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Giving readers an unvarnished, uncensored, insider's view of the biggest courtroom dramas.

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  • 03/05/14--17:35: The Tighty Whitie Defense
  • By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    It's the tighty-whitie defense.

    When the prosecution presented its case against "Father Andy" McCormick, the alleged victim testified that the priest wore "blue plaid boxers" under his black cossack. The alleged victim, now 26, said he got a good look at those boxers 17 years ago in 1997. That's when Father Andy allegedly attacked the victim, then a 10-year-old altar boy, in the priest's bedroom in the rectory at St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg.  

    Today, the defense called two witnesses who testified that Father Andy always wore white briefs.

    First, Father Andy's 87-year-old mother told the jury that she's been buying the priest's underwear for decades, and she always bought white briefs.

    Then the longtime maintenance man at the church, Mark Pasternak, testified that for years he had seen the woman who did the priests' laundry lay out all their clean underwear in piles on a table in the basement of the rectory. Each pair of underwear had a priest's name tag on it. "It was just lined up there," Pasternak said of the piles of priests' underwear. There were no boxer shorts on that table. Pasternak told the jury that Father Andy, as well as the other two priests living and working at St. John Cantius, all wore "tighty-whities."

    But on a day when Father Andy testified in his own defense, he was upstaged by what longtime maintenance man Pasternak had to say out in the hallway to reporters. The jury didn't hear a word of it.

    "I sent a priest to jail," Pasternak told reporters. So he wouldn't hesitate to send Father Andy to jail, Pasternak said, if he knew the priest was guilty.

    "If a kid's molested, I don't care who you are, you're going to jail," Pasternak said.

    There's a reason why Pasternak looked familiar today to reporters covering Father Andy's trial. The 55-year-old longtime maintenance man at St. John Cantius was Juror No. 5 in the 13-week trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

    Pasternak was one of 12 jurors who convicted Lynn on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Lynn, Pasternak said, "didn't do enough to supervise that priest," referring to Father Edward V. Avery. In the Lynn case, it was former priest Avery who pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with the victim in that case, another former 10-year-old altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe."

    At the Lynn trial, the judge allowed in as supplemental evidence 21 previous cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born.

    "I saw the monsters," Pasternak said of his 13 weeks of hearing testimony about the worst sexually abusive priests in the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "I saw what they did."

    As he testified in court today, Pasternak was the full time maintenance man at St. John Cantius for 12 years. His son, now 28, was an altar boy under Father Andy's care. Pasternak was at the church every day for 12 years. He saw Father Andy interact with lots of boys, including his son, and his son's friends.

    "It's not there," Pasternak told reporters about the evidence against Father Andy. Pasternak said he talked to his son about the priest, and whether Father Andy had ever done anything over the years to raise suspicions about being a molester.

    "No way," was his son's response, Pasternak said. His son's friends said the same thing, including one who was a state trooper.

    When he was on the witness stand, Pasternak testified that he was the church's full-time maintenance man from 1990 to 2002, where his tenure coincided with Father Andy's. After he got another job, Pasternak stayed working at the church as a part-time maintenance man until 2009. For the last five years, he continued to work part-time at the church for free, doing the same job he used to get paid for.

    Pasternak testified that besides doing electrical work, plumbing, snow plowing and maintenance at the church, he also bought supplies in bulk, including soda.

    The alleged victim testified that prior to being attacked by Father Andy in the priest's bedroom, the victim had helped himself to treats at the rectory that included "two cookies and a Dr. Pepper."

    Pasternak testified that for years, based on the tastes of the three priests who lived and worked at St. John Cantius, he bought Coke, Pepsi and Stewart's Root Beer. But he never bought Dr. Pepper.

    The other "tighty whitie" defense witness was Irene McCormick, Father Andy's 87-year-old mother, who testified that she bought "all his [the priest's] underwear most of his life."

    Mrs. McCormick told the jury she bought her son underwear on the same day every year, Jan. 7th, the date of the Russian Christmas.

    On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp got Mrs. McCormick to tell her that when the alleged attack took place, her son, now 57, was in his 40s. Kemp asked Mrs. McCormick if a man in his 40s might have bought some of his own clothes, including, presumably, some underwear.

    Yes, Mrs. McCormick testified.

    It was after lunch when Father Andy stood in the courtroom, while the jury was in the back room, and told the judge he wanted to take the witness stand in his own defense.

    "I wish to testify," the priest told Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright. He admitted to being nervous, but insisted the decision to take the stand was his.

    The direct testimony of the priest took only a few minutes.

    Defense Attorney William J. Brennan asked the priest if he had heard the victim's testimony about how Father Andy had allegedly attacked him and molested him in the rectory. Is that true, Brennan asked.

    "I never molested" the alleged victim, the priest testified. The priest started to talk about how the victim's accusations had "certainly been a devastation to me," but the prosecutor objected, and the judge sustained the objection.

    Did you ever sexually abuse anybody, Brennan asked.

    "Never," the priest said.

    "That's all I have," Brennan said.

    On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked Father Andy if he'd heard all the details of the alleged attack, as testified to by the victim.

    "Yes I did," the priest said. "I didn't do that to him."

    Kemp asked about the testimony of Adam Visconto, another altar boy who testified that Father Andy had showered him with unwanted attention. Even though Visconto's mother told you to stay away from her son, the prosecutor said, didn't you send him a card and a present, a statute of the Blessed Virgin?

    "At that time they stopped talking to me," the priest told the jury about Adam Visconto and his mother. "I was never told to stay away from him."

    The priest said he sent Adam Visconto a card and a present because "I thought he was angry at me."

    Weren't you reprimanded by the archdiocese twice for having children in your room, the prosecutor asked.

    "It was not a policy" at the time to keep children out of a priest's living quarters, the priest told the prosecutor.

    The priest tried to explain that one of those reprimands was for a boy who was helping him move. But he did have to admit that yes, he was twice reprimanded by the archdiocese for having children in his room.

    The prosecutor questioned the priest about who paid for the trips he took to Poland with several altar boys. Those trips were "privately funded by you," the prosecutor asked.

    Yes, the priest said.

    During a courtroom break, when the judge was conferring in chambers with lawyers in the case, a red-faced Father Andy drained his water cup, and stared straight ahead, with his arms folded. "Explain yourself," the angry looking priest had told the prosecutor before the break, when one of her questions didn't make sense to him.

    When court resumed, defense lawyer Brennan asked Father Andy how many altar boys he had supervised during his 14 years at St. John Cantius. About 50 a year, the priest estimated. That means, Brennan said, that you supervised about "700 altar boys" over 14 years.

    Did any of these other altar boys ever accuse you of sexually abusing them, Brennan asked.

    "None whatsoever," the priest replied.

    When it was her turn, the prosecutor asked Father Andy if he paid more attention to just a few altar boys when he pulled them out of class to serve at funerals.

    The priest responded that he typically called out of class the oldest altar boys, those in the seventh and eighth grades. The prosecutor said she didn't have any questions. After just 15 minutes on the witness stand, Father Andy sat down.

    On Ash Wednesday in court, four former altar boys showed up to testify in Father Andy's defense. The former altar boys said the priest was a stand-up guy who took them to restaurants and movies, and even on trips to Poland, but he never touched them inappropriately. Meanwhile, a dozen of Father Andy's supporters with ashen crosses on their foreheads sat behind the defense table.

    Philip Blazejeweski told the jury about his trip to Poland with Father Andy.

    Blazejewski was the former altar boy who went on the trip to Poland with Father Andy, after Adam Visconto's mother told the priest that her son wasn't going.

    Blazejewski, who was an altar boy from 4th to 8th grade under Father Andy, said the priest never touched him.

    Did he ever do anything that made you feel uncomfortable, defense attorney Brennan asked.

    No, Blazejewski said.

    Blazejewski testified that he gave an interview to the archdiocese in 2004, and that's why he didn't respond to a request for an interview from the district attorney's office.

    "I already said it once," said Blazejewski, who had to be subpoenaed by the defense to tell his story.

    On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked Blazejewksi if it was true that his mother, who sat in on his 2004 interview with the archdiocese, was an "avid supporter of the defendant."

    "Correct," Blazejewski said.

    Michael O'Brien was another former altar boy who testified in Father Andy's defense.

    He went with Father Andy to Poland, along with O'Brien's parents.

    What did he and the priest do in Poland for a week, the defense attorney asked.

    They went to visit Polish churches, O'Brien said. They went to see Auschwitz and other former concentration camps. They went to see the town where Pope John Paul II grew up.

    Another former altar boy who testified for the defense was Michael Paluch. Paluch told the jury that besides being an altar boy he also worked at the rectory for years, answering phones, and greeting visitors who showed up at the door.

    Paluch told the jury he never saw Father Andy molest anybody, or act weird. He never saw the priest undress in front of anybody, or do anything that made Paluch feel uncomfortable.

    "Everybody loves him," Paluch said of Father Andy.

    After the defense rested, the judge scheduled closing statements for 9:30 a.m. Thursday, after which the case will go to the jury.


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    Associated Press/Matt Rourke
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    William J. Brennan, defense lawyer for Father Andrew McCormick, referred to his client's Roman Catholic priest collar as "the elephant in the room."

    In his closing argument, Brennan reminded the jury of 9 women and 3 men that they were picked to hear this case because they said they could be impartial about the subject of a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a child.

    Brennan reminded jurors that "Father Andy" didn't have to take the witness stand in his defense. Brennan conceded his client is "a bit of an awkward guy." Father Andy turned "beet red" on the witness stand, his lawyer admitted; the priest looked like "a deer in the headlights." But Brennan was hoping that jurors remembered what Father Andy had said, that he wasn't a child molester.

    In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp turned Father Andy's Roman collar into a weapon to be used against him. She reminded the jury about how arrogant the priest had been with a mother who was upset that Father Andy was planning to take her son to Poland for a week, without consulting her first.

    The priest's attitude was, "I'm Father Andy; you don't tell me what to do," Assistant District Attorney Kemp reminded the jury. "The defendant," she said, "wears his collar as a matter of convenience." He puts it on when he thinks it will impress people, and he takes it off when he's bringing altar boys to a PG-13 movie with sex scenes and profanity.

    "Do not let him hide behind his collar," Kemp told the jury.

    Father McCormick is accused of taking a 10-year-old altar boy up to his room 17 years ago in the rectory at St. John Cantius Church, and trying to force the boy into giving him oral sex.

    His accuser is a 26-year-old gay man who's a business manager for a New York cosmetics firm. The alleged victim came forward in 2011, to tell his father, and then his grandfather that in 1997, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, the priest attacked him.

    The grandfather is a silver-haired former detective for the Philadelphia Police Department and Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, where he investigated sex abuse. He may have been retired, but when "Pop" heard what Father Andy allegedly did to his grandson, he took a statement and then he called the cops.

    Father Andy, a priest for 32 years, was arrested and charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and corruption of a minor. The priest pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

    In court today, defense lawyer Brennan began his closing statement by telling the jury he was not a
    Tom Hagen kind of lawyer, the kind who represented only one client, Don Corleone. Brennan wanted the jury to know he did not represent the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and he had no relationship with the archdiocese, other than begin a Catholic.

    To prove his point, Brennan took a few more shots at the officials over at archdiocese headquarters at 222 N. 17th St. Brennan talked about the "archdiocese mindset" where church officials stonewalled sexual abuse of children by the clergy for decades, possibly even centuries, Brennan said, before undergoing a "sea change" in 2005.

    That year, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham published a grand jury report that exposed the depth of sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese by its own clergy. The report accused two Philadelphia archbishops, John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua, of masterminding a systematic coverup spanning four decades that kept 63 abusive priests out of jail, even though they had raped and molested hundreds of innocent children.

    After the 2005 grand jury report, Brennan said, the archdiocese changed its tune and immediately began throwing overboard any priest accused of sex abuse.

    "They're not nice people," Brennan said of the church hierarchy. His implication was that the archdiocese had trampled on the constitutional rights of priests such as Father Andy, who was one of 26 priests suspended by the archdiocese in 2011. The suspensions followed another grand jury report in 2011 that said a couple dozen priests were still in active ministry, despite accusations involving sexual abuse, boundary violations, and other issues involving children.

    "Regrettably it's a star chamber over there," Brennan said of the archdiocese.

    Father Andy's suspension had "nothing to do with molestation," Brennan told the jury. The victim in this case waited some 15 years before coming forward. One day in 2011, the alleged victim was watching TV when he saw Father Andy's face flash on the screen, Brennan told the jury.

    That night, Brennan recounted, the alleged victim "had a dream" that Father Andy was sexually assaulting the alleged victim's five-year-old nephew, and he couldn't do anything about it.

    At 3 a.m. that morning, the alleged victim sent a text to his father saying that Father Andy had molested him. "Pop" showed up a day later to take a statement, and get the police investigation rolling.

    Brennan's strategy seemed to be to put some distance between himself, his client, and the archdiocese, which has been tarred and feathered by a couple of highly critical grand jury reports. Brennan was also trying to humanize his stiff of a client by pointing out obvious foibles. Then the crafty heavyweight defense lawyer turned his attention to poking holes in the prosecution's case.

    The defense had presented evidence that you'll have to consider when you're evaluating the credibility of the alleged victim, Brennan told the jury.

    Associated Press/Matt Rourke
    He brought up the "blue plaid boxer shorts" that the alleged victim claimed were worn 17 years ago by Father Andy. Brennan reminded the jury about the testimony of Mark Pasternak, the longtime maintenance man at St. John Cantius Church, in the Bridesburg section of the city. And how Pasternak had told the jurors about watching the church lady who for years did the priests' laundry in the basement of the rectory. The church lady laid out on a table piles of clean underwear that had name tags on it, for the three priests who lived and worked at St. John Cantius.

    Pasternak "has no dog in this fight," Brennan told the jury. The longtime maintenance man testified "everybody wore tighty whities," Brennan said.

    "Is this case going to rise and fall on what type of underwear Andy McCormick wears?" Brennan asked. "No." But he told the jury, "We [men] wear boxers or we wear briefs. You don't mix 'em up."

    Next, Brennan brought up the black cassock that Father Andy habitually wore. The lawyer asked the jury to recall what the alleged victim had said on the witness stand about that cassock.

    On the night he was attacked, the alleged victim testified, he couldn't stop staring at Father Andy's cassock. That cassock had 32 buttons on it, the victim said. During the attack, the alleged victim spent his time counting every button.

    The alleged victim testified that a priest's cassock has 32 buttons on it, Brennan told the jury. "Never 33, because Jesus died at 33."

    During the trial, Brennan got the priest's black cassock introduced as evidence. He issued an invitation to the jury.

    "Take a look at the cassock and count the buttons," he said. It sounded like Brennan had already done it, and he was pretty confident about the result.

    Beyond a reasonable doubt, Brennan kept saying. That was the prosecution's burden, and it was Brennan's job to bring to the jury's attention every other possible reasonable doubt in the case.

    If Father Andy wanted to rape somebody, Brennan asked, why would he take them up to his room in the rectory that he shared with two other priests and a housekeeper?

    "The kid could've screamed," Brennan said. He could have alerted the other priests and the housekeeper that there was a child rape in progress.

    Brennan told the jury the alleged victim had many issues as a boy. He was coming to terms with his sexuality. "His parents' marriage was dissolving," Brennan said. The alleged victim started drinking at age 11; then he turned to drugs.

    The alleged victim's story is that after he was attacked by Father Andy, he came downstairs and tried to call his mother three times on the rectory phone. When there was no answer, he walked home.

    "He's remaining kind of in the belly of the beast" by making those phone calls, Brennan told the jury. Why didn't the victim run out of the rectory screaming?

    In the years after the alleged attack, the alleged victim and his family stayed in contact with Father Andy, Brennan said. They even visited the priest at the parish he had been transferred to in Bucks County. Does that make any sense if what the alleged victim is claiming was true?

    "The Commonwealth's trying to smoke and mirror you," Brennan told the jury. Ok, so maybe Father Andy gave another 13-year-old altar boy a beer in Poland, as was testified to during the trial.

    "He probably shouldn't have done that," Brennan said. The altar boy, after all, was a minor. "But he's not on trial for that," the lawyer said about the priest.

    Brennan walked from the jury box over to the defense table, where he stood next to Father Andy.

    "If this guy's a pervert," he asked the jury, "Is that something you only do once?"

    Brennan reminded the jury that during his 14 years at St. John Cantius, Father Andy had access to some 700 altar boys. In subsequent years, the priest had access to even more altar boys. Since he was suspended by the archdiocese in 2011, Brennan said, Father Andy's face has been plastered all over the news.

    And yet, not one other victim has come forward, "Not even one of the nuts looking for a pay day," Brennan said.

    Brennan reminded the jury that although the alleged victim in this case has not yet filed a civil suit against the archdiocese, "I don't know what he's gonna do tomorrow."

    Brennan warned the jury that if people keep telling you, "It's not about the money, it's about the money."

    He compared the victim's story to a pond covered with a sheet of thin ice. Don't go skating on thin ice, Brennan urged the jury. Don't swallow the "uncorroborated unsubstantiated" accusations of the alleged victim. Consider the reasonable doubt in the case. Find my client not guilty.

    After Brennan sat down and the jury cleared the room, Assistant District Attorney Kemp stood to object. Kemp was upset about Brennan's claim that Father Andy's suspension by the archdiocese in 2011 had nothing to do with child abuse.

    The prosecutor told the judge that a lie detector test administered to Father Andy had indicated deception when the priest was asked whether he touched the genitals of a child, and whether a child had touched his genitals.

    Brennan countered that lie detector tests results are inadmissible in Pennsylvania criminal courts. He told the judge he believed the allegations leading to the priest's suspension were about pornography, but not child pornography.

    Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright settled the matter by instructing the jury when they came back in the courtroom. Judge Bright told the jury that the defense lawyer's statement during his closing argument that child abuse was not the reason for Father Andy's suspension was not in evidence.
    Associated Press/Matt Rourke

    Assistant District Attorney Kemp stood in front of the jury and promptly tore into Brennan's argument that the actions of the alleged victim did not make any sense. She talked about Brennan's statements questioning why the victim didn't run out of the rectory. And the victim's statement that he  spent his time during the alleged attack counting the buttons on the priest's cassock.

    "He's a 10 year old boy in shock," Kemp told the jury in an indignant tone. "There is no guidebook."

    As an example, she described to the jury an incident that happened to her when she was a kid. She found a wasp on her hands, she said, and when the wasp started stinging her, she was too stunned to let go.

    The wasp stung her 15 times, she said, before "they had to pry my hands apart."

    During that time the wasp was stinging her, she said, she was staring at blinds and flowered curtains. Meanwhile, she kept her hands clasped.

    She returned to behavior of the alleged victim on the night he was supposedly attacked.

    He's a "10-year-old boy," she said. He's figuring, "I'm in trouble; I'll call my mother. It makes perfect sense."

    "That is what shock does to you," she said. "Talking about sexual abuse isn't easy."

