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

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    By George Anastasia

    Ron Galati, the South Philadelphia auto body shop operator with a Godfather complex, was sentenced to nearly 23 years in federal prison this morning in a convoluted murder-for-hire case that was more suited for Mob Wives than Mario Puzo's classic American Mafia saga.

    Citing the "callous" nature of the crime, but acknowledging Galati's age (64) and health problems, Judge Joseph Rodriguez imposed a sentence of 271 months, less than the maximum 308-month sentence sought by prosecutors but considerably more than the "home confinement" Galati's defense attorney had asked for.

    No one from Galati's family attended the sentencing hearing and Galati, dressed in a green prison jump suit, his toupee neatly in place, opted not to comment when asked by the judge if he had anything to say.

    Andrew Tuono, on the other hand, took a series of parting verbal shots at his one-time friend. The victim of the shooting, Tuono asked for a maximum sentence, telling Rodriguez that he lives every day with the aftermath of the attempted murder that Galati set in motion.

    Tuono, 35, was dating Galati's daughter Tiffany when he was shot multiple times outside the Atlantic City townhouse they shared in November 2013.

    "I have no doubt this came from him," Tuono, dressed in jeans and a starched white shirt, said after being called to the witness stand by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson. Tuono said he still has a bullet lodged in his pelvis that gives him constant pain and that two of the fingers on his left hand are paralyzed from another bullet that ripped through his hand during the attempted murder.

    Richardson, the prosecutor in the case, said the murder-for-hire plot was in many ways a twisted love story involving two men who loved the same woman. Tuono was living with Tiffany Galati at the time and her father didn't think he was good enough for her, the prosecutor said.

    "Why was he shot?" Richardson asked. "Because Ron Galati didn't like him...That's no reason to shoot somebody, but Mr. Galati apparently thought it was."

    Galati, according to family members and friends, soured on Tuono after he began dating Tiffany. Several members of the family said Galati considered Tuono a "low life" who was involved in drugs and who had driven a wedge between Tiffany Galati and her family.

    Testimony during the trial, which ended in September with the jury convicting Galati of all four counts he faced, offered a look at "the dual life of Ron Galati," Richardson said. On the one hand he was "the gregarious businessman" and on the other "a diabolical, manipulative person."

    Tuono, Tiffany Galati, the two hitmen hired to killed Tuono and a third conspirator all testified for the government during the trial. The hitmen and their co-conspirator have all pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

    Tiffany Galati has since broken up with Tuono and according to some sources has reconnected with her jailed father and other family members. Speculation that she might show up and be called as a defense witness at the sentencing hearing proved unfounded.

    Tuono said the shooting and its aftermath have ruined his life.

    "I went from hitting the lottery to being half-dead," he told the judge. The shooting not only left him disabled but destroyed his relationship with Tiffany Galati whom he described as "the love of my life."

    "Part of me and Tiff died when I got shot," he said.

    While Tiffany Galati was present during the shooting, she was not hit by any of the gunfire. One of the hitman told authorities that he was instructed to make sure that she was not in the line of fire. During the trial Anthony Voci, Galati's lawyer, implied that Tiffany Galati, not her father, might have set the attempted murder in motion.

    Voci said again today that there was no physical evidence tying Galati to the crime. His client, he added, continues to insist that he is innocent.

    The jury didn't see it that way. 

    Galati, who will be in his 80s before he can be released from federal prison, intends to appeal his conviction. He is also facing another trial in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia on separate murder-for-hire charges involving the same hitmen and dozens of charges tied to a multi-million dollar insurance fraud scam.

    Identified by authorities as a friend of several South Philadelphia mobsters, including crime leaders Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, George Borgesi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, Galati has been described in some circles as a "stand up guy" for not cutting a deal with the government and offering information about the mob. He was said to be fascinated with organized crime and frequently quoted lines from classic mob movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas.

    Andrew Tuono clearly doesn't see it that way. As he left the fifth floor courtroom after today's hearing, Tuono told two reporters that he had one request.

    "Do me a favor," he said. "Don't call Galati a stand up guy. What kind of stand up guy tries to blame his own daughter for a (an attempted) murder.

    Tuono then walked away toward the elevators, but quickly returned, adding, "He's as fake as his wig."

    George Anastasia can be reached at

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  • 03/02/15--12:19: "Pop" To The Rescue
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    A tearful mom and a cagey grandfather took turns today going after "Father Andy."

    The mother of the alleged victim in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case sobbed her way through  testimony about her tortured altar boy son who used to pull his hair out and try to hang himself in a closet.

    She was followed to the witness stand by her father, a cagey retired silver-haired detective who looks like Matlock.

    The alleged victim wouldn't tell his mother what went down between him and Father Andy. But it was "Pop" who took a hysterical call from his daughter, coaxed the whole story out of his nerve-racked grandson, and then announced to the family, "We're going to the police."

    Up on the witness stand, Pop wasn't shedding any tears. He clearly had Father Andy targeted for a jail cell.

    Father Andy is the 59-year-old priest accused of luring a 10-year-old altar boy up to his room in the rectory back in 1997 and allegedly trying to jam his penis in the boy's mouth. A jury deliberated four and a half days last March before announcing they were deadlocked on five sex abuse charges.

    The district attorney had charged Father Andy with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor. The priest had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

    The retrial in Courtroom 1102 got off to a slow start today because a juror was late to court. By 11:33, two hours after the court was scheduled to open, the mother of the alleged victim told her story.

    She's a mail carrier from Bridesburg.

    "I was happy" at first, she said when Father Andy asked her 9-year-old son to become an altar boy.

    Then, "He didn't want to do it anymore," she said.

    "I would force him to go," she said as she started crying for the first time.

    Next, her son wanted out of St. John Cantius school.

    Again, Mom refused.

    "I had no idea," she said before grabbing a tissue.

    She told the jury how, after her brother died, she had confided in Father Andy her concerns about her son.

    "My brother was an effeminate boy," she said. "I worry about" her son, she told the priest, "because he was feminine."

    "He would pull his hair out of his head," she said, sobbing again. Then she found the hang noose in his closet.

    She told her son, "If you like boys it's OK." But he replied, "It's not that," she said.

    Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright decided it was a good time to take a break.

    For the second straight day, the jury of 10 women and two men was asked to clear the room because a witness had broken down on the stand. Last Friday, on the opening day of testimony, it was her son who lost it before he even started testifying.

    After the courtroom was cleared, defense lawyer Trevan Borum complained to the judge about "questions designed to evoke emotion." He also wondered about the prejudicial effect of a jury watching a sobbing witness.

    "There's simply no way to control that," the judge said. She told the defense lawyer that when a witness breaks down she would decide if and when the jury needs to be shipped out.

    "I do that when it's appropriate," she said.

    Borum was having another tough day.

    Earlier, he had filed a motion for a mistrial because he was angry about a Philadelphia Daily News story on Friday. The story said that Father Andy was placed on administrative leave by the Philadelphia archdiocese back in 2011 "in response to allegations of sexual misconduct with minors."

    At the time, Father Andy was pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County. A loyal band of the priest's former parishioners have stuck by Father Andy, appearing in court every day to support him.

    In court on Friday, Borum had angrily told the judge that the priest's administrative leave had absolutely nothing to do with sex abuse.

