Attorney stings 30 defendants Authorities credit work by informant; latest drug suspect gets 15 years in prison
By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published on Sunday, Jan 25, 2009
A high-stakes Akron drug dealer has become the latest suspect stung by an attorney who became an informant for federal agents.
Chevaliee ''Chevy'' Robinson, 30, pleaded guilty last fall to charges of drug conspiracy and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Akron. He was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.
His arrest and 29 others were made possible, federal authorities said, because of the undercover work of Robinson's former attorney, Frank Pignatelli.
According to court records, Pignatelli was facing his own indictment as a co-conspirator when he agreed to work undercover for federal drug investigators more than three years ago.
With Pignatelli's help, federal agents have arrested 30 people from Akron and Cleveland, and seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana and cocaine, along with cash and property totaling more than $3 million.
Many of the charges have led to convictions, which could not have happened without the former Akron lawyer's help, attorneys said.
Pignatelli's decision to turn on his clients and cooperate with law enforcement ''still leaves a bad taste in my mouth,'' Robinson's attorney, James Campbell, said Friday.
''Maybe [Pignatelli] should be doing jail time instead.''
Pignatelli, 45, who has moved out of state and resumed his criminal defense practice, has not been charged with any crime.
He has been offered consideration of a lesser sentence, if or
when he is charged, authorities said.
Pignatelli declined comment when reached by phone Saturday.
His attorney, Lawrence Vuillemin, said Pignatelli has ''acted responsibly and as required under the law.''
Pignatelli's law license in Ohio is inactive. He works as an attorney in Denver, a private practice that includes defending alleged drug dealers in federal court.
''It's been no secret to governmental authorities that Frank has been in Colorado,'' Vuillemin said. ''In fact, he would not have gone there if there had been an issue of his being a lawyer and practicing law out there.''
Pignatelli was a familiar face in Summit County legal circles and a popular choice as a lawyer for drug clients since the early 1990s. That changed around December 2005.
Federal prosecutors said they learned through another investigation that Pignatelli was helping his clients purchase ''stash houses'' in which to store drugs and money.
Based on the investigation, which included wire taps, agents searched Pignatelli's home and recovered large sums of cash, authorities said. He was not indicted, but instead began cooperating with federal drug investigators.
His former client Robinson was facing a 20-year sentence after his guilty plea in September. Judge Sara Lioi sentenced him to 15.
Court papers show that federal authorities searched a home Robinson owned on Jean Avenue in Akron in March 2006. Inside was more than $2.8 million and about 1,000 pounds of marijuana. The search was based on information Pignatelli provided.
A large share of the seized money is expected to go to local law-enforcement budgets, said Gary Rasoletti, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigative unit.
Twelve others from Akron have been indicted with Robinson. In Cleveland, 17 defendants were charged in an equally broad drug operation that federal prosecutors say was brought down with help from Pignatelli.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or [email protected].