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Articles on this Page
- 10/27/14--09:51: _A Three-Ring Circus...
- 10/28/14--17:04: _When Judges Screw U...
- 11/03/14--08:05: _Judge Losing Patien...
- 11/08/14--13:00: _Father Engelhardt S...
- 11/17/14--09:26: _Handcuffs And A Hos...
- 11/18/14--14:48: _Moses, Solomon And ...
- 11/21/14--14:45: _"I Accept This Inju...
- 11/27/14--03:16: _Trying To Peddle Th...
- 12/02/14--09:38: _Galati's Lawyer Bow...
- 12/06/14--10:37: _Before Rolling Ston...
- 12/10/14--08:30: _Billy Goes Viral
- 12/11/14--13:37: _Galati Asks For Cou...
- 12/22/14--13:47: _Revenge Of The Norc...
- 12/31/14--09:52: _A Priest's Dying De...
- 02/03/15--18:03: _ For Ringleader Of ...
- 02/06/15--12:22: _Nicodemo Gets 25-50...
- 02/13/15--14:49: _Judge Orders Leo Om...
- 02/15/15--10:32: _A Fire Trap in Germ...
- 02/23/15--08:09: _Gotti's Rules
- 02/27/15--17:03: _Father Andy The Seq...
- 10/27/14--09:51: A Three-Ring Circus Starring Billy Doe
- 10/28/14--17:04: When Judges Screw Up And Prosecutors Cheat
- 11/03/14--08:05: Judge Losing Patience As Defense Challenges Mob References
- 11/08/14--13:00: Father Engelhardt Stricken In Prison
- 11/17/14--09:26: Handcuffs And A Hospital Bed
- 11/18/14--14:48: Moses, Solomon And The Monsignor
- 11/21/14--14:45: "I Accept This Injustice"
- 11/27/14--03:16: Trying To Peddle The Ultimate Contrarian Story
- 12/02/14--09:38: Galati's Lawyer Bows Out
- 12/06/14--10:37: Before Rolling Stone Was Conned By "Jackie" They Fell for "Billy"
- 12/10/14--08:30: Billy Goes Viral
- 12/11/14--13:37: Galati Asks For Court-Appointed Lawyer
- 12/22/14--13:47: Revenge Of The Norcrosses
- 12/31/14--09:52: A Priest's Dying Declaration In Prison
- 02/03/15--18:03: For Ringleader Of "Rogue" Cops Trial Prep A Problem
- 02/06/15--12:22: Nicodemo Gets 25-50 Years For DiPietro Murder
- 02/13/15--14:49: Judge Orders Leo Omar Hernandez To Be Deposed
- 02/15/15--10:32: A Fire Trap in Germantown; At L&I, More Scandal And Neglect
- 02/23/15--08:09: Gotti's Rules
- 02/27/15--17:03: Father Andy The Sequel Opens With Tears And A Shouting Match
By Ralph Cipriano
How many courtrooms does it take to unravel a lie?
In the case of "Billy Doe," the answer these days is three.
Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for the former altar boy turned heroin addict who told an incredible and constantly-changing story about supposedly being raped by two priests and a school teacher.
It's a story that defies all logic and common sense, a story thoroughly disproved by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The Billy Doe case also contradicts established patterns of abuse over 40 years as exposed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secret archive files.
But in a triumph of absurdity, a legal three-ring circus starring a clown named Billy plays on, resuming tomorrow with an 11:30 a.m. hearing in state Superior Court.
On Tuesday, defense lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero will be in state Superior Court, arguing that their clients, convicted of sexually abusing Billy, deserve a new trial.
Next month, on Nov. 18, defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, will be in state Supreme Court in Harrisburg arguing that their client should be a free man.
While Engelhardt and Shero remain in jail in a continuing travesty of justice, Lynn is being held on house arrest after his conviction was overturned 11 months ago by the state Superior Court, a decision under review by the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, in Common Pleas Court, Billy Doe's civil case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is being fought under cover of a voluntary confidentiality stipulation that has gagged the combatants. A stream of documents, however, illuminating Billy's ample record of making "contradictory and false statements," along with a disturbing allegation of prosecutorial misconduct, have made their way from the civil case over to the criminal case. Anybody interested in the truth should be thankful.
In a case filled with secrecy and the trampled constitutional rights of the defendants, the district of attorney of Philadelphia has officially responded to the accusation of prosecutorial misconduct by prevailing upon the Superior Court to take the unusual step of sealing the entire record of the criminal appeal. It's a head-scratching decision that the district attorney refuses to comment on, a decision that has gone unchallenged by the defendants and ignored by the rest of the media in this town.
Billy Doe's junkie hustle, now playing simultaneously in three courtrooms, may be a continuing embarrassment to justice in the Commonwealth, but it does prove Winston Churchill's famous line: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
In this case, Billy Doe's crazy stories, as recounted in a grand jury report filled with 20 brazen lies and factual mistakes, have been reprinted as gospel in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and in more than 100 articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer. You can find that bogus grand jury report today preserved in all its falsity on the district attorney's own official website.
THE BATTLE IN SUPERIOR COURT
At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Superior Court, 6th and Walnut, Michael J. McGovern and Burton A. Rose are expected to get 15 minutes each to argue why their clients, Father Engelhardt and Bernie Shero, deserve a new trial.
The DA is expected to get 30 minutes.
Engelhardt, 67, is serving a six to 12 year sentence after he was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. Shero, 51, is serving an 8 to 16-year sentence after being convicted on the same day of the rape of a child, attempted rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault.
The newly discovered evidence surfaced during Doe's civil case. Doe's medical records showed that he first told his drug counselors he had "no history of physical or sexual abuse."
Then Billy told his drug counselors he was [take a deep breath]: 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; and sexually abused at 9 by a 14-year-old family friend.
This was before Billy got around to telling the district attorney he was raped at 10 by two priests, and at 11 by a school teacher.
You have to give Billy points for being consistent; every year of his life from age 6 through 11 Billy claimed he was sexually abused or raped.
Billy, a lightweight at 148 pounds, also told his drug counselors that he was a paramedic [not true], a professional surfer [highly dubious] and that he used to weigh 220 pounds [Please hold your laughter].
Why would anybody believe anything this guy had to say?
His own mother on the witness stand described him as a "lost soul." His grade school teachers testified that Billy loved being the center of attention.
Doe, now 26, is a former ambulance driver in Northeast Philadelphia and a former landscaper in Florida. He was kicked out of two high schools, has been in and out of 23 drug rehabs, and was arrested six times as an adult for drugs and retail theft, including one bust for possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. Since he became the district attorney's star witness, however, his criminal record has been wiped clean.
THE ALLEGATION OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
In their criminal appeal, Rose and McGovern raised accusations of prosecutorial misconduct against the district attorney's office. The two defense lawyers claim that prosecutors didn't tell them about a
The witness that the defense claims the prosecution hid is Judy Cruz-Ransom, a social worker who was a victims’ assistance coordinator for the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Billy Doe got into a car that day and gave a fantastic statement written down by Hagner and witnessed by Cruz-Ransom. Moments before he got into that car, Billy had been chauffeured home from the drug clinic by his police sergeant father.
The defense lawyers made their allegations of prosecutorial misconduct after Cruz-Ransom gave a deposition in the civil case. In that deposition, Cruz-Ransom disclosed that she and her lawyer, Robert E. Welsh Jr., had visited the district attorney's office before the Engelhardt-Shero trial, to give a statement about what Billy Doe had told her.
There's a reason why the prosecution wouldn't have wanted Cruz-Ransom around at the Engelhardt-Shero trial. According to Rose's filing, in the civil case, Cruz-Ransom's deposition completely corroborated the testimony of Louise Hagner.
At the Engelhardt-Shero trial, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, spent so much time attacking the credibility of Hagner that one defense lawyer called her an "un-indicted co-conspirator."
Cipolletti would have had a harder time assailing Hagner if the defense could have produced Cruz-Ransom as a corroberating witness. But if you believe the defense lawyers, nobody at the district attorney's office ever told them about their interview with Cruz-Ransom.
BILLY'S CRAZY STORIES
There's a reason why the prosecution would like Cruz-Ransom and Hagner to disappear. [Regular readers of the blog can skip this section]. According to the two social workers, Billy, who appeared sober and at times seemed to be faking tears, told the following tales:
|The star of the circus|
-- Billy claimed that Father Edward V. Avery "punched him in the head" and knocked him unconscious. When Billy woke up, he claimed he was naked and that the priest had tied him up with altar sashes. Avery supposedly then raped Billy anally so brutally that he "bled for a week," Doe told the social workers.
-- Billy claimed Bernard Shero punched him in the face and attempted to strangle him by wrapping a seatbelt around his neck before he raped Billly in the back sat of the car.
But when Billy Doe told his story of abuse to the police and grand jury, all that anal sex, the death threat, the punch in the head from Avery, the punch in the face from Shero, the business about Billy being tied up naked with altar sashes and strangled with a seat belt, all of those details were dropped from Billy's story.
Instead, the resourceful Billy entertained his new audience with a completely new tale of abuse about oral sex and mutual masturbation with his alleged assailants, along with brand new story lines about Father Engelhardt showing him pornography and serving him some altar wine, and Father Avery forcing poor Billy to perform a strip tease to music.
How did Billy explain away his crazy stories to the archdiocese social workers? He claimed he was high on drugs. But even in resorting to his usual foolproof alibi -- the drugs made me do it -- Billy couldn't keep his stories straight.
Billy, what you call an improvisational talent, told the grand jury he was "wasted" and "high out of my mind" on heroin when he talked to the social workers. But on April 25, 2012, at the trial of Msgr. Lynn, Billy told prosecutor Cipolletti that on top of methadone "I was taking Xanax and smoking weed." A combination of drugs that Billy claimed left him "basically in a comatose state."
|Actually believed Billy|
Then, according to Billy, the moment he started talking and Hagner started taking notes, the room began spinning and he can't remember anything that happened after that.
At this point in his revised story, Billy should have been sent packing by anybody over at the district attorney's office who wasn't still laughing. But a determined Seth Williams wanted to make prosecutorial history by putting Msgr. Lynn in jail.
Sure enough, Lynn, the Philadelphia archdiocese's former secretary for the clergy, became the first Catholic administrator to be thrown into prison for the sexual sins of the clergy. Then, nearly wo years after the district attorney's office put out its distorted grand jury report based on the fables of Billy, and those of another drug-addicted criminal named Mark Bukowski, the district attorney finally got around to investigating Billy's stories.
What did the detectives discover? That the witnesses they talked to and the evidence they gathered all contradicted Billy's stories, including church records, school yearbooks, Billy's report cards, and evidence provided by Billy's own family.
WHAT THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OWN DETECTIVES FOUND OUT
[Regular readers of this blog can also skip this section].
Nearly two years after the publication of the flawed grand jury report, the district attorney's detectives discovered:
-- Although Billy claimed that Father Engelhardt attacked him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass, his mother, a registered nurse, kept meticulous calendars that recorded the daily activities of her two altar boy sons, including Masses they served at. Those calendars for 1998 and 1999, when Billy was a fifth-grader allegedly attacked by Father Engelhardt, do not ever mention Billy serving as an altar boy at a single morning Mass.
-- Billy Doe told the police that Father Ed Avery accosted him after Billy the fifth-grade altar boy served at a funeral Mass at St. Jerome's officiated at by Avery. But a register of funerals kept by the church showed that none of the 80 funerals held at the church during the 1998-99 school year were officiated by Avery.
-- Billy told the grand jury that Father Avery accosted him while he was a fifth-grade member of the church's bell choir maintenance crew putting away the bells away after a concert. But three teachers at St. Jerome's, including the church's longtime music director, told detectives that only eighth grade boys were allowed to become members of the bell choir maintenance crew for a simple reason: only eighth-grade boys were strong enough to lift 30-pound tables and carry bell cases that weighed more than 30 pounds. The teachers' stories were backed by the school's yearbooks. No fifth grader was a member of the bell choir maintenance crew, nor any sixth or seventh grader. There's also common sense to take into account. As a fifth-grader, little Billy who told tall tales weighed only 63 pounds.
-- Billy Doe told the grand jury that after he was raped by Father Avery, he got sick and missed a lot of time from school. But Billy's fifth grade report card showed that during the quarterly marking period where he was allegedly raped by Avery, he didn't miss one day at school. Including the day after he was alleged raped. That Billy, what a trooper!
-- In that bogus 2011 grand jury report, the district attorney's office, relying on Billy's crazy stories again, wrote that the two priests accused of raping Billy used an "enigmatic statement," a code word for their secret sex parties with Billy -- "sessions."
On page 12 of the grand jury report, it says that Father Engelhard "told Billy that it was time for him to become a man, and that 'sessions' with the priest would soon begin. With that enigmatic statement, Father Engelhardt let Billy go to school."
On page 14 and 15, the grand jury report, it says that two weeks after Father Engelhardt initially raped him, the priest asked [Billy Doe] "if he was ready for another session, but Billy emphatically refused ... A few months after the encounter with Father Engelhardt, Billy was putting the bells away after choir practice when Father Edward Avery pulled him aside to say that he had heard about Father Engelhardt's session with Billy, and that his sessions with the boy would soon begin. Billy pretended he did not know what Father Avery was talking about, but his stomach turned."
The two accused priests, Avery and Engelhardt, went off to jail telling their lawyers they had never heard of the term sessions, much less used it. But the district attorney's own detectives probably solved that "enigmatic statement" referred to in the grand jury report when they interviewed one of Billy's drug counselors, Mark Besben.
Besben told the detectives that "sessions" was a word counselors at the drug clinic used to describe one-on-one and group therapy sessions with patients like Billy.
Billy would have certainly been familiar with the lingo, having been and out of 23 drug rehabs.
THE HEARING IN STATE SUPREME COURT
As for the Supreme Court hearing next month on the plight of Lynn, after four years, the facts in the case are crystal clear. The only remaining question is what the Supremes will do with those facts.
In 2005 former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a grand jury investigated whether Lynn could be charged under a 1972 state law against endangering the welfare of a child. Former DA Abraham and the 2005 grand jury concluded, and put it in writing, that Lynn couldn't be charged because the original state law didn't apply to him.
The state's 1972 statute that made it a crime to endanger the welfare of a child applied to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age."
In other words, the law applied to people who had direct contact with children -- parents, guardians and teachers -- not to supervisors who had no direct contact with children such as Lynn.
The proof of this argument is that the district attorney subsequently conducted a state-wide public lobbying campaign to get the state legislature to change the original child endangerment law to include supervisors. The legislature wound up agreeing with the district attorney, and amending the law as requested.
After years of stonewalling, in a rare moment of candor, the district attorney's office basically had to admit this. It happened on June 25, 2013, in what Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, referred to as a "single breathtaking admission" contained in a 63-page brief filed by the DA with the Superior Court.
In the brief, the D.A. stated that Lynn had "endangered the welfare of" Billy Doe by "breaching his duty to prevent priests under his supervision, such as [Father Edward V.] Avery, from sexually molesting children. The evidence is sufficient because [Lynn] was Avery's supervisor, with a specific duty to prevent Avery from doing exactly what [Lynn] instead facilitated."
"This is unquestionably the standard set forth in the 2007 amendment, which the Commonwealth has plainly admitted would violate the ex post facto provision," the defense lawyers argued, namely that Lynn was responsible, not for supervising the welfare of a child, but for supervising Avery.
It's unbelievable that almost a year after a panel of three Superior Court judges saw the logic of the above argument, Lynn is still being held under bail conditions that amount to house arrest. Lynn has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times and has to confine himself to living on two floors of a rectory in Northeast Philadelphia. If he wants to leave the rectory to go see his lawyer or a doctor, he needs the permission of his parole officer.