    The judge did not publicly rule on the mistrial motion, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere. Borum also asked that the judge poll the jury and dismiss anybody who had read the story. Jurors aren't supposed to be paying attention to media reports about the trial.

    The judge also has a gag order up that forbids any of the lawyers in the case from talking to the media, so it's hard to find out any additional details.

    When mom was back on the witness stand, she told the jury about how back in 2011, she called her son and said, "I just saw Father Andy on the news. Did he ever do anything with you?"

    Her son, she said, would only claim that the priest "just talked weird."

    But later that year, her son told her it was worse than that.

    "We were sitting on the couch and he just came right out with it," she said. "Father Andy molested me."

    Her son, she said, still suffers from anxiety and nightmares.

    "He would wake up shaking and crying," she said. But he wouldn't tell her what really happened.

    On cross-examination, Borum asked about details of the suicide attempts. He wanted to know why, when she spoke with detectives, she didn't tell them about the noose and the belt that she found in her son's closet, tools her son allegedly used to repeatedly try and hang himself.

    The witness explained that on the statement she gave to detectives she did talk about her son's attempts to "hurt himself," and desire to "kill himself." But she agreed that she didn't go into all the gory details.

    On redirect, the witness told Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp why she was circumspect when she talked to detectives.

    "I was totally devastated," she said.

    That set the stage for Pop.

    He's a former Air Force veteran who spent 23 years as a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department before he retired and embarked on a second career as a detective with the Montgomery County District Attorney.

    In Montgomery County, he worked with the narcotics unit and the sex crimes unit before he retired a second time.

    All told, Pop had 41 years of experience in law enforcement. When his daughter called him "hysterical and crying" about her son, Pop knew what to do.

    He spent two hours pulling a statement out of his grandson. Then he went over all the details with his grandson and got him to sign it.

    His grandson was "very upset," the witness told the jury. He was shaking, "his eyes were glazed."

    "We're going to the police," Pop announced to his grandson. "I told him this was very serious."

    On cross-examination, Borum basically gave Pop a pass.

    On redirect, Pop told the jury more about his grandson's agony.

    "He was very nervous," Pop told the jury. "He was talking to his grandfather. He had a tear in his eye. I've never seen a kid so nervous."

    Borum wisely sent Pop on his way before he could do any more damage.

    Court was adjourned at 1 p.m. because Judge Bright had to attend to a sentencing in another case. The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    It's a real dog of a case but the district attorney seems intent on retrying it.

    On June 22, 2012, in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Father James J. Brennan, a jury deadlocked 11-1 on whether to convict Father Brennan of attempted rape.

    The same jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

    The historic conviction of the monsignor became the show pony for D.A. Seth Williams, as Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for the sexual sins of the clergy. Meanwhile, the dog in the D.A.'s dog and pony show -- the Father Brennan case -- had to disappear for a few years.

    Yesterday in Courtroom 1102 of Common Pleas Court, Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright set a retrial date for the Father Brennan case of Jan. 4, 2016. None of the lawyers involved in the case are talking publicly in the event that the judge may restore a former gag order. But with all the delays and credibility problems with the D.A.'s star witness, you have to wonder whether the retrial in the Father Brennan case will ever really happen.

    The irony is that of the defendants in the archdiocese sex abuse cases who actually went to trial, Father Brennan is the only one who admitted to misconduct. And he's the only guy who's gotten to enjoy his freedom for the past three years.

    Msgr. Lynn had his conviction overturned on Dec. 26, 2013 by the state Superior Court, which ordered him to be "discharged forthwith." But more than a year later, he remains on house arrest.

    In the second archdiocese sex abuse trial on Jan. 30, 2013, Father Charles Engelhardt and Catholic teacher Bernard Shero, both of whom pleaded innocent to any wrongdoing, were convicted of sex abuse. Engelhardt died in jail last November; Shero remains in prison pending an appeal.

    In the Brennan case, the priest admitted to getting into bed with 14-year-old Mark Bukowski after letting the boy view several porn sites on the priest's laptop. Two female jurors, however, told Fox 29 that they didn't view Bukowski as a credible witness, saying it seemed like he was making up his testimony on the witness stand.

    The jury foreman said that Bukowski's mother further muddied the waters by telling the jury, "I will never really know what happened" the night Father Brennan wound up in bed with her son.

    It's hard to convict somebody when even the alleged victim's mother publicly doubts her son's story.

    "I'm really tired, I'm really grateful, I'm really blessed," Father Brennan told reporters before disappearing from the public stage. The former priest reportedly went back to work in construction.

    The Brennan case has been bungled since Day 1. In the 2011 grand jury report, the district attorney stated 12 times that Father Brennan had anally raped 14-year-old Mark Bukowski, and that the alleged victim peed his pants and cried himself to sleep that night while still under attack.

    "Mark fell asleep that night with Father Brennan's penis still in his buttocks," the grand jury report stated on page 12.

    The D.A. apparently had forgotten the grand jury testimony of the alleged victim, where he stated that he still had his boxer shorts on during the alleged attack. At trial, the rape charge against Father Brennan was reduced to attempted rape with no official explanation while a gag order was up.

    At trial, Bukowksi went one step further, saying both he and the priest wore t-shirts and boxer shorts the night of the alleged attack. Defense attorney William J. Brennan dismissed the attempted rape as a "pelvic bump" or a "savage spooning."

    The grand jury on page 40 also stated that three years after the rape, "Father Brennan exposed himself to Mark at a time when Mark's life was already spiraling out of control."

    But when Brennan was tried, Msgr. Kevin Quirk showed up to testify that during a church inquiry into Bukowski's charges, "The accused has withdrawn that part of the allegation."

    Mark Bukowski, the D.A.'s star witness in the Father Brennan case, has a history of criminal arrests and drug problems. As a Marine he was discharged after he went AWOL. His own mother accused him of stealing from her and her husband. She also told authorities that she was suspicious of Mark's claim to police that he had been the victim of a violent home invasion.

    Bukowski pleaded guilty in 2006 to filing a false report, furnishing authorities with false information, forgery, identity theft, and driving without a license. He was sentenced to up to 18 months in jail. In 2011, Bukowski pleaded guilty to charges of forgery, theft, and identity fraud. He was sentenced to three years in jail.

    In the absence of official comment, there's a rumor making the rounds that the reason for the far-flung future trial date is that the D.A.'s star witness needs some time to recover from injuries incurred during his latest misadventure.

    You have to wonder by the time next January rolls around whether the D.A.'s dog of a case will still be barking.

    Or whether somebody will finally do the decent thing and put the mutt out of its misery.

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  • 03/03/15--17:18: Battle Of The Altar Boys
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    A couple of former altar boys duked it out in court today.

    Testifying for the prosecution in the Father Andy sex abuse case was Adam Visconto, 28.

    He's a special education administrative assistant who says that 15 years ago Father Andy creeped him out by attempting to lure Visconto and another altar boy down to the church basement for a secret rendezvous.

    Visconto claimed that he and another altar boy, Steve Dozier, were so afraid that they ran to the parish school at St. John Cantius for safety. Visconto said that after he and Dozier told Visconto's mother and a teacher what happened, the women advised the two altar boys to run home to Adam's house and lock the door.

    But the defense put their first witness on the stand today -- Steve Dozier. He's a former altar boy who's now a Pennsylvania State Trooper. And Trooper Dozier told the jury today that Visconto's story about running away to hide from Father Andy never happened.

