John Weinstein, Allegheny County’s treasurer and now a leading candidate for county executive, lent his name and support two years ago to a successful judicial candidate, who went on to hire two staffers with ties to the mother of two children with Weinstein.
The candidate, Sabrina Korbel, won election as an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge in 2021 and quickly hired two people with ties to Weinstein to work in her chambers. One is J. Allen Roth, an attorney who clerks for Korbel. The other is Emanuel “Mani” Snyder, a son of Shanni Snyder. Shanni Snyder and Weinstein have two other children.
Weinstein’s tie to Roth emerged in a lawsuit filed in February, which centers around business dealings of Shanni Snyder and her family, and includes her as a defendant, along with her brothers Kash and George Snyder, and Roth. A White Oak businesswoman filed the lawsuit in federal court under the federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. It aims for monetary damages, not criminal penalties, but to prevail, civil RICO plaintiffs must typically establish that an organization is corrupt and has engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs allege that Shanni Snyder conspired with her siblings to file a fraudulent wage dispute to ultimately seize control of a Westmoreland County property. Latrobe-based attorney Roth has represented the Snyders’ business, called U LOCK, in relation to the dispute and related bankruptcy filings — without, so far, charging them for the bankruptcy work — while serving as Korbel’s clerk.
Weinstein said he wrote a letter of recommendation for Emanuel Snyder, but said, “I personally did not have any involvement with any other hire of Judge Korbel’s professional staff.”
The man Weinstein hopes to replace, outgoing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said talk of the treasurer’s political influence has “swirled around the courthouse for many years.”
In a response filed in the racketeering lawsuit, George Snyder (Shanni’s brother and a controller of U LOCK) said he was representing himself and said he would need more time and information to “clear up the bunkum” in the suit, which he referred to as “50 pages of flapdoodle.”
He also appeared to suggest that the filing of the suit might have ulterior motives: “I think I see what’s going on here since reporters started ringing before this case even appeared on the public docket,” he wrote.
Weinstein boosted, contributed to judicial candidate
In an election-season ad for Korbel in early 2021, Weinstein said, “I don’t normally do this, appear in a television commercial for a judicial candidate, but this time it’s different, because I feel so strongly about it, that Sabrina stands alone in making a lasting impact.”
“Sabrina Korbel has done more for women and families in Allegheny County than anyone I know,” Weinstein said in the ad. Korbel is the former legal director of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
Weinstein’s campaign made a $10,000 contribution to Korbel’s “Team Sabrina” campaign committee in February of that year, according to Weinstein’s finance disclosure from that year.
Korbel declined to speak with a reporter when reached by phone, citing courthouse policy, and she did not respond to a list of questions sent to her. She later gave a brief response via email: “My hiring decisions were made independently based upon my own judgment and consideration of the candidates. I will not provide comments with respect to specific personnel matters as those matters are confidential.”
In a text response to questions for this story, Weinstein identified Emanuel Snyder as “a graduate of Chatham University and besides being an extremely bright, talented, and a diligently dependable individual, he’s also very interested in the judicial system. I advised Emanuel there were some jobs that may be available and wrote him a letter of recommendation.”
Weinstein added that “we need good people at Allegheny County all the time” and said “an applicant doesn’t need to know anyone to get a job.” Asked whether it would help an applicant to have the support of someone who supported a judge’s campaign, Weinstein said, “Thousands of people supported Judge Korbel’s campaign,” and that there was no understanding or expectation that his support would give him input on who she hired.
Weinstein said he had not written a letter on behalf of Roth or anyone else on Korbel’s staff, and had no role in any of her other hires for her office.
When reached by phone and asked about whether Weinstein helped her son get the job, Shanni Snyder asked for a reporter’s phone number and then hung up.
Roth declined to speak with a reporter by phone but answered in an email that he sought out a clerkship because he is being treated for “incurable terminal cancer” and he wanted to scale back his courtroom advocacy. Asked if Weinstein had any involvement in him obtaining the job, he responded, “I’ve neither spoken with nor met Mr. Weinstein about any job.”
Emanuel Snyder could not be reached for comment.
Don Walko, a former state representative who served as an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge for more than a decade, said judges have wide discretion over who they hire for clerkships and administrative jobs, “and every judge does it differently.” He said he prioritized good writing abilities and knowledge of court procedures when he hired law clerks.