    Kemp told the jury she had warned them during her opening statement that there would be only one victim  in this case.

    "We have presented you with one of this man's victims," she said, pointing to Father Andy. But she hinted there may be others.

    She talked about Philip Blazejewski, a defense witness who testified he was a 13-year-old altar boy when he traveled to Poland with Father Andy. While the priest and the other altar boy were in Poland, Kemp recounted to the jury, the former altar boy testified that Father Andy gave him some Polish beer.

    "Philip is a 13 year-old boy," she told the jury. "Philip testified he doesn't remember what happened."

    On cross-examination, Blazejewski, who had to dragged into court with a subpoena, told the prosecutor he couldn't remember much from the trip, including where he slept. The prosecutor skillfully pointed out that Blazejewski's mother was a staunch supporter of Father Andy. And that she had even sat in on a 2004 interview that Blazejewski, then a minor, had with an investigator from the archdiocese.

    That testimony on cross-examination by Blazejewski prompted speculation from some courtroom observers that the former altar boy may have been covering up for the priest.

    The defense's case, the prosecutor said, was not about truth. It was about "distractions" meant to divert attention from the truth. She brought up the defense arguments about soda and underwear.

    One defense witness, Pasternak, the church's longtime maintenance man, testified that he only bought Coke, Pepsi and Stewart's Root Beer for the parish. The alleged victim had testified that on the night he was attacked, he had "two cookies and a Dr. Pepper" at the rectory.

    Pasternak told the jury he never bought Dr. Pepper for the church, because the priests at St. John Cantius didn't like Dr. Pepper.

    "The soda?" Kemp asked incredulously. "I mean come on. Or the underwear?"

    Pasternak testified that when he saw the church lady doing the priests' laundry at St. John Cantius, Father Andy and the other priests all wore "tighty-whities."

    "That was ridiculous," Kemp said of Pasternak's testimony. She ripped the defense team's decision to put Father Andy's 87-year-old mother on the stand. Mrs. McCormick told the jury she bought the priest's underwear for decades, and he wore only white briefs.

    "Putting his mother on, that is ridiculous, that is offensive," she said. It's ridiculous to believe that a grown man in his 40s has "no other access to clothing" except the stuff that Mom buys for him.

    Kemp reminded the jury that under the law, if the jury found the alleged victim's testimony credible, it was sufficient evidence to convict the priest.

    The alleged victim testified that he started drinking at age 11, Kemp told the jury. He subsequently "moved up to narcotics and pills," Kemp said. The alleged victim came out as a gay man at 21, but "his abuse didn't stop," Kemp told the jury about the victim's problems with drugs and alcohol.

    That drug and alcohol abuse didn't stop until 2011, when the victim "purged himself of that vile disgust inside him," Kemp told the jury.

    "At a very young age tried to talk it out," she told the jury. She recounted the victim's testimony that when he was 11, he told a female cousin he had been abused. The cousin showed up in court to testify that the alleged victim had told he was molested, but he didn't say by whom.

    As a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, the alleged victim had told classmates and a teacher that he had been molested. Again, he didn't provide any further details. But a classmate who was a Marine in uniform showed up in court to testify that he remembered the alleged victim's startling confession.

    "He was trying to cope with the abuse," Kemp said of the victim. She turned her argument to Father Andy's "grooming behavior" when it came to another former altar boy who testified for the prosecution, Adam Visconto.

    Visconto testified that Father Andy had showered him with unwanted attention and tried to take him on a trip to Poland. His mother objected, and told the priest to stay away from her son.

    Adam Visconto subsequently saw Father Andy at a funeral Mass after the priest had left St. John Cantius. At the funeral, Father Andy asked Adam and another altar boy to meet him down in the church basement. The boy told his mother, and then, he didn't show up.

    "I have no idea what would have happened if Adam went down into that basement," Kemp told the jury. "I thank God he didn't go there."

    Kemp talked about how Father Andy kept inviting altar boys up to his room in the rectory, even though he had been twice reprimanded for that conduct by the archdiocese.

    "No, you don't have enough explanation for that," she said about Father Andy's excuse that one of those times he had an altar boy in his room, the boy was helping him move.

    "That is grooming," she said of the priest's persistent behavior.

    The prosecutor walked over to the witness stand, sat down, and stared at the jury.

    "I want you to remember when [the alleged victim] sat here and how painful it was," she said. She repeated what the alleged victim's grandfather had told the jury, "This was never about money."

    "What has [the alleged victim] gained from this process," she asked. He's had to come to court and tell strangers about "the most vile experience of his life."

    Kemp told a story about a senior staffer in the district attorney's office who had mentored her. In one training session, the senior staffer told all the young attorneys in the room to prepare themselves, because in ten minutes, she was going to ask each one of them to stand up and tell everybody about their first sexual experience.

    Kemp said her immediate reaction was to "turn bright red."

    When the ten minutes was up, the senior staffer said she wasn't going to make anybody tell their stories. But she did want the young lawyers to realize that they now had "a small inkling" of what it's like for a victim to take the witness stand, and tell his story.

    "You saw that pain," Kemp said, reminding the jury of the victim's tearful testimony. The victim's mother, Kemp said, "she blames herself." That's because the victim's mother said on the witness stand that she made the mistake of telling the priest before the attack that mom suspected her son was gay.

    "Do you actually think he [the alleged victim] would do this to his own family" if it wasn't true, Kemp asked.

    "He is the one with the motive" to lie, she said pointing at Father Andy. People like Father Andy, "They're charismatic people that hide behind their positions," Kemp said. "You hold him accountable for what he did."

    "Do not let him hide behind his collar," Kemp said of Father Andy. "Say to [the alleged victim] he did the right thing in coming forward. Tell his mother it's not her fault."

    "Tell him [the victim] the nightmare is over."

    In the packed courtroom, the alleged victim was sitting in the same row with his mother, father and grandfather. Both the victim and his mother were sobbing.

    The courtroom was also packed with Father Andy's supporters. They included three nuns in full habit who belong to a Franciscan order based in Krakow.

    After court was adjourned, Father Andy and the nuns prayed the rosary out in the hallway.

    When they were through, one of the nuns spoke to a reporter about Father Andy.

    "He's a beautiful person," Sister Jacinta Miryam Hanley, provincial superior of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, told Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press.

    "He's a very chaste person, in speech and action. So [the charges are] totally foreign to his character."

    While the nuns were praying the rosary, the jury was behind closed doors, beginning their deliberations. The met for a couple of hours before adjourning for the day. They'll be back at it tomorrow, when court resumes at 9:30 a.m.


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    John [left] and William Maxwell
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    The judge didn't think it was funny.

    But apparently some of the defendants did.

    As a result, one of them has ended up in jail. John Maxwell, the former CEO of FirstPlus Financial and a defendant in an ongoing racketeering fraud trial, was cited for contempt of court, had his bail revoked and was carted off to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia Thursday. He's been a "guest" at the federal facility ever since, joining co-defendants Nicodemo S. Scarfo and Salvatore Pelullo who have been denied bail and have been jailed since their arrests in November 2011.

    Maxwell was apparently laughing during the cross-examination of Cory Leshner, a former top business associate of Pelullo's who has emerged as a key prosecution witness in the now two-month old trial. Leshner will be back on the stand when the trial resumes Monday.

    Maxwell will be back at the defense table along with Scarfo, Pelullo and four other co-defendants, including Maxwell's brother William, a lawyer who was special counsel to FirstPlus while the alleged $12 million fraud took place. The other four defendants are free on bail. 

    Whether Judge Robert Kugler lifts the contempt order and reinstates bail for John Maxwell is an open question. Maxwell's court-appointed lawyer, Mark Catanzaro said he plans to ask Kugler to reconsider. Catanzaro said his client was "in shock" when Kugler lowered the boom.

    Salvatore Pelullo and Nicky Scarfo Jr. [right]
    The judge, however, said he was tired of warning the defendants about their comportment during the trial.

    In a one-page contempt order filed Thursday, Kugler wrote that "Defendant, despite numerous
    warnings, caused an audible outburst in the court in the presence of the jury. No lesser sanction than revocation of bail would be sufficient to prevent further violations of the court's order. Defendant is in contempt of court."

    The latest dustup occurred Thursday afternoon shortly before the trial recessed for the week. (There have been no Friday trial sessions.). Leshner was being cross-examined by Michael Riley, Scarfo's attorney, who had asked a series of questions about Pelullo and his split personality. Pelullo has been described as full of bravado and arrogance, but also as someone who could be kind and generous.

    Pelullo, 46, and Scarfo, 48, are charged with orchestrating the takeover of FirstPlus, a troubled Texas-based mortgage company, in 2007 and then siphoning $12 million out of the company through a series of fraudulent business purchases and bogus consulting contracts. Five other defendants, including four lawyers allegedly involved in the schemes, have also been charged.

    Trial testimony and evidence has included several references to Pelullo making threats and Riley was asking about one in which Pelullo allegedly threatened to choke someone. Leshner said he had heard Pelullo make those kinds of comments, but had never seen him actually assault anyone. It was during that question-and-answer examination that several co-defendants apparently broke  out laughing, according to a transcript of the court session that day.

    With that, Kugler ordered the jurors to leave the courtroom. When they had been removed, he looked over at the defense table and asked, "Would you like to spend the next few nights in jail gentlemen because you think it's that funny?"

    Since Scarfo and Pelullo are already in jail, the question was obviously addressed to some of the other defendants. Catanzaro said his client was not the only defendant laughing, but was apparently the one that Kugler saw.

    While it sounds like something out of a Junior High School home room, the consequence were more severe than after school detention.

    "How many more warnings is it going to take to get your attention that I'm not going to put up with this nonsense?" Kugler asked.

    On Feb. 26, shortly after Leshner took the stand for the first time, Kugler issued a similar warning to Pelullo who was apparently smirking and laughing as Leshner described how Pelullo had introduced him to Scarfo at a barbecue in Ventnor on Memorial Day in 2006.

    Based on the transcript, it's impossible to tell what brought on the laughter. Leshner had told the jury that Pelullo introduced Scarfo as "Nick Promo." Later, Leshner said, he learned Scarfo's real identify. Again, Kugler abruptly ordered the jurors to leave the courtroom.

    Then he lit into Pelullo, asking him, "You want to keep laughing, Mr. Pelullo? You think this is funny?"

    Kugler said he had warned Pelullo during pre-trial hearings and at the start of the trial that boisterous behavior would not be tolerated. He said Pelullo's conduct, "laughing out loud" at the witness "so that everybody could hear him" was not acceptable. He noted that Pelullo is already in jail and, since his attorney is court-appointed, apparently has no money. A fine, the judge said, would not have any impact.

    The only recourse, he said, was to ban him from the courtroom. Presumably Pelullo would follow the proceedings from a closed circuit TV monitor in another room were that to happen.

    It didn't come to that, however. After a five-minute recess, one of Pelullo's two court-appointed attorneys, Michael Farrell, apologized for his client, telling the judge there was no "malice" in his actions.

    Kugler sounded less than satisfied, but relented on punishing the defendant.

    "Mr. Pelullo, if you can't control yourself we have people who will," the judge said. "I will tolerate not another sound out of you...You will be barred and that will be it."

    Pelullo then told the judge, "I apologize your honor...Thank you, your honor."

    Described as a brash and arrogant businessman prior to his arrest, Pelullo didn't change after he was jailed. He has had a rocky relationship with the judge from the start. Among other things, he has chided Kugler on blog postings from prison, questioning his integrity and honesty, challenging the order that he be held without bail and implying that the judge is a second prosecutor in the case.

    Kugler is a no-nonsense jurist who has handled some of the toughest and more complicated cases to come through the federal courthouse in Camden. Among others, he presided over the Fort Dix Five terrorism trial, a marathon proceeding that attracted national attention. Several of the court-appointed attorneys in the FirstPlus case, including Riley, Michael Huff, who represents William Maxwell, and Troy Archie, another Pelullo lawyer, were court-appointed defense attorneys in that proceeding as well.

    Leshner's lawyer, Rocco Cipparone Jr., was also in the Fort Dix case.

    John Maxwell may have paid a price for the actions of several defendants that brought Kugler to the boiling point.

    "I don't think Mr. Maxwell was the only one," Catanzaro said while asking Kugler to reconsider his contempt order and the revocation of bail. But the judge would not budge. And, he added, "a similar fate awaits other people who violate my orders."

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    He's been on the witness stand for a week and during that time he's offered the jury a behind-the-scenes look at what authorities allege was the $12 million ripoff of FirstPlus Financial.

    He's admitted to falsifying records, padding expense accounts and "moving money around" to make it appear as if it came from or was going to legitimate business deals.

    He sailed on the $850,000 yacht that was bought with cash from the scam, he said. He arranged some of the paperwork for the purchase of a $217,000 Bentley Continental GT that also figures in the fraud. He fabricated records to make a $40,000 trip to Europe appear like a business expense. And he set up "sideways accounts" that allowed his boss to funnel money to two mistresses.

    Those were just some of the things that he saw and did while working for Salvatore Pelullo before, during and after the takeover of FirstPlus, a troubled Texas-based mortgage company, said Cory Leshner, who described himself as Pelullo's "personal assistant." 

    "I thought of Mr. Pelullo as a father figure," Leshner told the jury. "And he thought of me as a son." And that, he said at another point, "made me feel proud...I was willing to do whatever he asked."

    Salvatore Pelullo with Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo
    Leshner, who has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and faces up to five years in prison, is due
    back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow.

    Dressed in a suit and tie, his voice clear, his comments concise, the burly 31-year-old first took the stand on Feb. 26 and quickly emerged as a key witness in the now two-month-old trial; the first "insider" to provide details about what the FBI and federal prosecutors allege was a blatant money grab orchestrated by Pelullo, 46, and Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 48, the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

    The two are charged with secretly taking control of FirstPlus Financial in June of 2007 and siphoning $12 million out of the company to support their lavish lifestyles. 

    Leshner told the jury he landed a part-time job with a Pelullo company while still an undergraduate at West Chester University (where, ironically, he would earn a degree in criminal justice). He went to work fulltime for the Elkins Park wheeler dealer after graduating in 2006. One of 13 defendants originally indicted in the case, he pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate. Five other defendants, including Scarfo's wife Lisa Murray-Scarfo, also have pleaded guilty but have not become witnesses for the government.

    In addition to Pelullo and Scarfo, the defendants on trial include John Maxwell, the former CEO of First Plus, Maxwell's brother, William, who was special counsel to the company, and three other lawyers, David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno.

    From the witness stand, Leshner has fleshed out the allegations contained in a 107-page, 24-count indictment handed up in November 2011. The indictment capped a five-year federal investigation. The government alleges that in the summer of 2007 Pelullo and Scarfo orchestrated the takeover of FirstPlus Financial, a foundering Texas-based mortgage company, and exercised behind-the-scenes control, setting up business deals from which they reaped staggering benefits.

    By October of that year, Leshner told the jury, they had gotten $7 million out of the company. Most of the money came from the purchase -- at grossly inflated and overvalued prices -- of companies that Pelullo and Scarfo had set up in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area and through "consulting fees" paid to Pelullo and Scarfo through front companies they secretly controlled.

    He said that while there was paperwork and a labyrinth of companies through which the cash sometimes traveled, the marching orders were simple. "It was," he said, "how much money can we get to Mr. Pelullo and how fast."

    Leshner said he was first introduced to Scarfo at a barbecue on Memorial Day 2006 in Ventnor. At the time, he said Pelullo introduced him as "Nick Promo." Leshner said he quickly learned who Scarfo really was and knew of his mob connections.

    "I grew up in the Philadelphia area," he said.

    He also told the jury that most of his dealings were with Pelullo who, through evidence and testimony, has been portrayed as more of a gangster than Scarfo. Brash, arrogant and quick to threaten and intimidate, Pelullo is the one whose wiretapped rants have provided the government with the foundation for many of its allegations.

    Leshner said he saw a different side of Pelullo at first, describing him as a hard charging and determined businessman who rightly boasted of having become a millionaire in his mid 20s without having a high school degree. Scarfo, on the other hand, fit the image of a "computer nerd" that others have also applied to him.

    Leshner told the jury that the money taken out of FirstPlus was used to finance Pelullo's lavish lifestyle, a lifestyle, he said, that Pelullo was already living before the move on the Texas mortgage company.

    But, he added, "it became more lavish after June 2007."

    Leshner said his father went to work for Pelullo around 2005 when Pelullo owned a company that cleaned and maintained buildings. Leshner said he was hired while still in college and that he rose from being a laborer and gofer to personal assistant and, eventually, the vice president of Seven Hills Management, one of the Pelullo companies tied to the FirstPlus fraud.

    One of his first jobs after graduating from West Chester in December 2006, he said, was to maintain Pelullo's condo in Miami and to serve as a gofer and assistant there. The jury saw photos of the condo which overlooked a marina. There was a pool table in one room, art work on most of the walls and rooms decorated with thick, rich furniture and brassy chandeliers. There also was a Ferrari parked in the condo garage, he said.

    Pelullo, according to Leshner, moved between Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas once the FirstPlus scheme was launched. Originally, he said, Pelullo thought he could finance the takeover through the

    purchase of company stock, but when that proved impossible -- there was a "poison pill" provision in the company by-laws that would thwart any hostile takeover, Leshner said Pelullo told him -- the plan changed to getting control of the board of directors.

    By June 2007, Leshner said, Pelullo and Scarfo had behind-the-scenes control of the board and the money started to flow out to them. Evidence introduced earlier in the trial also indicates that both Pelullo and Scarfo communicated by telephone with jailed mob boss "Little Nicky" Scarfo and visited him in a federal prison in Atlanta where he is serving a 55-year sentence for racketeering and murder.

    Scarfo, 84, and Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, 80, the boss of the Lucchese crime family, were inmates together in Atlanta. Both are named as unindicted co-conspirators in the FirstPlus fraud indictment.

    The layered scheming that Leshner described involved, among other things, a $100,000-a-month consulting contract for Seven Hills that was arranged by William Maxwell, then special counsel to FirstPlus. Leshner said Pelullo frequently referred to himself as "the consultant" and frankly admitted that while he was calling the shots, he could never appear as an officer or a member of the board of directors of FirstPlus because he had two prior fraud convictions.

    Seven Hills in turn arranged to funnel $33,000-a-monthy to Learned Associates, a Scarfo front, Leshner said. He said he did not know of any consulting work Scarfo did and said that Pelullo, rather than consulting, was actually running FirstPlus.

    Leshner's testimony also focused on the lifestyles that the money bought.

    "Trips to Europe, dinners, casinos, just kind of whatever he wanted to do, he did" on the FirstPlus dime, Leshner said of Pelullo.

    Pelullo bought a Bentley, he said, at F.C. Kerbeck in Palmyra, and drove it to a Fourth of July party in Ventnor. He then had the car, a black, 2006 Continental GT model, shipped to Florida. On another occasion, he said, Pelullo showed up one day and told him, "I'm buying a boat."