    Father Andy is a good guy who's just a "really friendly priest," the state trooper told the jury.

    When he was an altar boy, Adam Visconto told the jury, he wanted to become a priest. That's why his mother asked Father Andrew McCormick to take Adam "under his wing," the witness testified.

    Visconto never became a priest. He's a married father with three daughters. And today, the prosecution called him as a witness to describe his roller-coaster relationship with Father Andy. The priest is on trial for allegedly attempting to rape another altar boy lured to the priest's bedroom.

    At one time, Visconto told the jury, he was close to the defendant, whom he referred to as "Father Andrew."

    "No pun intended," Visconto said, but he looked up to the priest as a "father figure." Father Andy made Adam one of his favorite altar boys.

    "I became Father Andrew's go-to guy," Visconto told the jury. Visconto lived near the church. So if there was a funeral or wedding to serve at, Adam was "always on call," the former altar boy told the jury. "I was dependable," the witness said.

    After school, Father Andy would take Adam and other altar boys to Burger King, an amusement park, or to St. Jude's Shop, where they sold religious relics. But the priest upset Visconto's mother by frequently borrowing her son without asking permission.

    Adam Visconto's mother testified on Monday that she believed Father Andy was taking her son out of class way too often to serve as an altar boy. She really got angry when Father Andy, who's part Polish, and worked in a largely Polish parish, when the priest offered to take her altar boy son on a trip to Poland. Without talking to Mom first.

    That's when Visconto's mother told Father Andy to stay away from her son.

    On top of mom's disapproval Visconto told the jury that he became uncomfortable when he would sit on a couch at the rectory after school and the priest would put his arm around the boy.

    "There were definitely proximity issues," Visconto told the jury. So Visconto decided to "sever the relationship."

    After Visconto's mother told Father Andy to stay away from her son, and Visconto distanced himself from the priest, Father Andy refused to take the hint, Visconto testified.

    In 2001, the week before Easter, the former pastor at St. John Cantius died and Visconto served at the funeral.

    Father Andy had left the church by then but came back for the funeral, Visconto told the jury. After the Mass, Father Andy took Visconto and Dozier aside and asked the two altar boys to meet him in the church basement because he wanted to talk to them.

    Instead of obeying the priest, Visconto told the jury, he and Dozier went to the parish school. There, Visconto's mother and a teacher advised the two altar boys to take off, Visconto testified.

    "We went to my house and we locked the door," Visconto told the jury.

    Adam Visconto and his mother no longer wanted anything to do with Father Andy. But still the priest persisted, Visconto said. Father Andy sent the boy a card where he apologized "If I hurt you in any way."

    In the priest's note, which was read aloud to the jury, the priest told Visconto, "Good luck being Jesus in the living stations."

    Visconto explained to the jury that when he was an altar boy he always wanted to play Jesus during Lent when the parish reenacted the stations of the cross.

    The priest subsequently drove to the Visconto's home and left a present wedged in the door, a statue of the Virgin Mary. Visconto's mother testified that even though it was the Blessed Mother, she gave the statute away.

    The prosecution wasn't through presenting its case but defense lawyer Trevan Borum asked for a favor. He wanted to put Trooper Dozier on the stand because the witness wouldn't be available tomorrow when he had to work a double shift.

    So the prosecution agreed and the defense went out of order to present its first witness in the case.

    Trooper Dozier is a 27-year-old who attended the same parish school and served as an altar boy alongside Visconto and the alleged victim in the Father Andy case, a gay 27-year-old business manager for a New York cosmetics firm.

    Borum asked Dozier if he recalled Father Andy asking him and Visconto to meet the priest in the church basement.

    Dozier said he didn't recall such an incident.

    Borum asked Dozier about the rest of Visconto's story; that the two altar boys had to flee the church and run over to the parish school, to seek advice from Visconto's mother and a teacher.

    Do you remember a "pale and scared" Visconto being told by the two women to "run home and lock the door, Borum asked.

    No, Dozier said.

    Think you'd remember something like that, Borum asked.

    "Yes, I think so," the trooper said.

    On cross-examination, the trooper told Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp that Father Andy was a "very friendly priest," and a guy he looked up to.

    You're close to Father Andy, Kemp said, and so is your mom, right?

    Yes, Dozier said.

    Is it possible, Kemp said, that you and Visconto had very different perceptions of Father Andy? And so you'd have different views of the priest's invitation to meet him in the church basement? After all, we're talking about something that happened 14 years ago, the assistant district attorney said.

    I could have forgotten, Dozier conceded. He did recall "going down to the basement" a couple of times, but he couldn't remember anything else.

    Kemp told Trooper Dozier that when she first heard that he was going to be a witness in the case, she was picking the jury. She only got to talk to Dozier for the first time a couple of days ago, isn't that true?

    Yes, Dozier said. Then the trooper raised a couple of eyebrows of a few law enforcement types in the courtroom when he divulged that before he would talk to Kemp he wanted to ask the defense lawyer's investigator if it was OK.

    You would think an assistant district attorney and a state trooper would be on the same team. But not apparently when it comes to Father Andy.

    On redirect, Borum asked the trooper if he could remember what the investigator's advice was. To meet with Kemp and tell the truth, right?

    Yep, that's right, the witness agreed.

    Another witness for the prosecution today was Father Joseph J. Zingaro, who succeeded Father Andy as pastor of St. John Cantius in the Bridesburg section of the city.

    Zingaro told the jury about how Adam Visconto's mother came to him to complain about the priest's unwanted attention toward her son. Zingaro said he passed along the mother's complaint to the vicar who oversees parishes in North Philadelphia.

    Zingaro also talked to Visconto.

    "He was uncomfortable being with Father Andy," Father Zingaro recalled. "Adam didn't want to associate with Father at the time. He didn't want to be in his presence. He avoided him. He was afraid to be with him."

    What about having Visconto and other altar boys up in his room at the rectory, Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked the witness.

    "There is no written policy" against that, Father Zingaro said, but it shouldn't happen.

    On cross-examination, Borum asked Father Zingaro if it priests should allow young boys to stay overnight in their rooms.

    "Absolutely not," the priest said.

    Well, Borum said, isn't it true that back in the 1990s, when you went on vacation down to Florida with the O'Briens, a married couple, "You shared a room with four altar boys?"

    The defense had done their homework.

    With a dismissive shrug, Father Zingaro had to admit it was true.

    After taking heavy fire for two days, the defense in the Father Andy case had finally scored a few points.

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  • 03/04/15--16:17: The Deer In The Headlights
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright asked Father Andrew McCormick if he was making his decision not to testify in his own defense of his own free will.

    "I am," the 59-year-old priest said.

    It was the only time "Father Andy" has spoken in the courtroom since he pleaded not guilty to five sex abuse charges.

    The jury did not hear Father Andy's brief answers; they were in the back room on a break. And when it comes time to decide the priest's fate, the jury of 10 women and two men will have to try and reach a verdict without ever hearing a word from the defendant other than his repeated plea of "Not Guilty."

    Defense lawyer Trevan Borum told the judge that the decision for the defendant to not take the witness stand was "based on the Commonwealth's evidence," or presumably lack thereof. There is no physical evidence in the case, only the words of the alleged victim about an incident that supposedly happened behind closed doors of a church rectory 18 years ago.