No matter what people think of Lynn, the facts are that a previous grand jury, a former district attorney and three judges on the Superior Court have all come to the same conclusion that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn.
He should have never been arrested.
What a shame that when the lawyers gather in the state's highest court next month to debate, they'll be arguing about a crime that in all probability never happened.
A MAN WITHOUT REMORSE
The fourth man who went to jail in the Billy Doe case is former priest Ed Avery. On the eve of the Msgr. Lynn trial, Avery took a plea bargain, pleading guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to
Avery, who was facing a sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years, instead got 2 1/2 to 5 years. At his plea bargain hearing on March 22, 2012, neither the prosecutor nor the judge asked if Avery was actually guilty of the crimes he was pleading to. The prosecutors had been warned in advance that if they asked Avery that question, he would have said he never touched Billy Doe. Avery also passed a polygraph test.
Avery later publicly recanted his confession when called as a witness at the Engelhardt-Shero trial. He told the prosecutor he took the deal and lied because he didn't want to die in jail. He remains in prison after serving his minimum sentence, but being turned down for parole.
The reason Avery was turned down for parole was because he didn't show any remorse. According to his lawyer, Mike Wallace, Avery explained it was hard to feel remorse for something he didn't do.
Billy Doe's tale of abuse does not square with a mountain of evidence already in the possession of the district attorney's office, the 45,000 pages of the so-called secret archive files formerly kept in a locked safe by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, pried loose by a series of search warrants.
The secret archive files constitute a 40-year history of sex abuse in the archdiocese, telling the stories of hundreds of child victims attacked by 169 abuser priests. The 418-page grand jury report of 2005 concentrated on the deeds of 63 priests that, according to the grand jury, had been successfully shielded from prosecution by a cover-up orchestrated by two late archbishops, John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua.
|Master of the cover-up|
greatest-hits synopsis of the secret archive files, in the form of 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse. Those supplemental cases presented during the Lynn trial amounted to a seminar on clerical sex abuse in Philadelphia.
Judged by those standards, the Billy Doe case doesn't fit into the established patterns of abuse.
There was no grooming in the Billy Doe story. According to Billy, three predators who have no relationship with either the victim or his family struck without warning.
In the secret archive files, predator priests often prey on broken families, spending years patiently grooming boys and girls for future abuse. It happens usually after somebody made the mistake of trusting a priest who posed as a longtime friend, mentor, spiritual guardian, etc.
But Billy Doe came from an intact nuclear family. He had a police sergeant for a father, a registered nurse for a mother, a doting Italian grandmother, and an older brother two grades above Billy who went to the same parish school and served in the same church as an altar boy.
Billy's family was so close that his parents, according to grand jury testimony, drove him and his brother back and forth to church when they served as altar boys, even though the family lived less than a mile from the church.
In the case of Billy's allegations, neither his father nor his mother nor his older brother, according to the district attorney's own investigation, ever witnessed any inkling of abuse.
In the case of the secret archive files, some 45,000 pages covering four decades of abuse, there is not one instance of a predator trusting enough to pass his victim onto a fellow predator, as claimed in the Billy Doe case.
But in spite of the facts, the records, logic and common sense, the three-ring circus starring Billy Doe plays on.
When Assistant District Attorney Peter Carr stood to begin oral arguments today in Superior Court, Presiding Judge Anne E. Lazarus let him know before he said a word that he was facing an uphill climb.
"You've got your work cut out for you," she warned Carr.
During the hearing, allegations of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct were piling up as defense lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero argued that their clients deserved a new trial.
Carr attempted to blow off most of the accusations as a "harmless error" here, a "not consequential" error there, and, best of all, "certainly not a "reversible error."
But Judge Lazarus cut him off and said she agreed that when weighed individually the errors might indeed be minor. But her concern was that the "quantitative effect" of the errors might have fundamentally compromised the defendants' right to a fair trial.
It was the most powerful moment of the hearing. A half-dozen blocks away, at the district attorney's office, you could almost hear Seth Williams screaming.
In the D.A.'s self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Superior Court has already reversed the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn. In court today, defense lawyers were hoping that the next reversal would be for two more defendants in the D.A.'s historic prosecution -- Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.
TESTICULAR PAIN AND A SIXTH-GRADE REPORT CARD
The report card showing zero absences was "evidence of reasonable doubt," Rose said. "Where he [Cipolletti] got that number I don't know."
The defense objected at trial, but Judge Ceisler overruled their objections. Judge Ceisler also decided not to instruct the jury that Cipolletti had stated the wrong facts. Instead, the judge relied on the jury's memory of what the facts were.
"NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE"
Next, Rose brought up "newly discovered evidence" that had originated in Billy Doe's civil suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Billy is seeing to cash in on his alleged suffering. Rose was circumspect in his discussion with the Superior Court judges because his filings in the criminal appeal have been sealed at the request of the district attorney.
Before he even spoke about the issue, Rose asked the judges for permission to talk about the filings. The judges agreed so the defense lawyer spoke cautiously about his accusations.
Billy Doe's medical records unveiled in the civil case showed that Billy first told his drug counselors he had "no history of physical or sexual abuse."
Then Billy told his drug counselors 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; and sexually abused at 9 by a 14-year-old family friend.
This was before Billy told the district attorney he was raped at 10 by Father Engelhardt and Father Edward V. Avery, and at 11 by school teacher Shero.
In her deposition in the civil case, Cruz-Ransom corroborated the testimony of Hagner in the criminal case: that Billy Doe had appeared sober and seemed to be faking tears as the told the two social workers wild stories about being anally raped for hours, getting punched and knocked unconscious being tied up with altar sashes, and strangled with a seat belt.
But when Billy retold his stories to the police and grand jury, all of that violence and anal rape was dropped from his story. Billy attempted to explain this away by claiming he was high on drugs when he talked to the social workers.
A CONSPIRACY CHARGE AND A RECANTING
There was "not a scintilla of evidence" of any conspiracy between Engelhardt and Shero, McGovern told the judges. McGovern made a motion before trial to get the conspiracy charge dropped, but Judge Ceisler refused.
After the jury delivered its verdict and convicted Engelhardt of conspiracy, the judge at sentencing announced she was going to throw out the conspiracy charge as unproven because she decided the jury had committed "an error of law," McGovern told the judges.
But that decision came after Judge Ceisler had given lengthy and repetitive jury instructions on conspiracy and accomplice liability that took up 10 out of 44 pages of jury instructions, and one page of a two-page jury verdict sheet, McGovern said. After the trial, the judge admitted she had made a mistake, McGovern said, but it was too late for his client to get a fair trial.
McGovern also faulted Judge Ceisler for allowing prosecutor Cipolletti to conduct a lengthy cross-examination during the Engelhardt-Shero trial of his own witness, former priest Ed Avery.
On the eve of the first archdiocese sex abuse trial, Avery had pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child. At the time, Avery was facing a possible sentence of 12 1/2 to 17 years, when he cut a deal for a plea bargain that resulted in a sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years.
At the second archdiocese sex abuse trial, the Engelhardt-Shero case, the prosecution called Avery as a witness. When Cipolletti asked Avery if he had raped Billy Doe, Avery recanted, saying he had lied to take the plea bargain because he didn't want to die in jail. The truth was that he never touched Billy Doe, Avery told Cipolletti. He wouldn't know Billy if he was in the courtroom.
Cipolletti, then was allowed by the judge to treat Avery as a hostile witness. The prosecutor proceeded to cross-examine Avery on whether he had abused six other alleged victims, even though there was "no evidence on the record" about the other alleged victims, McGovern told the Superior Court judges.
This was more judicial error and more prosecutorial misconduct that ruined his client's chances for a fair trial, McGovern argued to the Superior Court. At the time Cipolletti was allowed to beat up Avery, McGovern was still defending Engelhardt against the charge of conspiring with Avery to endanger the welfare of Billy Doe. So Judge Ceisler in effect was letting Cipolletti have a field day with Avery at a time when Avery was Engelhardt's "co-conspirator," McGovern said.
The last thing McGovern complained about was a final allegation of prosecutorial misconduct. In his closing, prosecutor Cipolletti told the jury that although there was no other alleged victim of Engelhardt out there except Billy Doe, more victims might be coming forward.
After Cipolletti got through his closing, McGovern motioned for a mistrial and a cautionary instruction for Cipolletti, but Judge Ceisler turned down both requests.
Assistant District Attorney Peter Carr told the Superior Court judges that Judge Ceisler's decision to allow Dr. Margiotti to testify as an expert witness was a "harmless error."
The doctor would have qualified as an expert witness if the prosecutor had asked, Carr argued. The defense lawyers knew the doctor was going to testify, so there was "no surprise," Carr said.
Judge Sallie Updyke Mundy asked Carr how were the defense lawyers supposed to know what to expect if they didn't know that Dr. Margiotti was going to testify as a witness.
Judge Lazarus told Carr that the normal procedure would have been to have a voire-dire conducted of the doctor, so that lawyers in the case would have known whether he was qualified to be an expert witness.
Carr, clearly in retreat mode, continued to insist that letting the doctor testify as an expert was a "harmless error" because as a pediatrician, Dr. Magiotti clearly knew enough to made the "obvious" observation that testicular pain could have been evidence of sex abuse.
Letting Dr. Magiotti testify as an expert was "not consequential," Carr argued to the Superior Court judges.
On the issue of Billy Doe's sixth-grade report card, Carr conceded that the "prosecutor seems to have misspoken." Carr claimed that Cipolletti made the mistake of quoting Billy Doe's absences during the third-quarter marking period, rather than his fourth-quarter absences. But it was "not a significant issue," Carr told the judges.
On the conspiracy charge, Carr argued that there was evidence of a conspiracy between Fathers Engelhardt and Avery, even though Judge Ceisler dismissed the conspiracy charge as unproven.
The "evidence" that Carr cited was frankly, pathetic -- Billy Doe's allegations that the two priests had used the code word "sessions" to describe their sexcapades with Billy.
The assistant district attorney was drawing on the bogus 2011 grand jury report based on Billy's nonsensical stories that had Avery telling Billy he had heard about his "sessions" with Billy, and that Avery's "sessions" with the hapless altar boy would soon be getting underway.
That was "not an idle conversation," Carr told the judges. That's how Engelhardt was able to point out to Avery a "particularly vulnerable" victim like Billy, Carr argued.
Attention Assistant District Attorney Carr: I know you probably drew the short straw for this assignment, but before you embarrass yourself further, the detectives in your own office came up with a far more plausible explanation for "sessions."
Nearly two years after the district attorney put out that bogus 2011 grand jury report with more than 20 factual mistakes in it, detectives interviewed one of Billy's drug counselors, Mark Besben. It was Besben who divulged that "sessions" was the term for one one-on-one and group therapy sessions that counselors had with addicts like Billy. After attending 23 drug rehabs, that's probably where Billy picked up the term.
Carr defended Cipolletti's cross-examination of Avery by saying that the prosecutor did not know whether any further victims would have come forward. He was just holding out that possibility to the jury.
By this time, Carr was getting tired. He only had a half an hour for oral arguments, and as he conceded to the judges, "There a lot of issues here."
Judge Mundy asked about Dr. Magiotti's testimony. When did Billy's testicular pain occur, she wanted to know.
It was about a year before the rape of Billy by Shero, Carr told the judge. So it didn't really matter.
What about the victim, Judge Mundy asked. What was his testimony regarding when the testicular pain occurred?
Carr said he didn't know.
On rebuttal, Burt Rose shot up and told Judge Mundy that Billy Doe, always marching to his own drummer, told the jury that the testicular pain happened "after sixth grade," when Billy had supposedly been raped by Shero.
So maybe it did matter.
A NEW ACCUSATION OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
The defense lawyers had one last log to throw on the fire. They didn't bring it up during oral arguments, but on Oct. 23, McGovern filed a "second application" on behalf of Engehardt to "amend brief and reproduced record."
In the application, McGovern charged additional prosecutorial misconduct regarding the testimony of Leo Omar Hernandez. At the Engelhardt-Shero trial, Hernandez testified that he was Billy Doe's "best guy friend" when the two were sophomores at the International Christian Academy High School in Northeast Philadelphia.
Hernandez testified that while they were 16-year-old sophomores, Billy told him about being sexually abused by two priests and a teacher.
In his new application, McGovern asks the Superior Court to remand the matter of whether his client deserves a new trial to the Court of Common Please for an evidentiary hearing. The issue to be debated: "The Commonwealth's failure to inform ... trial counsel that Leo Omar Hernandez, a key witness for the prosecution, was less than truthful in his testimony against these defendants."
"Leo Omar Hernandez testified at the trial that he left the U.S. Air Force in 2008 with an honorable discharge," McGovern wrote. "Mr. Hernandez testified that he ended his friendship with [Billy Doe] because he was upset with [Billy Doe] who was getting involved in illegal drug use including heroin."
"Mr. Hernandez was portrayed by the Commonwealth as an upright and moral young man whose integrity could not be subject to question," McGovern wrote. In his closing to the jury, prosecutor Cipolletti referred to Leo Hernandez as an "Air Force veteran working, working on his own, has a family, a kid, hasn't seen [Billy Doe] in years," McGovern wrote, quoting the prosecutor.
The prosecutor referred to Hernandez as a "stand-up guy" with "common sense" who fought with Billy over his drug use and eventually concluded, "I can't get involved with this," McGovern wrote, quoting the prosecutor.
But, McGovern said, he has since learned that less than two months after he testified as a witness at the Engelhard-Shero trial, Hernandez filed a medical malpractice case in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against a doctor whom Hernandez claimed had given him drugs and sexually abused him.
"At his deposition on May 22, 2014, Mr. Hernandez testified that he was discharged under honorable conditions from the U.S. Air Force in 2009 for a 'failure to adapt," McGovern wrote. Hernandez received an honorable discharge under general conditions "due to misconduct involving a serious offense," McGovern wrote. "Discovery as to this issue is presently ongoing."
"Mr. Hernandez also testified at the deposition that he does not reside with his son [as was testified to at trial] but rather lives by himself," McGovern wrote. "More importantly, Mr. Hernandez testified that he has been employed part-time as an exotic dancer in all-male exotic clubs in Philadelphia ... and that he had been involved in a homosexual relationship with the defendant in the civil case ... who injected him with drugs from May 2011 to March 2012, including opiates and syntactic heroin."
"Mr. Hernandez also testified at one point he was so ill he was admitted to an emergency room in Las Vegas, Nevada for having overdosed from the use of controlled substances," McGovern wrote. "Finally, Mr. Hernandez testified that he himself was the victim of sexual abuse committed by his own doctor."
Regarding prosecutorial misconduct, McGovern wrote that he "contends that the Commonwealth either knew, or should have known, of these facts, and should have made such knowledge available" to defense lawyers at the Engelhardt-Shero trial.
The failure to inform the defense of Leo Hernandez's secret life amounted to a "violation of Brady v. Maryland," McGovern wrote. "Concealment of this evidence resulted in the denial" of Engelhardt's "right to a fair trial," McGovern concluded. His client "is entitled to a new trial as a matter of fundamental fairness."
By George Anastasia
Salvatore Pelulluo and Nicky Scarfo Jr. used their mob connections to intimidate and silence officials at FirstPlus Financial Group while setting up and carrying out the multi-million dollar looting of the Texas-based company, federal prosecutors contend.
And for that reason, they argue, evidence demonstrating ties to La Cosa Nostra were legitimately presented to the jury during the FirstPlus fraud trail and should not be grounds for dismissing the convictions that were delivered back in July.
Scarfo and Pelullo "allowed various FPFG officials to learn of (their) affiliation with organized crime," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno wrote in a 103-page response to a defense motion asking that the convictions be dismissed and a new trial ordered.
