Exclusive: Karl Rominger talks about his crime, his punishment and what he saw behind bars

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The name Karl Rominger may sound familiar. As a prominent local defense attorney, he made a name for himself defending some of the Midstate’s most notorious.

His client roster included former Penn State football coach and convicted serial child molester, Jerry Sandusky.

Five years ago, Rominger himself was sentenced to prison.

“I did wrong,” Rominger said in an exclusive interview with abc27. “I’m responsible. I’m the guy who needed to be punished.”

Rominger admits he stole $800,000 from his clients to feed a nasty gambling addiction. He fully expected to go to jail when he was sentenced in 2016. The standard range for his crime, according to his attorney Bill Costopoulos, was nine to 16 months.

Rominger served more than five years.

Karl Rominger

“Most of the guys in jail used to say to me, ‘now you see what it’s really like,” Rominger said.

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Costopoulos was not surprised by the sentence.

“A criminal defense lawyer, high profile or no profile, is not the darling child of any community,” Costopoulos said. “There is no sympathy in the court of public opinion.”

“He stole $800,000. Should we have sympathy for him?” Ali Lanyon asked.

“No,” Costopoulos responded. “No, we shouldn’t.”

Rominger also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and ultimately spent time in both the state and federal prison systems. He says his time on the inside of both gave him a new perspective.

“There are so many bad actors in prison among the staff and the inmates and there are so many good actors among the staff and the inmates,” Rominger said. “But the system is closed from public scrutiny.”

Rominger said he did experience violence behind bars and had to use his fists to defend himself.

In addition to violence, he says he was confronted by his own gambling addiction daily.

“I had a gambling diagnosis,” Rominger said. “I had stole $800,000. I show up and they say to me ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing for us to do.’ And the counselor literally said to me ‘just go to the yard and try to enjoy yourself while you’re here because we have no programs for you.”

Rominger claims there are sports tickets being run “all day every day” and card games in the federal prison system where inmates bet “thousands of dollars a pop.”

Karl Rominger

“The CO running the unit saw fit to allow a giant Texas hold ’em game to go on right next to my cube every night,” Rominger said.

Rominger denies taking part in gambling while in jail. “I have never gambled since March of 2014,” he said.

When contacted by abc27, state prison officials confirmed there were no programs specifically designed for gambling addicts like Rominger.

“At this time there is no program specifically for individuals with a gambling addiction; however, we would recommend participation in SMART (Self-management and Recovery Training), which is a secular self-help program applicable to all kinds of addictive behavior, and is available at all SCIs,” said Ryan Tarkowski, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. “Gambling is prohibited in the DOC, as outlined in the inmate handbook, and the department takes proactive steps to prevent gambling in the SCIs.”

Karl Rominger and abc27’s Ali Lanyon

“Why should the average person care if it’s tough on people?” Lanyon asked Rominger.

“Listen, I hear people say retribution, an eye for and eye, whatever,” Rominger responded. “The people you put in prison are coming out of prison to be with you. They will live in your neighborhoods and they get out every single day.”

“Who is leaving is important,” Rominger continued. “And what you’ve done to them does affect who they are.”

Rominger was released from prison in December and is now facing an $800,000 restitution payment to the victims of his theft.

Within days of his release, he says he was issued a letter stating he was more than $12,000 behind in payments and if he didn’t pay “immediately” a warrant could be issued for his arrest.

The letter sent to Rominger within days of his release from prison. Courtesy: Karl Rominger

Rominger says, fresh out of prison, he couldn’t pay right away.

“I can’t say the system is completely broken, but the system is completely dysfunctional,” he said.

Rominger complained to Cumberland County court officials about the threatening language in the letter. They told abc27 they couldn’t talk specifically about his case, but did share the following statement:

“In the event information is sent to an individual in error, immediate steps are taken to provide the appropriate written communication. As a practice judicial districts along with the court system frequently review court processes and procedures to ensure the court system is providing the most efficient and effective information as individuals transition back into the community.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to punishment,” Rominger said. “Our system really struggles with one size fits all rules.”

“What do you want people to know about you today?” Lanyon asked.

“I’m sorry about what happened. I’m sorry about what I did. I take responsibility, but I’m going to move forward. I have a son who needs me. I have to work to make money for my victims.”

“I feel very badly for those people,” Rominger continued. “I hurt them. I hurt them deeply.”

Rominger has a full-time job and is making restitution payments. He is also writing a book and plans to use proceeds to assist in making those payments. In addition to his complaints about violence, gambling, and reintegration into society, Rominger expressed concern about COVID-19 protocols behind bars.

Rominger alleges while at USP Lewisburg, COVID-19 protocols were only “for show.”

Rominger said guards would “go through this whole choreographed pretend thing,” and alleged that social distancing and mask wearing only happened when an inspection was imminent.

“As soon as the inspection was over we went back to eating as a group in the cafeteria, literally,” Rominger said. “Imagine being in prison where you can’t socially isolate. You have no ability to distance and disease kind of already runs rampant. If somebody catches the flu in prison, it burns through pretty quickly. In fact, if you hear a guy coughing in the dormitory on Tuesday, by Thursday the whole dormitory is coughing.”

Rominger also complained of what he calls “smash and grab” raids by federal prison guards in a letter to the acting U.S. Attorney this past summer. You can find the text of that letter below.

abc27 reached out to federal officials to comment on all of Rominger’s allegations about what happened during his incarceration. “We have referred this matter for investigation to the U. S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General that oversees the Bureau of Prisons facilities in our district. Based on that referral, we have no further comment,” said Dawn Clark, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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