    But another factor in Borum's decision had to be Father Andy's disastrous performance on the witness stand a year ago during his first trial. William J. Brennan, Father Andy's previous defense lawyer, conceded to that jury in his closing that Father Andy was "a bit of an awkward guy" who turned "beet red" on the witness stand and generally looked like "a deer in the headlights."

    In Father Andy the sequel, the deer in the headlights has been written out of the script.

    The rest of the defense's case, which began with the testimony of a former altar boy on Tuesday, was over in a few hours today.

    The evidence presented today included three more former altar boys and a former female member of the Children of Mary who basically testified that Father Andy didn't molest me.

    Also, a former church maintenance man told the jury that all the priests at St. John Cantius Church, including Father Andy, wore tighty-whities. And not the blue plaid boxer shorts that the alleged victim recalled seeing under Father Andy's black cassock.

    The first defense witness of the day was Derrick Raguza, a 45-year-old fundraiser for a religious shrine who's a former altar boy at St. John's. Raguza testified that he went with Father Andy on a trip to Poland.

    In Poland, Father Andy took the altar boy to see some churches and the former concentration camp at Auschwitz.

    Raguza testified that in Poland he shared a room with Father Andy and the most disturbing thing that happened was, "Father snores."

    When he became a high school student, Raguza testified, he came back to St. John's to ask Father Andy to help tutor him in Latin.

    Robert Gumola was another 45-year-old altar boy who testified that Father Andy took him and five other altar boys on a ski trip to the Poconos.

    Yes, the witness said, he'd been up to Father Andy's room in the rectory but it was only to "help him carry furniture."

    Michalina Goral, 31, told the jury about the Children of Mary, the female counterpart to altar boys back in the 1990s at St. John Cantius, in the days before girls were allowed to become altar servers.

    Besides supervising the altar boys, Father Andy was in charge of the Children of Mary, Goral testified. She brought along a scrapbook of old photos that showed Father Andy with his arm around Goral's sister at her first Holy Communion. And Father Andy taking the altar boys and the Children of Mary girls on a trip to Great Adventure.

    Goral told the jury she went along with Father Andy and the Children of Mary to visit elderly parishioners at nursing homes. Under Father Andy's direction, Goral testified, the Children of Mary cleaned the church, had pizza parties, and marched in processionals.

    The photos were from 1997, 1998 and 1999, around the time the alleged victim in the case was an altar boy at St. John Cantius. The alleged victim claims that one night after Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation in 1997 the priest lured the 10-year-old altar boy up to his room in the rectory and then attempted to stick his penis in the boy's mouth.

    Coral worked as a volunteer at the rectory during the late 1990s. She testified that Father Andy was always receiving visitors there including parents and returning altar boys who were high school students.

    "Father Andy was very social and very outgoing," Goral told the jury.

    On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp pointed out that Father Andy looked about 30 pounds heavier in the pictures and that "a lot of that appears to be in his belly."

    Goral agreed with the D.A.'s observations.

    The next witness was Mark Pasternak, 56, a former longtime church maintenance worker at St. John Cantius.

    Pasternak testified that while working at the church he noticed the lady who did the priest's laundry stacking clothes on top of a table in the church basement.

    "I saw piles of clothes with priests' names on it," Pasternak testified.

    And all the priests' underwear was white, Borum asked.

    Yes, Pasternak said.

    See any blue plaid boxer shorts, Borum asked.

    "That's not what I saw," Pasternak told the jury.

    On cross-examination, Pasternak conceded that he was a close friend of Father Andy's.

    But he's more than that. Pasternak knows a thing or two about sending a priest to jail. He was one of 12 jurors who convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

    There's a gag order up so Pasternak didn't want to talk to the media today. But last year, at Father Andy's first trial, he had plenty to say.

    "I saw the monsters," Pasternak told reporters last year about hearing 13 weeks of hearing testimony at the Lynn trial about the worst sexually abusive priests in the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "I saw what they did."

    But Pasternak's take last year that Father Andy wasn't one of them.

    As the church's full-time maintenance man, Pasternak was at St. John Cantius every day for 12 years. His son was an altar boy under Father Andy's care. His daughter, a classmate of the alleged victim in this case, was a member of the Children of Mary. Pasternak saw Father Andy interact with lots of boys, including his son and daughter, and their friends.

    "It's not there," Pasternak told reporters last year about the evidence against Father Andy. There's "no way" the priest is an abuser, he said.

    In court today, Michael O'Brien, 38, an EMT in the Philadelphia Fire Department, told the jury that when he was an altar boy he wanted to be a bishop. Because of his interest in the priesthood, O'Brien said, Father Andy, O'Brien took a special interest in him. O'Brien took two trips to Poland with Father Andy and saw the sights.

    O'Brien, who worked the night before, had gone all day without sleep to testify on Father Andy's behalf.

    Depending on the weather, the trial was scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow with closing statements from the defense lawyer and the prosecutor. The judge will charge the jury, and after that, the case will go to the jury.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Father Andy's defense lawyer put the district attorney on trial today, arguing that in order to put a Catholic priest in jail, the D.A. had decided that the ends justified the means.

    Trevan Borum, Father Andy's lawyer, ripped the D.A.'s office for not doing their homework. Instead of old-fashioned detective work, Borum said, the D.A. relied on a blatant appeal to emotion.

    "Do not decide this case based on sympathy," Borum told the jury. He asked the jury to recall how many times he had objected to questions from the prosecutor "designed to evoke an emotional response" from a witness.

    Borum asked the jury to recall how many times they had to leave the courtroom because a witness started sobbing after being asked an "improper question" by the prosecutor.

    The capper came when Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp did her closing and seemed to be going out of her way to prove Borum's point. Only a guilty verdict, she told the jury of ten women and two men, would take away the alleged victim's pain. Only a guilty verdict, she said, would assuage the guilt of the victim's mother and father, who wouldn't let the victim quit being an altar boy because they didn't know what Father Andy had done. And what about the alleged victim's cousin, Kemp asked. How do you think she feels? When the cousin was 11 years old, Kemp said, the altar boy told her about the abuse. Eighteen years later, Kemp said, the cousin still feels guilty about not telling anybody.

    Holy guilt trip! In the front row of the jury some women looked stricken; one juror dabbed her eyes. Meanwhile, Juror No. 2 was watching the victim, his head bowed, sitting next to his sobbing mother.

    Borum began his closing argument by posing a question to the jury: "How do you defend a case like this?"

    It's a defense lawyer's nightmare. Start with a accusation about an act of perversion behind closed doors that dates back 18 years. At the time of the alleged crime, the alleged victim was a 10-year-old altar boy. And the defendant was a Roman Catholic priest.

    Father Andy, Borum said, has been a priest for more than 30 years. He's been in contact with "hundreds, if not thousands of altar boys." But only one altar boy has accused him of sex abuse.

    The district attorney, Borum said, took the witnesses in this case at their word. Instead of vetting anybody, they decide to run with it," Borum said, because, "We're gonna convict a priest."

    "It doesn't matter how we do it," Borum said. "The ends justify the means."

    To prove his point, Borum asked the jury to recall the testimony of a couple of prosecution witnesses: Adam Visconto, a former altar boy, and his mother, Kathleen.

    Kathleen Visconto had testified that back when her son was an altar boy, he came running in to see her "as pale as a ghost," Borum recounted.

    Here's the story the Viscontos told: at a funeral Mass, Father Andy tried to talk Adam Visconto and another altar boy, Steve Dozier, into meeting him in the church basement at St. John Cantius in Bridesburg.