    It turned out to be an 83-foot pleasure yacht named "Priceless." While arranging a loan proved impossible, Leshner said, the purchase was eventually negotiated for cash that came from FirstPlus. The boat cost $850,000. With taxes, the total was $901,125, he added.

    The listed owner was P.S. Charters and while their names never showed up on any documents, the yacht belonged to Pelullo and Scarfo, he said.

    Leshner was on board for the maiden voyage that in retrospect might have been an omen of what was to come. He said he, Pelullo and William Maxwell, along with their girlfriends and two other FirstPlus employees, Cole Maxwell, the 20-something son of John Maxwell, and Todd Stark, described as head of security and entertainment for Pelullo, were on board for what was to be a six-hour cruise from Miami to the Bahamas.

    But one of the yacht's two engines blew out and 21 hours later the yacht limped into port in Nassau with its electricity malfunctioning and its plumbing not working. The group, with the exception of Cole Maxwell who didn't have his passport and had to stay on the boat, spent several nights at the Atlantis Hotel -- the bill was $12,300, Leshner said -- then flew back to Miami. Maxwell stayed till the boat was repaired and sailed back with the yacht's captain.

    One thing the younger Maxwell did bring along, said Leshner, was an arsenal of weapons. One of the charges in the indictment focuses on the possession of guns by Scarfo and Pelullo, both convicted felons who are prohibited from owning firearms.

    Shortly before they set sail from Miami, Leshner testified, Cole Maxwell showed up with a "bag of guns." Later, Leshner said, he was with Pelullo in Pelullo's master bedroom on the yacht as he sorted out the weaponry and gave a gun to each man on board.

    The indictment lists the arsenal which included two rifles, a 12-gauge shotgun, a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, a Taurus .38 caliber revolver, a Taurus .22 caliber pistol, approximately 2,500 rounds of ammunition for the rifles and seventeen additional boxes of bullets.

    While the guns were never fired, Leshner said it was all hands -- armed -- on deck as the yacht struggled through open waters with a dead engine and another boat approaching. Leshner offered no further details, but another source familiar with the incident said Pelullo and the others feared pirates
    and believed their show of force scared off a possible intruder that night.

    Leshner also described how he doctored expense account items so that a trip to Europe taken by Pelullo could be paid for through his FirstPlus consulting arrangement. The sham, he said, was that Pelullo was researching possible investment opportunities in the cosmetics trade.

    "I researched on line different places in the areas which Sal visited and said that he was there to research cosmetics at these different places," Leshner explained.

    When Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, the lead prosecutor in the case, asked if Pelullo in fact that been to any of those locations, Leshner said, "No." When he was asked who told him to come up with the false information, Leshner replied, "Sal."

    Pelullo was nearly cited for contempt while laughing at Leshner when he first took the stand on Feb. 26 and John Maxwell was, in fact, cited and jailed for laughing at Leshner on March 6 (see earlier FirstPlus story posted March 8).

    Leshner also said that on Pelullo's orders he set up "sideways accounts" through which thousands of dollars in cash were funneled to two women, identified as Cajmoun and Nadjmer. The women, one  whom worked in the FirstPlus office in Irving, Tx, were Pelullo's mistresses, Leshner said. Pelullo later divorced his wife and married Nadjmer, who was also known as Sabrina, he added.

    The relationships were rocky, he told the jury.

    "Mr. Pelullo would often get fed up with the two of them for any number of reasons and would break if off with them only to start it back up soon thereafter," he said.

    Scarfo also had a direct line into the FirstPlus cash stream, Leshner told the jury. He said Scarfo leased an Audi S6 for $1,200-a-month as a company expense. And Pelullo and others helped arrange the down payment and mortgage for a $715,000 home Scarfo and his second wife purchased in Egg Harbor Township after the FirstPlus takeover.

    Leshner attended law school at night while working for FirstPlus and continued after the FirstPlus financial bubble burst following a raid by the FBI in May 2008 that targeted dozens of locations and individuals. When the FBI came to his door, Leshner said, "I was scared to death...I was deathly afraid."

    But he said that for the next five years, through the indictment and up until the eve of the trial, he espoused the same "party line" that Pelullo and his co-defendants are basing their defense on: the collapse of FirstPlus was simply a business deal gone bad and the money spent buying companies and paying for consulting fees were legitimate expenses that were part of a failed venture.

    Leshner said he earned his law degree from Widener University Law School and passed the bar in Pennsylvania. His law career was short lived, however. He voluntarily agreed to be disbarred after cutting his deal with the government and pleading guilty last year. Under the terms of that plea agreement, he said, he faces five years in prison, substantially less, the defense has pointed out, than the 20 years he was facing if convicted at trial.

    During cross-examination, Michael Farrell, the more boisterous of Pelullo's two court-appointed defense attorneys, hammered away at Leshner's motivation and credibility. He alleged that Leshner and his girlfriend, who subsequently became his wife, falsified information on a mortgage application for a home in Reading in 2007.

    Wasn't that the same thing Leshner was accusing Pelullo and Scarfo of doing, Farrell asked?

    Farrell also repeatedly asked Leshner about his reasons for joining the prosecution "team" and adopting the government's "party line," implying that Leshner was saying whatever the government wanted to hear in order to live up to a plea deal he negotiated to cut his own criminal liability.

    "I didn't join anybody's team," Leshner said, adding, "I couldn't deal with the party line of Mr. Pelullo. My conscience caught up to me."

    Married and with a young daughter, Leshner said he expects to be sentenced to jail.

    "I pleaded guilty because I am guilty," he said in response to a question from D'Aguanno. "I couldn't keep up the explanation and the party line that I had been fed from the time I worked for Mr. Pelullo...I'm going to have to look my daughter in the eye and explain to her that when you do something wrong you stand up and face the consequences and you learn from it."

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    At 10:15 a.m. this morning in Courtroom 1102, Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright read the details of the sex crimes that Father Andrew McCormick is charged with.

    The jury, beginning their second day of deliberations, had asked the judge for a read back on the charges.

    Judge Bright began with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, which in this case involved oral sex with a minor. "The slightest degree of penetration is sufficient," the judge told the jury. She went on for ten minutes to detail the elements of that crime, along with four other charges against the priest: sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor.

    In the second row of the courtroom, four nuns in full habits weren't listening to the gory details. Instead, they had their heads bowed, and they clutched their rosary beads while they silently prayed for "Father Andy."

    "It's atrocious to have it associated with him," Sister Jacinta Miryam Hanley said of the sex crimes that Father Andy is accused of. The alleged victim in this case is a former 10-year-old altar boy who said that 17 years ago, Father Andy assaulted him in the rectory of St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg.

    When the jury left the courtroom to deliberate, the nuns continued their prayer vigil outside in the hallway with Father Andy on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center. The nuns, who were saying the rosary, were joined by other supporters of the priest.

    Meanwhile, the alleged victim in the case, now 26, walked by the prayer group several times with his family. He looked straight ahead, and did not even glance at the nuns who were praying with the priest who had allegedly abused him.

    Sister Jacinta Miryam Hanley is the provincial superior of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, where the four nuns are from. It's a Franciscan order based in Krakow.

    Sister Jacinta works in Cresson, Pa. It took her four and a half hours to drive in today to attend Father Andy's trial. Other nuns came from Wilmington, as well as St. John Cantius.

    Sister Jacinta, who has known Father Andy for 17 years, conceded he may be awkward, but he's "just a genuine priest," she said. "He loves his priesthood, he loves God. He loves to share that with others."

    "We pray that God will allow him to be vindicated," she said. "We pray that God will give him the strength to bear this cross."

    The priest, she said, knows he's innocent. That's why he turned down a proposed plea deal with the district attorney's office that would have given him a minimal prison sentence. The priest has turned his fate over to God, the nun said. He knows that at any minute, if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict, he'll be placed in handcuffs and taken to jail.

    "Every day he hands his keys and his phone to his sister," Sister Jacinta said. The priest tells his sister if the sheriff's deputies take him into custody, "Let Mom and Dad know I love them."

    The nun said that although she prays Father Andy is vindicated, she knows that there are real victims out there who have suffered the pain of sex abuse at the hands of priests. Father Andy, she said, also knows that as a member of the body of Christ, he may be called upon to share in the suffering of those victims.

    Sister Jacinta insists Father Andy is a chaste individual who gets embarrassed easily. He has frequently turned red at the subject matter discussed in Courtroom 1102.

    "When he [Father Andy] finally heard what he was was accused of, he couldn't even repeat it to us," the nun recalled.

    The nuns, however, aren't just praying for Father Andy. They're also praying for the alleged victim and his family.


    "We don't doubt he probably was abused," the nun said. "We believe it was not Father Andy."

    But she said, it's clear to her that the alleged victim is suffering, and so is his family.

    "There's real pain there," she said.

    In the courtroom, the allged victim sat behind the prosecution table, flanked by his mother, father, and grandfather. The grandfather is a retired detective from the Philadelphia Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office. He took the first statement from the alleged victim.

    The grandfather is a veteran cop who made it clear to reporters in an extremely polite way that he doesn't have anything to say. He's just there to support his grandson. Of course, he hopes the truth comes out, and that his family is healed. But he isn't there to make any headlines.

    Father Andy has the nuns in his corner. The alleged victim has two supporters who know all about the pain of sex abuse. They are two fathers who lost their sons after they were sexually abused by priests.

    One of those fathers had tears in his eyes as he talked about how he watched his wife cry yesterday after she looked at pictures of her son.

    He can't even look at those pictures, the father said.

    At 3:45 today, the jury called it quits without reaching a verdict.

    The judge called in the jury and dismissed them.

    "Enjoy your evening," she said.

    When the jury had left the building, the alleged victim's family and supporters were asked to leave the courtroom first. After they cleared out, Father Andy left with his supporters by a separate entrance.

    The court crier warned courtroom spectators not to linger in the hallway.

    Deliberations resume at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    for Bigtrial.net

    The jury in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case asked for a read back on the alleged victim's direct testimony, as well as his cross-examination.

    On their third day of deliberations, the jury also asked for a third time to have the judge read the charges against "Father Andy."

    The victim's testimony amounted to some 100 pages from his hour on the witness stand. Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp volunteered to read the testimony to the jury, but defense attorney William J. Brennan didn't think that was such a great idea.

    "I think we would have an objection on that," Brennan told Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright.

    After a visit to the judge's chambers, the lawyers agreed to have the court stenographer do the reading beginning tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

    After the court stenographer gets through reading the alleged victim's testimony, the judge will read the charges against Father Andy. The 57-year-old priest has five charges against him: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor.

    Obviously the jury is deadlocked on some issues, and maybe the read back on the testimony and the read back on the charge will settle some back room arguments.

    The alleged victim was in the courtroom when the judge addressed the jury. He was accompanied by his parents and grandfather, a retired detective. Father McCormick was accompanied by three priests and a group of parishioners from St. John Cantius. The Polish ethnic church in the Bridesburg section of the city is where the crimes against the victim allegedly took place 17 years ago, when the victim was a 10-year-old altar boy.

    The jury got a late start today on their third day of deliberations. They had to wait for the tardy arrival of one juror who according to the courthouse rumor mill apparently overslept.

    On a warm Spring-like day, jurors were observed taking two long smoking breaks in front of the Marriott Hotel, which sits across the street from the Criminal Justice Center.

    When the judge dismissed the jurors for the evening, she cautioned them to ignore any media reports on the trial, and to avoid going on the internet to do any investigating of their own.

    "Enjoy your evening," the judge said.

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    First came the guilty pleas.

    Now comes the cash.

    A federal judge yesterday entered a preliminary forfeiture order that will have gentlemen gambler Joe Vito Mastronardo forking over $3 million seized by authorities during an investigation that targeted his international bookmaking operation. More than $1.2 million was found stashed in PVC pipes that had been buried in the backyard of his posh Italianate mini-mansion in the Meadowbrook section of Abington Township.

    The government will get an additional $700,00 from co-defendants in the case, including Mastronardo's brother John. The authorities also get to keep Joe Vito's 2001 Cadillac DeVille and a 2009 Nissan Altima used by another key figure in the bookmaking operation, according to the preliminary court order signed by U.S. District Court Judge Jan DuBois.

    The forfeitures come in the wake of a global guilty plea entered by Mastronardo and 12 co-defendants in January. As part of that plea deal, prosecutors have agreed to drop a money-laundering charge against Joanna Mastronardo, Joe Vito's wife. She was the only defendant not charged with racketeering.

    Joanna Mastronardo is the only daughter of the late Frank L. Rizzo, the former law-and-order Mayor and Police Commissioner of Philadelphia. Joe Vito was Rizzo's son-in-law. The Mastronardo's only child, a son named Joe, was Rizzo's only grandchild. Joe Mastronardo, 31, is a co-defendant in the case and is awaiting sentencing.


    Sentencing hearings are not expected until sometime this summer. Based on the plea agreements, Joe Vito faces the stiffest sentence, three years in prison, but his failing health could be a factor when the 63-year-old lifetime gambler appears before Judge DuBois.

    "This went beyond a typical bookmaking operation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bologna, the lead prosecutor in the case. Bologna said the Mastronardo brothers and several other defendants were charged for a similar operation in Montgomery County court in 2006. In that case, the Mastronardo's forfeited over $2 million that had been seized while pleading guilty to minor gambling offenses.

    Everyone involved in that case along with associates who were not charged but were aware of what had happened, "went back and did the exact same thing," said Bologna.That, the prosecutor said showed "a total lack of respect for law enforcement and the judicial system."

    Bologna is expected to make those same arguments when sentencing hearings are held for the defendants. While the prosecutor is expected to ask for jail time for the major figures in the indictment, defense attorneys, as they have already done in pre-trial motions and arguments, are expected to argue that the charges were overblown and to ask for leniency.  The defense contends that the government took a gambling case and turned it into a racketeering enterprise in order to have the kind of leverage it needed to win guilty pleas and forfeiture concessions.

    "This is a gambling case that the government is using to supplement its income," said Christopher Warren, the lawyer for Joe Mastronardo, the son of Joe Vito and Joanna.

    The forfeited assets will be split between the federal government and Montgomery County. The County DA's office initiated the investigation, but later turned its evidence over to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    A federal indictment unsealed in August 2012 alleged that Joe Vito headed a gambling operation that had hundreds of high end bettors who would wager $10,000 to $20,000 on a single game. Payoffs of wins and collections for losses were usually measured in six figures, authorities charged.

    The indictment tracked wire transfers of more than $3.2 million to financial institutions in Sweden, Malta, Antiqua and Portugal, but also made references to weekly meetings at the Cedar Brook  Country Club and the Century House Restaurant in Hatfield where bookmakers and gamblers would
    exchange cash.

    Throughout his gambling career, Mastronardo has had a reputation for catering to a high end clientele. He has never been accused to engaging in violence and despite the huge sums of money he was generating, he was apparently able to avoid any dealings with organized crime figures.

    Bologna said there was nothing in the current case to indicate mob involvement.

    Ironically, the Mastronardo case was winding its way through federal court at the same time mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and a half dozen co-defendants were being tried on gambling and racketeering charges linked to bookmaking and video poker machines.

    Ligambi was acquitted of four counts and the government dropped three others after two juries hung on those charges. Two other defendants were acquitted and four were convicted. Testimony and evidence made references to gambling debts of $500 to $5,000 and loanshark extortion gambits of $25,000.

    The Mastronardo indictment detailed bets of as high as $50,000 on a single game.

    Both cases, said Warren, who represented two of Ligambi's co-defendants, were gambling cases dressed up as something else by authorities.

    "I said this before," Warren said in a phone conversation this afternoon. "You have two guys on a street corner in South Philadelphia taking bets and the government says it's racketeering. When (former governor) Ed Rendell wants to do it to generate revenue for the state, it's called a good idea."

    The state and federal authorities will share in the windfall from the forfeitures in the Mastronardo case, although just how the split will occur hasn't been formally announced. Here, based on the prelminary forfeiture order, are the primary sources of the estimated $3.7 million now in the government's coffers:

    There was $180,810 in cash found in a safe in Mastronardo's home in the 1600 block of Stocton Road during a raid by Montgomery County authorities on March 30, 2010. At the same time cash amounts of $182, $2,979 and $3,000 were found in the house. In addition, $1,120,300 was found "in sealed shrunk plastic bags stored inside a PVC cleanout drain" buried in the yard of the home. Another $1,720,303 was taken from six Mastronardo bank accounts that were frozen by court order at the time of the raid.

    Authorities also seized $395,000 in three safety deposit boxes owned by Harry Murray, a co-defendant who has pleaded guilty. And they found another $198,990 in the home of John Mastronardo on Devonshire Court in Blue Bell.

    Under the plea agreement, John Mastronardo, 58, a former standout football player at Villanova University, faces up to nine months in prison, said Bologna. The prosecutor said John Mastronardo   will be credited with jail time served in Montgomery County. In a brief interview late last year, John Mastronardo said he was planning to move to Florida and wanted to put the case and the gambling business behind him.

    His brother, Joe Vito, may now be out of the business as well. A potential jail sentence and the forfeiture of millions may not be the reason, however.

    According to his lawyer and others, Joe Vito has serious health problems. He has long battled cancer.
    He had a stroke over a year ago that resulted in a feeding tube being inserted in his stomach. Most
    recently, said his lawyer John Morris, he was hospitalized in intensive care for three weeks with pneumonia and had a breathing tube inserted in his throat. He is currently in a rehab center.

    "He tends to understate his problems," said Morris, referring not to the guilty plea and pending sentencing, but rather to Joe Vito Mastronardo's deteriorating medical condition.

    George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.

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    AP/Matt Rourke
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Around 1:30 p.m., the jury in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case sent a note to the judge saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.

    Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright told the jury to give it one more try, but nothing changed. Shortly after 4 p.m., the judge declared a mistrial and dismissed the jury after four and a half days of fruitless deliberations.

    The day began with the court stenographer reading back more than an hour of testimony from the alleged victim. Meanwhile, the alleged victim sat in the second row of the courtroom, listening to his description of the alleged attack by "Father Andy." Soon, the alleged victim and his mother were sobbing and bowing their heads, while they almost went through a box of tissues.

    No juror, however, was seen glancing their way. The judge followed the reading of the testimony by re-reading her instructions to the jury about how to deal with the victim's testimony. If you believe his testimony, the judge had instructed the jury, that alone was sufficient evidence to convict the priest.

    Apparently, at least one juror didn't believe the victim. The jury told the judge they did not want to talk to the lawyers in the case, and they left without speaking to reporters. Judge Bright asked Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp if the district attorney's office wanted to retry the case.

    "Yes, Your Honor," Kemp said. The judge promptly issued a new trial date of April 28.

    When he shows up in court next month for his new trial, however, Father Andy will need a new lawyer. Defense attorney William J. Brennan told the judge he wanted to be relieved of his duties. In effect, Brennan announced he was firing his client. At the defense table, the priest and co-counsel Richard J. Fuschino both looked startled by Brennan's announcement.

