Unity man suspected in woman’s disappearance may part ways with attorney, court papers indicate

The attorney for a Unity man suspected in the 2018 disappearance of Cassandra Gross is seeking to be discharged from his unrelated federal gun case a month before sentencing.

The move came after Thomas George Stanko, 51, wrote two letters this month to a federal judge, apparently citing his displeasure with attorney Komron Jon Maknoon, who handled Stanko’s November guilty plea to two counts of illegally having guns because he is a convicted felon. The letters were not publicly released, but court filings last week offered clues as to the contents.

“… undersigned counsel and Mr. Stanko have irreconcilable differences that cannot be repaired,” Maknoon wrote in a motion citing trust, personality and communication issues, among others, as reasons for his request to leave the case.

Stanko is a suspect in the disappearance of Gross, though he has not been charged. He has been in jail since April 2018 on unrelated charges, including the federal weapons case.

The charges stem from 17 guns state police said they found on Stanko’s Unity property and a storage unit he rented in August 2018. He has a previous felony conviction that prohibits him from possessing a firearm. Stanko admitted to the crimes during a November plea hearing.

Attorneys plan to have a conference Tuesday with Chief U.S. District Judge Mark R. Hornak. Sentencing is set for March 23.

The judge this month asked attorneys to respond to matters raised in Stanko’s letters.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Lenhardt said in a filing that “it appears that the defendant is having second thoughts about pleading guilty” because of sentencing guidelines related to the offenses. He noted that he has been asked to move the federal case along to avoid further delaying Westmoreland County proceedings.

Stanko also raised medical issues in at least one of the letters, although details were unclear from court filings. He requested that news reporters be prohibited from attending his sentencing hearing. Lenhardt said courtrooms are required by law to be open to the public.

Prosecutors said Stanko has failed to provide a full accounting of his assets, which ultimately could impact his sentencing.

“It appears that the defendant believes that even if he retains the power to control these assets, he need not disclose them if he simply put them in the name of other people,” Lenhardt wrote.

Gross of Unity was last seen April 7, 2018. She was reported missing April 9, 2018. The next day, state police found her Mitsubishi Outlander burned in a wooded area near Twin Lakes Park.

In the days after her disappearance, state police were seen searching two Unity properties Stanko owns. In May 2020, troopers found a few items during a search at a home where Stanko’s mother lives on White Fence Lane next to Unity Cemetery. Those items, which have not been publicly detailed, were sent for testing.

A judge in 2019 declared Gross legally dead. State police classify the case as a homicide. No arrests have been made. She would be 55.

Prosecutors have said they anticipated filing homicide charges against Stanko, but the case was delayed by the federal gun case and turnover in the district attorney’s office.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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