"That knowledge caused those officials to refrain from challenging Pelullo's and Scarfo's control of the company" and allowed Pelullo and Scarfo to carry out the "takeover and looting" of the Texas-based mortgage company, the prosecutor wrote.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler has scheduled a hearing for Friday on the defense motion and government's response. Scarfo, Pelullo and brothers John and William Maxwell, who were also convicted, are scheduled to be sentenced in January.
All four defendants have joined in motions seeking to have their convictions overturned and a new trial ordered. The principal defense argument is that neither the evidence nor the testimony supported the government's contention that the looting of FirstPlus was an organized crime scheme. Introducing the spectre of the mob, the defense argued, created undue prejudice and denied the defendants a fair trial.
Kugler has dismissed similar defense arguments in both pre-trial motions and during the six-month
trial. It is unlikely the judge would reverse himself, but the motions set the stage for what is likely to be protracted appeals by the defendants, all of whom could be facing lengthy prison terms.
Scarfo, 49, and Pelullo, 47, both have prior federal convictions and could be looking at from 30 years to life. John Maxwell, the former CEO of FirstPlus, and William, a lawyer retained by the company during the scam, do not have criminal records and will probably receive substantially less time.
It also appears the judge's patience is running low with regard to the constant bickering and posturing in the ongoing legal battle. In a brief letter to Michael Riley, Scarfo's court-appointed lawyer, Kugler sounded a bit miffed over a request for an extension of time requested by the defense attorney in order to review the transcript of a recent hearing. Kugler said he was surprised that review had not been undertaken before the defense began slinging its charges in post-trial motions.
"I would have hoped that before attacking the ruling of a court, one would at least review the ruling if for no other reason than to accurately depict what happened," Kugler wrote last week. "But that seems to be a theme here."
The defense has labeled the alleged scam a "garden variety white collar crime" that had nothing to do with organized crime. Given the amount of money that was taken -- in excess of $12 million -- that would be quite a garden.
In response to the government's reply brief, Pelullo's lawyers continued to hammer away at the same themes, arguing in a 24-page response filed last Friday that the organized crime allegations, the alleged threats made by Pelullo to FirstPlus employees and the judge's decision to have an anonymous jury "all resulted in a miscarriage of justice."
The defense contends that the prosecution's arguments were both "inaccurate" and "contemptuous" and that the government's conclusions were "unsupportable, unreasonable and often simply ludicrous." That verbal bombardment is expected to continue when the sides square off in person in front of Kugler on Friday.
In its legal brief, the prosecution has argued that there was ample evidence to show that Pelullo and Scarfo used their mob ties to insinuate themselves into the company and to instill fear in any company official who might have raised questions about who they were and what they were doing.
While neither Pelullo nor Scarfo held any position in FirstPlus, the prosecution argued that Pelullo, an Elkins Part businessman with two prior federal fraud convictions, was the "de facto" head of the company after he and Scarfo took behind-the-scenes control by installing their own board of directors in the summer of 2007.
That "figureheard board," D'Aguanno wrote, took directions from Pelullo who was listed as a consultant but who in fact was the "de facto Chief Executive Officer."
Pelullo was described as an "associate" of both the Philadelphia crime family and the Luchese organization, a New York/North Jersey mob family. Scarfo was identified as a "made" or formally initiated member of that organization.
The government's response to the defense motion highlighted several of the key issues raised during the trial, including references to frequent meetings and phone calls in which either Pelullo or Scarfo discussed the FirstPlus scam with Scarfo's jailed father, Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, the former head of the Philadelphia mob.
The elder Scarfo, 84, was serving a 55-year sentence for racketeering and murder in a federal prison in Atlanta at the time. He was visited on almost a monthly basis by Pelullo while the scam was unfolding in 2007 and early 2008, prosecutors said. Scarfo and a fellow prison inmate, Luchese crime family boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso were named unindicted co-conspirators in the scam.
Among other things, the prosecution contends that Amuso and the Luchese crime family were to share in the looting of the company. This was in part an obligation the younger Scarfo had to the crime family to which he belonged. It also was a payback, authorities contend, for Amuso interceding after the younger Scarfo was shot and nearly killed at Dante&Luigi's Restaurant in South Philadelphia on Halloween night 1989.
The shooting effectively ended any attempt by the elder Scarfo to control the Philadelphia crime family from prison after he was jailed in 1986. Amuso, according to testimony, arranged to have the younger Scarfo formally inducted into the Luchese organization. That membership, according to underworld protocol, made any future attempts on his life unlikely.
Prosecutors contend that one recorded conversation between the two Scarfos in which they discussed "Uncle Vic" sharing in the FirstPlus bounty was a clear reference to Amuso.
The government conceded the defense point that the FirstPlus investigation grew out of an organized crime probe into reports that the elder Scarfo, through his son and with the backing of the Lucheses and other New York mob families, was attempting in 2006 and 2007 to wrest control of the Philadelphia crime family from the anti-Scarfo group that was then in control.
The FirstPlus scam was uncovered during that probe and then became the focus of the investigation, prosecutors said. But providing the jury with the background and genesis of the case did not create undue prejudice and was not grounds for dismissing the convictions, the government argued.
Evidence of mob involvement, D'Aguanno wrote, "was also relevant to prove how the fraud was successfully concealed and to rebut the defense that the takeover...was a legitimate, albeit aggressive corporate takeover."
D'Aguanno cited testimony from a company official who said he attended the celebratory dinner in October 2007 after the Pelullo/Scarfo group had taken control following a shareholders vote that day. The dinner took place in a private room at Del Frisco's, a popular steakhouse in Dallas that Pelullo frequented.
"Pelullo was seated at the head of the table while a violinist played the theme from The Godfather," D'Aguanno wrote. "When the board member asked William Maxwell why Pelullo needed bodyguards, Maxwell explained that Pelullo did consulting work for the mob."
William Maxwell, the prosecutor said, also told the board member that he was working on a legal brief and attempt to have the elder Scarfo's conviction overturned. If he succeed, Maxwell told the board member, he "would be set for life."
"The board member's belief that Pelullo's control of FPFG was backed by (the mob) deterred the board member from contracting law enforcement officials about the defendants' scheme to defraud FPFG," the prosecutor argued.
Evidence introduced during the trial indicated that Pelullo and Scarfo took $12 million out of the company through a series of phony consulting contracts and bogus business deals. The cash was used to finance a lavish lifestyle. Pelullo bought a Bentley Continental for $217,000. He and Scarfo purchased a yacht for $850,000 and Scarfo and his then new wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo obtained a fraudulent mortgage on a $715,000 home outside of Atlantic City.
Scarfo's wife, who pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge, and his cousin, John Parisi, who pleaded to a fraud charge linked to one of the straw companies, are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17.
The case included hundreds of wiretapped conversations as well as thousands of company documents, including emails which showed, the government contends, that Pelullo clearly was directing the company.
The Maxwell brothers, according to the prosecution, were aware of what was going on and helped expedite the fraud.
The government dismissed John Maxwell's claim that he was only following the advice of legal and financial advisors hired by FirstPlus.
"With respect to the securities fraud conspiracy, Maxwell conveniently ignores the government's evidence which demonstrated that (he) clearly understood that Scarfo and Pelullo were in control of FPFG and that Maxwell knowingly falsified SEC filings to conceal that control," the government's brief reads in part.
As to William Maxwell, who was hired as a $100,000-a-month legal consultant for FirstPlus and who funneled cash to Scarfo and Pelullo through company-financed consulting contracts, the prosecutor wrote that there was "overwhelming evidence of William Maxwell's guilt, particularly from the recorded conversations and his relentless funneling of money from his attorney trust account to Pelullo and Scarfo."
In essence the government contends that while the target was a financial institution, the scam at FirstPlus was nothing more than a mob bustout scheme, similar to what organized crime figures have done for decades after taking over legitimate businesses like bars and restaurants. The bustout entails using the business's credit line to run up exorbitant bills that will never be repaid while at the same time siphoning cash and selling off assets from the company.
"Simply put," D'Aguanno wrote. "the government's evidence overwhelmingly established the involvement of organized crime in the scheme to take over and loot FPFG."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
Father Charles Engelhardt was transported by ambulance from prison to a hospital last week after he experienced dizziness.
The 67-year-old priest is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, where he's serving a six to 12 year-sentence. A jury on Jan. 30, 2013 convicted Engelhardt of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. The victim in Engelhardt's case, however, is Billy Doe, the former altar boy turned heroin addict whose crazy stories of abuse defy logic and common sense, as well as the evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives.
Just a week before he was stricken, Father Engelhardt's lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, was in state Superior Court, arguing that his client deserved a new trial because of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.
Last Tuesday morning, doctors at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., diagnosed cardiac artery disease and found a blockage in the priest's heart, said his niece, Tracey Boyle, a nurse. The family does not know whether the priest suffered a heart attack because they have been unable as of yet to speak to his doctors. The family does know, however, that when doctors implanted a stent in the priest's heart, they discovered blockages in several other arteries, Boyle said. By Friday, the priest was back in the prison infirmary, as doctors weighed whether to perform further open heart surgery, his niece said.
"He told my aunt he feels good he does not want us to worry," Boyle said. But she believes the appeal in her uncle's case weighed heavily on him.
"This is do or die and he has to be feeling the stress," she said.
The family has been told to expect a decision from the state Superior Court within 60 to 120 days on whether the priest will be granted a new trial. If he loses in Superior Court, Father Engelhardt, who has already been in jail for nearly two years, will be facing the prospect of spending at least another four years behind bars for something his family knows he didn't do.
Boyle said her big Irish family has been reeling since they heard the latest news about her uncle.
"I pretty much blew up," she said. "I was so angry and so upset because they did this to him," she said of the priest's accuser and his family. "They caused him to have this episode," she said. "He shouldn't be where he is because he's an innocent man. In my eyes, he's a martyr for the church."
Last Tuesday, the priest "got up in the morning, took his hypertension medication and he started to feel dizzy," Boyle said. "His cellmate noticed how unsteady he was" and summoned a corrections officer, who took Father Engelhardt to the infirmary. The infirmary called for an ambulance.
Since the priest was stricken, information on his condition has been hard to come by since hospitals do not give out information on inmates, she said.
"We had no idea what hospital he was in," she said.
So Boyle did some detective work and sent the priest's great niece to visit the most likely hospital in the area near the prison to perform heart surgery. That's where the priest's great niece found the priest at Geisinger Medical Center, but she still needed the approval of prison officials before he she was allowed to see him.
Father Engelhardt's defense lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, visited the priest days before he was stricken, and said Father Engelhardt appeared fine and was joking with him.
"He was super," McGovern said. "I was shocked to hear the heart event but I do realize how we all internalize stress."
"I only pray that God continues to give him the strength and protect him until the time comes when his wrongful conviction is overturned and his innocence is confirmed and proclaimed to everyone," McGovern said.
"What he has gone through up to this point is a tragedy in the truest sense," McGovern said. "I am confident, however, that he will recover, and in time prevail."
By Ralph Cipriano
For Father Charles Engelhardt, the ordeal is finally over.
The 67-year-old priest died at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., according to Father James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Father Engelhardt's religious order.
"A beautiful and holy man" was how his lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, described him. He was "a true martyr," McGovern said.
At the time of his death, Father Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, where he had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence. The priest was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, was "Billy Doe," the former altar boy turned heroin addict who had all kinds of credibility issues.
To Father Engelhardt's family and lawyer, the priest was an innocent man falsely accused and wrongly convicted in a case overflowing with reasonable doubt. When the priest died at the hospital, no family member was present.
Father Greenfield saw Father Engelhardt the day before he died. Despite being handcuffed to a hospital bed and under guard by two armed correctional officers, "Charlie" appeared to be in good spirits, Father Greenfield said.
In a Nov. 8th letter to Father Greenfield, Father Engelhardt wrote that he "started to get very dizzy" on the morning of Nov. 4th. His cellmate "thought I was going to fall and tried to get me to sit down," the priest wrote, but all he could do was lean against a wall.
He was taken to the hospital, where doctors "began the procedure to open an artery through my right wrist," Engelhardt wrote. "I was awake the whole time."
Further tests determined that there were "other arteries on the other side of the heart that were greatly clogged and needed to be dealt with," the priest wrote his superior. Doctors told Engelhardt another procedure should be done immediately, the priest wrote. But the doctors told Engelhardt they wanted to give him time to recover from the first procedure before they performed a second.
"All week every doctor and nurse who examined me asked if I had any pains especially in the chest," the priest wrote. "My reply was always: I have never had any chest pains or a pain in my stomach. This started with feeling dizzy on Tuesday."
"I had a visit from my great-niece at the hospital on Thursday since she lives the closest to the hospital and I was able to telephone one of my sisters last night," the priest wrote. "I hope to call my other sister sometime today."
"My best to all, Charlie Engelhardt."
Then, on Nov. 13th, the priest was taken by ambulance from the prison back to the hospital.
"His left hand was handcuffed to the bed," Father Greenfield said. "And his right leg" was tethered to the bed by a restraint. Two armed correctional officers were in the room eating their lunch and watching TV.
"Charlie was very gracious with them," Father Greenfield said. "I think he realized it was their job. It was nothing personal."
"We had a good visit," Father Greenfield said. "He didn't look near death. His spirits were good."
Father Engelhardt told Father Greenfield about a recent visit from McGovern, his lawyer. Two weeks before Father Engelhardt got sick, McGovern had been in state Superior Court, arguing that his client deserved a new trial because of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.
McGovern was optimistic about his chances on the appeal. His visit lifted Father Engelhardt's spirits, Father Greenfield said.
Another lost cause.
Father Greenfield anointed his fellow priest with consecrated oil and administered the sacrament of the sick. Then Father Greenfield gave Father Engelhardt his blessing.
As Father Greenfield was leaving, Father Engelhardt told him, "Thank you so much for making the trip."
"I had no clue that would be the last time I would speak to him," Father Greenfield said. "My question is why and how did this happen."
Father Engelhardt spent his days in prison reciting prayers, psalms and hymns from the Liturgy of the Hours. The priest's family and fellow oblates said they never heard Father Engelhardt complain about his plight or speak ill of his accuser. But during his legal ordeal, which began on Jan. 30 2009 when he was removed from active ministry hours after his accuser came forward, Father Engelhardt lost some 50 pounds.
The priest's 68th birthday would have this Wednesday. Although he died at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, prison officials did not notify Father Engelhardt's family of his death until 11:15 a.m. Monday.
A viewing is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday Nov. 21st at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Ninth and DuPont Streets, Wilmington, Delaware. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church. Interment will follow at Oblate Cemetery in Childs, MD.
Condolences may be sent to Father Engelhardt's sisters, Mrs. Elaine Boyle and Mrs. Kathleen Stever, 13027 Stevens Rd., Philadelphia, PA 19116.
Father Engelhardt may be gone but Billy Doe's accusations live on in court.
Tomorrow, lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, another priest accused by Billy Doe, are scheduled to appear in state Supreme Court and argue that their client deserves to be a free man.
Lynn was convicted by a jury on June 22, 2012 of endangering the welfare of a child, Billy Doe, but on Dec. 26, 2013 that conviction was overturned by he state Superior Court. The reversal of Lynn's 3-6-year prison sentence was appealed by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and the state Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
Lynn has been on house arrest since he was freed nearly a year ago by the state Superior Court. Oral arguments before the state Supreme Court are scheduled to be held tomorrow after 9 a.m. in Harrisburg.
By Ralph Cipriano
Under a stained glass dome and bronze statues of Moses and Solomon, the state's highest court this morning debated the fate of Msgr. William J. Lynn.
"God save the Commonwealth and this honorable court," the court crier shouted in the packed, ornate chambers of the state Supreme Court on the fourth floor of the state Capitol in Harrisburg.