    "I'm done," Brennan twice told the judge, without offering any explanation as to why.

    It was a bizarre and anticlimactic finish to a hard-fought four-day trial.

    Judge Bright put the official damper on the proceedings by announcing her gag order on all participants in the trial, including lawyers and witnesses, would remain in effect.

    That meant that reporters couldn't talk to Father Andy to find how he felt about dodging the slammer. Reporters couldn't talk to the alleged victim and his family to find out what effect their gut-wrenching ordeal had had on them. They couldn't talk to Bill Brennan and find out why he fired his client.

    A relative of the alleged victim and another supporter were overheard saying the jury was split 11-1 in favor of a conviction. But since we have a gag order up, and no jurors talking, it was impossible to verify if this was true.

    "The jury is deadlocked," the note from the jury foreman read. "All conversation has ceased."

    After the judge sent the jury of nine women and three men in for one last try, the jury foreman wrote another note to the judge that said, "Nothing has changed since your last charge. We are still deadlocked. Our discussions have ceased."

    Both sides in the case did a great job.

    The accused victim told a straight-forward story with few contradictions. He was backed up by heartbreaking testimony from his mother, father and grandfather, a retired detective who took the first victim's statement in the case.

    The prosecutor gave a great closing argument.

    The defense did their creative best to dredge up some reasonable doubt. While the alleged victim claimed the priest wore "blue plaid boxers" when he was allegedly attacked back in 1997, the defense produced two witnesses to say the priest wore only "tighty-whities."

    The defense caught the prosecution in one flub, when the assistant district attorney claimed that Father Andy had dressed up in civvies and snuck some altar boys in to see an R-rated movie. Brennan brought a DVD of the movie to court and proved it was rated PG-13.

    The defense took a gamble by putting the 57-year-old priest up on the stand, and some courtroom observers thought it backfired. Father Andy looked like a not-ready-for-prime-time player. He was awkward and he turned beet-red. But maybe somebody on the jury gave Father Andy points for not hiding behind the fifth amendment.

    The jury in the case had a tough job.

    The alleged victim was on the witness stand for about an hour and 15 minutes. His alleged attacker was on the witness stand for 15 minutes.

    It's a hard job to ask 12 jurors to witness less than 90 minutes of testimony from two flawed men, and then try and figure out what happened between them in a dark room 17 years ago.

    The alleged victim's story was that when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997, Father Andy lured him up to his room in the rectory, shoved him down on the bed and attacked him, twice trying to jam his penis in the boy's mouth.

    The alleged victim, now 26, waited 15 years before coming forward to say what happened, and identify his attacker as Father Andy.

    The priest said it never happened.

    There was no testimony from any witness, nor was there any testimony from any second victim of Father Andy, who had been a priest for 32 years.

    Brennan's best moment in his closing may have been when he stood by his client and asked the jury, "If this guy's a pervert, is that something you only do once?"

    At least one person on the jury must have had a reasonable doubt about that.

    In a month, we'll get a chance to do it all over again, but Billy Brennan's gonna skip that party.

    It's a shame he can't tell us why.

    Nevertheless, Brennan has an enviable record in these priest abuse cases. Most of them end up with the padre in question being hauled off in irons after a conviction.

    But twice now, Brennan had wrangled a couple of hung juries for two priests accused of sexually assaulting minors. In 2012, when a jury was convicting Msgr. William J. Lynn of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, that same jury hung 11-1 on whether Brennan's client, Father James J. Brennan [no relation], had attempted to rape a 14-year-old boy.

    In that case, Father Brennan admitted he let the boy watch porno, then got into bed with the boy, and sometime during the night, he accidentally spooned the victim. But Father Brennan is a free man.

    And so is Father Andy, at least for another month, thanks to Bill Brennan and his faithful sidekick, Richard J. Fuschino.

    The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement today saying that Father McCormick remains on administrative leave.

    "He has not and may not administer the sacraments publicly or present himself as a priest in good standing," said the statement from Kenneth A. Gavin, director of communications. "The archdiocese was not involved in Father McCormick's legal defense and did not underwrite its costs."

    Ralph Cipriano can be reached at ralph@bigtrial.net.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    On the 14th floor of the federal courthouse on Tuesday, Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter was refereeing another fight between the U.S. government and former Pennsylvania state Senator Vincent J. Fumo.

    Buckwalter was the judge who presided over the United States of America v. Vincent J. Fumo. The five-month trial  ended on March 16, 2009 with the former state senator being convicted on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and filing a false tax return.

    Yesterday, Buckwalter was hearing oral arguments in the case of Vincent J. Fumo v. United States of America. In the sequel, Fumo is challenging the IRS over the propriety of the agency hitting him with an extremely rare "jeopardy assessment."

    On March 21, 2013, the IRS formally notified Fumo while he was still in a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky that the IRS was imposing a "notice of jeopardy assessment and levy." The jeopardy assessment, including tax, interest and penalties, amounted to a bill for $2.9 million. In addition, the IRS froze $2.7 million in Fumo's bank accounts.

    Judge Buckwalter opened the hearing by saying he wanted to put something on the record that had previously been discussed behind closed doors in the judge's chambers. The judge wanted everyone to know that he had offered to recuse himself from the tax case, and that both sides had declined his offer.

    Lawyers on behalf of Fumo and the government had responded to the judge's offer to recuse himself by saying, "That's fine, you may stay on board," the judge announced from the bench.


    Fumo's attorney, Mark E. Cedrone agreed with the judge's characterization of the back room chat,  as did Melissa L. Dickey, a trial attorney in the tax division of the U.S. Department of Justice who was representing the IRS.

    Cedrone has previously described the jeopardy assessment as "a draconian infrequently-used weapon of mass destruction" employed by the IRS in only a fraction of cases.

    Yesterday's oral arguments concerned cross motions for summary judgement. 

    Fumo's lawyer was seeking to have the jeopardy assessment thrown out. The government was seeking to have the jeopardy assessment approved without having the judge require testimony at an evidentiary hearing.

    In her oral argument, Dickey said the IRS imposed the jeopardy assessment because the agency was concerned that Fumo was placing assets "beyond the reach of the government," by selling off or transferring ownership of eight properties between 2008 and 2012. In several of those property transfers, Fumo named his son, Vincent E. Fumo II, and his fiancee, Carolyn Zinni as co-owners.

    Dickey noted that Fumo had been convicted of 137 felony counts, and may be up to further no good. "He appears to be transferring and dissipating" his holdings, Dickey told Judge Buckwalter. Those transfers included Fumo's mansion on the 2200 block of Green St. The 30-room mansion valued at $3 million, was transferred on Feb. 2, 2012, to Fumo's son as a co-owner, for $10.

    The judge asked about the jeopardy assessment, and whether it was typically used against people who were about to flee the country. The judge also asked about the mechanics of freezing of Fumo's bank accounts. Did that mean that Fumo didn't have access to his own money, so he couldn't pay his bills?

    "If he can't pay his bills," Dickey said, he can "contact us and we would work it out."

    Dickey also sought a motion to strike an expert report submitted on behalf of Fumo by Thomas W. Ostrander, a Philadelphia lawyer who is an expert in tax procedures.

    But Buckwalter refused. Regarding expert testimony in a tax law case, "some help is welcome," the judge said. In his report, Ostrander said the IRS was not placed in jeopardy by Fumo's transfers of real estate, because the IRS can now collect not only from Fumo, but also from Fumo's son, as well as his fiancee.

    Buckwalter brought up Fumo's letter from prison to his ex-wife, Jane Saccetti, where he talked about how he sought to make himself judgment-proof by owning nothing while controlling everything.

    That brought a howl of protest from Fumo's lawyer.

    "The government is seeking to place a tremendous amount of weight" on fragments of two letters sent to Fumo's ex-wife, Cedrone said. You had to understand the context, Cedrone said, which is fully laid out in the letters. Fumo was in jail at the time, and had to come up with $2.3 million in fines and restitution, Cedrone said.

    When Judge Buckwalter increased that amount of fines and restitution by $1.1 million, Fumo "immediately paid that," Cedrone said.

    And when Fumo wrote those letters in 2010 and 2011, Cedrone said, people were in a panic over the impending expiration of the Bush tax credits.

    After he was convicted, Fumo needed to borrow money to pay off the fines and restitution he had to pay to the government, Cedrone said. Fumo decided to borrow the money from a $2.5 million trust fund he had set up in 2006 to benefit his son and his daughter. But that set off a family fight that wound up in Philadelphia Orphans Court.

    "He's at war with his own children," Cedrone told the judge. But even if Fumo had written to his ex-wife that "I don't want to pay another cent in my life to the IRS," Cedrone said, it wouldn't mean a thing. Because by transferring some of his properties to joint ownership with his son and his fiancee, Cedrone said, Fumo was expanding the list of people that the IRS could go after if Fumo defaulted on any tax obligations.

    Cedrone said the $2.9 million sought by the IRS was over the top. "The amounts assessed are not reasonable," Cedrone said.

    In her oral argument, Dickey asserted that Fumo had received a tangible benefit by approving raises for his own employees. Those employees were "controlled by Senator Fumo," Dickey said. "He had the ability to direct" those employees.

    "He paid all of that money back," Judge Buckwalter countered. "That's not income to Senator Fumo."

    About the jeopardy assessment, the judge said, "It ought to be fairly clear that they're entitled to the tax." The judge seemed to be questioning whether the amount sought by the IRS was reasonable. And whether the imposition of the jeopardy assessment was justified.

    "Isn't it unusual he paid back all that money?" Buckwalter said about the raises that had been given to Fumo's former employees.

    Cedrone argued that Fumo's property transfers "have not affected the goverments's ability to collect any taxes."

    Nothing is "beyond the reach of the government," Cedrone said of the eight properties that Fumo sold off or transferred ownership of. The IRS can file what is known as a nominee loan against Fumo's son and fiancee that would require them to pay any taxes owed.

    "In effect," Cedrone said, Fumo has "created additional pockets" for the government to pick.

    In all past cases of jeopardy assessments cited by both sides in the current legal battle, Cedrone noted, not one case involved transfers of real estate. The cases involving the levying of jeopardy assessments typically involved cash income received for illegal activates, Cedrone said.

    But, Dickey reminded the judge, the plaintiff is a felon who "previously tried to defraud the state as well as a charity."

    At the end of the hour-long arguments, Buckwalter thanked the two lawyers for submitting to his questions. The lawyers' answers allowed the judge to "get some clarification of things that were bothering me," Judge Buckwalter said.

    Your arguments have been "very helpful," the judge said. He concluded the session by promising both lawyers a quick decision.

    Ralph Cipriano is writing a book about Vince Fumo. He can be reached at ralph@bigtrial.net.

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    Inquirer Publisher Robert J. Hall
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    State Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, have filed a lawsuit against The Philadelphia Inquirer, claiming that a series of articles on referral fees paid to Rapaport portrayed the justice and his wife in a false light, and also defamed them.

    The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court by Dion G. Rassias of The Beasley Firm, the sponsor of this blog, is unusual because it quotes as the star witness against the defendants Robert J. "Bob" Hall, publisher of the Inquirer.

    The lawsuit pans the first article in question, published on on March 4, 2013, as "heinous, untrue and savage in its portrayal of the Plaintiffs." The article was so bad," Rassias writes, "that even the publisher of the newspaper, Robert J. Hall, had to admit under oath that he was so appalled by the story, and the lengths The Inquirer had gone to in order to 'make Justice McCaffery and his wife look bad,' he called [Inquirer Editor William K.] Marimow ... and expressed deep concern over the placement of the article."

    The Inquirer publisher "specifically told Defendant Marimow that such a piece 'should not have been on page one,'" Rassias wrote. Hall also told Marimow the story was "seriously flawed because it implied McCaffery and his wife Lise Rapaport had done something wrong."

    "That admission is as important as it is historic," Rassias writes. "The Inquirer's publisher told the Inquirer's editor that the story involving a Justice on the Supreme Court was 'seriously flawed' and not worthy of front-page coverage."

    Hall's testimony under oath about the McCaffery story spilled out on Nov. 15, 2013, during a battle in Common Pleas Court over the firing of Inky editor Marimow that pitted one Inky ownership faction against another.

    Marimow, accused by Rassias of running a "smear campaign" against McCaffery and his wife, could not be reached for comment. However, the editor wrote Joel Mathis of Philly mag in an email, "The Inquirer's stories were accurate, thorough and fair and examined an important issue in the administration of justice in Philadelphia."

    The McCaffery suit names as defendants the Inquirer,  philly.com and two parent companies -- Intertrust GCN of Wilmington, and Interstate General Media of Philadelphia. Other named defendants include Inquirer Editor Marimow and Inky reporter Craig McCoy. The Daily News is also named as a defendant because it published a "completely false and disgraceful" cartoon that depicted McCaffery and his wife in bed, with Rapaport holding up two bags of money. Other defendants include Daily News Editor Michael Days and Daily News cartoonist Signe Wilkinson.

    McCaffery's 42-page legal complaint begins with a quote from Mark Twain: "People who don't read the newspaper are uninformed; people who do are misinformed."

    The Twain quote is followed up by this editorial comment: "Philadelphia is unfortunately a one-horse media town because both major daily newspapers are owned by the same entities; that means the Defendants can write whatever they want to, and their publications can only be held in check by the legal system," Rassias wrote. "This case is all about media accountability for publishing smear pieces."

    In the first story in question, published on March 4, 2013, Craig McCoy of the Inquirer wrote that Rapaport, McCaffery's chief judicial aide, received 18 referral fees over a decade for connecting law firms with clients; the most recent referral fee of which was $821,000.

    "As the fees haves come in, McCaffery has ruled on 11 Supreme Court cases in which some of the firms tied to the fees were participants ... in eight of those 11 appeals, McCaffery voted in favor of the legal position advanced by the firms that had received referrals from Rapaport in other cases."

    What the Inquirer didn't say, according to the McCaffery lawsuit, was that referral fees among lawyers "are proper and extremely common throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Rassias writes.

    When she made that referral in 2007 that resulted in the payment of $821,000 in 2012, Rapaport was "not employed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in any capacity," Rassias writes. Rapaport had "no tie to the [state] Supreme Court" when she made the referral, Rassias writes. "The Inquirer deliberately omits this crucial fact."

    The Inky also failed to report that the lawyer and law firm who paid the $821,000 referral fee to Rapaport "never appeared before Justice McCafffery in any of his capacities as a judge or justice" in the state.  The article falsely implies that the lawyers who gave Rapaport the $821,000 were getting "favorable treatment from" McCaffery.

    The fact that Rapaport was not working for the court system when she made the referral that led to the $821,000 fee was disclosed in an "amplification" printed on page A-4 of the Sunday March 24, 2013 Inquirer.

    "In a story March 4 concerning referral fees received by the wife of state Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, The Inquirer reported that the wife, Lise Rapaport, had worked as a judicial aide since 1997. The newspaper has since learned that Rapaport was on leave from Jan. 15 to Dec. 17, 2007, and received no pay or benefits from the court during that period, according to court officials ..."

    Rapaport's 2007 leave was disclosed in court documents and was known to the defendants, Rassias writes. But the leave wasn't included in the original article because it "would have completely taken the malicious sting out of the $821,000 sensational lighting-rod headline" that painted "the wholly inaccurate picture of Plaintiff McCaffery ruling in favor of this firms who have paid referral fees to Plaintiff Rapaport."

    The amplification on A-4 was upstaged by an article on the same page about Punxsutawney Phil's "bum forecast."

    "The Inquirer Defendants highlighted that their coverage of a rodent's ability to predict the weather was more important than clarifying their earlier front-page attack upon a Supreme Court Justice and his wife," Rassias writes.

    The Inquirer also wrote that McCaffery "never disclosed the fees," Rassias writes. "This is a blatant lie and the Defendants knew this ... In fact, if Plaintiff McCaffery had never disclosed the fees, Defendants would never have known about the referrals in the first place."

    The Inky "refused to identify" the 11 cases mentioned in the article "until recently compelled to do so by this lawsuit," Rassias writes. The Inquirer also didn't tell the reader that state Supreme Court cases are decided by a majority vote of justices, and not by McCaffery ruling alone.

    The true facts about the Supreme Court votes involving the 11 cases originally cited by the Inquirer will show that "Justice McCaffery's votes did not provide 'help' to the lawyers or firms who had paid referral fees, as The Inquirer suggests," Rassias writes. Publishing those facts would have "clearly established that what The Inquirer spewed in its March publication were nothing but half-truths and false-light."

    The Inquirer subsequently reported on June 11, 2013 that the FBI was investigating McCaffery over the payments made to his wife. On Aug. 19, 2013, the newspaper reported that the FBI had served subpoenas on numerous law firms, seeking information on the referrals paid to Rapaport.

    Despite the newspaper's ongoing crusade, "The Inquirer still has not published or produced one shred of evidence that Plaintiff McCaffery violated any law or in any way acted unethically," Rassias writes in bold type. "Indeed, it bears repeating: Plaintiff McCaffery has done nothing wrong, illegal or unethical."

    "The Defendants, seeking to boost sagging readership and interest, published this article knowing they were placing the Plaintiffs in a false light, falsely accusing them of illegal and unethical behavior, and falsely reporting the true nature of Plaintiff Rapaport's referral fees and Plaintiff McCaffery's role as a Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court," Rassias writes. "The article was intentionally false, misleading and deliberately incomplete."

    In the complaint against the Inquirer, Inky Publisher Bob Hall gets star billing.

    "Remarkably, publisher Robert Hall was so concerned over the placement of this article that was maliciously designed to 'make Justice McCaffery and his wife look bad' that he even sent a follow-up email to Defendant Marimow on March 4, 2013, exclaiming how 'disappointed' he was with the story and how 'distressed' he was that it was put on the front page of the Sunday paper," Rassias writes.

    In a footnote, Rassias writes that the existence of the "crucial March 4, 2013 email" from Hall to Marimnow was "actually disclosed by the law firm of Sprague & Sprague -- who ironically represent a defendant here -- during a hearing before the Honorable Patricia A. McInerney that occurred on Nov. 15, 2013."

    "In that hearing," Rassias writes, "attorneys Richard Sprague and Joseph Podraza made an offer of proof to Judge McInerney indicating they wanted to question Mr. Hall about the critical March 4, 2013 email. The Plaintiffs have already demanded that Sprague & Sprague preserve it and will present it to the Court as soon as it is produced ..."

    "Obviously, The Inquirer took all necessary steps to sanitize that internal 'dirt' from the general public and never disclosed, in any of its articles, its own publisher's deep concerns about the coverage of the Plaintiffs," Rassias writes.

    Sprague represents Intertrust GCN of Wilmington, owned by Lewis Katz, one of the parent companies of the Inquirer. Sprague has already served notice that he will be defending Intertrust against the McCaffery lawsuit.

    Sprague did not respond to an email request for comment.

    The McCaffery complaint takes several shots at Inquirer Editor Marimow.

