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Bond set for Youngstown attorneys charged with extortion

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CLEVELAND, Ohio - A six-count federal indictment  charges three Youngstown-area men, including two lawyers with extortion, conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements and related charges.

Following an FBI investigation, a grand jury handed up an indictment naming attorney Neal Atway, 47, of Youngstown; attorney Scott Cochran, 43, of Austintown, and convenience store operator Mohd Rawhneh, 54, of Boardman.

According to the indictment Rawhneh, with the assistance of Atway and Cochran, obtained and attempted to obtain things of value from Charles Muth, who owns several convenience stores in the area.

The 58 page indictment outlines a series of events that began on December 28, 2011 when a shot was fired at a Boardman residence occupied by Rawhneh's wife.

Rawhneh identified Muth as having been in the car from which the shot was fired.

Authorities subsequently searched Muth's Canfield home and discovered more than 100 marijuana plants.

Muth was convicted on both state and federal charges as a result. But as Muth was waiting to be sentenced, his attorney Neal Atway and Rawhneh led Muth to believe that unless Rawhneh received money and property from Muth, Rawhneh would appear at Muth's sentencing and give testimony that could increase Muth's sentence.

The indictment alleges that Rawhneh would communicate to Muth through attorneys Atway and Cochran.  The government claims that while the two lawyers were purportedly representing Muth, in fact, they helped formulate the means by which Rawhneh would obtain money and property from Muth.

At one point, Muth allegedly gave Rawhneh part ownership in one of his stores, and gave attorney Atway $18,000 dollars with the understanding that the cash would be given to Rawhneh.

But in a conversation that Muth recorded between himself and Atway, attorney Atway told Muth that Rawhneh wanted more money, including $5,000 a month.

Atway also told Muth that Rawhneh was threatening to sue Muth for $2-million and take his store away from him.

At the end of the conversation, Muth asked Atway to return the $18,000 intended for Rawhneh.

In a later conversation with Atway, Muth expressed fears, not only that Rawhneh would lobby for a harsher sentence,  but also that Rawhneh was going to kill him. Atway told Muth that Rawhneh was not going to kill him, because he would not get paid if something happened to Muth.

The indictment says that on April 6, 2012, Rawhneh's vehicle pulled up next to Muth's vehicle and Rawhneh made a hand gesture resembling a gun and pointed it at Muth.

Atway told Muth that Rawhneh would now settle for $50,000.

A transcript of a conversation between Atway and Rawhneh from November 2, 2012 revealed that Atway had learned that Muth had been recording their conversations . 

Rawhneh also told Atway that he wanted the $50,000 up front, or he would talk the to prosecutor handling Muth's federal case, which could result in three years added to his prison term.

During a recorded conversation between Atway, Cochran and Rawhneh on November 9, 2012, Atway said told Rawhneh that Muth was prepared to hand over $5,600 do Rawhneh's family, and pay another $5,000 per month for the following nine months. Atway suggested a lien against one of Muth's convenience stores as way of guaranteeing the payments.

When Rawhneh threatened to lobby the federal prosecutor, attorney Cochran told Rawhneh, "I think we should use the case across the street [the state case], is the one we are using to try to force him to come up with more money."

That same date, Cochran and Atway contacted Muth and told him that Rawhneh either wanted $50,000 or to take over store that Muth operated.

During a subsequent recorded conversation, Atway, who was supposed to be representing Muth, told Rawhneh that a delay in Muth's sentencing date would give them, "a little bit [of] extra time to drive him [Muth] crazy."

One day after those comments were recorded, on November 14, 2012, the FBI interviewed attorneys Cochran and Atway. One day after those interviews, Muth filed a motion withdrawing Atway as his attorney.

The indictment says the three suspects made false and misleading statements to the FBI during the investigation.

All three suspects were arraigned on the charges in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Bond for Cochran and Rawhneh was set at $25,000.  Atway's bond is $250,000.

Cochran served as president of the Mahoning County Bar Association from 2009 to 2010.

 

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