Up at the raised mahogany bench, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille got things rolling by announcing, "The issue here was this application of the [child] endangerment statute."
That really is the issue in the Lynn case. The other justices, however, did not seem to want to stick to that script as they fired one extraneous shot after another at Thomas A. Bergstrom, the monsignor's defense lawyer.
After it was over, Bergstrom had the dazed look of a hockey goalie. His adversary from the D.A.'s office seemed to get off much easier, but he did have to concede a few key points that could be fatal.
In the Lynn case, Burns didn't have the law on his side so the fast-talking, heavyweight appeals specialist basically did some nimble tap dancing around the facts while tossing around phrases such as "legislative intent,""common-sense manner," and "accomplice liability."
"Could you slow down a little bit?" Castille interrupted him. "You're going to overwhelm us with facts."
That seemed to be the game plan as Burns attempted to paper over the facts of the case, which are pretty straight-forward.
In 2005, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a grand jury looked at state's original 1972 child endangerment law and concluded it didn't apply to Msgr. Lynn, a supervisor of priests, rather than somebody who had direct contact with children, such as a parent or guardian.
In 2007, Abraham led a statewide campaign to change the state's original child endangerment law to include supervisors with oversight of people who came into contact with children, supervisors such as Lynn. The state Legislature complied with the D.A.'s request by amending the state child endangerment law to include supervisors.
In 2011, a new D.A., Seth Williams, decided without any official explanation to charge Lynn with child endangerment under the old state law, the same law that D.A. Abraham and the 2005 grand jury had said in writing didn't apply to Lynn.
The state Superior Court saw the logic of this last December, when they tossed Lynn's conviction on child endangerment charges by saying -- drum roll please -- the original state law didn't apply to Lynn.
D.A. Seth Williams appealed the reversal of Lynn's conviction to the state Supreme Court, and the Supremes decided to review the case.
Without the law on his side, Burns launched a political broadside at Lynn that seemed to appeal to some justices.
Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was responsible for investigating allegations of sexual impropriety against priests. But in making his argument, Burns gave Lynn more power than he actually had.
"Instead of protecting children he [Lynn] protected priests by reassigning them," Burns charged. Under the original child endangerment law, Lynn may have not had direct oversight over children, Burns said, but by keeping track of abuser priests, Lynn was indirectly responsible for the welfare of children. So he should have kept problem priests like Edward V. Avery out of St. Jerome's parish in Northeast Philadelphia, Burns said, where Avery supposedly raped a 10-year-old altar boy named "Billy Doe."
It sounded great unless you knew the facts of the case, which are that Lynn didn't have the authority to assign or reassign priests. In the imperial Philadelphia archdiocese, only the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua had that kind of authority.
But that didn't stop Burns from inventing his own story line.
"He [Lynn] put Avery in a parish with children," Burns said. The monsignor, Burns said, was "guilty of accomplice liability."
That's when Castille butted in and said under the law of accomplice liability Lynn "had to have knowledge" of what Avery was doing, didn't he?
Burns had to admit that Lynn "didn't have knowledge of what Avery was doing." But the monsignor had to know he was "creating a danger to children" by putting Lynn in a parish with children, Burns argued.
That appealed to Justice Debra Todd who asked Burns if it were true that Lynn was aware that Avery was continuing to moonlight as a disc jockey, a job where he had molested a previous victim.
Burns was happy to answer that question in the affirmative.
But Justice Thomas G. Saylor brought Burns back to the simple facts in the case when he asked if the state legislature's decision to amend the child endangerment law back in 2007 was a response to what the first grand jury had decided was a deficiency in the original law.
It sure was, no matter how much further tap-dancing Burns did about the broad legislative intent of the original law.
When it was Tom Bergstrom's chance to speak, the defense lawyer quoted the 2005 grand jury report that said that the original child endangerment law applied to people in close proximity to children, such as parents and guardians. The 2005 grand jury report concluded that the original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn and other "high-ranking archdiocese officials," Bergstrom said, because they were "far removed from direct contact with children."
In Pennsylvania, we have "35 years of precedent," Bergstrom said. The original child endangerment law was only applied to people with direct contact with children, such as parents or guardians.
"Before you spin off," Justice Max Baer told Bergstrom, didn't Lynn assign Avery to St. Jerome's parish?
"He did not," Bergstrom shot back. "Cardinal Bevilacqua assigned Avery to St. Jerome's."
Bergstrom insisted that under the old state law, in order to be guilty of child endangerment, Lynn had to have "some involvement with the child."
"He didn't even know this child existed," Bergstrom said of the alleged victim in the case.
The justices wanted to know if Lynn supervised Avery.
No, Bergstrom said.
Why then is Lynn getting reports on Avery if he isn't Avery's supervisor, the justices wanted to know.
It was up to Lynn to keep tabs on Avery, Bergstrom said, but when it came to the chain of command, Avery was under the supervision of the priests at St. Jerome's, and the officials at Nazareth Hospital, where Avery worked as a chaplain.
In order to be guilty of child endangerment under the original state law, Lynn had to have direct contact with the child, Bergstrom argued.
"He [Lynn] is not involved with a child," Bergstrom said. Lynn was secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. Billy Doe was allegedly sexually abused during the 1998-99 school year, but didn't report the abuse until 2009.
Lynn "didn't know about it until he was charged," Bergstrom said.
Chief Justice Castille thanked both lawyers for their arguments. We have your briefs, the chief justice said, and we'll be reading them. With that, the hearing was over. The court supposedly has some three months to make a decision on the case.
By Ralph Cipriano
An oblate of St. Francis de Sales takes priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He prays to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Few who pray that prayer could have ever imagined the fate that befell Father Charles Engelhardt.
That was the message of the homily delivered today by Father Michael Connolly at the funeral of Father Engelhardt, his friend and fellow oblate of nearly 50 years.
An oblate wears a silver cross around his neck, Father Connolly said. He fished his own cross out of his priestly garments to show the crowd. It's a cross an oblate receives on the occasion of his first presentation of faith, the priest said. It's not a crucifix; there's no body on it.
"Charlie was the body on that cross in his life," Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was falsely accused, tried, and convicted, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, "Charlie endured his suffering" with patience and humility, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was repeatedly humiliated before he died as a prisoner.
What was Charlie Engehlardt's response to his fate?
"I accept this injustice believing God will make it right in the end." That's what Father Engelhardt repeatedly told his lawyers and fellow oblates, Father Connolly said. It would be Father Engelhardt's parting message on the day that his family and fellow oblates gathered to bury him.
Charle's two sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, all gathered to say goodbye. His 89-year-old mother was too ill to attend.
If he had to pick one word to sum his uncle's life, it would be "devout," Michael Boyle, his nephew, told the crowd in the pews. Boyle said he always admired how Uncle Charlie [pronounced Uncle Chollie] prioritized his life.
God and the oblates came first, Boyle said. A close second was Uncle Charlie's love of family. Finally, there was his sometimes misplaced loyalty to Philadelphia's frequently disappointing sports teams.
Uncle Charlie never missed a family gathering, whether it was a communion, baptism or picnic, his nephew said. Or just a weekend gathering in front of the TV to cheer on the Phillies or the Eagles.
Growing up with an uncle as a priest was a big deal, said Richard Stever, another nephew.
"We felt like we were so important," Stever said. At his first communion, Stever recalled, the parish priest had to step aside and let Uncle Charlie officiate.
"Yeah, I'm special," Stever said he felt like telling the other kids. "Uncle Charlie we love you and we miss you."
Today was the feast of the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day that Mary at three years old was presented in the temple at Jerusalem. It was on this feast day that Father James J. Greenfield, the provincial, or leader of the oblates, led some 80 priests clad in white in the renewing of their vows.
Father Greenfield thanked Father Engelhardt's family for their loyalty during the priest's ordeal. It was an "inspiration to all of us," Father Greenfield said. "Thank you for your example of love."
Then Father Greenfield turned his attention to his fallen colleague.
"Charlie was a happy guy, he was a steady guy, reliable and predictable," Father Greenfield said. If he had a fault, Father Greenfield said, it was "his inability to express rage."
And in Charlie's case, rage would have been appropriate.
"He was an innocent man," Father Greenfield said. The district attorney offered Father Engelhardt a plea bargain but "He would not perjure himself," Father Greenfield said. Father Engelhardt refused to say he had done something he didn't do, even if it would have meant staying out of jail.
It's been brutal, Father Greenfield said, watching Father Engelhardt's ordeal in the criminal "justice" system. It began in January 2009, when a former altar boy named Billy Doe came foreword to claim that the priest had abused him a decade earlier.
Father Engelhardt did not recall the alleged victim's name. If he was in the room, the priest said, he could not pick him out of a crowd. There wasn't a shred of evidence or any witness to confirm the alleged victim's improbable allegations.
But he was presumed guilty. Within hours, the priest was taken out of active ministry. He was subsequently indicted, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to 6 to 12 years by Judge Ellen Ceisler.
It was a railroading "fueled with false judgements," Father Greenfield said. "Like our church our courts are not perfect."
After he was convicted, Father Engelhardt told his lawyers and fellow oblates that "the only judgement that matters" is what Jesus thought of him.
Charlie Engelhardt had an easy-going manner and a "boyish grin," Father Greenfield said. But beneath the surface calm he had "an iron commitment to the gospel."
Father Engelhardt had a dizzy spell the week before he died. He wound up in the hospital, where he was handcuffed to a bed and under armed guard. The day he died, the priest was inexplicably discharged and sent back to prison. He collapsed there after having some kind of a "cardiac episode," Father Greenfield said.
The priest was rushed by ambulance back to the hospital but it was too late.
"His heart finally gave out" on Nov. 15th when he died, Father Greenfield said. "He left behind a soft, calm soul bearing the image of God."
"He was a good man and a good priest," Father Greenfield said. The provincial told the church that Father Engelhardt's death would not end his legal battle in appeals court.
Father Engelhardt's lawyers will continue the fight to clear his name. "Every effort will be made to set the record straight," Father Greenfield said. But in heaven, Father Greeenfield said, the matter is already settled.
The God that Father Engelhardt prayed to "for truth and justice has at last set him free," Father Greenfield said. Regardless of his earthly struggles, Father Engelhardt is "where he always wanted to be."
By Ralph Cipriano
When I was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer and had a story to pitch, I used to go editor shopping.
Back in the 1990s when the newspaper had 600 journalists, there were so many departments to shop in -- news, features, sports, the projects desk where they did long, investigative stories, and the Sunday magazine. And so many different editors to pitch a story to. If one editor said no it was on to the next one until I made a sale.
Sadly, one rule applied to too many editors I dealt with. If you told them something they already knew, something that squared with the prevailing wisdom, you were in good shape. But if you told those same editors something new, especially something that might challenge the prevailing wisdom, that's when the trouble started.
On this blog for the past two years, we've been dealing with the ultimate contrarian story. A junkie criminal scheming to get out of prison poses as a victim of clerical sex abuse. A politically ambitious district attorney drafts that junkie criminal as his star witness to put men in collars behind bars while the media and public cheer him on. Even though people in the D.A.'s own office privately agreed with defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern's assessment of star witness Billy Doe as a "lying sack of shit."
It's the story nobody wants to hear because it runs counter to the cult of victimology and current, pervasive prejudices against Catholic clerics. But in Philadelphia, with three courts prying into the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the truth is lurking out there. Especially in the civil case beginning next month when certain current and former members of the district attorney's office are placed under oath and have to answer some tough questions about a bogus investigation rigged from day one.
Remember My Cousin Vinny, the 1992 movie starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei?
In the movie, would-be lawyer Vinny Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, brags to his girlfriend that he just fleeced the local district attorney out of all of his prosecution files in the murder case against Vinny's cousin and his best friend.
It's the Marisa Tomei character, Mona Lisa Vito, who explains to Vinny that he's legally entitled to those files because of the discovery process. In a criminal trial the prosecution has to turn over all its files to the defense lawyers, so they know exactly what they're up against.
It's the formerly confidential grand jury transcripts and police records in the D.A.'s historic prosecution that have fueled the stories on this blog for the past two years.
I figured out a while ago that if I remained the only reporter in town chasing this story the search for truth wouldn't get far. Especially when you're dealing with a district attorney, Seth Williams, who has been stonewalling you for two years, refusing to answer any questions.
Seth Williams may be able to stiff this blog, but could he afford to ignore the Inquirer, or the Daily News, or the local TV stations? How about 60 Minutes? I decided to give it a shot by going editor shopping.
A high-ranking editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer said thanks but no thanks. A columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News didn't even respond.
A writer for a magazine said hey, that sounds like a great story, but I have to talk to my editors first. Bet you can guess how that worked out. A star reporter for a local TV station said don't bother giving me any documents. Her news director looked at the stories I wrote and couldn't figure out how to present that kind of material to a TV audience.
At the height of editor shopping, I had a day-long audience in New York with a producer for 60 Minutes. He took me in for a brief meeting with correspondent Scott Pelley. Pelley, munching on a bowl of granola at his desk, succinctly summarized the problems with the Billy Doe story by saying, hey, you've got two contrary jury verdicts going against you. How do you scale that mountain?
At the time, the state Superior Court hadn't overturned the conviction yet of Msgr. William J. Lynn. That same Superior Court is currently mulling the appeals of the convictions of the late Father Charles Enghelhardt and Bernard Shero. Hey Scott, if the Superior Court overturns the convictions of Engelhardt and Shero, can I get a do-over?
The only news media outlet that bit on the story was the National Catholic Reporter, famous for decades of exposes about sexually abusive priests. The editors at NCR correctly figured that they had a moral obligation to look at the other side of the story, and the possibility that one alleged victim of sex abuse might be lying.
But as far as the rest of the news media is concerned, nobody wants to hear a story about three priests and a Catholic school teacher accused of sexual abuse who might be innocent. I can't give it away, and they won't even print it if you offer them money. The Inquirer, the city's paper of record, turned down $58,000 to print a couple of ads from the Catholic League that would have quoted the reporting on this blog raising questions about the D.A.'s historic prosecution.
So the citizenry should be cheering about three courts simultaneously examining the convictions in the investigation of the church because it could use some scrutiny. For the past several years, the local D.A. has been conducting a witch hunt in this town masquerading as justice. It's so out of whack that local prosecutors are using tactics that were protested during the Salem witch trials.
I kid you not.
During the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693, Cotton Mather, a leading minister of the day, wrote a letter to one of the magistrates while the courts were in the process of hanging 19 witches. Mather, a former medical student, urged caution in the court's admission of "spectral evidence" because he didn't think it was reliable. Spectral evidence was defined as dreams and visions where the alleged perpetrators appeared to the victims in bodily form. Think that's far-fetched?
Here in Philadelphia, the alleged victim in this year's "Father Andy" sex abuse case was permitted to tell the story on the witness stand about the nightmare he had that prompted him to come forward and publicly accuse the priest.
The alleged victim told the jury he was watching the news on TV when he saw a picture flashed on the screen of Father Andy. That night, the alleged victim testified, he had a dream about the priest, Father Andrew McCormick. In the dream, Father Andy was sexually attacking the victim's five-year-old nephew and the victim couldn't do anything about it.
Father Andy's case ended on March 12th, 2014, with a hung jury, but the D.A. has already announced the case will be retried. How much you want to bet that the alleged victim gets to tell another jury about his nightmare starring Father Andy?
In the Father Andy case, the victim came forward 15 years later after the alleged crime. As in the case of Billy Doe, there was no physical evidence, no corroborating witnesses. I have no idea to this day of whether the alleged victim was telling the truth about Father Andy. But it's scary when you're on a witch hunt, you don't necessarily need any evidence. As in the case of Billy Doe, you can just make it up as you go along.