    "Defendant Marimow compromised his responsibilities and journalistic ethics in order to attack Plaintiffs, and became completely unmoved by and unmoored from the truth," Rassias wrote. "He did so in furtherance of the several agendas of his friends and his personal counsel, whose interests and motivations were completely adverse to Plaintiff McCaffery."

    Marimow is represented by attorney Bill Chadwick, who also represents Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, McCaffery's arch enemy. Chadwick could not be reached for comment.

    "As such, Editor-in-Chief Marimow transformed himself into the 'Enabler-in-Chief" of the entire smear campaign, fueled in part by his strong business and personal relationships referenced above and motivated by these and other factors and relationships that will be probed and more fully disclosed, in far greater detail, throughout the discovery process," Rassias writes.

    The Daily News cartoon mentioned in the complaint shows McCaffery and Rapaport in bed.

    McCaffery is wearing his judicial robes and holding a gavel. Rapaport, referred to in the headline as "Mrs. McCaffery," is blindfolded like Lady Justice. But sitting in the scales she's holding up are two bags of money. Underneath the bed, there's an unopened book on ethics.

    In the cartoon, McCaffery asks his wife, "Bring home any fees from your separate and perfectly legal business, hon?"


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    The alleged victim
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A lawyer for convicted child rapist Bernard Shero is seeking a new trial based on "newly discovered evidence" of contradictory and false statements made by alleged victim "Billy Doe" to his many drug counselors.

    Doe, now 25, is the former 10-year-old altar boy who claimed at two historic Philadelphia sex abuse trials that he was raped by two priests as well as Shero, a former Catholic school teacher. It was Doe's testimony that also sent Msgr. William J. Lynn to jail for 18 months before an appeals court overturned Lynn's conviction.

    The "newly discovered evidence" surfaced during a civil case that Doe has filed against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Doe, a former drug addict who used marijuana, magic mushrooms, pills, LSD and heroin, has been treated at 23 drug rehabs. He's also been arrested a half-dozen times, including one bust, subsequently dismissed, for possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. In the civil case, Billy Doe is seeking money from the archdiocese and a host of other defendants for alleged damage to his mental health. So a judge in the civil case has ordered the defendant's lawyers to turn over Billy Doe's medical records from his various drug rehabs.

    What did defense lawyers discover when they got a look at those records? That Billy Doe, previously known for making wildly varying allegations to authorities, told his drug counselors four different stories in just one year about allegedly being abused. And none of those stories Billy told his drug counselors match the story he told two Philadelphia juries about being raped by two priests and a school teacher.

    The District Attorney's Star Witness
    On Wednesday, April 2nd, Burton A. Rose, a lawyer for Bernard Shero, filed a brief in state Superior Court seeking to overturn Shero's conviction on five sex abuse charges. As part of that brief, Rose asked the Superior Court to remand the case back to Common Pleas Court, where Shero was convicted, so the defendant can seek a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

    Shero was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 by a jury of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault. The alleged victim of all that abuse was Billy Doe. On June 12, 2013, Judge Ellen Ceisler sentenced Shero to 8 to 16 years in prison.

    In the 52-page brief, the most explosive new details are in the last few pages, where Rose made his request for a remand and a new trial, based on the newly discovered evidence contained in Doe's medical records.

    It's amazing that we know anything about Billy Doe's medical records. Defense lawyers in the criminal case tried to get those medical records, but on July 29, 2011, Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom denied their request.

    Defense lawyers in the civil case also tried to get those medical records. The Philadelphia district attorney's office, however, in an unusual move, sent a letter in support of a motion to stay the civil case of Billy Doe v. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia until the criminal case was over.

    On Nov. 2, 2011, Common Pleas Court Judge William Manfredi complied by staying all discovery in the civil case until June 30, 2012. The underlying reason for the stay was that prosecutors didn't want any documents turned over in the civil case that might benefit defense attorneys in the criminal case.

    Billy Doe was the district attorney's star witness at two criminal trials, which sent a monsignor, two priests and a Catholic school teacher to jail When the criminal cases ended, the stay in the civil case was lifted. A judge finally ordered Billy Doe's defense lawyers to turn over the medical records from the drug rehabs.

    All the lawyers in the case, however, entered into a voluntary confidentiality stipulaton that threw a blanket of secrecy over the case. The court docket lists more than two dozen defense lawyers for the various defendants in the case.

    You have to wonder why the defendants, particularly the archdiocese, agreed to any voluntary confidentiality stipulation when it appears that only the plaintiff, Mr. Doe, has anything to hide. Previously, a judge assigned to the Billy Doe civil case, Judge Sandra Mazer Moss, declined to impose a confidentiality order.

    The lone holdout to the confidentiality stipulation was Bernard Shero, who, because he is broke, is representing himself in the civil case.

    When Billy Doe's civil lawyers served discovery on Shero, namely Billy Doe's medical records, Shero was an inmate at SCI Houtzdale. Shero then turned those medical records over to Rose, who represents Shero in his criminal appeal, but doesn't represent anybody in the civil case.

    No wonder the district attorney and Billy Doe's civil lawyers didn't want those medical records getting out. In his brief, Rose lists just seven statements Doe was quoted as making in the hundreds of pages of medical records:

    Two Juries Believed This Guy
    Statement No. 1: On Jan. 25, 2005, Billy Doe told his drug counselors he had "no history of physical or sexual abuse."

    Statement No. 2: On Nov. 21, 2005, Billy Doe told his drug counselors that his older brother "had been arrested for sexual assault."

    Statement No. 3: A week later, on Nov. 28, 2005, Billy Doe told his drug counselors a second time that his brother had been arrested for sexual assault.

    Statement No. 4: On March 5, 2007, Billy Doe "stated that he was molested at age 6, that he was the victim of sexual abuse by a neighbor, and that his brother was arrested for molestation."

    For those of you keeping score at home, that was the third time in three years that Billy Doe had told his drug counselors that his older brother had been arrested for molestation.

    The only problem, Rose explained in a footnote, was that Billy Doe's older brother "is an attorney and has never been arrested."

    Statement No. 5: On March 21, 2007, Billy Doe, according to the medical records, "stated that he was abused by a 14 year-old family friend at age 9, and also by a teacher at age 11."

    Statement No. 6: On June 20, 2007, Billy Doe "stated that he was sexually abused by a friend at age 6, and by a teacher at age 7."

    Statement No. 7: On Nov. 19, 2007, Billy Doe "stated that he was sexually abused and raped in the 3rd, 4th and 6th grades."

    Just 14 months later, on Jan. 30, 2009, Billy Doe called a sex abuse hotline to make his allegations against the church. The story that Billy Doe subsequently told two Philadelphia juries was that when he was a 10-year old altar boy in fifth grade at St. Jerome's parish school, he was raped by Father Charles Engelhardt and Father Edward Avery. Billy Doe further claimed that when he was an a 11-year-old altar boy in sixth grade, he was raped by Shero, his homeroom teacher who also taught him English.

    So, going chronologically by age, and adding up all Billy Doe's various stories from the medical records and the criminal trials, over a period of less than two years Billy claimed he was: sexually abused at 6 by a friend; sexually abused at 7 by a teacher; sexually abused or raped at 8 by an unknown assailant; sexually abused or raped at 9 by an unknown assailant; sexually abused at 9 by a 14-year-old family friend; raped at 10 by a couple of priests; and raped at 11 by Shero his homeroom teacher.

    Anybody detect a pattern here? If all his allegations are true, does Billy Doe belong in the Guinness book of world records for juvenile sex abuse victims? Is it any wonder that criminal defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern, who represented Father Charles Engelhardt, now doing 6 to 12 years, described Billy Doe as "a lying sack of shit?"

    In his brief, here's what attorney Burton A. Rose had to say about the subject of Billy Doe's credibility:

    Rose "respectfully" [submitted] that the seven statements from the medical records "suggest that the testimony given by [Billy Doe] at ... trial was part of a fantasy of sexual abuse and a pattern of false statements made by [Billy Doe], perhaps to excuse his acts of bad behavior and criminal misconduct, including selling illegal drugs, a fact that he admitted to in his previously undisclosed statement of Nov. 29, 2011."

    On Nov. 29, 2011, Billy Doe told an addiction medicine doctor he was unemployed and living with his parents. "When I asked him how he was supporting himself," the doctor wrote, "He very clearly told me that he was selling drugs and this is how he made a profit."

    In his brief, Rose asks the Superior Court to remand the case back to Common Pleas Court for a new trial, "so that the interests of fundamental fairness and justice will be served."

    The newly discovered evidence "involve a further attack on [Billy Doe's] credibility and the new information could produce an acquittal at a new trial," Rose argues to the Superior Court. "If the goal is to find justice, then the nature and quality of statements on the part of [Billy Doe] ... would justify a new trial."

    In a footnote, Rose writes that Billy Doe's "statements to counselors and treatment officers at drug rehabs and other venues would be admissible at a new trial since he has chosen to pursue a claim for damages to his mental health as part of his present civil lawsuit ... thereby waiving any privilege of confidentiality."

    The medical records are expected to be the battleground in the civil case. Expect defense lawyers to have a field day. Besides lying about his older brother being arrested, Billy Doe also told his drug counselors he was a paramedic and a professional surfer, and that he used to weigh 220 pounds.

    According to the medical records, at the time he made the claim to have formerly been a heavyweight, Billy Doe weighed 148 pounds. State health department records also do not list Billy Doe on the list of active Emergency Medical Service practitioners nor practitioners who have been disciplined.

    Sadly, the proceedings in the civil case will not be televised. The various defendants in the case, as well as Doe and his parents, will be deposed in law offices around the city, and the transcripts and videotapes of those depositions, sadly, kept under seal.

    If the archdiocese decides to settle the case, nothing about the proceedings may ever be known.

    Once again, you have to question why the various defense lawyers in the civil case would agree to a confidentiality stipulation that will keep the  proceedings under a cloak of darkness. Isn't this how we got here in the first place, with the district attorney's entire farce of a "historical" investigation of the church, complete with secret grand jury proceedings, years of gag orders, and sealed pretrial motions and hearings?

    Isn't this whole tawdry process due for a megadose of sunlight?

    Most of the pages of Rose's brief are devoted to his grounds for an appeal of Shero's criminal convictions. Rose argues that Judge Ceisler abused her discretion by allowing several witnesses to testify about Shero's alleged "inappropriate behavior with other school children."

    "This evidence was not admissible to respond to an attempt by [Shero] to portray himself as a hapless and nonviolent victim of aggressive students," Rose wrote. Instead, after several prosecution witnesses got through testifying about the nearly blind Shero's propensity for getting too close to school kids, Shero came across like "a kind of sinister authority figure whose character was such that he had no regard for boundaries between a teacher and a student," Rose wrote.

    Boundary violations "had nothing to do" with the violent sexual abuse that Shero was accused of, Rose wrote.

    Rose faulted Judge Ceisler for allowing Dr. Gerard Magiotti to testify about testicular pain in young Billy Doe as being consistant with a child who had been sexually abused.

    Dr. Margiotti was Billy Doe's pediatrician, but his opinion did not constitute expert medical testimony, Rose argued in his brief. At trial, Dr. Margiotti testified that he did not see or treat Billy Doe when the boy complained about testicular pain. But the judge allowed the prosecutor to ask Margiotti if Billy Doe's testicular pain was "consistent with sexual abuse."

    Rose objected, but Judge Ceisler overruled him. Dr. Margiotti answered yes, testicular pain was consistent with sex abuse. In his closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti then referred to Billy's testicular pain as a "silent witness" that let the jury know that [Billy Doe] "could not have made this up."

    Rose also faulted Judge Ceisler for overruling defense objections to false statements made by Cipolletti in his closing statement.

    Billy Doe had told the jury that Shero raped him in the back seat of his car one afternoon in the Spring of 2000, after Shero allegedly offered to drive Doe home from school. At trial, Rose introduced Billy Doe's grand jury testimony, where Doe said he got sick after he was raped by Shero, and missed a lot of time at school.

    But Billy Doe's report card for the fourth marking period showed he did not miss a day of school. Indeed, according to school records, Doe showed up for the school the day after the alleged brutal back-seat rape by Shero.

    During his closing statement, however, Cipolletti twice told the jury that although the defense claimed that Billy Doe's report card showed that Billy didn't miss any time in the fourth marking period, Billy Doe's actual report card showed he had missed three and a half days.

    Rose and McGovern moved for mistrials on behalf of their clients, Shero and Engelhardt, but Judge Ceisler denied the motion.

    Rose also claimed as prosecutorial misconduct prosecutor Cipolletti's statements during his closing argument about why no other victims had come forward to charge Shero or Engelhardt with sex abuse.

    Cipolletti asked the jury to notice how carefully defense lawyer McGovern had chosen his words in
    Billy Doe [right] In The Driver's Seat
    his closing argument.

    "Obviously, what he [McGovern] didn't tell you was no child, no student has come forward yet," Cipoletti told the jury while Billy Doe was making a spectacle of himself by sobbing in the courtroom. "No child, no student has had the courage that [Billy Doe] has because what he did takes guts," the prosecutor told the jury.

    Rose also objected to the judge allowing the prosecutor to question Ed Avery about other alleged victims of sex abuse. Avery, an original co-defendant with Msgr. Lynn, pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to raping Billy Doe.

    When the prosecution hauled him back into court in a prison jumpsuit for the Engelhardt-Shero case, Avery stunned courtroom observers by recanting his guilty plea. Avery told the prosecutor he had lied  to take a plea bargain because he didn't want to die in jail. The real story was that he never even met Billy Doe, Avery testified.

    At the time he took the plea bargain, the 69-year-old former priest was looking at a maximum possible sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years in prison. After he pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiracy with Lynn and others to endanger the welfare of a child, Avery got a sweetheart deal of 2 1/2 to 5 years.

    Lynn became the first Catholic administrator in the country to be convicted and sent to jail for failing to adequately supervise a sexually abusive priest. On June 22, 2012, a jury convicted him on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Billy Doe. Lynn was serving a 3 to 6 year prison term when the state Superior Court on Dec. 26, 2013, reversed Lynn's conviction. A panel of Superior Court judges said said the state's child endangerment law that the district attorney had used to indict Lynn on did not apply to the monsignor.

    It was more prosecutorial misconduct, Rose argued in his brief, when the judge in the Engelhardt-Shero case allowed Cipolletti to question Avery about his "other five known victims." Cipolletti in his closing argument referred to Avery as "a seasoned pro" who was able to see that Billy Doe "would make a perfect victim," Rose recounts in his brief. To the defense lawyer, it was more evidence of prosecutorial misconduct tolerated by Judge Ceisler.



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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn say the state Supreme Court's decision to review the case could result in two more years of  appeals.

    Defense lawyers are worried about a scenario where it's 2017, and Msgr. William J. Lynn is being tried for a second time.

    By that juncture, Lynn will have served a year and a half in jail, and at least three years under house arrest.

    "It could be unending," Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lead defense lawyer, said about future appeals in the case.

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is not commenting about the state Supreme Court's decision last week to grant the D.A.'s petition for a review of the Lynn case. But a former prosecutor in the district attorney's office says the state Supreme Court's review may be less about Lynn and more about sending a message in Pennsylvania that child abuse can no longer be covered up.

    No matter who's right, it looks like the Lynn case won't be going away any time soon.

    CASE HISTORY

    From 1992 to 2004, Msgr. Lynn, 63, was the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In that position, he was responsible for supervising priests accused of sexually abusing children.

    Two grand juries in Philadelphia have investigated whether Lynn should have been charged with endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the archdiocese's sex abuse scandals.

    The two grand juries, and two district attorneys, came to opposite conclusions.

    In 2005, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a grand jury put it in writing that Lynn could not be charged under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law. D.A. Abraham and the 2005 grand jury declared that as much as they would have liked to put Lynn in jail, along with his old boss, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the original child endangerment law applied only to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers and guardians. The law did not apply to Lynn, who was a supervisor of priests, and had no direct contact with children, the grand jury said.


    As a result of the political fallout from that 2005 grand jury report -- which revealed horrendous abuses successfully covered up by two archbishops -- the state legislature, at the request of District Attorney Abraham, amended the state's child endangerment law in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.

    In 2011, a new district attorney, Seth Williams, and a new grand jury decided that Lynn could be charged under the old 1972 state law with endangering the welfare of a child. The new D.A. never explained the official flip-flop.

    On July 22, 2012, Lynn was convicted by the jury of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and he was subsequently sentenced by trial Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to three to six years in prison.

    On Dec. 26, 2013, a panel of three state Superior Court appeals judges unanimously reversed Lynn's conviction, saying the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to him.

    Lynn, who had served 18 months in prison, was released from jail Jan. 2, after the archdiocese posted a $25,000 deposit on Lynn's $250,000 bail. Under conditions of bail imposed by Judge Sarmina, Lynn was basically placed under house arrest. He was confined to living on two floors of the rectory of St. William's Church, a parish in the Lawncrest section of Philadelphia. Lynn has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times. He also needs the approval of his parole officer to visit his doctors or lawyers.

    ENTER THE STATE SUPREME COURT

    District Attorney Williams appealed the reversal of Lynn's conviction to the state Supreme Court. On May 8, the state Supreme Court wrote that Williams' "petition for allowance of appeal" had been granted by the state's highest court.

    In issuing a brief order, the state Supreme Court noted that "the issues, as stated by the petitioner, are:"

    "1. Was the evidence insufficient to prove endangering the welfare of children because defendant [Lynn] did not have direct contact with children?"

    2. If Lynn could not be convicted as a principal in a conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children, "Was the evidence sufficient to convict him [Lynn] as an accomplice?"

    Lastly, the state Supreme Court denied a defense "brief in opposition" to the D.A.'s request for a review.

    "It's obviously disappointing," said Alan J. Tauber, a former member of Lynn's four-member defense team. But Tauber added, "it's not surprising that the state Supreme Court would want to weigh in on a case that has had a compelling social interest."

    FOUR POSSIBLE SCENARIOS

    Tauber outlined four possible outcomes of the state Supreme Court review:

    -- The state Supreme Court could decide to affirm the Superior Court ruling that Lynn's conviction should be reversed; such a decision would immediately end the case .

    -- Ronald D. Castile, the state Supreme Court's chief justice, is scheduled to retire at the end of this year because he is 70 years old, the state's mandatory retirement age for judges. If the Lynn case doesn't get to the state Supreme Court before Castille steps down in December, and the remaining six members deadlock 3-3, a tie means the Superior Court ruling would stand.

    -- The state Supreme Court could decide to reverse the Superior Court. The case would then be remanded back to the Superior Court, which would have to decide on other appeal issues raised by Lynn's defense lawyers.

    Chief among those issues was a decision by Judge Sermon at trial to allow 21 cases of supplemental sex abuse to be entered into evidence against Lynn, to show a pattern of conduct in the archdiocese. The supplemental cases dated back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born. The defense has long contended that Judge Sarmina's decision to allow the 21 supplemental cases in as evidence made it impossible for Lynn to get a fair trial.

