of $11,420.

In both instances, however, the government charges that the attorney owed income taxes “substantially in excess of that amount.”

Pietralczyk is facing a maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment, an unspecified term of supervised release after being let out of prison, and an unspecified fine.

Lackawanna County’s guardian ad litem program has been besieged with other problems.

This past summer, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts released a 113-page report that determined the county program suffers from a lack of oversight and financial accountability and the AOPC offered up more than 50 recommendations for improvement.

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