But the good news is that the state Supreme Court is now deliberating the fate of Lynn, and whether to uphold the reversal of his conviction. We could have that decision in a few months.
Meanwhile, at the funeral of Father Engelhardt, the leader of Engelhardt's religious order, Father James J. Greenfield, announced from the altar, a few feet away from Charlie's coffin, that the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales would continue their appeal of the priest's conviction in state Superior Court. Even though Father Engelhardt was dead, the oblates, Greenfield pledged, would do everything legally possible to clear his name.
The other defendant convicted with Engelhardt, former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, is still in jail and pursuing his appeal. So the Superior Court may have to weigh in on the various allegations in the case involving judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.
And, in the Lynn case, if the state Supreme Court decides to send Lynn back to jail, the Superior Court would then have a second crack at all the other appeal issues raised in the Lynn case. Such as whether the defendant had any chance of ever receiving a fair trial after the trial judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, allowed into evidence 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born.
But the most interesting legal battle is going on in the civil courts, where Billy Doe is suing the archdiocese, Lynn, Engelhardt and Shero for alleged pain and suffering. The other two defendants in the case, originally filed in July 2011, are the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and Ed Avery. He's the former priest who pleaded guilty to conspiring with Lynn to endanger the welfare of a minor, and raping Billy Doe, only to publicly recant in court.
At the Engelhardt funeral, a lawyer for Avery told the Engelhardt family this was why he had urged Avery to plead guilty to something he didn't do just to get a sweetheart deal of a plea bargain. The lawyer told the Engelhardt family it was better for "Eddie" to take the plea bargain rather than suffer Father Engelhardt's fate of dying in jail.
The proceedings in the civil case are being fought under a voluntary confidentiality stipulation that has had the effect of gagging the participants. The docket in the case, however, as well as court filings, sheds some light on what the litigants have been fighting over.
Lawyers for Billy Doe have repeatedly sought summary judgment against the defendants in the civl case, only to be denied by the court.
Lawyers for the archdiocese successfully argued that the archdiocese was not a party to the first criminal case against Lynn and Avery, and the second criminal case against Shero and Engelhardt. Lawyers for the archdiocese also argued that when Lynn was tried in 2012, he had "no managerial or supervisory responsibilities of any kind" with the archdiocese. So Lynn didn't represent the archdiocese.
During the trial, Lynn "took a position adversarial to the Archdiocese, claiming he had been 'hung out to dry'" by colleagues and superiors who had been part of "an overarching Archdiocesan conspiracy ... in Philadelphia during the 1990s," lawyers for the archdiocese argued.
The civil case is still in discovery. According to the docket, Engelhardt, Shero and Avery were deposed in prison. So whatever Father Engelhardt had to say has been preserved for the record on videotape.
Msgr. Lynn has already been deposed. So has Billy Doe, several times, as have his his father, mother and brother.
By George Anastasia
Wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati, the South Philadelphia auto body shop owner with a Godfather fixation, wants to keep fighting. But it looks like he'll have to do battle without the services of topnotch criminal defense attorney Anthony Voci Jr.
Voci has filed motions to withdraw as Galati's attorney in a pending murder-for-hire case and a massive insurance fraud conspiracy case. Both are listed for trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
"My client does not have sufficient funds to allow me to continue," Voci said in a brief comment today when asked about the withdrawal motions. Voci, a former Assistant District Attorney, represented Galati in another murder-for-hire case in federal court in Camden earlier this year.
In that case, Galati was convicted of hiring two hitmen to murder the boyfriend of his estranged daughter. The boyfriend survived the hit and was one of several key witnesses. The two hitmen, a third conspirator and Galati's daughter Tiffany also took the stand for the government.
"He's looking at the rest of his life in prison," said one source familiar with the situation.
The two hitmen and their co-conspirator pleaded guilty in a cooperating agreement with federal authorities. They have also agreed to cooperate and testify for the District Attorney's Office in the pending murder-for-hire case.
In that case, Galati is accused to conspiring to have two rival auto body shop owners, a father and son, killed because he believed -- correctly as it turned out -- that they were cooperating with state and city investigators in an insurance fraud case in which he was targeted.
Galati, who served 37 months for fraud charges in a similar insurance scam in the mid 1990s, was accused of orchestrating a multi-million dollar ripoff of insurance companies, using phony reports of accidents and inflated charges to line his pockets and to kick back cash to customers whose cars were damaged.
Galati formerly owned American Collision, a South Philadelphia auto body shop that his son, Ronald Jr., took over. But authorities allege the elder Galati remained in control of the company and orchestrated the scams that generated millions. Galati's wife, his son and two dozen others, including the son of mob boss Joseph Ligambi, were listed as co-defendants in the insurance scam which authorities alleged generated nearly $5 million.
Jailed since his arrest in the Philadelphia murder-for-hire case nearly two years ago, Galati has reportedly told associates that he had no intention of pleading guilty to any of the charges, labeling those who have testified against him and those who have given statement to authorities "liars."
That list, according to court documents, would include dozens of customers whose cars were damaged and who went along with Galati's alleged plan to fabricate insurance reports. One technique cited in the grand jury presentment handed up earlier this year involved fake reports of cars striking deer. Galati, according to the presentment, kept deer blood and hair in his auto body shop and took photos claiming that the damage to vehicles was the result of striking an animal.
That type of accident is a benefit to the owner of the vehicle since, in effect, it is a no fault event.
A source, citing the ongoing investigation, said investigators with the Pennsylvania State Police and the District Attorney's Office have statements from customers who described how Galati would fabricate information, take photos of staged events and inflate repair costs.
One example cited by a source was a customer whose car was damaged in a hit-and-run accident in New York City. When the customer brought the car to Galati, the source said, the accident report filed with the insurance company listed the cause as "struck by a deer." The customer told authorities, the source said, that the pictures of the damage to his car were more than the damage that had actually occurred, indicating that Galati had further damaged the car to inflate the repair and insurance costs.
The customer, the source said, received $3,000 from his insurance company.
At the time of his conviction in federal court in Camden, speculation was that Galati would plead out to the pending cases in Common Pleas Court, perhaps working out a deal that would spare his wife and son. But Galati has apparently nixed any talk of a deal and is now taking a hardline. Without the resources to hire an attorney, he may have to fight his remaining criminal battles with a court-appointed lawyer.
He has also told friends and associates that he has no intention of cooperating with authorities. His links to Ligambi and Ligambi's nephew, convicted mob capo George Borgesi, were mentioned in one pre-trial motion. But sources in both law enforcement and the underworld say Galati doesn't really know enough or have enough information to cut a deal.
What's more, those who know him say, it's doubtful he would make a credible witness. Instead, Galati has apparently decided to go out swinging, fighting all the charges and ripping all of those who have or who will take the stand against him, his daughter Tiffany included.
"He thinks he's doing the honorable thing," said a source. "He thinks he's being a standup guy. What that's going to get him is life in prison."
While the plot to have his daughter's then boyfriend, Andrew Tuono, killed unfolded as a soap opera, according to testimony in federal court in Camden, the pending charges in Common Pleas Court are more hard-edged.
The Raos closed their business before the hits could be carried out, according to court documents.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
|Sabrina Rubin Erdely|
Before a writer for Rolling Stone ever made the mistake of believing an alleged gang-rape story told by a student named "Jackie," she bought an alleged multiple-rape story told by a former altar boy named "Billy."
On Nov. 19th, Rolling Stone published an article claiming that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. ["A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At U-VA."]
The fraternity was tried in the media and found guilty. Bricks were thrown through the windows of the frat house, the cops in Charlottesville were called in to investigate, and the university president shut down all fraternity and sorority events on campus.
Then, The Washington Post, citing factual discrepancies, cast doubt on the victim's story. Rolling Stone rolled over almost immediately, issuing an apology that said their trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."
There's lots of irony here folks for readers of this blog. The writer of the story in question, Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is from Philadelphia. Before she bought Jackie's story, she fell for a story told by a former altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" by a grand jury.
In Rolling Stone, it seems rape is bigger than rock. On Sept. 15, 2011, Erderly wrote a story for Rolling Stone that accepted as gospel Billy Doe's fantastic claims about being passed around as a rape victim among two priests and a school teacher. [The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files.] In Erdely's defense, she, like many other members of the media, made the mistake of relying on an intellectually dishonest grand jury report containing more than 20 factual errors.
Attention Rolling Stone: if you think the factual discrepancies in Jackie's story are "deeply unsettling," wait till you read all the factual discrepancies in Billy's story, which has been chronicled for the past two years on this blog. Sadly, the stakes here are a lot higher than in Virginia, where none of the alleged attackers have even been outed. In Philly, three priests and a school teacher wound up going to jail over Billy's story, which has since unraveled. One of those priests died in prison last month after he spent his last hours handcuffed to a hospital bed while suffering from untreated coronary disease.
|The D.A.'s Star Witness|
Just because a victim tells his or her story over and over again, with all the sensational details, it doesn't make it true. Especially after Jackie's friends started noticing that the details were changing.
In the Erdely store about Billy Doe, the writer referred to the former altar boy as "a sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks" who was "outgoing and well-liked" before the brutal attacks turned him into a sullen, drug-addicted loner.
In the Billy Doe case, what Erdely didn't know was that Billy had already told his story to the archdiocese, police, and a grand jury, and would subsequently retell it to two different juries in two criminal cases. And every time he told his story, the details kept changing.
In the case of the alleged University of Virginia gang rape, The Washington Post discovered that although the victim claimed she had endured three hours of rape, which supposedly left her blood-splattered and emotionally devastated, no event was held at the frat house the day of the alleged rape.
Jackie's defenders also reported that "key details of the attack" had changed over time and that they were not able to verify those details. For example, one alleged attacker belonged to a different fraternity. The fraternity also reviewed a roster of employees at the university's swimming pool and discovered it did not include a frat member cited by Jackie, or anybody else who matched the physical description that Jackie gave of one of her alleged assailants.
But when it comes to details that keep changing or don't add up, Billy's got Jackie beat by a long shot.
In the Billy Doe's case, Billy initially claimed that he was:
-- Anally raped for five hours by one priest in the sacristy and afterwards the padre threatened to kill him.
-- Punched in the head and knocked unconscious by another priest, after which Billy came to and found himself naked and tied up with altar sashes; after which he was anally raped so brutally he supposedly bled for a week.
-- Punched in the face by a school teacher and strangled with a seat belt before he was raped in the back seat of a car.
Then, Billy dropped all those details about anal rape, being punched in the head and knocked unconscious, being tied up with altar sashes, getting punched in the face and strangled with a seat belt. And he invented a whole new story about being forced to perform strip teases, oral sex and mutual masturbation with the same trio of assailants.
This was the story reported as gospel by the grand jury and Rolling Stone.
The details, however, kept changing. In the case of the school teacher, Billy gave three different locations for the alleged rape -- in the classroom, in the back seat of the teacher's car, and in a park.
You think the details in the Jackie story didn't add up? In Billy's case, the district attorney's own detectives discovered the following contradictions to the story reported by Rolling Stone:
-- Billy claimed the first priest who raped him attacked in the sacristy after an early morning Mass. His mother, however, who kept meticulous calendars chronicling the daily events of her two altar boy sons, never listed an early morning Mass for Billy during his entire fifth-grade year when the attack allegedly occurred.
-- Billy claimed the first priest attacked him as he was putting away wine in the sacristy. His older brother, however, also an altar boy and a sexton, told police [as did other witnesses including priests] that it was the duty of the sexton to put away the wine after Mass.
-- Billy claimed a second priest raped him when he was a fifth-grader putting away the bells after a bell choir concert at the church. Three of Billy's former teachers at St. Jerome's, including the church's longtime music director, however, told detectives that only eighth grade boys were allowed to become members of the bell choir maintenance crew. The reason why was simple: only eighth-grade boys were strong enough to lift 30-pound tables and carry bell cases that weighed more than 30 pounds. As a fifth-grader, Billy weighed only 63 pounds. The teachers' stories were backed up by the school's yearbooks. No fifth grader was a member of the bell choir maintenance crew, nor any sixth or seventh grader.
-- Billy claimed the two priests who raped him used the code word of "sessions"to describe their sex parties with Billy. The D.A.'s detectives, however, found a far more likely origin for the use of word sessions. The detectives interviewed one of Billy's former drug counselors who told them that "sessions" was the term for one-on-one and group therapy with drug addicts like Billy. As a patient at 23 different drug rehabs, Billy would have been familiar with the lingo.
-- The grand jury report claimed that two books on sex abuse found under Billy's bed proved that when he was in high school student Billy was trying to come to terms with being attacked. Billy, however, told detectives that he kept the books under his bed because they had hard covers, which he used to crush Xanax capsules on before he snorted them. When the detectives checked the covers of the books they found numerous indentations. Another student told detectives that Billy stole the book from her locker.
In the Erdely article, however, no possible credibility issues or contradictions regarding Billy Doe are raised. At the time, there was a gag order in place, so neither the defendants or their lawyers or any prosecutors are quoted. The author, however, quotes a former priest, a seminarian who got kicked out for disciplinary reasons, a former monk who treats abuser priests, a victim of sex abuse and a couple of former prosecutors who take turns teeing off on the church. It's completely one-sided.
In the Rolling Stone article, Erdely repeatedly quoted from the secret archive files formerly kept by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a locked safe. The files, pried loose with search warrants, chronicled the secret history of four decades of sex abuse in the archdiocese involving 169 abuser priests and hundreds of child victims.
Not once in 45,000 pages, however, is there a single instance of a predator trusting another predator enough to share a victim.
The archive files did repeatedly describe persistent patterns of grooming behavior by predator priests, often plying future victims with gifts, attention and special privileges. Grooming behavior, however, is entirely absent from Billy's stories.
In the secret archive files, patient predators spent years building up trusting relationships with their victims, and often, their parents or relatives, so they can gain access to the victims. In the Billy Doe story, however, three predators who have no relationship with Billy or his family strike without warning.
In short, Billy's crazy stories defied logic, common sense, all the evidence gathered by the D.A.'s own detectives, and established patterns of abuse as laid out in the secret archive files. They were also riddled with endless contradictions. Yet, since Billy's story fit a media stereotype, innocent victims and predator priests, it was fit to print.
For more on my adventures trying to wake up the rest of the media about the Billy Doe story read this.
By Ralph Cipriano
The improbable tale of "Billy Doe," the crediblity-challenged former Philadelphia altar boy who claimed he was raped by a couple priests and a Catholic school teacher, has gone viral.
Rolling Stone opened the door by issuing an apology for its own improbable tale printed about "Jackie," the University of Virginia freshman who claimed she was raped by seven guys at a fraternity party.
Big Trial's contribution to the unfolding scandal was to point out that before they fell for Jackie's story, reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone bought Billy's bogus tale. In a classic case of the media turning on itself, the Big Trial post about Billy and Rolling Stone attracted 50,000 hits to our website in two days.
The local scandal about Billy, studiously ignored by the hometown press, was suddenly hot news. The Billy Doe scandal, which The Philadelphia Inquirer wouldn't take $58,00 from the Catholic League to print as an advertisement, was news to The Washington Post, The Daily Caller, and a bunch of media websites such as jimromenesko.com, hotair.com, pjmedia.com as well as fark.com, which features funny news. Billy, stiffed by our local tabloid, the Philadelphia Daily News, was suddenly a star in The Daily Mail, the British national newspaper.
And what was the response of the local media to the scandal about homeboy Billy going viral? At the Inky, Daily News, and Philly mag, where Erdely used to work, local journalists kept snoozing. That had to delight our stonewalling District Attorney, Seth Williams, who's praying he gets through this news cycle unscathed. But Seth, however, does have a link to the Billy story in Rolling Stone.
The Washington Post is working on a follow to their story about Jackie's improbable tale not holding up to fact-checking.