    -- The state Supreme Court could decide that the decision to grant a review in the case was "improvidently granted," and the Superior Court decision would stand.

    [In other words like the old Gilda Radner Saturday Night Live skit, the state's highest court could simply say, "Never mind."]

    But in the Lynn case, victims rights advocates feel the political winds are blowing the other way.

    Even defense lawyers are feeling the breeze.

    The state Supreme Court's decision to take the Lynn case shows that at least one member of the court, or several members, have "a keen interest in how the Commonwealth sees and frames the issues," Tauber agreed.

    That could be bad news for Msgr. Lynn.

    If the state Supreme Court overturns the reversal of Lynn's conviction, and sends the case back to the Superior Court, it would set the stage for "one and a half to two years" of more appellate litigation, Tauber estimated.

    If the state Superior Court decides that Lynn deserves a new trial, the district attorney would most likely appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court. If the state Superior Court decides that Lynn doesn't deserve a new trial, Lynn's defense lawyers would most likely appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court.

    "This is going to be going on for a while," Tauber said.

    Meanwhile, Lynn would remain under house arrest. That's another flashpoint for more litigation.

    Nothing would stop the district attorney at any point in the appeal process from filing a motion with Judge Sarmina to send Lynn back to jail.  Keep in mind, Judge Sarmina has been receptive to prosecutors' arguments that Lynn is a flight risk who might attempt to flee to the Vatican.

    Lynn's lawyers could also go to court to try and amend Lynn's bail conditions.

    TOM BERGSTROM'S TAKE

    Bergstrom, Lynn's lead defense lawyer, still professes confidence that his client will ultimately be vindicated. He says he's looking forward to arguing the case before the state Supreme Court.

    "It will be a challenge, but I think we'll prevail on the law, as we should," he said.

    Bergstrom said he's not worried about the two issues raised by the district attorney that were quoted in the state Supreme Court's decision to review the case. The two issues are whether the evidence in the case was insufficient to prove that Lynn did not endanger a child because he had no direct contact with children; and whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Lynn was an accomplice to the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

    Bergstrom, of course, believes that the Superior Court got it right, and that the language of the 1972 state law was clear that it didn't apply to Lynn. Also, state law regarding whether someone can be charged as an accomplice to the crime of endangering the welfare of a child requires that the accomplice act "with the intent of promoting or facilitating the commission of the offense" by soliciting another person to commit it, or by aiding a person "in planning or committing it."

    Lynn's defense lawyers have argued that he could not have possibly known that Father Edward Avery was going to rape Billy Doe, the former 10-year-old altar boy who's the alleged victim in the case.

    "It doesn't strike me that either of those issues are worthy of review," Bergstrom said. "I think this case may have been taken because the Supreme Court recognized that it was of huge public interest for such a long time. There were people in Arkansas reading about the Lynn trial."

    About his client, who has been silent since his release, Bergstrom said, "He's disappointed but he's holding up fine."

    Regarding the possibility of the district attorney arguing that his client belongs in jail, Bergstrom said, "legally that is an issue that I hope doesn't come up." But he did acknowledge that "theoretically, he [Lynn] could stay under house arrest until this thing is resolved."

    That doesn't strike Bergstrom as fair.

    "He [Lynn] is certainly is the most punished priest in the country for doing what he did, which is not touch a child."

    A FORMER PROSECUTOR'S VIEW

    Will Spade is a criminal defense lawyer. But he's a former assistant district attorney under Lynne Abraham who worked with the 2005 grand jury that exposed the depths of clerical corruption in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Spade argued unsuccessfully back in 2005 to charge Lynn, as well as Cardinal Bevilacqua, with endangering the welfare of a child.

    So Spade was glad that Seth Williams filed an appeal.

    "I was pleased to see that they accepted it," Spade said of the state Supreme Court. "I'm hopeful that they'll reverse the Superior Court" and "affirm the conviction and sentence" of Lynn.

    But Spade thinks there's a bigger issue at play here.

    "I don't think its about punishing Msgr. Lynn anymore," Spade said. "He's been punished. It's about establishing law that will make any administrator or any bishop in the archdiocese think twice before they cover up anything else. The bigger issue is making sure we're clear that in Pennsylvania you can't cover this stuff up" any more.

    THE LAST WORD

    Jeff Lindy, a former defense lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, says it's a "fool's errand" to try and figure out what the justices on the state Supreme Court are thinking.

    He believes if the appeals drag on, at some point, Lynn's current defense lawyers "will have an eighth amendment argument that you have to take him [Lynn] off house arrest."

    [The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits excessive bail and fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.]

    Seth Williams, Lindy said, "may never win this case," but he would be happy to have "Msgr. Lynn on house arrest until he passes away."

    Lynn, Lindy said, is "still being punished for the sins of the Catholic Church."

    Aside from the "peculiarities of the priesthood," namely celibacy, Lindy said, the archdiocese behaved the way any corporation or institution typically handles sex abuse -- they "swept it under the rug."

    Like Bill Clinton's White House, or the Pentagon, or Penn State, the archdiocese of Philadelphia is guilty of covering up sex abuse, Lindy said.

    "It's ludicrous," Lindy said about the continuing house arrest of Lynn. Regarding a petition to free Lynn, Lindy said, "They should file it now."

    It won't get anywhere in the local courts, Lindy said, but eventually some federal judge will give Lynn a break when he realizes "this district attorney would keep Lynn under house arrest for the rest of his life."

    Note: The comments section has been frozen because of the continued rantings of a few South Philly morons.

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    The gunman who shot and killed Gino DiPietro in December 2012 made his getaway in a black Honda Pilot owned and driven that day by South Philadelphia mob figure Anthony Nicodemo.

    That fact was not in dispute as Nicodemo's murder and conspiracy trial opened this afternoon in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. What came next was rather murky.

    Using the same set of facts, Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo and defense attorney Brian McMonagle told the jury decidedly different stories about what went down in the 2800 block of Iseminger Street on the afternoon of December 12.

    Zarallo, pointing to a .357 magnum that was found in Nicodemo's vehicle, said authorities had the "smoking gun" that tied the hulking, 42-year-old mob soldier to the murder. He also said that a witness got the license tag of the black Honda Pilot as it drove away and that within minutes police were knocking on Nicodemo's door in the 3200 block of South 17th Street, a five-minute ride from the murder scene.

    But McMonagle, in an impassioned opening statement, said his client was not involved in the shooting. He just happened to be parked near the murder scene when an unknown gunman jumped in his car and forced him to drive away.

    Law enforcement sources who have been following the case shook their heads and rolled their eyes. Nicodemo, they pointed out, has been held without bail since his arrest on the day of the shooting. Yet this is the first time he has offered any explanation of what happened. If, in fact, he was the victim of what amounted to a carjacking, they said, then he could have offered that explanation when they came knocking on his door minutes after DiPietro was killed.

    The trial, before Judge Jeffrey Minehart, is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning. Nicodemo faces 30 years to life if convicted of the first degree murder charge. He is also facing conspiracy and weapons charges.

    Zarallo told the jury that Nicodemo was involved in a "conspiracy to assassinate" DiPietro, a one-time South Philadelphia drug dealer. He said the gun and the car tied him to the murder plot and said he was just as guilty as the shooter. He also said authorities, when searching Nicodemo's home, found a pre-paid phone -- a "burn phone," Zarallo said -- and traced four calls made between the time the shooting occurred and the police arrived at Nicodemo's home. All four calls were made to another burn phone, he said.

    Zarallo also said a "close associate" of Nicodemo, Domenic Grande, fit the description of the hitman who, two witnesses said, was dressed in a black hoody and was wearing a mask and gloves as he fled the scene. The shooter was described as short and stocky.

    James Noone, a mailman who was working his route in the neighborhood, testified that he heard six shots and ran to find DiPietro lying next to a pickup truck.

    "His eyes were open and he was trying to breathe," said Noone, "but he couldn't" Noone said that he knew DiPietro from working in the neighborhood. The postal worker said he heard the first shot as he was at his mail truck a half-block away near the corner of Johnson and Iseminger Streets. He said as he ran toward the scene he heard another shot and then saw a man in a black hoody standing over DiPietro's body firing four more shots into the victim.

    The jury also saw snippets from a surveillance camera that captured Noone at his truck and running toward the murder scene. The video included the sounds of six shots being fired. The audio brought tears to the eyes of several members of DiPietro's family who were part of the packed eleventh floor courtroom.

    Lewis Houck, a second witness, testified that he was walking near Camac Street when the suspected shooter ran past him. He said he watched as the shooter jumped into a Honda Pilot that was parked in an alley that ran parallel to Johnson Street.

    Houck, who got the license tag of the vehicle and turned it over to police, said it appeared to him the engine was already running and the vehicle pulled away as the shooter jumped in and slammed the door behind him.

    The prosecutor said the motive for the murder remains unknown, but cautioned that the District Attorney's Office is not required to offer a motive. At the time of the shooting, several sources said DiPietro was suspected of cooperating with authorities in ongoing narcotics investigation.

    In his opening statement, McMonagle told the jury that Nicodemo "had no idea his life would be destroyed" when he woke up on the morning of Dec. 12, 2012. He said Nicodemo drove his two young children to school that morning as he always did, then he did some food shopping. That afternoon he drove over to the neighborhood around Iseminger Street, a neighborhood where his parents lived, where he had grown up and where he maintained a business office.

    McMonagle described the events following the shooting of DiPietro as "chaos" and said his client had "no idea" what was going on. The defense lawyer implied that Nicodemo was forced at gunpoint to drive away and that, a short time later, the shooter jumped out of the Honda Pilot, but not before hiding the murder weapon in a seat pocket behind the driver's seat of the vehicle.

    That's where police found the gun.

    McMonagle said Nicodemo had no motive to kill DiPietro and asked the jury if it made sense that he would commit a murder in his own neighborhood while driving his own car.

    "If this was planned," McMonagle said, "never in a million years would he drive his own car to a neighborhood that he goes to every day."

    At the time of Nicodemo's arrest, law enforcement sources described the shooting as perhaps "the dumbest hit" in the history of the Philadelphia mob, citing the same facts and raising the same questions that McMonagle posed to the jury.

    Nicodemo, who has been identified by New Jersey authorities as a suspect in the 2003 murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto, showed little emotion during today's proceedings. Dressed in a white shirt and tie, he occasionally whispered in McMonagle's ear and during breaks he waved and nodded to friends and family members who helped pack the courtroom.

    Law enforcement sources have indicated that Nicodemo could work a deal by giving up what he knows about the Casasanto murder and other acts of violence that authorities believe are linked to mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his top associates.

    The Casasanto shooting is one of three unsolved murders that occurred during Ligambi's reign. Ligambi and six associates were on trial for racketeering at the time the DiPietro murder occurred. Ligambi and two of those defendants beat the charges.

    One underworld source predicted that Nicodemo would take his chances by going to trial for the DiPietro slaying, but would cut a deal if he were convicted.

    "If he blows trial, he'll start talking," the source said.

    History would suggest that might not be the best strategy. The last mobster to cut a deal after being convicted of first degree murder was Willard Moran who was found guilty of the murder of union boss John McCullough in 1980. Moran is still in jail.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.

    Please note: The comments section of this blog has been blocked because a handful of readers, hiding behind anonymity, continue to take cheap, low-life shots that have little, if anything, to do with the story or any story posted on this blog site.  



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    Brian McMonagle
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Anthony Nicodemo smiled and waved to family members and friends as he left the 11th floor courtroom this afternoon following a second day of testimony in his murder trial.

    The burly, 42-year-old mobster, who is facing a potential life sentence, appeared calm and relaxed as he headed back to the prison cell he has occupied since his arrest minutes after Gino DiPietro was gunned down on a South Philadelphia street more than two years ago.

    Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo could wrap up his case tomorrow. Court does not meet on Friday. That would set the stage for what might be the biggest decision in Nicodemo's life. Does he take the stand in his own defense?

    A gag ordered imposed by Judge Jeffrey Minehart bars Zarallo and defense attorney Brian McMonagle from commenting about the proceedings. Several sources, however, say that McMonagle has not decided if he will put his client on the stand when the defense portion of the trial begins sometime next week.

    The case against Nicodemo is entirely circumstantial but the evidence linking him to the crime is difficult to ignore or explain away. The key elements are these:

    - Nicodemo's black Honda Pilot was spotted speeding away from the shooting scene seconds after a masked gunman jumped into the vehicle which was parked in an alleyway less than a block from where DiPietro was gunned down on the afternoon of Dec. 12, 2012. 

    - A .357 magnum, which has been identified as the murder weapon, was found in the Honda Pilot.

    The District Attorney's Office has conceded that Nicodemo was not the shooter. Zarallo has implied that Dominic Grande, a close associate of Nicodemo's, is the suspected hitman. Grande, the son and nephew of Philadelphia mobsters jailed in the 1980s, has not been charged.

    After a defense motion aimed at barring the introduction of the murder weapon as evidence failed, McMonagle offered an opening statement clearly designed to explain away the two key elements that tie his client to the crime.

    He conceded that it was Nicodemo's Honda Pilot in which the gunman fled the murder scene. But he told the jury that his client was unaware of what had happened and was accosted by the unknown gunman who forced him to drive away. The gunman later jumped out of the car, but left the murder weapon behind.

    While the story may sound incredulous, it offers an explanation that fits the evidence. But will  Nicodemo get on the stand and tell the jury an expanded version? Will he offer an explanation of what happened in his Honda Pilot that afternoon?

    What did the gunman look like and what did he say? Did he point the weapon at Nicodemo? Did he tell him where to drive? Where and when did he jump out of the vehicle? And which way to he head after he was back out on the street?

    How will he respond to what are sure to be questions from Zarallo about why he never said anything about a carjacking when police came to his home minutes after the shooting and placed him in custody?

    What will he say when Zarallo asks him why he didn't report the carjacking to police?

    Testimony today, largely from police, focused on the circumstances surrounding Nicodemo's arrest  and on evidence gathered at his home, from his car and at scene of the shooting.

    A witness at the murder scene got the license tag of the Honda Pilot as it sped away. Nicodemo's home was less than a five-minute ride from where DiPietro was killed. Police were knocking on his door less than 30 minutes after the shooting. They found the Honda Pilot, its engine still warm, parked behind the house. Later, after obtaining a search, they found the gun behind the driver's seat.

    Police who went to Nicodemo's house testified that the front door was ajar but that at first he didn't respond to knocks on the door. Sgt. Andrew Callaghan said he hollered into the house, "Police. Anthony why don't you come out and make it easier on yourself?"

    Seconds later, Callaghan said, Nicodemo appeared at the door and surrendered to police. He was handcuffed and placed in a squad car. The only thing he said, according to Callaghan, was that he had been working in his house and was waiting for his wife and children to get home.

    Callaghan, a twenty-five year police veteran, said Nicodemo was "sweating profusely" and that when he patted him down he felt his heart pounding "like someone who had just run a marathon." He said when he and other officers later searched the home, with Nicodemo's permission, he expected to find exercise equipment, assuming Nicodemo had been working out.

    But there was none.

    Under cross-examination from McMonagle, Callaghan acknowledged that when Nicodemo first came out of the house, police had drawn their guns and were pointing them out him.

    "People with guns pointed at them tend to sweat, don't they?" McMonagle asked.

    Callaghan said that was true, but repeated that Nicodemo seemed to be sweating in the extreme. None of the police officers or detectives questioned today were asked about a carjacking and there has been no indication that Nicodemo mentioned it to anyone when he was taken into custody.

    How he explains that, if he takes the stand, could go a long way toward determining his future. Another concern in the defense camp, according to sources, is whether Nicodemo would be able to keep his temper in check under cross-examination.

    "He's got a short fuse," said one source who knows him.

    Should he opt to testify, Nicodemo could also open himself up to questions about past criminal problems. He has a prior gambling conviction tied to an alleged organized crime betting ring operating out of the high stakes poker room at the Borgota casino-hotel in Atlantic City. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in that case. A New Jersey State Police affidavit that was part of that investigation identified him as a suspect in the 2003 murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto.

    The Casasanto murder is one of three gangland homicides still under investigation by federal authorities. While organized crime has not been mentioned by any of the witnesses in the trial, Mark Pinero, a Philadelphia Police detective long assigned to the FBI's Organized Crime squad, has been in court each day monitoring the testimony. And today two members of the Police Department's Organized Crime Unit were also in and out of the courtroom.

    Federal authorities have privately indicated that they hoped the leverage of the DiPietro murder charge might be enough to convince Nicodemo that his only recourse was to cooperate. Thus far, that hasn't happened. But the stakes continue to increase as the trial moves closer to jury deliberation.

    "He's got a beautiful wife and two young children," said one source. "He may never get to be with them again. That's what his risking. And for what?"

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.

    Please note: Because past stories about organized crime have sparked vile personal postings from a few readers, the comment section on this blog site has been blocked. 

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    All the details are set regarding the auction of Interstate General Media [IGM], the parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com.

    The "English-style auction" will begin at 9:30 a.m. May 27 at the law offices of Dechert LLP, at 2929 Arch Street in Philadelphia, according to documents filed in Delaware Chancery Court.

    Trustee William B. Chandler III, a former chancellor of the Delaware Chancery Court, will officiate. The two warring ownership groups will be seated in separate rooms so that "each Group can consult with each other regarding bidding outside of the presence of the other Group."

    The first bid will be made by General American Holdings Group, the majority ownership faction that includes owners George E. Norcross III, William P. Hankowsky, and Joseph E. Buckelew. Norcross has previously told the chancery court that the opening bid will be $77 million, an amount subsequently agreed to by the court. Then, the Intertrust Group comprised of minority owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest will have exactly 10 minutes to submit another incremental bid in writing that must be "exactly $1,000,000 higher than the prior bid."

    It could all be over in 10 minutes if Katz and Lenfest don't bid $78 million. According to court documents, the bidding concludes when "either group fails to submit an Incremental Bid within the ten-minute time limit."

    The only remaining question is whether the media will be allowed to sit in on the auction and report the results. Amazingly, the Katz-Lenfest faction wants the auction closed; they don't even want the amount of the winning bid to be divulged, according to a letter filed late Friday in Delaware Chancery Court by a lawyer for the General American group.

    In the letter, the Norcross faction asks for "an open and transparent process."

    In a letter filed late Friday night, P. Clarkson Collins, the Delaware counsel for General American Group wrote Vice Chancellor Donald E. Parsons Jr., stating that "the parties have agreed on all issues but one, that is public access to and disclosure of the auction process."

    "The parties respectfully request that the Court decide this sole remaining issue," Clarkson wrote.

    "The sole issue upon which the parties cannot agree is public access to and disclosure of the auction process, including without limitation access by the Newspaper Guild and media access to the bidding process, and the disclosure of the prevailing bid and the purchase price," Clarkson wrote Parsons.