    Instead of obeying the priest, Borum said, Kathleen Visconto told the two altar boys to "run home, close the door and turn out the lights."

    The D.A. knew about Steve Dozier two years ago, Borum said. Yet, they never went to interview him to see if Adam Visconto's story checked out. Thank God we did, Borum said.

    Steve Dozier, now a Pennsylvania state trooper, testified to the jury that he didn't recall any such panicked flight from Father Andy.

    Why didn't the district attorney go see Trooper Dozier, Borum asked. He wasn't hard to find.

    "I'll tell you why, the ends justify the means," Borum said.

    Borum told the jury he had problems with the alleged victim's story, which he said sounded like a "slow-motion technicolor movie."

    The Commonwealth ran with that movie, Borum said. But it doesn't square with how a child remembers things, Borum argued.

    The alleged victim, Borum reminded the jury, told a story about how he ate two cream-filled vanilla cookies and drank a Dr. Pepper before he went upstairs in the rectory to see Father Andy's living quarters.

    Then, according to the alleged victim, Father Andy attacked without warning. When the priest closed the door after fumbling with the lock, the alleged victim testified, he fondled the altar boy and tried to jam his penis past the boy's clenched teeth.

    Fourteen years went by before the victim came forward to accuse the priest.

    Do any of you remember what you ate 14 years ago, Borum asked the jury. "I can't remember what I had yesterday."

    The alleged victim's mother, father and grandfather believe his story, Borum said. That's as it should be. But Borum didn't think that that jurors should believe the alleged victim.

    Because he wasn't telling the truth, the defense lawyer said. Why would the victim lie, he asked.

    "Does he want attention?" Borum asked. "I don't know."

    Does he have a grudge against the church? "I don't know," Borum said.

    Borum brought up the alleged victim's testimony from the first trial. He claimed that after Father Andy allegedly abused him in 1997, he never again served as an altar boy with the priest.

    But Borum's investigator found a 2000 yearbook from the parish school. And the yearbook showed the alleged victim in a group photo of altar boys posing with Father Andy three years after the alleged attack.

    "He misled you," Borum told the jury.

    Borum went through the rest of the details from the alleged attack: the 10-year-old altar boy "zoning in" on the priest's cassock, specifically the 32 buttons that the priest supposedly unbuttoned one by one. And how during the attack all the altar boy could do was count those buttons.

    It's just not how a kid remembers things, Borum argued to the jury. To prove his point, Borum recalled the scariest moment from his own childhood.

    He was at a beach and got caught in a riptide. A lifeguard saved him, Borum said.

    "I don't remember what I ate when I got in the water," Borum told the jury. He doesn't remember what color bathing suit he was wearing. The only thing Borum remembers was the water, and that he was scared out of his mind.

    "Memory doesn't work like a movie camera," the defense lawyer said.

    Borum reminded the jury that the alleged victim told his grandfather that the priest took off his boxer shorts. But when he told his story to a detective, Borum said, the alleged victim claimed that the priest took off all his clothes except for his boxer shorts.

    "The story changed every time he told it," Borum argued. So don't believe it.

    Borum questioned the testimony from the mother of the alleged victim, about how her son had supposedly attempted to hang himself in a closet every week. Borum reminded the jury that when he asked the alleged victim about it, he claimed he tried to hang himself several times a week.

    But the alleged victim was never taken to a doctor or a hospital, Borum said.

    About the alleged hanging, "There's no evidence of that," Borum said.

    "He tried to mislead you," Borum said. "I don't know why but he did."

    Why is the family telling these stories, Borum asked. Because they believe the victim. And they'd do anything to convict Father Andy. And if it was my kid, Borum said, "I'd do the same thing."

    "It doesn't make it right," the defense lawyer said.

    Borum talked about the opening statement by Assistant District Attorney Kemp.

    "She constructed a house of cards," he said. "You poke it and breathe on it, and it falls apart."

    He showed the jury some photos a character witness for Father Andy had brought to court. She was a former member of the Children of Mary. The pictures were of the priest posing with his arm around the witness's sister at her First Holy Communion. And Father Andy posing with altar boys and girls from the Children of Mary that he took to an amusement park.

    "This is Father McCormick," Borum told the jury. Father Andy built a good reputation as a priest for more than 30 years, Borum said. "And it can be taken from you in an instant."

    He asked the jury to find the priest not guilty.

    When it was Assistant District Attorney Kemp's turn to speak, she compared Borum's argument to a snow globe. The defense lawyer, she said, was trying to stir up all kinds of snowflakes so that the real picture would be obscured.

    He's trying to deceive you, she said about Borum. He wants to stir up so much stuff that "you don't remember" the pain of the alleged victim.

    Kemp took Borum to task for accusing her of baiting witnesses to cry with "improper questions" designed to evoke emotion.

    Remember the question she posed to the alleged victim, she asked the jury. The question that prompted the alleged victim to start crying?

    It was right at the beginning of his testimony, Kemp reminded the jurors.

    She was showing the alleged victims photos from inside the rectory. Then she asked, "Can you describe the kitchen?"

    That's when the alleged victim started crying and the judge had to ask the jury to clear the room.

    Just the sight of that kitchen, she told the jury, "broke him in a manner of seconds."

    She was back to the snow globe. Borum, she said, was trying to "shake it up" so much that "you won't pay attention," to what happened to the alleged victim. You won't "see what happened" to him.

    If you're paying attention to the snow job from the defense lawyer, Kemp told the jury, you won't remember why Father Andy targeted a 10-year-old altar boy.

    "Because he wouldn't tell," she said. Because he was gay.

    The prosecutor ripped Borum for criticizing the alleged victim because he remembered too many details from the attack.

    Why does the alleged victim remember all those precise details, Kemp asked the jury. Because for him, the movie's still playing.

    "He replayed it over and over again in his mind," she said. "This is normal, how some people react to trauma."

    Father Andy, she said, used to have a "big body" when he was 30 pounds heavier.

    What was the victim staring at during the attack, she reminded the jury. "That belly covered by those buttons."

    Instead of getting caught up in a snow job, she said, just remember the testimony of the alleged victim.

    "Did that feel real to you," she asked. That's because "What he described to you was real."

    Did it feel real to you when his mother was telling you her story, she asked. His father?

    Their stories felt real because "they lost him," she said of their son.

    After the attack, the alleged victim would no longer hug his father. His mother found a hangman's noose in her son's closet.

    Kemp attacked Borum for trying to cast doubt on the alleged victim's suicide attempts, because he didn't end up in the hospital or dead.

    Just because he wasn't successful, she said, "That doesn't count for something?"

    She talked about how the alleged victim "blamed himself for years" after the attack because he was gay.

    "He picked the perfect victim," she said about Father Andy.

    She talked about the guilt the alleged victim's parents felt because their son wanted to quit being an altar boy, and he wanted to leave the church.

    "His parents forced him to stay," she told the jury. She asked the jurors to consider how the parents felt after they found out what Father Andy had done to their son.

    She asked jurors to consider how the alleged victim felt when Father Andy told him homosexuality was a sin, and that masturbation was a sin. As if it was the altar boy's fault for what happened behind closed doors with Father Andy.

    The question you should be asking yourselves, she told jurors, is when the alleged victim testified, did it feel real to you? And if it felt real to you beyond a reasonable doubt you should vote to convict Father Andy.