One of the issues the Post is exploring: why Sabrina Rubin Erdely didn't disclose to readers that her lawyer husband, Peter Erdely, was an assistant district attorney in Seth Williams' office. According to this story in the Inquirer, Erdely, who worked for 8 years in the DA's office, was still an ADA in May 2011, four months before his wife's Billy story ran on Sept. 15, 2011 in Rolling Stone.
Erdely, who proudly refers to his "lovely wife" on his Twitter account as Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, is now in private practice. It's great that Erdely is a supportive spouse, but as far as the reporter is concerned, Holy conflict of interest!
Maybe Rubin's status as as the wife of an ADA explains why Erdely only talked to former prosecutors, a former victim, a couple of ex-priests, and a former seminarian who got kicked out, all of whom had axes to grind against the church.
Can the local media continue to snooze through this? We'll see; they do appear determined.
The Rolling Stone situation is a mess. After the UVA president shut down all fraternity and sorority events on campus, Rolling Stone's managing editor released an apology to readers by saying that the magazine's trust in Jackie had been "misplaced." Then Rolling Stone backtracked again, saying the fault for not fact-checking Jackie's story belonged to the folks at Rolling Stone, not Jackie.
"Catholic bashers have gotten a lot of mileage out of the sexual abuse scandal," Donohue wrote at the time, "but for sheer maliciousness, it is hard to top the piece in Rolling Stone. The factual errors, the stereotypes, the grand omissions, and the melodramatic language make for an incredible read."
While Erdely is not talking to the media, the website gotnews.com released a 2006 video of the reporter giving a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater, where she says, "My tendency is to believe people." Although she says she has a healthy dose of skepticism, "My default mode is you are probably telling the truth."
That's why she says she pays attention to any red flags that may arise while she's interviewing someone. "I have a finely tuned bullshit detecter," she says on the video. "And when it goes off I pay close attention because it doesn't go off without a reason."
Newsbusters also came out with a story about Mediaabuzz host Howie Kurtz raising questions about a third story Erely wrote for Rolling Stone, "One Town's War on Gay Teens: In Michele Bachman's home district, evangelicals have created an extreme anti-gay climate. After a rash of suicides, the kids are fighting back."
"Bachman doesn't even live in the school district any more, and whatever her views on gays, linking her name to these tragic deaths seems more political than factual," Kurtz wrote.
Meanwhile, your intrepid Big Trial correspondent was a guest on Ed Morrissey's Hot Air internet show yesterday, expounding on how Billy Doe's crazy stories don't make much sense. Unless you're Rolling Stone or a publicity-seeking D.A. who doesn't mind putting innocent men in jail if it furthers his political career.
Now that Billy's gone viral, maybe D.A. Seth Williams will finally have to answer some questions he's been stonewalling from this blog for two years. Thanks to Rolling Stone, maybe we're getting a little closer to the day the truth about Billy finally comes out.
By George Anastasia
Ron Galati's broke.
The South Philadelphia auto body shop owner accused to orchestrating a $5 million insurance fraud scam told a judge this morning that he does not have the money to pay for a lawyer in either of the two pending criminal trials he is facing in Common Pleas Court.
"Exactly right," Galati said when Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked during a brief hearing if he was requesting court-appointed representation because he could not afford a lawyer for either the insurance fraud conspiracy case or a murder-for-hire case in which he is also a defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz said her office believes Galati can afford a lawyer.
"He may not be able to afford the best attorney in the land," Holtz said, but she said her office believes Galati has assets and that "the City of Philadelphia and the taxpayers of Philadelphia should not be paying" his legal bills.
Minehart set a Jan. 8 hearing date on the financial question. Holtz said he office would offer evidence showing that Galati can afford an attorney.
That hearing will come one day after Galati is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Camden for his conviction earlier this year in a separate murder-for-hire case. He is facing from 30 years to life.
Galati, 63, has been held without bail since his arrest over a year ago. Currently an inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, he appeared in court today dressed in a green-and-white checked shirt and baggy slacks.
"It looks like something they got off the bottom of the clothes pile," Galati's son, Ron Jr., said as his father was led into the courtroom by an armed court marshal.
The younger Galati, who owns the body shop that authorities say was the nerve center for the insurance fraud scheme, said his father does not have any money and that the District Attorney's Office was continuing to target him by raising the financial issue.
"What do they want him to do, represent himself?" Galati Jr. asked before today's hearing began. "That would be a show."
Later, he said, "There's no money. There's no cash hidden under the floor boards. He's entitled to a lawyer. That's all he's asking for."
"We need to delve into his income and assets," Holtz said in brief comments to Minehart before the judge set the hearing date.
Galati told the judge he has a monthly Social Security stipend of $1,100 and that he also collects about $1,000-a-month rent on a vacant lot that he owns in South Philadelphia. Authorities have alleged that Galati cashed checks for more than $1 million while orchestrating the insurance scam.
The case involves nearly three dozen defendants, including Galati's wife and his son, Ron Jr.
"There is no money," Galati Jr. said again as he left the 11th floor courtroom. "Family members and friends lent us money for the last trial."
That trial ended with a federal jury finding Galati Sr. guilty of hiring two hit men to murder the then boyfriend of his estranged daughter Tiffany. The boyfriend, Andrew Tuono, survived the shooting which occurred outside his Atlantic City home last December.
Tuono, Tiffany Galati, the two hit men and a third conspirator testified for the prosecution in that case.
The hit men and their co-conspirator, all of whom have cut cooperating deals with the government and have pled guilty, are also witnesses in the murder-for-hire case now pending in Common Pleas Court.
In that case, Galati is charged with offering the shooters $20,000 to gun down to rival auto body shop operators -- a father and son -- whom he believed were cooperating with authorities in the insurance fraud investigation.
The potential targets closed their business before the hits could be carried out, according to authorities. Both were, in fact, cooperating against Galati in the insurance fraud case.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
|Jimmy Kempski/Photo: Thomas Carroll|
The big black billboard on the Walt Whitman Bridge promotes the new sportswriter for PhillyVoice.com: "All Birds. No Bull. With Jimmy Kempski."
That's the same Jimmy Kempski who used to be an Eagles blogger for philly.com. He jumped ship to join the rival media startup brought to you by George E. Norcross III and his daughter Lexie.
Just seven months after they lost the court-ordered auction of Interstate General Media [IGM] -- the parent company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com -- the Norcrosses are back on the local media stage playing with house money.
Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and two business partners, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph E. Buckelew, had invested a total of $35 million in IGM. The Norcross ownership faction walked away from the May 27th auction with $41.7 million after expenses; a net profit of $6.7 million. No wonder the ads for PhillyVoice.com brag that the new venture is a "well-funded media startup serving the Philadelphia and South Jersey region."
It's a stark contrast between media rivals. Over at PhillyVoice.com, George's daughter Lexie, the new managing director, is busy hiring. But at rival IGM, owned by Norcross's former business partner, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, they're laying off 21 senior employees in a new round of buyouts that's the subject of a grievance filed by the Newspaper Guild.
In a Nov. 17th interview with USA Today, Lenfest declared he was feeling "motivated and excited" and "having a great time" as the new IGM owner and Inky publisher.
At the same time he was talking about rejuvenation, however, the 84-year-old philanthropist was seeking to jettison 21 of his most senior IGM employees.
Anyone else see a contradiction there? But before you can say age discrimination, the newsroom buzz phrase is that management is seeking "a different skill set" with new hires. If they're younger and cheaper, so much the better.
In the wake of overpaying, the bosses at IGM were trying to reduce payroll costs by initially offering buyouts to employees with 30 years of experience. Eighteen journalists in the Inky newsroom signed up for the deal, including five photographers. Only one staffer at the Daily News took the buyout, as did a couple of financial employees at philly.com.
The buyout offer on the table was 40 weeks of salary and six months of medical benefits. At IGM, however, buyouts have always been treated as layoffs. That meant that under the collective bargaining agreement, the 21 departing staffers were also entitled to five weeks of severance pay But Lenfest supposedly rejected that idea, saying why should I give these people an extra five weeks of pay if I'm already giving them 40 weeks' pay to take a hike?
That prompted the Newspaper Guild to file a grievance over the denial of the extra five weeks of severance pay to the 21 departing employees, which amounts to some $100,000. The grievance is headed for arbitration.
At IGM lately, a lot of labor disputes are turning into grievances since the unexplained departure last June of Chris Bonanducci, IGM's Vice President of Human Resources. Bonanducci did not respond to an email seeking comment.
It's quite a trend. The list of nine former IGM employees crossing over to PhillyVoice.com includes: Bob McGovern, former executive producer, news, at philly.com; Matt Romanoski, former executive producer for sports at philly.com; Leah R. Kauffman, former executive entertainment and lifestyle producer at philly.com; Matt Mullin, former sports editor at phillycom; Rich Hofmann Jr., the son of the Daily News sports columnist who also covered sports at the Daily News; Kim Parham, former national head of sales for IGM; Hal Donnelly, former IGM circulation director; and Jeff Douglass, former IGM product manager.
The exodus has left the one veteran newsroom staffer who blamed Lenfest for funding PhillyVoice to declare that so many people wouldn't be leaving during the holidays to join a media startup if they were being treated right.
Management has "never been more dysfunctional" because most of IGM's new senior managers have "no idea" what they're doing, the veteran staffer complained.
Another veteran newsroom staffer, however, who's generally more supportive of IGM management dismissed the dysfunction talk as "the same old shit" usually heard around contract time [the current Newspaper Guild contract is set to expire Feb. 9th].
There are 200 journalists left at the Inquirer; quite a drop from the glory days of the early 1990s, when the Inky had 600 staffers under former editor Gene Roberts. In the newsroom, people are working harder than ever and getting paid less. In an era of cutbacks and givebacks, every staffer has to go on furlough for two weeks of unpaid leave every year.
Compensation is one thing, the newsroom loyalist conceded, but the current IGM management is still pretty serious about the news.
Over at PhillyVoice, Lexie Norcross, herself a former IGM VP of digital operations and corporate services, denied she was raiding her former employer.
"We've posted over 25 job positions and got 250 resumes," Norcross said. She's hiring from all over. Including Frank Burgos, the new managing editor at PhillyVoice. Burgos is a former news editor at the Burlington County Times who was also former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News editorial page.
Lexie Norcross maintains she harbors no ill will toward her former employer.
"IGM is home to many mentors, friends and former colleagues," she wrote in an email. "I will forever be grateful to so many of those individuals who were a significant influence on my earliest days and experiences working in the media sector. I only wish the company, Mr. Lenfest, and their many dedicated employees, nothing but success."
Kempski was similarly diplomatic.
"Philly.com treated me tremendously," he wrote. But Kempski's move was about loyalty.
As opposed to being "a classically trained journalist," Kempski wrote in an email, he worked in sales for 10-plus years before "Lexie Norcross and Matt Romanoski took a chance on me."
"I've always felt very trusting of them, and loyal to them," he wrote about his former bosses. "When the opportunity to work for them arose once again, this time as the lead Eagles writer at PhillyVoice, it was a no-brainer for me."
Kempski was the first guy to report that the Eagles were planning to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson, last seen torching the Eagles secondary as a Redskin to cripple the Birds' playoff chances.
PhillyVoice is still hiring. On their website they're seeking an ad ops manager, desktop support specialist, sales assistant and web curator. The "dynamic new media company in Philadelphia" is also seeking "experienced writers and web surfers to assemble a daily collection of riveting web content for our readers."
Skeptics gripe that there is currently no model for a regional news website that's making money. So even before the new website at PhillyVoice goes up, people are wondering whether the upstarts will be able to succeed economically. Or will the Norcrosses end up squandering every cent they made at the IGM auction?
By Ralph Cipriano
The night before Father Charles Engelhardt died, a fellow inmate claims, the priest gave a dying declaration:
"Paul, I do not feel well. Please understand that I am an innocent man, who was wrongly convicted."
On Dec. 22, the inmate, Paul H. Eline, a former Temple Law student, filed as an intervenor with the state Superior Court in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Engelhardt, appellant. In his application for third party intervention, Eline wrote that the matters he was bringing to the court's attention were "critical and constitute 'extraordinary circumstances'" that should be made part of the record.
At the time of his death last month, Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County. The 67-year-old priest had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence after being convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, a former altar boy dubbed Billy Doe, told an incredible and constantly changing story that was subsequently refuted by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The priest died during an ambulance ride on the way to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. while his conviction was under appeal with the state Superior Court.
Under federal rules of evidence, a dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule and is admissible as evidence in criminal homicide or civil cases. In his court filing, inmate Eline argues that in his final moments of life the priest had no reason to lie.
"There is no other reason for Charles F. Engelhardt to state anything but the truth, knowing that his life will be lost to improper medical procedures," Eline wrote in a "dissertation in support" of his application to intervene.
The inmate, of course, comes with baggage.
Eline, according to the Republican Herald of Pottsville, was convicted on Jan. 24, 2006 of 18 counts of deceptive business practices for not installing numerous swimming pools. The newspaper reported that state police "charged Eline with contracting with numerous people in Schuykill and Berks counties to install swimming pools, accepting payments and not doing the work."
Eline, who was 66 in 2010, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
In October 2010, a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges upheld Eline's conviction and sentence on appeal, rejecting Eline's argument that his former lawyer ineffectively represented him by not preparing adequately for trial. In his appeal, Eline, according to the Superior Court judges, "failed to present credible evidence" to support his claim.
In letters to the priest's family, Eline wrote that Engelhardt was denied emergency heart bypass surgery that would have saved his life, strictly because of the cost.
In response, Susan McNaughton, a press secretary for the state Department of Corrections, wrote, "The only information I can provide you is the fact that Charles Engelhardt died of natural causes on Nov. 15, 2014. An inmate's cause of death is determined by the appropriate county coroner."
The press secretary did not address the claims made by Eline. In his letters, Eline wrote to the Engelhardt family that he treated the priest like a brother.
"He was very close and dear to me," Eline wrote the priest's family on Nov 25th. "I will sorely miss him as he was highly respected. I looked over Charles as if he was my own brother. So you know I was Charles' senior by a few years. I made sure no one, and I mean no one, either took advantage or even said a curse word to him."
Father Engelhardt was an oblate of St. Francis de Sales. In a Nov. 8th letter to his superior, Father Engelhardt wrote that he "started to get very dizzy" on the morning of Nov. 4th. His cellmate "thought I was going to fall and tried to get me to sit down," the priest wrote, but all he could do was lean against a wall.
He was taken to the hospital, where doctors "began the procedure to open an artery through my right wrist," Engelhardt wrote. "I was awake the whole time."
Further tests determined that there were "other arteries on the other side of the heart that were greatly clogged and needed to be dealt with," the priest wrote his superior. Doctors told Engelhardt another procedure should be done immediately, the priest wrote. But the doctors told Engelhardt they wanted to give him time to recover from the first procedure before they performed a second, the priest wrote.
The priest was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 7th. He stayed the night in the prison infirmary and the next day, was sent back to jail.
"If Charles would have received the bypasses the first time he was rushed to the Geisinger Hospital, he would still be alive today," inmate Eline wrote the priest's family. "What I am really surprised with is Geisinger Hospital becoming involved with this denial of a life-saving treatment."
"The doctors and the hospital knew that Charles needed these bypasses at once," the inmate wrote. "The supply of blood to critical parts of Charles' body were not receiving blood or very little ... I know he would still be with us if he would have been treated correctly."
In a Nov. 27th letter to the family, Eline asked if the priest had informed them "of how barbaric this medical department is and the steps they take to 'avoid' costly medical treatment, either through medication or refusal of required surgery."