    "In short, the General American Group seeks an open and transparent process with media access to the observation and disclosure of the auction process and ultimate result and the Intertrust Group seeks a private process by the trustee conducting a private auction with only the identification of the winner being made public."

    "Despite the best efforts of the parties, agreement simply could not be reached on this sole issue," Clarkson wrote.

    In a footnote, Clarkson wrote that the respective parties' positions are each consistent with the testimony in Chancery Court of three principal owners: Norcross, Katz and Lenfest.

    Bill Ross, the executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. called the proposal to close the auction "mind-boggling."

    "I think its hypocritical to want to block the press and reporters from attending this auction that's basically been public since the first filing," Ross said. A lawyer for the Guild sent a letter today to the Delaware court seeking to open the auction.

    "I'm hoping that the judge will agree with our opinion that we and our members be allowed to attend the auction," Ross said. After an open battle in court, with plenty of leaked emails along the way, "Why would they take this position that no one should attend and that the results shouldn't be made open to the press," Ross said. "Again, it's mind-boggling."

    "This process should be transparent and open because it effects many of our members' lives," Ross said. "We have close to 500 members who have made concession after concession. Clearly they want the results to be known."

    In the letter to Vice Chancellor Parsons, Sean M. Brennecke, a lawyer for the Guild, argues that "since the legal proceeding for the dissolution of IGM was a public process, the final result of that dissolution proceeding, namely, the auction of IGM's assets, should be public too."

    Brennecke, however, writes that even if Parsons decides to close the auction, the Guild should be allowed to be there. The Guild is a party to the legal proceedings in Delaware, and has already signed a confidentiality stipulation, Brennecke writes. "Thus, if any part of the auction process is to be confidential, the Guild would be bound by that determination."

    In a proposed order dissolving IGM filed in Delaware Chancery Court on behalf of Intertrust Group, the proposed order states "the conduct of the Auction (including without limitation the value of the Incremental bids submitted, the Prevailing Bid, and the Purchase Price) shall be confidential. No Group or any of its principals, members, or affiliates, or any other person participating in the auction, shall disclose any of the foregoing information to the public or to any third party."

    The Inquirer's reporting on the subject of whether its own auction would be open or private has been a curiosity.

    Under the headline, "Auction of Inquirer parent set for May 27," an initial story by David Sell stated, "Both sides have agreed to all terms, except whether the public will be invited to watch, lawyer Richard A. Sprague said Friday."

    Sprague represents Katz and Lenfest.

    A second version of the same story changed that sentence to read: "Sprague declined comment on his preference for media access."

    A third version of the same story posted online now states, "The only unresolved issue is who will be allowed to watch the bidding, Sprague said."

    In the Inky newsroom where Katz partisans reign, it sure looks like the paper is trying to dance around the fact that Katz wants to keep the media out of the auction.

    Katz has certainly not been shy of late about being in the limelight. A front-page Inquirer story Friday trumpeted the news that the medical school at Temple University was going to be named after Katz, after he pledged $25 million to the university.

    "I'm so honored," Katz told the Inquirer in an interview.

    Both Sprague and a publicist for Katz could did not respond to a request for comment.

    A spokesman for Norcross declined comment.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A Delaware judge today banned the media from attending next Tuesday's auction of the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com.

    Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. of the Delaware Court of Chancery, which is overseeing the dissolution of the parent company -- Interstate General Media [IGM] -- granted the request for a closed auction from owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.

    A rival group of owners -- George E. Norcross III, William P. Hankowsky, and Joseph E. Buckelew -- had asked the vice chancellor for an open auction, as had the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. The Guild was a party to the litigation over the dissolution of the parent company, but couldn't come up with an investor willing to spend $77 million, which will be the auction's opening bid.

    Even if the judge closed the auction to the media, the Newspaper Guild had sought access to the auction because the Guild was a party to the litigation, and has some 500 jobs on the line. Vice Chancellor Parsons, however, also banned the Newspaper Guild from showing up at the 9:30 a.m. May 27 auction at the law offices of Dechert LLP, at 2929 Arch Street in Philadelphia.

    "Having considered the parties' submissions, I conclude that the Auction should be conducted confidentially and that the Auction should be closed to everyone but the participants and the Trustee," Parsons wrote today in a letter to lawyers for the two rival ownership factions, and the Newspaper Guild.

    But the judge did grant one request from the Norcross ownership faction -- known as the General American Group -- and the Newspaper Guild.

    "I agree with General American and the Guild, however, that the identity of the Prevailing Party .. and the amount of the Prevailing Bid ... should be made public," Vice Chancellor Parsons wrote the lawyers for the two rival ownership groups, and the Newspaper Guild.

    Katz and Lenfest had wanted only the identity of the winning bidder disclosed, and not the amount of the winning bid.

    "I'm very disappointed," said Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild. "My members who are the working press are not allowed to attend, but the judge ruled and we have to live with his ruling. At least the judge appeared to split the baby, and ordered the sale price and the winner made public."

    In an order dissolving IGM filed today, Vice Chancellor Parsons laid down the final ground rules for next Tuesday's auction. The two warring ownership factions will be the only bidders. They will each have to provide William B. Chandler III, the auction trustee, with a security deposit or a personal guarantee for $5 million.

    "In accordance with the testimony of George E. Norcross III at the hearing in this matter," Parsons wrote, the Norcross faction will submit an opening bid of $77 million.

    Katz and Norcross led a group of owners that bought the two newspapers for $55 million in March 2012 from a group of hedge funds. But when the new owners took over, they discovered the company was burdened by millions of dollars in extra debt.

    The opening bid of $77 million "includes the amounts necessary to satisfy the indebtedness owed to Susquehanna Bank and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, last reported at $15,345,000," Parsons wrote in his order dissolving IGM.

    After the Norcross group bids $77 million, the Katz group will have 10 minutes to top that bid by $1 million. If they don't, the auction is over. If the Katz group bids $78 million, the Norcross group will have ten minutes to bid $79 million.

    The auction will continue in that fashion until somebody stops bidding.

    In his order dissolving the company, Parsons states that "all senior level employees, including the publisher and the editor, shall continue in employment with IGM until successful completion of the Auction on the Auction date of May 27, 2014."

    That means that Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall and Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow will stay on the job for one more week, until the auction is over.

    If the Katz group wins, Marimow is in and Hall is out. If the Norcross group wins, Marimow is out and Hall may stay on the job until a new publisher is hired.


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Shortly after mobster Anthony Nicodemo's attorney offered a bizarre carjacking defense last week to explain how his client became an unwitting getaway driver in the December 2012 murder of Gino DiPietro, a person following the trial rolled his eyes and scoffed.

    "There's no way a common-sense jury buys that story," the observer said.

    But common sense doesn't always apply in Common Pleas Court, a sometimes illogical Alice in Wonderland judicial world where the unexplainable happens. This morning, as the defense was preparing to call its first witness, it happened again.

    Judge Jeffrey Minehart declared a mistrial late this morning after dismissing two more jurors in the case. That left the panel with just 11 members and apparently neither side wanted to proceed at that point. The case blew up amid reports that police have opened an investigation into possible jury tampering.

    At least one family member of the defendant was questioned this afternoon, but one law enforcement source cautioned that it was too soon to determine whether a juror had been approached. An overheard conversation in the hallway outside the 11th floor courtroom contributed to the concern raised by law enforcement that a juror might have been compromised, but by late this afternoon there were no definitive answers.

    One of the jurors who was dismissed this morning was a South Philadelphia resident, but it was unclear if he had been the target of jury tampering. Minehart placed a gag order on the lawyers in the case when the trial opened last week. Neither Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo nor defense attorney Brain McMonagle were permitted to comment.

    Minehart said little about what had transpired, but dismissed the panel after meeting with attorneys for about an hour behind closed doors in his chambers. He has scheduled a status conference for June 12. It is expected that the District Attorney's Office will retry the case.

    Law enforcement sources said late today that there are several options to further shield a jury the next time around. While there were only two alternates selected this time, as many as six could be added. One alternate was dismissed last week and another this morning for what were described as routine and benign reasons. It was the third juror who was let go that raised concerns.

    A new panel could also be sequestered, an extreme measure, but one that is permitted. The most extreme option would be a request for a change of venue that would move the case out of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. No decision has been made with regard to any of those issues, according to sources familiar with the process.

    Nicodemo, who has been held without bail since his arrest minutes after DiPietro was gunned down in a mid-afternoon assassination, will remain in prison pending the new trial. As the defense prepared to open its case, the central question was whether the 42-year-old mobster would take the stand in his own defense.

    Zarallo had taken four days building an impressive, if circumstantial, case after Nicodemo. The evidence included witness testimony that Nicodemo's black Honda Pilot was the getaway car that a masked gunman jumped into after pumping six bullets into DiPietro.

    DiPietro, 50, was slain in the 2800 block of Iseminger Street as he was getting into his pickup truck. The shooting occurred shortly before 3 p.m. on December 12, 2012.

    A mailman who heard the shots, described how he saw a masked gunman in a hoody running from the shooting scene. Another witness, who was passing by, described how the gunman ran passed him and jumped into a Honda Pilot that was parked in an alleyway with its engine running. The witness got the license tag of the vehicle.

    The Honda was registered to Nicodemo whose home in the 3200 block of South 17th Street is a five-minute drive from the murder scene. Within 20 minutes police were knocking on Nicodemo's door and taking him into custody. They also obtained a search warrant and seized the Honda which was parked behind his row home. Inside the vehicle, wrapped in a jacket and stuffed behind the driver's seat, they found a .357 magnum that, according to testimony from forensic experts, was the murder weapon.

    Zarallo, in his opening statement to the jury last week, said that the evidence linked Nicodemo to the conspiracy to murder DiPietro and that while he didn't pull the trigger, he was just as guilty as the shooter. The Assistant District Attorney twice mentioned Domenic Grande, a friend of Nicodemo's and a mob associate, as someone who fit the description of the gunman. He also said that Grande's fingerprint had been found on the hood of the Honda Pilot.

    Grande has never been charged and McMonagle said he would be in court at some point during the trial, an apparent reference to an appearance as either a character witness or a courtroom supporter of the defendant. The case, however, never got that far.

    McMonagle, in his opening, had told the jury that Nicodemo was a victim of the chaos that surrounded the shooting. He said his client was sitting in his Honda when a masked gunman unexpectedly jumped in the vehicle and told him to drive. McMonagle implied that his client was forced at gunpoint to flee the scene. The lawyer said the gunman later jumped out of the Honda, but left the murder weapon behind.

    The defense opening raised several questions. Why didn't Nicodemo report the carjacking? And why, when he was taken into custody, didn't he mention it to the police? Instead, he has sat in prison since December 12, 2012.  Zarallo was expected to hammer away on those issues had Nicdemo taken the stand.

    Legal sources in the defense community said the scenario laid out by McMonagle was the only one that could explain away the irrefutable evidence linking his client to the getaway car and the murder weapon. With this morning's mistrial, it may be several more months before another jury gets to ponder that defense argument.

    Common sense would suggest that the explanation is bizarre at best. But in Common Pleas Court, bizarre is not necessarily unusual.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    The judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say.

    Vince Fumo stood up. He looked tired.

    "It's been a long road," the 71-year-old former state senator told Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

    He talked about his legal ordeal, which began with a federal investigation in 2003. Then came a massive indictment in 2007, followed by a nearly five-month-long trial that ended in 2009 when a jury convicted Fumo on all 137 counts.

    "I spent four years in jail," Fumo told the judge who put him there. Fumo talked about the nearly $4 million in fines and restitution that he had to pay the government, plus the additional $4 million he spent on legal fees.

    Now, Fumo told the judge, it's ten years later, "And I still don't know what my sentence is."

    The judge agreed with Fumo that it had been an unusually long road, longer than anyone could have imagined. But what can you do, the judge seemed to be saying, when the government keeps appealing my rulings, and winning those appeals?

    Then, acting on the government's latest successful appeal, the judge announced he was clipping Fumo for another $359,430 in restitution.

    Back in 2009, Judge Buckwalter sentenced Fumo to 55 months in jail. The prosecutors appealed, and in 2011, Buckwalter amended that sentence to 61 months. He also increased the amount of Fumo's fines and restitution by $1.1 million, from $2.7 million to $3.8 million.

    Fumo had already lost his job, his pension, and his law license.

    But the feds still weren't satisfied. They appealed the judge's restitution order, specifically $1.5 million to repay money stolen from Fumo's nonprofit, the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods.

    Judge Buckwalter ruled that the $1.5 million stolen from Citizens Alliance should be split evenly between Fumo and Ruth Arnao, his co-defendant who was the former executive director of the Citizens Alliance. Under Buckwalter's ruling, each defendant was to pay $783,284.

    But prosecutors filed another appeal, saying Fumo should pay more, and last year the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the prosecutors. The appeals court sent the case back to Buckwalter and told him to amend his restitution order.

    The prosecutors argued that while Fumo had paid his share, Ruth Arnao wasn't as rich as Fumo was. She could only afford to pay back that restitution at a rate of $1,000 a month. At that rate, Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Zauzmer argued today, it would take 45 years for the government to collect full restitution from Arnao.

    Why should the Citizens Alliance have to wait for that money when Fumo was loaded, Zauzmer said. He was clearly the more guilty party. The goal of restitution is to make the victim whole, and the victim in this case was the Citizens Alliance, Zauzmer argued. Why not make Fumo pay Arnao's tab as well?

    Today's hearing was a grudge match between longtime combatants.

    Zauzmer was one of the two prosecutors who convicted Fumo. He sat at the prosecution table with Vicki Humphreys, an FBI agent who led the four-year-long investigation of Fumo.

    Defending the former state senator was Dennis Cogan, who represented Fumo during the trial. Also appearing on Fumo's behalf was Peter Goldberger, an appeals lawyer who has represented Fumo for years. And Mark E. Cedrone, a tax lawyer who represents Fumo in his battles with the IRS.

    Zauzmer sparred frequently with Buckwalter, and often talked over the judge. The judge, in turn, seemed exasperated with the prosecutor. At one point, Judge Buckwalter looked up in the air and said to Zauzmer, "Ok, you and I can't agree on anything."

    The hearing began with the testimony of Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District. It was Levy who was asked by the state to take over the Citizens Alliance as an interim conservator.

    Under Levy, the Citizens Alliance changed its name to the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp. Levy told the court how he sold off properties and vehicles to balance the budget. He scaled down the organization's mission so that it could support itself on income from 22 rental properties worth $15.9 million.

    In his testimony, Levy praised Fumo and the Citizens Alliance for revitalizing Passyunk Avenue.

    "It's a very vibrant and thriving neighborhood," Levy said. About the alliance, Levy said, "I thought there was a great deal done extremely well and I wanted to preserve it."

    While the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp. is struggling to stay solvent, Levy said, it hasn't  received any restitution yet for the stolen $1.5 million. Levy said he didn't know if it ever would.

    After Levy got through testifying, Zauzmer launched into yet another unrelenting attack on Fumo.

    Fumo, Zauzmer said, got 96 percent of the benefit of the stolen money, and Arnao, only 4 percent.

    Fumo, Zauzmer repeatedly said, was the "mastermind of the fraud." It was Fumo who designed the fraud scheme and reaped the benefits, Zauzmer said. And now he's trying to stick Ruth Arnao, his loyal aide, with half the bill.

    "What type of person does this?" Zauzmer asked.

    The judge, however, wasn't buying it.

    "I firmly believe that" Arnao "was culpable," the judge told the prosecutor.

    The judge seemed ticked about the latest appeal.

    "I couldn't believe the government was once again going to appeal this," the judge declared. "I should have known better."

    Zauzmer kept bringing up the Third Circuit appeal decision in his favor. As a result of that decision, Zauzmer said, Judge Buckwalter now had "very narrow discretion."

    The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the two defendants had "clearly disproportionate culpability," and very different "economic circumstances," Zauzmer said. So it was time for Buckwalter to hit Fumo with the entire restitution bill for Citizens Alliance.

    But, the judge told the prosecutor, the appeals court didn't specify how the issue should be settled, they sent it back to me to recalculate restitution.

    "That leaves me to believe I have some discretion," the judge told the prosecutor.

    Like a broken record, Zauzmer returned to his theme of Fumo as the criminal mastermind who helped himself to free tools, free vacuum cleaners, and free political campaigns to advocate his own causes. Even though Buckwalter was the judge who sat through nearly five months of such oratory from Zauzmer during the Fumo trial.

    Any massive fraud scheme like that requires "mere minions" to implement, like Arnao, Zauzmer said.

    The judge took issue with that, saying that Arnao was no "mere functionary."

    But, the repetitive Zauzmer argued, Fumo was "the real mastermind behind the fraud." The judge, however, said his job was to figure out the issue of "culpability, who is to blame for this."

    Zausmer talked about how wealthy Fumo was. He has $1.8 million in securities in the bank, Zauzmer said. The prosecutor ripped Fumo for claiming to the court that he had a "negative net worth," calling that claim a "fraud on the court."

    "I have no question that he can pay it," the judge told the prosecutor about whether Fumo could pay any additional restitution order.

    It would be "a miscarriage of justice" if Fumo didn't get stuck with the entire tab, Zauzmer argued. While it will take Ruth Arnao decades to pay, "We can collect that money from Mr. Fumo today," Zauzmer told the judge.

    Zauzmer referred to Paul Levy as "the public servant that Vince Fumo could have been ... He wants to finish what Mr. Fumo started. There's really an elegance to that."

    Next it was the defense's turn.

    Peter Goldberger addressed the judge on the appeals court's decision. He told the judge that Fumo had already paid his $783,284 in restitution. Goldberger said he didn't understand why that money hadn't yet been forwarded to Levy.

    Mark Cedrone, Fumo's tax lawyer, said he didn't think that Zauzmer understood the implications of what the IRS had done to Fumo.

    While Fumo was still in prison, the IRS hit him with an extremely rare penalty known as a jeopardy assessment. The jeopardy assessment included a bill for $3 million allegedly owed the feds. In addition, the feds froze three of Fumo's bank accounts, including the one with that $1.8 million in securities that Zauzmer had referred to.

    "He can't access that money," Cedrone told the judge about Fumo. Also, that $3 million levy by the IRS is a debt, said Cedrone. The tax lawyer objected to Zauzmer claim that Fumo's report of a negative net worth was a fraud on the court. Fumo's wealth, his lawyers argued, has precipitously declined since a pre-sentencing report in 2009 put his fortune at $11 million.

    The last speaker on Fumo's behalf was Dennis Cogan. The veteran defense lawyer said he understood Zauzmer's "commitment to the case."

    "I don't," the judge interjected. The judge said he had repeatedly told the prosecutor he had "fulfilled that commitment admirably," but Zauzer still wasn't done prosecuting Fumo.

    Cogan charged that Zauzmer was misstating the facts of the case. Based on who's his audience, Cogan said, "he [Zauzmer] changes his position."

    The defense lawyer took issue with Zauzmer's claim that Fumo had reaped the benefits of most of the money that the government said was stolen from Citizens Alliance.