    She brought up more details from the attack.

    "That belly pushing him down on the bed," she said. Remember how the alleged victim turned to drugs and alcohol and trying to hurt himself. Remember how right in front of you, when he was talking about the attack, how, "He just shut down. He just went back to being that 10-year-old kid. Pulling out his hair. Hiding in his bedroom."

    At this point, Kemp walked over to the witness stand and sat in it.

    "He couldn't even talk," she said of the alleged victim. "He couldn't look at him," she said, pointing toward Father Andy at the defense table.

    Think about his father's testimony, she said; think about his mother's testimony.

    "You saw it from the witness stand and I ask you, did it feel real?"

    In the second row of the courtroom, the alleged victim's mother dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

    It was D.A. Kemp's turn to talk about an incident from her past.

    She was being trained by a senior prosecutor, she told the jury. The prosecutor told a group of young assistant district attorneys to remember their first sexual experience because in 30 minutes, they were going to have to stand up in front of the entire group and tell that story.

    She was overcome with panic, she said. She wasn't going to do it. And then, a half hour later, the senior prosecutor told them she wasn't going to make them do it. She just wanted them to get a feel for what a sex abuse victim goes through.

    The alleged victim in this case, she said, has had to tell you about "the most vile experience of his life." He's not alone, she said of the alleged victim. "His family is in this with him."

    Why would he put himself through this, she asked, why would he put his family through this "if it didn't happen?"

    He didn't file a civil lawsuit against the church, Kemp said. He's not after money. "He wants nothing from this man."

    Why's he dong this? He told you why.

    "He doesn't want this to happen again," she said. "He's done being silent. He wants nothing from this process except a chance for justice."

    She went through the first three charges against the priest: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, corruption of a minor. She talked about "what feels real to you" again as one juror wiped her eyes.

    "Tell [the alleged victim] the pain is over," she implored the jury. Tell his parents, "They don't have to feel guilty any more." Tell his cousin "she did the best she could do at 11."

    "Find him guilty."

    After a break, the judge took an hour to charge the jury, going through each of five charges against the priest. Then she gave the case to the jury to begin deliberations.

    Within moments the jurors were back with their first question. They wanted to see a defense exhibit, a black cassock with 33 buttons on it.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    In the hallway outside Courtroom 1102 at the Criminal Justice Center, a couple of nuns in full habit and some devout Catholics were praying the rosary with "Father Andy."

    While a jury deliberates the priest's fate, Father Andrew McCormick and his loyal supporters maintained a prayer vigil, sending up plenty of Hail Marys.

    Early today, it looked like Father Andy would need a miracle to stay out jail.

    The jury came back with a question for the judge that sent a panic through Father Andy's supporters. The jury asked Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright if the testimony of the alleged victim alone would be sufficient to convict Father Andy of sex abuse charges. The judge responded that if the jury believed the alleged victim's testimony beyond a reasonable doubt it would be sufficient evidence to convict the defendant.

    Defense lawyer Trevan Borum looked shaken as he left the courthouse but hovered at a hotel across the street in case the jury had any other bombshells to drop.

    Rumors swept the 11th floor; on its first full day of deliberations, had the jury already reached a verdict? If so, it was probably curtains for Father Andy.

    A defense lawyer who heard about the contents of the note said he understood the panic, but cautioned that it was nearly impossible to read jurors' minds.

    "I've been on that roller coaster," he said.

    The jury kept deliberating behind closed doors as a delivery boy wheeled in lunch. The priest and his supporters kept praying.

    Shortly before 4 p.m. the jury passed another note to the judge. But instead of saying they had reached a verdict, the jurors merely wanted to go home. The judge announced that the jury had reached a "breakpoint" in deliberations and had asked to be dismissed early. Normally, court adjourns at 4:30 p.m.

    The judge granted the jury's wish, and asked them to resume deliberations tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

    That sparked another wave of speculation; was the jury already at loggerheads on their way to another deadlock?

    That's what happened on March 12, 2014 during Father Andy's first trial, when a jury deadlocked on the charges against Father Andy after four and a half fruitless days of deliberations.

    Father Andy is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor. The charges all stem from a 1997 incident involving a former 10-year-old altar boy who claims that Father Andy lured him up to his room in the rectory and then tried to jam his penis in the boy's mouth.

    The alleged victim, now 27, is a gay business manager for a New York cosmetics firm. He wasn't in  court today but his parents were, as was his grandfather. "Pop" is a retired Philadelphia detective who coaxed a statement out of his grandson and then told his family, "We're going to the police."

    The jury previously has asked to see a defense exhibit, a black priest's cassock.

    The alleged victim testified that while Father Andy was unbuttoning all the buttons on his cassock, the priest was attempting to fondle the boy and force him to have oral sex. During the attack, the alleged victim testified that he "zoned in" on the buttons, and counted as the priest unbuttoned all 32 buttons.

    A cassock, however, has 33 buttons to commemorate the life of Jesus. It's been the source of some debate on this blog, how to remove a cassock, especially when you're in a hurry. Men who have worn cassocks say that you only need to unbutton the top buttons to pull off a cassock, and that nobody would bother to unbutton all 33 buttons.

    Maybe that's what the jury's really been up to behind closed doors, trying on cassocks to figure out how to unbutton one.

    The jury also asked the judge to read the law behind the deviate sexual intercourse charge, which involves oral or anal sex.

    While the jury spent the afternoon deliberating, Father Andy's supporters kept praying. One of the nuns who participated in the prayer vigil explained that they weren't praying for a specific outcome. They're prepared if the verdict goes either way, she said.

    If you're really going to follow Jesus, the nun said, it's all about abandoning yourself to the will of God. Even if that means winding up in a jail cell.

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  • 03/09/15--18:39: An FBI Sting That Went Awry
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    On April 10, 2012, a squad of Philadelphia narcotics officers pulled over a suspected drug dealer.

    Unbeknownst to the cops, the drug dealer was an undercover FBI agent  driving around with $8,600 in cash. The feds were hoping that the Philly narcs would search his car and steal the money but it never happened.

    "The sting exploded in their face," defense lawyer Jeffrey Miller told U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno, because the narcs turned over every cent.

    Miller represents former Police Officer Thomas Liciardello, the man the feds say was the alleged ringleader of a band of six rogue cops. The rogue cops, the feds say, stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property from drug dealers while allegedly beating and kidnapping them, and falsifying police records to cover it up.

    At a pre-trial conference, Miller told the judge that he and five other defense lawyers in the case scheduled to begin later this month want the feds to play that undercover video for the jury, so they can see how the sting went south.

    "We want the evidence in," Miller told the judge.

     Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek responded that the government planned to play the undercover video as evidence because it showed the narcs operated outside the law.

    "This did not blow up in the face of the government," the prosecutor told the judge. Instead, Wzorek asserted that the video shows the cops drove the suspected drug dealer to an isolated spot. And then they searched the car even though the driver didn't consent to it, and even though the cops didn't have a search warrant.

    "I think the government is playing a chess game," Miller responded, to cover for the sting that blew up in their faces. The narcotics officers didn't need the suspected drug dealer's permission to search his car, Miller said. They already had probable cause in the form of a tip from an informant. The narcs also didn't need a search warrant.

    Since both sides professed that they wanted the undercover video admitted as evidence, Judge Robreno had an easy decision to make. He ruled that the undercover video would be admitted as evidence.