Eline referred to the prison's medical department as "a subcontractor who wins the proposal by the lowest bid." An innate "must be almost dead before any treatment is authorized," Eline wrote. "I know this for a fact, as I have been waiting close to two years for cataract surgery."
In a separate letter to Engelhardt's lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, Eline wrote on Nov. 15th that the state Department of Corrections "and the medical staff at another facility put me in a position of close to death, due to abuse. I have instituted a civil action in the Northumberland County Court pursuant to this abuse. I am self representing, as I have been unable to contact an attorney who is willing to review my case and pursue the litigation."
In the letter to McGovern, Eline wrote that he "did attend Beasley Law School, for two years and then transferred to Penn State, obtaining in total, a master's degree in mechanical engineering."
In his letter to the Engelhardt family, Eline maintained that the hospital's staff was responsible for the priest's death.
"When Charles came back from the hospital the first time he informed me that the hospital, after putting the solution in his veins, and discovering that the artery was 90 percent blocked," installed two stents, the inmate wrote. "But Charles was instructed at that time, by the doctor ... that he must have bypass at once the avoid the possibility of serious consequences."
"Now, this is why these bypasses were not done at that time," Eline wrote. "First the doc had five other inmates in the hospital" watched over by a half-dozen correctional officers.
"The medical firm would do anything to avoid this very expensive operation," Eline wrote. The doctors "gambled and the end result is the loss of Charles."
After he came back from the hospital, Father Engelhardt spent some time in the infirmary before returning to jail. His cell, however, was on the second floor. As a heart patient dealing with blocked arteries, the priest had difficulty climbing the stairs.
The priest asked a sergeant if he could be moved to a first-floor cell but the sergeant refused the request, inmate Eline wrote the Engelhardt family. The next day, another sergeant was on duty and Eline took up Engelhardt's cause.
"I instructed this sergeant that if anything happens to Charles, that I will hold him personally responsible for Charles's well-being. This sergeant immediately moved Charles to an empty room on the first floor."
When the priest told Eline he wasn't feeling well, "I instructed Charles to go lay down in his room," Eline wrote. "Right when Charles was getting up to go into his room, Charles stated" his dying declaration. Charles stated this because we were discussing his case and appeal."
"When Charles went into his room, I immediately went to this sergeant ... and instructed him to get Charles down to medical or call medical to come up here," Eline wrote. "He did not."
"The next morning, Charles went down to medical and he was immediately rushed back to the hospital," Eline wrote.
He never made it there alive.
Father Engelhardt's family was grateful to receive the inmate's letters. It was far more information than they've gotten from prison officials, who waited two days before notifying the family about the priest's death.
"I think its wonderful that the man took the time to do all this," said Elaine Boyle, Father Engelhardt's sister, said of the inmate. "I think he's sincere. And I'm so thankful to him, but it's so upsetting."
In his dissertation to the Superior Court, Eline ripped Billy Doe and his lawyer for greed and deceit.
"Today's society has evolved to the point of condemning a man who is completely innocent of any wrongdoing, strictly to achieve ... in plain words, a financial gain through deceit," the inmate wrote the court. That condemnation came "not only by the attacker, but by counsel representing this deceitful plot that is based one hundred percent [on] words from a dishonest person with the intentional goal of financial gain," the inmate wrote.
By Ralph Cipriano
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Miller is having a tough time preparing for trial.
His client, former Philadelphia Police Officer Thomas Liciardello, has been held without bail for six months in the SHU, or Special Housing Unit, AKA "the hole."
Liciardello, the feds say, is the alleged ringleader of a rogue band of six former narcotics cops charged in a 26-count federal racketeering indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property. While on their crime spree, the feds claim, the narcs allegedly used excessive force, kidnapped drug dealers and falsified police reports to cover their tracks.
"You can't prepare for trial like this," Miller complained to U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.
On his floor in the SHU, Liciardello has to share one computer with 40 inmates, Miller told the judge. His client "stands in line" in the SHU to get access to that one computer so he can review documents in his case, Miller told the judge. The defense lawyer pleaded with Judge Robreno to let his client out off jail so he could prepare for trial while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet on house arrest.
"I'll go to his home," Miller offered.
Robreno, however, who has already denied bail twice for Liciardello, denied it a third time today during a pre-trial conference. The judge, however, did say he would talk to the magistrate assigned to the case to see if an "immediate" hearing can be held to figure out how to help Liciardello and his lawyer prepare for trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek didn't seem too concerned about Liciardello's lack of trial prep. The prosecutor told the judge he didn't want to turn defense lawyer Miller into a pack mule, but that Miller always had the option of making paper copies of the documents and dropping them off for his client to read at the SHU.
But Miller said that the corrections officers at the SHU will not allow Liciardello to keep documents in his cell. They make the lawyer take the documents with him when he goes out the door.
"I couldn't leave it with him," Miller said about documents he has brought to jail. And the government has given him way too many documents to copy.
"We're talking about 77,000 pages," Miller reminded the judge.
Another defense lawyer in the case, James J. Binns, is spending some 10 hours a day with his client, former Officer Michael Spicer, Miller told the judge. "I'm lucky if I get 10-to-15 minutes" on the phone with Liciardello, Miller said.
The defense will have 13 preemptory strikes; the government, 7, the judge said. The judge said that during jury selection he would give each side three other strikes.
The case is expected to last eight weeks, during which the prosecutor said he expects to call some 80 witnesses.
Michael J. Diamondstein, the defense lawyer who represents former Officer Jonathan Speiser, told the judge he has waded through all the government documents turned over during discovery. And Diamonstein has a problem.
"We've reviewed it all and there's nothing there," Diamondstein told the judge. "I don't know what it is that my client did that was illegal."
Diamondstein said that none of the government documents in the case even mention his client.
"He's lost his job, he's lost his good name," the defense lawyer told the judge about his client. And the defense lawyer still doesn't know why.
The lawyer said he was asking the judge for a bill of particulars, a motion that the judge said he would take under advisement.
In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wzorek told the judge that there's no mystery here. Speiser participated in a conspiracy, the prosecutor said. He was part of "a crew" that robbed and beat people, the prosecutor said.
He's a throwback, a standup guy in a mob decimated by turncoat witnesses.
And as a result, he's looking at 23 more years in state prison.
On the eve of his retrial for the December 2012 murder of Gino DiPietro, mobster Anthony Nicodemo pleaded guilty this morning to third degree murder, conspiracy and weapons charges.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, under the terms of a plea deal, sentenced the reputed South Philadelphia hitman to a minimum of 25 years in prison. With two years already served, Nicodemo, 43, will be able to apply for parole in 2038.
According to several sources, Nicodemo rejected offers to cooperate that could have resulted in substantially less jail time. The married father of two young children opted instead to live by an underworld code that has been shattered again and again by members of the Philadelphia mob.
Omerta, the code of silence, is like the Liberty Bell, broke and inoperative. So many members and associates of the Philadelphia mob have chosen to cooperate that the once secret society has
But Nicodemo, who is also a suspect in the murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto, proved to be old school.
"He could have walked out the door," said one source in the legal community who said federal authorities were prepared to go to bat for the bulky mob enforcer had he decided to cooperate.
Nicodemo's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, declined to discuss specifics of the plea negotiation, but said, "Anthony did this for his family. He will be coming home."
Had he gone to trial, Nicodemo ran the risk of being convicted of first degree murder and receiving a life sentence. The negotiated plea and the third degree murder charge carried a severe prison term, but one with an ending that could result in Nicodemo experiencing freedom at some point.
But not any time soon, a prospect that could result in the feds making another run at him.
"If he were going to cooperate, he would have done it already," said another source, pointing out that it's more complicated to work out a deal with good benefits after you've been sentenced.
Dressed in a blue shirt, tie and slacks, his hands cuffed in front of him, Nicodemo said little other than "yes,""no" and "guilty" in response to questions posed during the brief, 15-minute proceeding.
He nodded and smiled to family members and friends who had packed the 11th floor courtroom but declined an offer from Minehart to address the court before sentencing. Minehart imposed a 20-to-40 year term for the third degree murder charge and a consecutive five-to-10 for the conspiracy count. The weapons offenses resulted in slightly lesser sentences that were to run concurrent.
As a result, the overall sentence was 25-to-50 years, the range agreed upon in pre-sentence negotiations.
In a brief statement to the judge, DiPietro's sister said, "by no stretch of the imagination is this a happy day for anyone here." She was one of several members of DiPietro's family who also attended the hearing.
"My brother will always and forever be missed," she said.
Nicodemo was arrested minutes later after a witness told police he saw a masked gunman jump into a waiting Honda Pilot which sped from the scene. A license tag led police to Nicodemo's door in the 3200 block of South 17th Street, a five-minute drive from the murder scene.
He was taken into custody that day and after obtaining a search warrant police found a .357 Smith&Wesson automatic under the driver's seat of the Honda which was parked behind his house. Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo said ballistics proved that the gun was the murder weapon.
Jury selection was set to begin on Monday for Nicodemo's retrial. His first trial in May ended after four days when three of the 14 jurors (two were alternates) had been dismissed for various reasons. With only 11 jurors Minehart was forced to declare a mistrial.
In his opening statement during that trial, Zarallo said Nicodemo was the getaway driver for the murder but was just as culpable as the shooter. The DA identified South Philadelphia mob associate Domenic Grande as the suspected hitman. Grande has never been charged. That investigation is continuing, according to police sources.
Nicodemo's defense, presented in McMonagle's opening in May, was considered bizarre and outlandish to most observers. He claimed that he was carjacked that afternoon by a masked gunman who ordered him to drive away. The gunman jumped out of the Honda a few blocks from the murder scene, but left the gun behind.
One of the dismissed jurors in the first trial called that argument ridiculous. Nicodemo offered that defense at trial, but never mentioned the alleged carjacking at the time of his arrest or during the nearly two years he sat in prison denied bail.
Sources say Nicodemo could have worked out a much better plea deal if he had decided to cooperate
and provide details about both the DiPietro shooting and the murder of Casasanto. The Casasanto hit which occurred in 2003 is one of three unsolved mob murders that city police and federal authorities had hoped to lay on the doorstep of then mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his administration.
Ironically, Ligambi, 73, and several top associates were on trial for racketeering at the time the DiPietro hit was carried out. Ligambi beat the racketeering charges -- built around gambling, loansharking and extortion -- at two trials and was released last year.
He is now said to be semi-retired and serving as the consigliere in a crime family being overseen by a three-man committee comprised of street bosses Steve Mazzone, John Ciancaglini and Philip Narducci.
Nicodemo heads off to prison, law enforcement sources say, while the local mob tries to regroup and return to the shadows where making money rather than headlines is paramount.
"He's a young guy but he's a dinosaur," said the legal source. "Look at all the guys his age who have cooperated and gotten out. He's a throwback to another generation."
Nicodemo will have a long time to ponder his decision. He will be 66 when he can first apply for release, according to legal experts, and, they add, there is no guarantee that he will be sprung the first time he is eligible.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
|Best Guy Pals Billy and Leo|
A Common Pleas Court judge has ordered Leo Omar Hernandez to give a deposition in the civil case of his former "best guy friend" Billy Doe.
Hernandez originally received a subpoena to appear as a witness on Dec. 12th, but to date has not shown.
On Wednesday, according to the docket in the case, Judge Jacqueline F. Allen granted a motion by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to order Hernandez to appear within 30 days.
"It is further ordered that Mr. Hernandez shall comply with the subpoena for his videotaped deposition at the law offices of Conrad O'Brien PC, 2500 Market Street," the docket noted. Hernandez was ordered to bring along all documents "responsive to the subpoena," the docket said. "Failure to comply with this order may result in sanctions imposed by the court."
If he shows, Hernandez will join a roster of reluctant witnesses who have already been deposed in the civil case, including Bishop Edward P. Cullen, Msgr. William J. Lynn, and Bishop Joseph R. Cistone.
Hernandez was supposedly the "best guy friend" that Billy Doe first told his improbable tale of multiple rapes to back when they were high school classmates at the International Christian Academy in Northeast Philadelphia.
When he appeared as a witness on Jan. 15, 2013, Hernandez presented himself to a criminal jury as a clean-cut, straight-arrow, honorably-discharged anti-drug, anti-gay Air Force vet living with his girlfriend and newborn son at a house he owned in Mayfair.
Hernandez was the only prosecution witness who could corroborate any details from Billy's wild stories of being raped as an altar boy by two priests and a Catholic school teacher.
In the civil case, Billy Doe is suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for monetary damages in exchange for his alleged suffering. Meanwhile, his former "best guy friend" Hernandez has filed a medical malpractice case filed in the same Common Pleas Court against a Philadelphia osteopath, a male doctor that Hernandez claims got him hooked on drugs and then had an abusive sexual relationship with him.
Records gathered for the medical malpractice case paint a totally different picture of Leo Omar Hernandez as a former drug addict, steroid abuser, and dancer in gay male strip clubs.
The contradictions would appear to be the subject of Hernandez's deposition in the civil case. According to court records, Hernandez originally had a subpoena to appear on Dec. 12th.
Prior to the deposition, Hernandez's lawyer, Francis Malofiy, contacted the archdiocese's lawyers and said Hernandez was unavailable, court records say. The archdiocese agreed to postpone the deposition.
On Jan. 21, the archdiocese sent a letter to Malofiy attempting to "amicably resolve this matter and schedule Hernandez's deposition," the archdiocese's lawyers wrote in a motion filed Jan. 28th. "Attorney Malofiy has failed to respond to the archdiocese's Jan. 21, 2015 correspondence."
"Hernandez has highly relevant information concerning the allegations in plaintiff's complaint," wrote lawyers James J. Rohn, Nicholas M. Centrella and Frank R. Emmerich Jr. "Failure to comply with subpoena has prejudiced and will continue to prejudice the Archdiocese in its ability to prepare its claims and defenses in this action."
In addition, the archdiocese lawyers noted, the Feb. 2 deadline for discovery is rapidly approaching. In another motion, the archdiocese sought to extend the discovery deadline by 30 days.
The projected trial date in the civil case is Aug. 3rd.
There's a blanket of secrecy over the civil case because both sides have agreed to a voluntary confidentiality stipulation. So the only official news is what gets posted on the docket and whatever motions are filed.
According to court records in the case, the plaintiff's lawyers have been very active. Retired Bishop of Allentown Edward P. Cullen, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former vicar for administration in 1993-94, was deposed for two days.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, was deposed for three days.
Lynn was convicted on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Billy, in 2012, but that conviction was overturned by the state Superior Court. Lynn remains under house arrest while the state Supreme Court, at the request of District Attorney R. Seth Williams, reviews the case.
Also deposed was the Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, Joseph R. Cistone, the Philadelphia archdiocese's former vicar for administration from 1998 to 2009.
In addition, the plaintiff's lawyers deposed the defendants in the criminal case while in jail, including the late Father Charles Engelhardt, former priest Edward V. Avery, and former school teacher Bernard Shero.
Engelhardt, who died on Nov. 15th while in jail, was deposed twice in the civil case, according to court records. Despite his death, his lawyers have vowed to continue their appeal of Engelhardt's criminal conviction, to clear his name.
Judge Allen's decision to order Hernandez's deposition wasn't her only action this week. Also on Wednesday, according to the docket, Judge Allen granted a motion from Engelhardt's attorneys to compel discovery in the case.
The judge ordered the plaintiff's lawyers to provide executed authorizations required for the release of Billy Doe's medical records from 10 different doctors or doctors' groups, three hospitals and three drug rehabs. In addition, the judge ordered the plaintiff to produce his IRS records, as well as respond to two sets of interrogatories from Engelhardt's lawyers.
The judge gave the plaintiff seven days to comply with her Feb. 9th order. If not, according to the docket, appropriate sanctions may include "preclusion of evidence in support of plaintiff's claims or dismissal may be imposed . . . for failure to comply with this order."