“Just because someone knows you doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified,” Walko added. “I know a judge whose brother was a longtime tipstaff, and he was excellent.”
Roth is paid around $53,000 as a clerk, according to the county controller’s office, and Mani Snyder makes slightly more than $51,000. Both were hired close to the time Korbel became a judge at the beginning of 2022.
Roth was the subject of a public reprimand issued in early 2017 by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which regulates the conduct of attorneys. The reprimand covered two separate matters in which Roth was accused of representing one party in a divorce at the same time he represented the spouse in a separate legal action. The reprimand noted that he’d had a previous private reprimand in which he borrowed money from a client.
Public reprimands do not carry a penalty of suspension or disbarment, the most serious disciplinary action, but represent an escalation beyond private reprimands.
Disputes over land and wages
The lawsuit targeting Roth and the Snyders traces its origins back to 2015, when the Snyders became involved in a property dispute with the plaintiff, Christine Biros, a White Oak resident.
According to the civil complaint, Biros purchased property in North Huntingdon Township, and it was deeded to “U LOCK Inc.” Roughly two months after the purchase, the Snyders incorporated a storage company under that name.
Eventually U LOCK and Biros both claimed ownership of the property. A Westmoreland County court ruled in favor of Biros.
Shanni Snyder later filed a wage dispute in federal court against U LOCK — the company controlled by her brothers — alleging that she was owed more than $100,000 for work she performed on the property regularly during the course of four years. U LOCK did not contest the wage dispute, and the court ruled in Shanni’s favor.
The 2023 racketeering suit alleges that in her pursuit of the wage claim “all of Shanni’s sworn testimony was false, except for her testimony that U LOCK had not paid her any wages.” But it says the three Snyders used the supposed debt as the basis for a federal bankruptcy filing — one that “had the effect of, among other things, staying other litigation involving U LOCK,” including litigation about who owned the Westmoreland County property.
In testimony in U LOCK’s bankruptcy case in January, Kash Snyder (another Shanni brother and U LOCK controller) said he did not believe that Roth had been paid for his work on the bankruptcy case, adding that he was unaware of any agreement to pay the attorney. After further questioning, Roth interjected, “I believe it’s their intention to pay me at some point, and so that’s where we are; but I have not been paid anything to this point.”
Roth said in an email to a reporter that any payment during an involuntary bankruptcy case would have to be requested of, and approved by, the court. He did not say whether he planned to make such a request. It is common practice in bankruptcy cases for attorneys to require a fee before the bankruptcy is filed.
Case comes amid campaign
The civil suit emerged just as the race for county executive was heating up.
Weinstein announced his candidacy in January, and it quickly became clear he’d be a formidable contender when he announced in February that he had raised more than $1 million for his campaign. More recently he secured major endorsements from the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council and from the county’s Democratic Party committee.
He’s one of a few frontrunners in the seven-candidate Democratic primary field, running alongside Sara Innamorato, Michael Lamb, Dave Fawcett, Liv Bennett, Theresa Colaizzi and Will Parker.
News of the lawsuit, which has been circulating in political circles since late last month, began to spread to social media last week, becoming part of the public conversation on the executive race.
Lamb called the hires “really disturbing” in an interview.
“Everyone knows someone who’s gotten a job in government, and as long as they’re competent, that’s great,” he said. But Lamb said that it would be wrong for a government employee to provide free services for the family of someone who helped them to get a job.
Weinstein shot back that he was “not interested in Lamb’s desperate, misinformed, gutter politics,” and that he was running “a positive campaign based on my unparalleled county government experience [and] my ability to immediately govern.”
Fitzgerald, the outgoing executive the candidates are seeking to replace, said he was concerned about the possibility that a future county executive might use the position to reward friends and allies.
In the past, Fitzgerald said, county government had a reputation for political patronage hires, but “under the new form of government over the last 24 years, it kind of broke away from that. … And if we returned to the days of what used to be there, I think it would be a setback for this region.
“I’ve said this for many years, regardless of Mr. Weinstein, but the position of county executive is extremely powerful,” Fitzgerald said. “It has a huge amount of influence.”
Chris Potter is 90.5 WESA’s government and accountability editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This story was fact-checked by Rich Lord.
This story was produced in a partnership between WESA and PublicSource.
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However, only .01% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.
Your donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.