    The next item on the list of pre-trial issues was defense lawyer Miller's complaint that his client is not being allowed to prepare for trial.

    Liciardello has been held without bail for six months in the SHU, or Special Housing Unit, AKA "the hole." Meanwhile, the other five defendants have been out on bail and are busy preparing for their trial that's scheduled to begin with jury selection on March 16.

    Miller told the judge that his client has been unable until recently to review some 70,000 pages of documents turned over by the government during discovery.

    But last week, Miller said, the government turned over "an avalanche of discovery" that amounted to some 20,000 additional pages of documents. And Liciardello hasn't seen a page of it.

    The problem, Miller said, is that Liciardello is being held on a floor in the SHU that houses some 75 prisoners and has only two computers. The only solution, Miller told the judge, is to give Liciardello a personal laptop and computer so he can review the documents in his cell, where he spends at least 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, for his own protection.

    Wzorek, however, told the judge that the government would oppose Miller's motion because the Bureau of Prisons has a policy that prohibits prisoners from having their own personal computers.

    The judge asked if Miller could simply print out all the documents and give them to his client.

    Miller, however, said that he wasn't allowed to bring in large amounts of documents into the prison. He said that with 90,000 pages of documents in the case, his client needs them stored on a computer so he can "pick and choose" what to print out, namely the documents that matter most.

    "What's the rationale" for the policy against personal computers, the judge asked the prosecutor.

    "I don't understand it," the prosecutor admitted.

    The judge decided he would ask a federal magistrate overseeing the case to meet with Miller and the BOP to see if the issue could be resolved.

    "But we're running out of time, Your Honor," Miller protested.

    Judge Robreno didn't seem too concerned. "Let's move on," he told the defense lawyer.

    Michael J. Diamondstein, the defense lawyer who represents former Officer Jonathan Speiser, objected to a government proposal to call as rebuttal witnesses defense lawyers who represented the drug dealers who are the alleged victims in the case.

    Some of his brethren in the defense bar, Diamondstein told the judge, "make a career out of suing police officers." If we're going to bring in lawyers to back up witness testimony, Diamonstein told the judge, "It opens up a Pandora's box."

    If there are witness statements that the drug dealers made to their lawyers, those statements "should be turned over to us now," argued defense lawyer Jack McMahon, who represents former Officer Brian Reynolds.

    "How can we prepare for trial" without seeing the statements the drug dealers made to their lawyers, McMahon told the judge. "It's not fair, it's not right."

    The government, Miller protested to the judge, "in the top of the ninth inning" has hit us with "a bombshell."

    One of the defense lawyers who might be called as a witness, McMahon said, was Brian McMonagle, who has represented one of the accused police officers previously. That could pose all kinds of conflicts.

    The judge decided that if the government calls defense lawyers as rebuttal witnesses, he would  handle the issue on a motion by motion basis.

    When McMahon protested, the judge told him, "That's my ruling."

    In another embarrassment to the feds, the judge today dismissed at the request of the prosecutor two of the 26 charges in the indictment of the officers for supposedly beating Warren Layre. The indictment alleged that the rogue cops forced their way into Layre's store, kicked him in the groin, knocked his teeth out and hit him over the head with a steel bar before stealing $30,000.

    But Layre got busted on Feb. 25th along with 31 others as part of a heroin and meth trafficking ring in Montgomery County. That prompted the feds to drop Layre from the case against the narcotics cops. Layre had also filed a civil suit against the cops that's been put on hold pending the resolution of the criminal case.

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    By George Anastasia

    Joe Mastronardo said he tried not to take the gambling case that has landed him and his father in jail personal.

    But he said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bologna took it there during a sentencing hearing earlier this month.

    "He stood up, looked at me and said, 'Don't be like your father,'" said Mastronardo. "I thought that was petty and unprofessional ... If I turn out to be half the man my father is that would mean I'm an exceptional human being."

    "My father is the greatest, smartest, toughest guy in the world ... My dad told Nicky Scarfo to go fuck himself? Who does that? My father's got a big set of balls."

    Sitting in a coffee shop in Jenkintown over a breakfast of coffee and a six egg-white omelet, Mastronardo, 33, talked at length about the case, about his family and about the criminal justice system.

    The son of gentleman gambler Joe Vito Mastronardo, 63, and the only grandchild of the late, legendary Philadelphia top cop and mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Joe Mastronardo said he is prepared for the five-month prison sentence (followed by five months of house arrest) that he received during that hearing in U.S. District Court on March 3. His father, sentenced at an earlier hearing, got 20 months in jail.

    Both are scheduled to report to prison next month. In all 15 defendants pleaded out in the case federal authorities built around the high end, multi-million dollar gambling operation that Joe Vito Mastronardo operated. (Joanna Mastronardo, who is Joe's mother, Joe Vito's wife and Rizzo's daughter, was originally charged with a money-laundering infraction, but that charge was dropped as part of the plea negotiations that resolved the case.)

    Joe Mastronardo said he ran errands for his father, that he made collections and some times delivered cash to gamblers. He was not deeply involved in "the business," but like his father he doesn't shy away from the allegations.

    "I don't think what my dad does is a crime," he said. "He doesn't hurt anyone and he never took a cent from anyone who didn't have it."

    The numbers, of course, are staggering. But they are just numbers.

    More than $1.3 million in cash seized at the Mastronardo home in the Meadowbrook section of Huntingdon Valley, including $1.1 million stashed in PVC pipes buried in the back yard. Another $1.7 million in bank accounts frozen by the feds, part of a seizure action that totals more than $6.3 million. And a money trail of wire transfers in excess of $3.2 million to financial institutions in Sweden, Malta, Antiqua and Portugal.

    Wiretap and gambling records showed players betting $20,000 to $50,000 on a single game and one gambler "settling up" his debt by delivering a $250,000 payment to the Mastronardo operation.

    But after years of investigations -- Joe Vito and his gambling partner brother John were targeted, arrested and jailed several times -- there has never been any indication that anyone who gambled with the Mastronardos was hurt, threatened,intimidated.

    If you lost and refused to pay, your punishment was you couldn't bet any more with Joe Vito.

    (See a profile of the Gentleman Gambler, Bigtrial, October 31, 2013.)

    "What purpose, other than getting a pound of flesh, does the punishment in this case serve?" asked Christopher Warren, who represented young Joe Mastronardo.

    "They called this a racketeering case," added Warren, whose clients have included mobsters and drug dealers indicted in what he said were "real" racketeering cases. "This was a gabling case, nothing more. If the last big mob case against (mob boss) Joe Ligambi was racketeering lite, then this case wasn't even on the same shelf as the lite beer."

    Like his client, Warren believes the feds made it "personal" because of Joe Vito's long history of thumbing his nose at authorities, of taking a pinch for gambling, forfeiting large sums of cash, spending short terms in jail and then going right back in business. At the same time, he managed to bob and weave away from wiseguys like psychopath mob boss Nicky Scarfo who tried to get a piece of his action.

    For Mastronardo, gambling was a way of life. It's what he did. It's what he was good at.  And despite failing health - throat cancer, a stroke, bouts with pneumonia and a feeding tube inserted in his stomach -- Joe Vito stayed at it.

    "My dad was sick and he asked me to do some things for him, so I did it," Joe Mastronardo says of his "involvement" in the gambling operation. He makes no apology. His father needed his help and he gave it to him.