Three weeks ago at the request of a City Council member, Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin showed up to inspect the abandoned Germantown YWCA.
The century-old building on Germantown Avenue, declared imminently dangerous by L&I in 2012, is in sad shape. Some windows were boarded up with plywood, others were blown out. A rear brick wall was bowed, in danger of collapse. Inside, it got worse.
"I was shocked by what I saw," Levin, an engineer, wrote on a email chain that originates with Jim Foster, editor of Germantown's Independent Voice newspaper, and circulates to some 60 people. "Combustible trash that was at least two feet deep lined the first floor and the central stairwell to the second floor. The paper and other combustible trash that was strewn about made it nearly impossible to climb the stairs." The trash made it "absolutely a hazard to descend the stairs."
The conditions at the Germantown Y reminded Levin of the abandoned Kensington factory that went up in flames in 2012, killing two firefighters. The factory was the subject of a grand jury report last February that blasted L&I for failing to protect public safety. The grand jury faulted L&I for allowing the abandoned building owned by a couple of Brooklyn slumlords to suffer demolition by neglect, until the old factory became a "fire trap."
"This time you can't blame anybody from Brooklyn," Levin said in an interview about the condition of the Germantown Y. "It's no different than the conditions that were alleged to exist when the factory in Kensington burned down," Levin said. "It's a fire trap and if there's a fire in the building it could be a death trap if a fireman has to go in there. Why risk catastrophe?"
"Here we have a historically certified building of significant architectural merit that is owned by an agency of the City of Philadelphia," Levin wrote on the email chain. "Under the ownership of the city it has lapsed into a state of significant disrepair and structural distress."
At the time he inspected the building, Levin was accompanied by City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and an official from the Redevelopment Authority. Why, Levin wanted to know, has L&I allowed the fire hazard to continue?
Why didn't L&I order the RDA to clean up the structure, Levin wanted to know. And if the RDA wasn't going to do anything, why didn't L&I clean and seal the building, and bill the RDA for the work?
"All it would have taken," to abate a hazardous situation, Levin wrote, "was a dumpster and two laborers to remove the fire load."
Spokespersons for L&I and the RDA did not respond to requests for comment by email.
Last week, Levin attended a meeting at Councilwoman Bass's office scheduled to discuss the fate of the Germantown Y. The invited guests included Brian Abernathy, executive director of the RDA, and Carlton Williams, the L&I commissioner.
Abernathy showed up; Williams did not.
In his defense, Williams, however, was probably trying to cope with the latest scandal that has erupted in his department, thanks to the Inquirer, which we'll get to in a minute.
"Here you have a well-meaning and committed member of council trying to get to the bottom of a tangled web that was woven long before she arrived" at City Hall, Levin wrote. "Yet, both the RDA and L&I for some reason cannot abate an immediate hazard."
"If government cannot respond to an immediate hazard there is something very wrong," Levin wrote. "Where is the urgency?"
Levin was the star of City Council hearings held in August 2013 to debate the fate of L&I in the aftermath of a building collapse on Market Street in June 2013 that killed six, injured 13, and prompted an overburdened L&I inspector to commit suicide.
Meanwhile, the future of L&I has been up for political debate.
The City Council in October 2013 issued a 69-page report that recommended splitting L&I in two, and having the beleaguered department's employees report to two new bosses. The City Council proposed having all L&I licensing functions relating to revenue report to the city's finance department. And having all L&I functions relating to public safety report to the department of public safety.
Levin didn't think much of the report's suggestions, or the proposals by the mayor to fix L&I.
"Frankly, all of the studies and committees convened by Mayor Nutter to solve the so-called L&I problem are only papering over the problem," Levin wrote. "The lines of communication and responsibility are blurred and each successive reorganization of the government [all in violation of the city charter] has only further distanced the [L&I] Commissioner from the mayor by interjecting additional layers of management between him or her and the mayor."
So the politicians continue to debate while life safety remains at risk.
Regarding the Germantown Y, Levin wrote, "Clean out the building while you still have the chance and it is still standing!"
The Germantown Y assessed at $1.36 million on city property records has been the victim of bankruptcy, arson and vandalism.
Developer Ken Weinstein has proposed converting the Y into affordable housing for seniors. But the RDA, which solicited development plans for the Y, turned down that proposal after Councilwoman Bass objected, saying Germantown already has too much subsidized housing.
According to city records posted online, L&I inspectors cited the Germantown YWCA on April 26, 2010 for having an unsafe rear retaining wall. On May 25, 2011, L&I inspectors cited it again for floor and ceilings damaged by fire. On Nov. 18, 2011, the property was cited because fences were down; fences that were supposed to be repaired to "restrict access and maintain public safety."
On Jan. 5, 2012, L&I inspectors wrote up two more violations for third floor partitions, floors and ceilings all damaged by fire. All five violations filed by L&I inspectors since 2010 are listed as "not complied."
On Wednesday, the City Council is holding a hearing to debate the fate of yet another government proposal to reform L&I. This time, Council President Darrell Clarke has proposed restructuring city government to place the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Historical Commission and various functions of L&I and the Office of Housing and Community Development under a new Director of Planning and Development, who would be appointed by the mayor.
Clarke's plan would require a charter amendment that would require the approval of voters.
Levin has been asked to testify at the hearing. He says he'll speak against the proposal for the same reasons he opposed the City Council plan to split L&I. We don't need more bureaucrats and layers of bureaucracy, he said. They will only serve to increase the possibilities of inserting "political mischief" into the process of regulating public safety.
While the politicians propose new ways to reform L&I, the agency remains under fire.
Last month, a committee of city officials issued a report that said what's needed to fix L&I is 110 new inspectors, at a cost of $13.9 million.
An audit released last week by city Controller Alan Butkovitz, as reported in the Inquirer, says the department, which has 56 code inspectors, needs 136 to 156 inspectors.
The controller reviewed 5,700 privately owned vacant properties and found that 791 were listed as "open' violations, where problems remained unresolved. Of those properties, the controller said, 101 were classified as unsafe, hazardous or imminently dangerous. The controller criticized L&I for not being proactive.
There are also indications from the press that the latest reforms at L&I aren't working.
The Inquirer is working on a story about questionable recent building demolitions involving L&I. The full story hasn't even been published yet but already City Hall has thrown somebody under the bus.
In response to questions from the newspaper, the Nutter administration on Friday reassigned the second-in-command official at L&I, pending an investigation by the city Inspector General's office.
Scott Mulderig, L&I's director of emergency services, the unit that deals with demolitions, was reassigned while the city investigates his oversight of tough new demolition regulations" imposed after the Market Street collapse, the Inquirer reported.
In the story, the Inky reported that L&I Commissioner Williams sent out a memo to his staff, saying the newspaper's work "will impact our department in a very serious manner."
The story, however, originally scheduled to be published Sunday, has not run yet.
UPDATE: Council President Darrell Clarke has taken L&I out of his proposal to reorganize government. Former L&I Commissioner Levin subsequently declined an invitation to appear as a witness at the City Council hearings on Clarke's proposal, which would require a charter amendment.
Anastasia will be discussing the book at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 24th at the Philadelphia Free Library.
Gotti's Rules got a favorable review in the Inquirer from veteran crime writer Paul Davis who called it a "fast-paced and compelling story that reads like a crime thriller."
Alite, a South Jersey resident who is the grandson of Albanian immigrants, said he was "more than Junior Gotti's best-friend; he was his baby-sitter," Davis writes. "The elder Gotti told Alite to look out for and work with his son," dubbed "Urkel" by wiseguys.
Here's the way Anastasia introduces his main character in the book:
"John Alite was a murder, drug dealer and thug," Anastasia writes. For 25 years he brutalized people. He stabbed them, shot them, and beat them with pipes, blackjacks and baseball bats.
"He's not proud of that, but he doesn't try to hide from it either," Anastasia writes. "It's who he was. But not who he is."
Alite wound up testifying against Junior in federal court. Anastasia's book has been big news in New York, where Alite told the New York Daily News that Junior Gotti was a "spoiled brat." It prompted Junior to write his own memoir.
Anastasia was also on Fox radio today discussing the book.
By Ralph Cipriano
When we last saw "Father Andy" McCormick nearly a year ago, thanks to a deadlocked jury, the priest was strolling out of the Criminal Justice Center as a free man.
Today, in Courtroom 1102, the priest was back in court with a new lawyer facing the same accuser. And some long odds in a retrial.
The alleged victim in the case is a slender, gay 27-year-old business manager for a large New York City cosmetics firm. He claims that back during the 1997-98 school year when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in fourth grade, Father Andy lured the boy up to his room in the rectory at St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg. Then, according to the alleged victim, the priest locked the door, shoved the boy down on the bed, tore off his clothes, and tried to jam his penis in the boy's mouth.
Fourteen years later, the victim came forward to publicly accuse the priest. Today in court he told the jury that unlike another former 10-year-old altar boy that we know of, he's not in this for the money. That's why he hasn't filed a civil suit seeking damages, the alleged victim told the jury.
"I don't need to, I have a pretty successful career," he said. The only reason why he's doing this, he told the jury, is to make sure "another little kid doesn't go through this."
It's always an uphill climb for any priest accused of sex abuse. Maybe that's why Father Andy didn't wear his collar to court today. For the defendant, the trial got off to a rough start when the alleged victim broke down before he even got started telling his story.
At the time, the alleged victim had just begun describing to the jury the layout of the rectory where the attack supposedly took place when he started crying. Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright asked if he needed a break. He did, so the judge told the court clerk to take the jury out of the courtroom. Jurors looked startled and concerned as they were being herded out.
After he composed himself, the alleged victim told his story again, but he needed some tissues to dab his tear-filled eyes.
As soon as the door was closed in the rectory, the alleged victim testified, Father Andy attacked. He started undressing the altar boy and undressing himself, the alleged victim claimed. He was touching the boy's butt and genitals.
The alleged victim said he was frozen in shock as he recalled hearing the priest's "heavy breathing." He found himself "zoning in" on the priest's cassock, and counting all 32 buttons as the priest disrobed.
[A cassock has 33 buttons commemorating every year in the life of Jesus. A black priestly cassock was one of the exhibits introduced today by the defense, to no doubt point out the discrepancy].
The alleged victim had claimed that the attack took place on a holy day of obligation during an evening mass.
On cross-examination, Trevan Borum, Father Andy's new defense lawyer, went through all six holy days of obligation during the 1997-98 school year, trying to pin down the alleged victim on a date.
It was cold out, he claimed. But it wasn't Christmas, or Easter, or New Year's Day, when it's time to commemorate the solemnity of Mary. So, by the process of elimination Borum suggested the alleged attack occurred on either All Saints Day, which would fell on Nov. 1, or the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which fell on Dec. 8th during the 1997-98 school year.
One advantage to a retrial is that Borum could compare every fact in the accuser's story to his previous testimony at the first trial, and at other hearings in the case.
So Borum tried to trip up the witness by poking holes in his story. Such as when the alleged victim claimed at a previous hearing that he never served another Mass with Father Andy after the alleged attack.
"I was nervous when I testified," the alleged victim explained.
So you claimed at a previous hearing that you never served another Mass with Father Andy after that attack during the 1997-98 school year, Borum said, pinning down the witness. Yep, that's true, the witness said, when confronted with the transcript.
Then Borum showed the alleged victim the 2000 yearbook from St. John Cantius. There was the alleged victim in a group photo of altar boys posing with Father Andy, the moderator for altar boys in the parish.
Ever serve another Mass with Father Andy, Borum repeated.
"I may have," the alleged victim conceded.
Well, Borum said, your testimony at a prior hearing where you claimed that you didn't serve another Mass with Father Andy "certainly can't true, correct?"
"Correct," the witness conceded.
And how long did it take the priest to unbutton all 32 buttons on that cassock, the defense lawyer want to know.
"When I was a little boy it felt like forever," the alleged victim responded.
So, the defense lawyer said, according to your testimony, Father Andy is grabbing your butt and crotch with one hand while he's unbuttoning with one hand all 32 buttons on that cassock?
"Possibly," the witness said.
As the jury of 10 women and 2 men looked on, the only question that mattered was whether they saw a 27-year-old man on the witness stand getting tripped up on the details of the attack that supposedly happened some 18 years ago. Or did they see a scared 10-year-old altar boy up there who couldn't keep his facts straight because he was scared out of his mind.
So, Borum said, prodding further, you claim that after the attack you went downstairs and tried calling your mother three times, before you wound up walking home.
You told me your mother was a devout Catholic. If she's a devout Catholic, shouldn't she be in the church on a Holy Day of Obligation?
The witness looked confused on that one.
During his cross-examination the defense lawyer suggested some other reasons for the alleged victim's boyhood trauma. His parents were going through a divorce. The witness was figuring out he was gay, a lifestyle at the time that was condemned by his religion.
The witness's father took the stand in the afternoon.
The father, a painter, said when his son first became an altar boy, "He loved it."
Then, "it repulsed him," the father said, and he didn't know why.
"He wanted to quit on numerous occasions," the father said, but he told the jury how he refused to let his son quit. He want him to finish what he started.
Then he watched as his son underwent a complete personality change, the father testified.
"He didn't like to be hugged anymore," the father said. He would recoil from any physical affection.
His mother found a hangman's noose in the boy's closet. The boy had tried to hang himself as often as a couple of times a week, the father tearfully said.
Over in the jury box, the women in the front row looked like they were at a funeral.
In 2011, the alleged victim's father testified, he saw on a TV news report that Father Andy was one of 21 priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"He's not what you think he is," the father remembered the son telling him.
Later that same year, the son sent a text to his father at 3 a.m. explaining that "Father Andy molested me . . . That is the root of my problems."
"I was in shock," the father testified.
After the jury left the courtroom for the day, defense attorney Borum said he wanted to put something on the record.
Borum, who up to that point had been low key, started shouting at Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp. The defense lawyer accused the prosecutor of implying while she was questioning the alleged victim's father that Father Andy got suspended for sex abuse.
His 2011 suspension had "absolutely nothing" to do with molestation, Borum protested loudly.
Oh yes it did, the assistant district attorney responded, her voice rising.
Judge Bright got upset, and lectured both lawyers.
"I'm not going to have any of this," she sternly told both lawyers. The judge proclaimed that she wouldn't allow her courtroom to be turned into a circus. Then she agreed to take the dispute to the back room, presumably to settle it in the privacy of the judge's chambers.
Meanwhile, Father Andy's supporters, which included some loyal parishioners and a couple of nuns, waiting quietly for the court clerk to tell them they could leave the courtroom after the jury had gone home.
Maybe the reason Borum started shouting because he was feeling the pressure. Or reading the jurors' faces. He's got a tough act to flow.
Back on March 12, 2014, the jury deadlocked on the charges against Father Andy after four and a half fruitless days of deliberations.
The deadlock came after Borum's predecessor, William J. Brennan, was able to pull a couple of rabbits out of his hat to aid in Father Andy's defense.
After the alleged victim claimed that Father Andy had blue plaid boxers under his cassock, Brennan brought in Father Andy's 87-year-old mother to testify that she brought all of her son's underwear, and the priest only wore tighty-whities.
Brennan also caught Assistant District Attorney Kemp in a boo-boo. In her opening statement at the last trial, Kemp had accused Father Andy of acting inappropriately with altar boys. She used as an example a field trip where Father Andy supposedly took a bunch of altar boys to see an R-rated movie, What Lies Beneath.
Brennan brought to the courtroom a DVD copy of the 2000 supernatural suspense thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pheiffer. Instead of an R the movie was rated PG-13.
The second time around it's going to be harder to pull off those kind of surprises.
Borum and Father Andy clearly have an uphill climb ahead when the trial resumes Monday at 9:30 a.m.