A Uniontown attorney was charged Thursday following a lengthy undercover operation that revealed he was allegedly laundering money for drug dealers.
Tancredi Calabrese, 32, of Tyler Court was charged by the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) with dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, criminal attempt to deal in the proceeds of unlawful activities, unsworn falsification to authorities and tampering with public records. Calabrese allegedly committed the crime while acting as an attorney with Calabrese Legal Services, located at 78 East Main Street in Uniontown.
Calabrese, who was in his Uniontown office Thursday, said he is in treatment for addiction and referred comment to his attorney, Thomas W. Shaffer, who described the case as "classic entrapment," comparing it to a high-profile drug case filed against automaker John Z. DeLorean in 1982.
The investigation began in June 2018 when a person called the FBI tip line saying he hired Calabrese to represent him in a misdemeanor disorderly conduct case, and Calabrese told him he can "wash" his money or "clean" it and not pay taxes, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case.
"Calabrese continued by saying he launders money for numerous large-scale drug dealers that are his clients," Trooper Craig Yauch wrote in the affidavit.
He told the source he takes a 10% fee and holds the money until the client requests a draw, the affidavit said.
BCI launched its investigation in October 2019 after a confidential informant agreed to contact Calabrese about starting a business and laundering money. A confidential informant (CI) met with Calabrese Oct. 23, saying he makes a large amount of money selling cocaine and needed to "put his money in a safe place." Calabrese allegedly told him he could start a nonprofit because nonprofits can have anonymous donors. They discussed forming a shell company, using family members as the owners, according to court paperwork.
When the CI asked about fees, police said Calabrese replied "committing a crime is $10,000 to $20,000 for me to take the step." Calabrese allegedly gave him tips and said he "does it all the time."
In other conversations, Calabrese reportedly told the CI he "has people that would act as 'figure heads' for a small fee," and also asked the CI to loan him $30,000 to $40,000 to expand his own business. In December, an undercover officer met with Calabrese, posing as an accomplice who was being paid by the CI to make the business look legitimate. Calabrese offered her advice, discussing how to make a roofing business look legitimate and telling her they would "all go to jail if this is not done correctly." He told her she was "taking a big risk, take time and think about it," the affidavit said.
The undercover officer met with Calabrese Jan. 3 to sign paperwork, police said, and he again discussed her risks and responsibilities "but assured her that he will be there to run things," the affidavit said.
He reportedly told them if the laundering operation was discovered, he would claim he did not know about the criminal activity. At one point, Calabrese told the CI "if you were trying to just clean up your money, you could just 'give me a briefcase with $100,000 and I'll take it to the Cayman Islands'," the affidavit quoted him as saying.
Police executed a search warrant at his business Jan. 28 and collected documents related to the fraudulent business. The search warrant was obtained from the 46th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, which was established in January to investigate criminal activity in Fayette County.
Shaffer contended police used his client's addiction to exploit his vulnerabilities.
"The case is a mere image of the U.S. v. DeLorean, where the government preyed upon a failing owner of an automobile manufacturing plant," Shaffer said. "Here, the police arrested an individual who became a confidential informant, who obviously needed one free pass out of jail, and he and the Pennsylvania State Police conjured up a scheme to plant the seed in attorney Calabrese's mind to commit a crime, again preying on his weakness of addiction. This is a classic case of entrapment."
Calabrese reportedly told investigators he was aware the CI's money for the business was obtained through drug trafficking, and that the purpose of the business was to launder money.
Calabrese was arraigned Thursday morning before Fayette County Magisterial District Judge Michael M. Metros, who set bail at $50,000 unsecured, meaning he did not have to post bail as a condition of release.