    How could that be, Cogan said, when out of that $1.5 million stolen from Citizens Alliance, about $570,000 was spent on improvements to a building that used to be Fumo's district office in South Philly, a building sold by the Citizens Alliance for a tidy sum.

    Did Fumo pick up that building and "put it in his pocket," Cogan asked the judge.

    Cogan said that Zauzmer always portrayed Fumo as "the devil incarnate." Meanwhile, it was Arnao who dealt with the accountants at Citizens Alliance; it was Arnao who dealt with the lawyers.

    It was Arnao who shared in the benefits of working for the former senator.

    "Who is riding with him on the seat of power" Cogan asked.

    It was Arnao, and her husband, Mitchell Rubin, whom Fumo got appointed as chairman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

    While the government was hounding Fumo for more money, Cogan said, the feds were turning a blind eye to the joint assets of Rubin and Arnao.

    Rubin owns six cars, Cogan said, including a Mercedes. The joint salaries of Rubin and Arnao amounted to $891,000 in 2005; $1.7 million in 2006; and $952,000 in 2009. Yet the government does nothing to investigate whether they could recover any more money from Arnao, Cogan said.

    Rubin sold his process serving company, B&R Services, for a nice sum, Cogan said. Why doesn't the government go after those assets? Then Cogan ripped Zauzmer for suggesting that with a few phone calls to the IRS, he could get some of Fumo's assets unfrozen.

    Who the hell do you think you are, Cogan seemed to be saying. He compared Zauzmer to French King Louis XIV with his attitude of "L'Etat, c'est moi," as in "I am the state." The rhetorical flourish was a fitting capper on the day's legal fisticuffs.

    When he stood to rebut the defense lawyer, prosecutor Zauzmer appeared stung by Cogan's remarks.

    "That was pretty personal," Zauzmer said.

    The prosecutor, however, seemed incapable of equating his own years of unrelenting personal attacks on Cogan's client with the defense lawyer's escalating rhetoric.

    When he renewed his argument, Zauzmer denied that the feds could recover money from Rubin.

    "We could not go to Mr. Rubin to get this debt," Zauzmer said. "He is not guilty here." The government can "only get assets in joint ownership."

    Once again, the judge and prosecutor argued over Arnao's culpability.

    "You're totally ignoring the fact that she committed a crime and should pay for it," the judge shouted at Zauzmer, before the prosecutor sat down.

    Cogan wasn't done. In his rebuttal he took one more shot at Zauzmer. You're not looking at Mitchell Rubin's assets, Cogan said. But you're not done looking at Fumo's assets.

    Cogan quoted a government filing in the case that charged that Fumo had engaged in "extensive shenanigans to shield his assets," by transferring ownership of various properties to his son, and Carolyn Zinni, Fumo's fiancee, who was sitting in the courtroom.

    If Fumo married Zinni last night, Cogan said of the government, "they'd find a way" to go after what ever assets she had.

    After a luncheon recess, Judge Buckwalter read his decision written out in longhand from the bench.

    The judge reminded the government that Ruth Arnao collected $150,000 a year as the executive director of Citizens Alliance. While Fumo drew no salary from the alliance.

    Arnao, the judge said, was no pawn. Instead, she was "a very capable person in her own right."

    "Ruth Arnao enjoyed the lifestyle" she had while working for Fumo, the judge said. She was the person who day-to-day was responsible for what happened at Citizens Alliance.

    "She wrote the checks," the judge said.

    The judge announced he was going to split the $1.5 million in restitution this way: 75 percent or $1,165,317 would be paid by Fumo; 25 percent or $388,439 would be paid by Arnao.

    Since Fumo had already paid $783,264 to Citizens Alliance, he still owed $359,264.

    Arnao, who has paid $22,623 to date, still owes $361,264 in restitution.

    The judge said he would give Fumo 60 days to pay.

    After the case was over, Zauzmer told reporters he had no comment.

    But Peter Goldberger walked up to Zauzmer, shook his hand, and said, "Next case, not this again."

    The defense lawyer seemed to be saying to the prosecutor, hey, good fight, and now let's end this and move on. You're not going to file another appeal, right?

    But prosecutor Zauzmer was having none of it.

    "We'll see" was the only thing he said to Goldberger.

    "I think the judge's hand was forced," Cogan said afterwards about Buckwalter. His client was going to have to live with the result. If there was a silver lining, Cogan said, it was that Buckwalter's decision would be hard to overturn on appeal, even for the prosecutors.

    Maybe, Cogan said, after 11 years, this finally might be the end of the case.

    But if it really is, then somebody will have to explain that to Bob Zauzmer.


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    Lewis Katz and George E. Norcross III
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    One night last week, Lewis Katz strolled through the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer wearing a T-shirt and jeans, yellow-green neon sneakers and Dr. Dre Beats headphones.

    OK, so he may dress casually for a media mogul. But, a witness said, he acted like a guy ready to buy the joint.

    But wait, there's a persistent rumor sweeping the building that Katz may have split up with his longtime companion, Inquirer City Editor Nancy Phillips.

    Uh-oh. Another reason to think that Katz may be headed on his way out the door.

    With the auction of the city's paper of record a day away, reporters can't be blamed for sifting through every new fact and rumor as they try to handicap Tuesday's long-awaited showdown between principal feuding owners Lewis Katz and George E. Norcross III.



    When the opening gavel falls at 9:30 a.m. at the law offices of Dechert LLP, somebody has to blink. After Norcross makes that opening bid of $77 million, as he promised in court, the question is, in the next ten minutes, what will Katz do? When he has to decide whether to trump that bid by at least $1 million, or go home?

    It's a guessing game that's keeping Inquirer and Daily News reporters up at night. While the media is barred from witnessing the auction, taxpayers have a stake in the local drama. Of that $77 million auction price, $2 million will go to cover a little-publicized sweetheart loan from the city back in 2012 that financed the newspapers' move to new offices on Market Street.

    The Inky and Daily News cozying up to city officials, while helping themselves to taxpayers' money at bargain rates. Just the kind of story about powerful interests at work in the city that citizens have a right to know about. It's a reminder of the kind of power that's at stake in the battle for control of the local media. Because tomorrow, for the fifth time in the last nine years, our town's only two daily newspapers will once again be on the auction block.

    Wait, maybe those rumors about Katz and Phillips splitting up aren't true. On Twitter, Phillips continues to act like Lew Katz's cheerleader, passing along other people's rave reviews about Katz's recent commencement speech to Temple grads, such as, "Lewis Katz = rock star."

    Phillips also tweeted this in her own words about Katz's decision to pledge $25 million to the Temple University School of Medicine: "A generous, inspiring and enduring gift. Coming soon: the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University."

    We interrupt this story for breaking news.

    On Friday, Lewis Katz led a tour of the newspapers' printing presses out in Conshohocken. He left his blue Bentley convertible parked conspicuously in front of the door. "You know, screaming 'F--- You' to all the poor miserable schlubs walking in from the parking lot," one employee wrote in an email.

    Katz had previously expressed an interest in selling off those printing presses. Were those guys with Katz on the tour investors or potential buyers after the sale? We don't know because Katz wouldn't talk to the only journalist on the scene who tried to question him, the Inquirer's David Sell.

    Does this mean Katz is serious about buying the place? Or is it just more Katz Kabuki theater, as one observer cracked.

    In the Inky newsroom, where Katz partisans reign, they're cheering for Lewis no matter how strange it  gets. Nancy Phillips is the city editor. Bill Marimow is the editor that Phillips personally recruited; the editor that Katz went to court for, to save his job.

    In the Inky newsroom, they're willing to turn a blind eye to Katz's foibles because of their blind fear of Norcross. Regardless of what really transpires.

    The Newspaper Guild and reporters from around the city won't be allowed to watch tomorrow's auction because of the expressed legal desires of just two guys: Lewis Katz, and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the two minority owners of the newspapers.

    Norcross, supposedly representing the forces of darkness, sought an "open and transparent process," according to the letter his lawyer sent the judge in Delaware who ordered the auction.

    Katz, supposedly the champion of journalistic integrity in Philadelphia, not only wanted to ban reporters and the Newspaper Guild from witnessing the auction; he also didn't want the amount of the winning bid divulged.

    [Katz's actions have inspired a new wave of newsroom speculation. Did Katz want nobody to know what the bids would be because he doesn't even plan to submit one? Or does it mean Katz doesn't want people to know how much he overpaid for the newspapers? Take your pick.]

    Fortunately on behalf of freedom of the press, the judge overruled Katz on his desire to close off the auction results. The amount of the winning bid will supposedly be divulged within an hour after it's made at tomorrow's auction.

    Yet when the Inky reported on the legal maneuverings leading up to the auction, they basically covered for Katz, trying to hide the fact that he was the guy who wanted to ban reporters.

    It also didn't seem to upset anybody in the Inky newsroom when on May 14, the newspaper ran an embarrassing front-page homage to Katz, under the headline, "Temple to name medical school after Katz." It's a story that had been ticketed for the front page of the local section until somebody intervened, and said, hey, let's put Lewis on page one.

    As one Katz supporter in the Inky newsroom admitted about the bosses, "Their allegiances are being played out in the newspaper, which is lame. But I fear the alternative."

    That would be George E. Norcross III, the Democratic boss of South Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie's pal.

    Norcross, in the view of Katz partisans, should be the target of the newspaper, not the owner. If Norcross wins, Katz partisans expect a staff of award-winning reporters to be re-assigned to write about suburban zoning boards, or type up local school lunch menus. If Norcross wins the auction, Katz's Inky partisans will be diving out of windows.

    Meanwhile, people wonder why the opening bid at the auction is set at $77 million when just two years ago, the current feuding owners paid only $55 million to buy the papers from a group of hedge funds.

    The reason is when the new owners took over, they discovered some debts on the books that they didn't know about, such as some $5 million in workmen's compensation bills.

    A total of $15 million in debt includes a low-interest loan of $2 million to the previous owners of the newspapers from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. [PIDC].

    After previous owners sold off the old Inquirer building on North Broad Street for $22 million in 2012, the Inky and Daily News moved to the old Strawbridge building at 801 Market Street.

    "Taking city, state or federal funds can compromise future news judgement," Randall Smith, a University of Missouri School of Journalism professor warned the Philadelphia Business Journal on Nov. 25, 2011, when they wrote about the deal. "When a financially-strapped news organization decides to cross the line, it's important to be transparent," the journalism professor said.

    While the Business Journal thought the loan was news, however, neither the Inquirer or Daily News ever wrote about it.

    The PIDC gave the former owners of the newspapers the loan "to help renovate and fit out the space when they moved to 801 Market St., said John Grady, president of the PIDC in an email.

    At the time, Mayor Nutter "had a real concern that this company could leave the city," a mayoral spokesman told the Philadelphia Business Journal back in 2011.

    The $2 million loan, executed on Nov. 2, 2012, was at 1 percent interest with no payments over the first one-to-five years, followed by "20 years of level monthly principal and interest payments," Grady wrote.

    In addition to the $2 million loan, the PIDC also "provided a guarantee to the landlord at 801 Market for $900,000," Grady wrote. That guarantee covered the security deposit on a 12-year-lease for the newspapers, Grady said. "That guarantee burns off over time."

    The remainder of that $15 million in debt includes a line of credit the new owners took out with Susquehanna Bank to obtain some working capital. That money was used to pay out $6 million in severance payments to employees. In addition, the new owners invested some $4 million to upgrade the suburban printing plant.

    That $77 million price tag includes the $15 million in debt. But it doesn't cover the amount that each ownership faction already has invested in the papers,  a total of $61.6 million so far.

    In other words, if the Norcross ownership faction wins with its initial bid of $77 million, they have to pay the Katz ownership faction $26 million because they already own 57 percent of the company, plus $15 million for the debt, for a total of $41 million. That's according to an exhibit attached to the court order dissolving Interstate General Media Holdings LLC, the parent company that owns the two newspapers and philly.com.

    If the Katz faction bids $77 million, they have to pay the Norcross faction $35 million, because they only own 42 percent of the company, plus the $15 million in debt, for a total of $50 million.

    Tomorrow's auction is closed to the press and public. Norcross's lawyers, however, have set aside a room at the Dechert law offices at 2929 Arch Street for reporters because "there may be an opportunity to speak directly with the successful bidder," according to a memo sent out by Daniel Fee, a spokesman for Norcross.

    As of Friday, the Katz camp had made no similar arrangements.

    As to what this may mean, however, we can only speculate.

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    H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest & Lewis Katz AP/Matt Rourke
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    When you spend $88 million to buy a couple of floundering newspapers, you get to call the shots.

    So when Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest came to the microphones today to address the media, they were ready to announce some immediate managerial decisions.

    In was Bill Marimow, the editor of the Inquirer that Katz and Lenfest went to court last fall to reinstate, after he was fired by Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall.

    Out was Publisher Hall, whom Lenfest said was "retiring." Also getting the boot was the much ballyhooed public pledge by the former owners of the paper, including Katz and Lenfest, that they would not interfere in the editorial operations of the two newspapers and the philly.com website.

    "That will be gone," Lenfest said bluntly, when asked about the non-interference pledge. "It won't be necessary."

    It wasn't exactly an auspicious start for a couple of conquering media moguls.

    After all, Katz and Lenfest were the two owners who succeeded in closing today's newspaper auction to reporters. If a judge had granted all their requests, Katz and Lenfest would have kept the amount of today's winning bid a secret.

    In that same imperial vein, an hour after winning the auction, the new owners -- a couple of old guys in really loud suits -- seemed incredulous that anybody would question their motives when it came to possible newsroom meddling.

    Can you imagine any reason why I would want to interfere with editorial operations, Lenfest asked.

    I sold my cable TV company, Lenfest told reporters. Now I devote my time and efforts to philanthropy. Why would I want to do anything to interfere with the editorial operations of a newspaper?

    Besides, Lenfest would no longer be interfering. Later in the day, it was announced that Lenfest would be replacing Bob Hall on an interim basis as Inquirer publisher.

    At the news conference, Katz told reporters that he too didn't have any ethical conflicts because, like Lenfest, he didn't operate a business in Philadelphia.

    You do now, one reporter reminded him.

    But the prevailing attitude of the new owners was hey, we know best. We're the champions of journalistic integrity in Philadelphia. We just spent a pile of money on the court fight to reinstate Billy Two Pulitzers as editor. We don't need no stinkin' pledges.

    Lenfest dismissed the pledge as a "very sensitive reaction" by a bunch of owners who were being criticized by journalists at the time for being political partisans. Now that George E. Norcross III, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, was gone, so was the pledge.

    Speaking of Norcross, he left town with a pile of cash.

    He and his partners had invested a total of $35 million in the two newspapers, according to court documents. After the new owners pay off $15.3 million in debts, Norcross and his two remaining partners, William P. Hankowsky, and Joseph E. Buckelew, will walk away with $41.7 million, according to court documents.

    "My view is, both parties won," said Katz, who made his fortune in parking lots, billboards and banking.

    The winners get the challenge of restoring the Inquirer, as Lenfest put it, to once again being "one of the nation's finest newspapers."

    And the losers got a "great return on their investment," Katz told reporters.

    Neither side could discuss the details of the auction. We know the bidding started at $77 million and ended at $88 million. But what happened along the way couldn't be divulged, thanks to a gag order imposed by the judge, after those two champions of the First Ammendent, Katz and Lenfest, moved to close the auction.

    Katz told the media he was "terribly sorry" about the very public ownership feud that began last fall in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, with the lawsuit to reinstate Marimow, and ended in Delaware Chancery Court, with today's court-ordered auction.

    Katz said the court battles and public feuding had taken a toll on the reputation of the newspaper, which has lost than 50,000 Sunday subscribers in the past year. The Inky ownership battle also put on a damper on the morale of employees already angry about surrendering $20 million in contract givebacks.

    Today's big winner, however, was Bill Marimow, whose contract was supposed to expire at the end of April, but was extended by the courts until today's auction.

    Asked if the new owners would be signing a new contract with Marimow, Lenfest replied, "I don't think Bill needs a contract with us."

    Translation: Bill Marimow, editor for life.

    Katz and Lenfest announced they will have equal shares and both be in charge of the new parent company that will own the two newspapers. But, Lenfest said, they would "have other investors come in." He did not specify who the new investors would be. But presumably, they too would come aboard without having any ethical conflicts.

    Katz and Lenfest declined to discuss any further personnel moves, such as the expected departure of Norcross's daughter, Lexie, who was director of digital operations overseeing philly.com.

    The only thing Lenfest would say about the website was, "We want to improve our digital content."

    Whether that means posting more long Inky investigative stories on philly.com, and fewer stories about Kim Kardashian, Lenfest wouldn't say.

    A reporter asked if the two new owners had taken on any extra debt to pay that winning bid of $88 million.

    That question appeared to upset Katz, who stood up and shouted a hostile one word answer: "No."

    On that happy note, the press conference was over.

    The next stop on the victory tour for Katz and Lenfest was when they visited the grateful Inquirer newsroom, with their attorney, Richard A. Sprague, still in tow.

    Katz still seemed dazed by the auction results.

    "I just said to Gerry walking in, I would have bet anything that I would have been cashing this big check," Katz told reporters and editors.

    Was that an admission by Katz that he had been baited by Norcross into overpaying for a couple of buggy-whip factories? In a newsroom full of professional inquisitors, nobody popped the question.

    As they had said in their press conference, the winners reiterated that they had no plan for the future, no idea how to turn around the fortunes of the newspapers, other than to go out and hire the best publisher and CEO in the land.

    "To be candid we've spent untold hours trying to figure out the bidding process," Katz told his subjects. "We've spent zero hours trying to figure out the management side."

    When he left the auction, Norcross declined comment to reporters. A spokesman issued a statement wishing the new owners well, saying, "It is time to return the company's focus to journalism, and away from conflict among its owners."

    That conflict had clearly upset Katz, who blamed Norcross for dragging Katz's longtime companion, Inquirer city editor Nancy Phillips, into the slugfest.

    Last week, one award-winning Inky investigative reporter was overheard lamenting that he didn't know if he would have a job after today, if Norcross won the auction.

    Now that Katz and Lenfest have won, the Inky's investigative reporters have a new lease on life. And maybe a new target over the bridge.

    Because if Katz carries a grudge, look out, Mr. Norcross. Now, you're fair game.

    Postscript: Jeff Blumenthal of the Philadelphia Business Journal has a scoop on the departure of George Loesch, a former Campbell Soup official who became senior vice president of sales and marketing for Interstate General Media, the parent company that owned the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.

    Loesch left town but not before leveling a blast at the Inky's newsroom leadership and the arrogance that pervades the place. Loesch's memo, reprinted in its entirety in the Business Journal, is a classic screed.

    An excerpt: "If our Inquirer product was a soup, it would have been taken off the store shelves," Loesch wrote. "As I've said, not enough chicken in the chicken noodle soup' and our readers told us that."




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