Former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino's relationship with a convicted criminal in Lycoming County triggered concerns about his character and judgment years before he made headlines as a personal reference for Dunmore businessman and one-time felon Louis DeNaples.

Marino, while the district attorney of Lycoming County, attempted an end around on a county judge who refused to expunge a friend's drug conviction. He approached another judge and won the expungement, but the plan backfired when the second judge learned of the first judge's involvement in the case.

The story, reported in the Harrisburg Patriot-News when Marino's friend appeared in federal court on a weapons charge in 2002, circulated through the U.S. Attorney's office as Marino took office, raising concerns among the same former colleagues who now question his ethics in the DeNaples matter.

"We had expectations of 'hmm, this is interesting,'" a former Assistant U.S. Attorney said, recalling the impression the Lycoming County case had left on Marino's underlings.

Marino, the Republican challenging Democratic incumbent Chris Carney in the 10th Congressional District, declined to be interviewed for this story, originally intended as a profile of the candidate.

His campaign spokesman, Jason Fitzgerald, denied the expungement allegation and five other concerns the former Assistant U.S. Attorneys raised about Marino's leadership, including claims he hired law enforcement colleagues to serve as an "entourage" and would go days at a time without going to the office.

"Every one of these accusations is false," Fitzgerald said. "I hope that any media outlet that would have this information would do the right thing and investigate these accusations. They're absolutely false, there's not one element of truth to these accusations whatsoever."

According to the Patriot-News account and the Assistant U.S. Attorney's recollection of the case, Marino hand delivered the expungement motion to the second judge, Dudley N. Anderson, after the first judge, Kenneth D. Brown, refused.

Anderson approved the expungement, for prominent central Pennsylvania car dealer Jay W. Kilhenney, but reversed himself when he learned of Brown's previous decision to deny the request.

Anderson ordered all copies of his expungement order returned, but Kilhenney kept a copy and included it with personal letters of reference from Marino and a Lycoming County detective to obtain authorization from the Ford Motor Co. to open a dealership in Lock Haven, according to the Patriot-News report.

Marino's involvement in the case served as a harbinger of his questionable involvement in the DeNaples matter, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney said.

Marino, who acted as a personal reference on DeNaples' December 2005 application to operate the Mount Airy Casino in Monroe County, backed away last week from earlier claims he had permission from the Justice Department to help DeNaples.

The endorsement should never have been made in the first place, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked under Marino said. The attorney spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard against potential professional fallout from his remarks.

"It's just not done," the former Assistant U.S. Attorney said. "It's inconceivable that any sitting U.S. Attorney would even approach giving a personal reference to somebody connected to an investigation going on in your office."

Marino announced his resignation from the U.S. Attorney's Office in September 2007, a month after the Allentown Morning Call broke the news that he had served as a personal reference for DeNaples.

Three months later, in January 2008, he returned to DeNaples' fold, accepting a $249,999-per-year position as full-time counsel to DeNaples non-casino interests. Marino remained with DeNaples until last December, when he left to run for Congress.

Marino first flirted with a run for Congress in 1998, when longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Joseph McDade retired. Marino, at the time the district attorney of Lycoming County, eventually decided against running, instead endorsing the eventual winner, Wyoming County car dealer Don Sherwood, also a Republican.

Marino said in an editorial board interview in March his current run for Congress grew out of a personal disgust with the shifting direction of the country and the increasing reach of the federal government.

"Why I want a job like this is to help, to be one of a total of 534 to restore, to restore the faith of the public," Marino told the Sunbury radio station WKOK in August. "I'd like to be one person who contributes to that."

Marino has taken pride, in radio interviews and television commercials, in his "blue collar" upbringing. He worked in a factory until age 30 and then, motivated to establish a career, enrolled at Penn College and later Lycoming College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Education.

After graduating from the Dickinson School of Law, Marino worked for a private law firm near his home in Williamsport. Then, rising with relatively quickness through the prosecutorial ranks, won election as district attorney in 1992 and appointment to the U.S. Attorney's post in 2002.

"I've been fortunate," Marino told WKOK radio in August. "People have been very good to me."

Marino emerged from a three-way Republican primary in May, beating retired Lehman Township chiropractor and business consultant David Madeira by 5,911 votes, or 9.9 percent of the vote, and Snyder County commissioner Malcolm Derk, by 7,745 votes, or 13 percent.

Madeira and Derk have both since endorsed Marino, who won the primary with strong performances in the more conservative areas of the district. Marino dominated at the polls in Lycoming County, where he maintains his home and where loyalties remain from his service as district attorney, winning 76.1 percent of the 7,303 votes cast.

Marino also performed well in neighboring Bradford County, taking 51.8 percent of the 5,748 votes cast.

The two counties, the home of two of the three largest Republican factions in the district, were key to Marino's victory and his primary strategy, and could be a base of strength in the general election.

Marino's political philosophy draws from traditional Republican ideals and the extremes of the Tea Party movement. On his campaign Web site, marinoforcongress.com, the candidate stresses individual rights, including those of the unborn and gun owners, and reforms to curtail illegal immigration, Medicare fraud, government debt and waste.

In a radio interview in August, Marino offered details of a more radical approach to limited government. He told WKOK in Sunbury he would eliminate the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and the Internal Revenue Service, replacing them with more efficient, mission-oriented agencies.

"There's got to be a total revolution there," Marino told the station.