    But, he adds with a wry smile, it wasn't always easy working for his dad.

    "He's the smartest guy I've ever seen," he said. "Even with all his health problems. But he could be difficult, especially with me. He could be absolutely brutal, drive you out of your mind...The way he thinks, the way he explains things, it can be exhausting. It was hard...But the thing was, he was almost always right. I say almost because there had to be one or two times when he wasn't, I just can't think of them."

    Joe Mastronardo has a degree from St. Joseph's University and a masters in business administration from Drexel. But now he also has a conviction for racketeering, gambling and money-laundering that will cloud any future job resume.

    He says he's not worried.

    "Realistically, I shouldn't do a day in jail," he said. "This was a non-violent gambling case and I was a first-time offender. I ran errands for my dad...The government's had a vendetta against my family for a long time. That's what this is about.

    "It's spite. I don't think there's anything wrong with what my father does."

    He is, nonetheless, prepared for the jail time. He says he has dealt with more serious problems and that gives him perspective.

    "Rushing my dad to the hospital at 4 a.m. with his lungs filling up with fluid," he said. "Sitting in the hallway waiting and not knowing if he was going to make it, that's tough. Look at what he's been through. Most people with the cancer he's had don't make it. All his other problems...That shit's scary. This is no big deal."

    He takes a sip of coffee and says, once again, of his father, "He's one of the smartest, toughest guys I've ever seen."

    Later, he will concede that his grandfather might also fit in that category. Frank L. Rizzo died when Joe Mastronardo was nine. But he says he has vivid memories of his "Pee-Pop."

    He remembers hearing a story about his grandfather as a beat cop summoned to break up a rowdy party. During a confrontation, one drunk told Officer Rizzo, "If you didn't have your badge and gun you wouldn't be so tough."

    "My grandfather went out of his patrol car, took off his badge and gun and went back inside and said to the guy, `I don't have my badge and gun now.'"

    Rizzo pummeled the big mouth. Then put his badge back on and drove away.

    "My dad and my grandfather," Joe Mastronardo said. "Two of the most unique individuals you could know. They used to have breakfast every day. My father would drive him to work sometimes. My grandfather used to call my father `genius.'"

    So when a federal prosecutor tells Joe Mastronardo, `Don't be like your father,' it's very personal.

    "He doesn't have any idea who my father is, where he came from or what he's about," Joe Mastronardo said. "I couldn't say anything in court that day, but what I was thinking was that my father is a thousand times better than you and I can only hope to be half the man he is."

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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  • 03/10/15--14:06: Father Andy Jury At Impasse
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    Shortly before 3 p.m. today the jury in the Father Andy sex abuse trial sent a note to the judge saying they were at an impasse and could not reconcile their differences.

    When the jury assembled in front of Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright, she asked if there was any confusion in their minds about the law that she could address.

    "I do not believe so," the jury foreman said.

    The judge asked if the jury were to continue deliberating was there any chance that they could reach a unanimous verdict?

    "I would not believe so," the foreman said.

    The judge instructed the jury to try again.

    She told them they had only been deliberating for a total of 14 hours over three days. But she cautioned the jurors not to do anything that would "do violence to their individual judgement" or force them to surrender their "honest convictions."

    So the jury filed out of the courtroom. Within the hour, the jury sent another note to the judge that said they had reached "the end of our discussion for today," the judge said.

    It was 4 o'clock; court usually runs until 4:30 but the judge relented and sent the jury home early for the day.

    If the jury deadlocks it would be the second time. Last March, the jury in Father Andy's first trial deadlocked after four and a half days. He's accused of sexually abusing a former 10-year-old altar boy back in 1997.

    Tomorrow, the jury is scheduled to resume deliberations starting at 9:30 a.m.

    Father Andrew McCormick spent the afternoon praying with his supporters, and sitting quietly in the hallway outside Courtroom 1102 at the Criminal Justice Center.

    The alleged victim wasn't there for a second straight day but his mother was. So was his father and grandfather.

    Since there's a gag order in the case nobody can say anything.

    The vigil on both sides resumes tomorrow.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Before he went to trial for a second time, Father Andrew McCormick had a big decision to make.

    The district attorney, according to sources, was offering a pretty sweet deal: if Father Andy would plead guilty to the charges, he would have been put on probation for five years but not have to serve any jail time. He would, however, have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

    Father Andy was facing long odds. He was a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old altar boy 18 years ago. If convicted on five sex charges, the 59-year-old priest was looking at a jail term of 25 to 50 years, meaning he was going to die in jail.

    Father Andy, according to sources, turned down the deal, saying he was innocent and that his fate was in God's hands. So the priest took a big gamble and elected to go to trial a second time. No wonder Father Andy and his supporters, which included a couple of nuns in full habits, were often seen in the hallway outside Courtroom 1102 in a prayer circle saying the rosary.

    Today, the second trial of Father Andy wound up just like the first one, with a hung jury. Just as she did on March 12, 2014, Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright declared a mistrial after a jury announced it was hopelessly deadlocked. Last year, the jury deadlocked after 4 1/2 days of deliberations. This time, one day short of a full year later, the jury deadlocked after three full days of deliberations.

    The judge also announced that she was keeping in place a gag order for another 30 days, to give the district attorney time to decide whether to retry Father Andy a third time.

    On Tuesday, the jury sent the judge a note saying they were at an impasse. That prompted the D.A. to sweeten the offer. If Father Andy was willing to plead guilty today to a charge of corrupting the morals of a minor, according to sources, he was looking at no jail time, four years of probation, and he wouldn't even have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

    But, according to sources, the priest turned down the deal, saying I can't plead guilty because that would be a lie; I'm innocent.

    This afternoon after lunch, the jury that had been impasse asked the judge for a read back on the testimony of the alleged victim. Specifically, the jury wanted to know whether the alleged victim's "clothes came off during the incident," the judge said.

    The judge had the court reporter read back the testimony of the alleged victim, on direct as well as cross-examination.

    Once again, the jury heard the details of the alleged crime. How, 18 years ago, in 1997, the priest allegedly lured the 10-year-old altar boy up to his room in the rectory. Then, after he locked the door, the priest allegedly attacked.

    Father Andy began to touch the altar boy's genitals and buttocks while he "helped me undress and he undressed too," the alleged victim testified.

    "His stomach was right up against my face," the alleged victim testified. He watched as the priest slowly unbuttoned 32 buttons on his black cassock. Then, according to the alleged victim, the priest exposed himself and twice tried to jam his penis past the altar boy's clenched teeth.

    In the read back, the alleged victim had to admit on cross-examination that in 2011 when he gave his first statement about the alleged crime, he must have told his grandfather, a retired detective, that the priest "took off my boxer shorts."

    But when he gave a subsequent statement to a detective from the district attorney's office later that year, the alleged victim claimed that the priest took off all the altar boy's clothes but left the boy's boxer shorts on.

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Trevan Borum reminded the alleged victim that before the priest attacked, the altar boy remembered eating two cookies, right?

    "Correct," the alleged victim testified.

    And you remembered that what type of cookies they were, Borum said, namely, two vanilla-flavored, cream-filled cookies, right?

    "Correct," the alleged victim testified.

    And you remembered drinking a Dr. Pepper, right?

    "Correct," the alleged victim testified.

    Well if you could remember those kind of details, Borum said, shouldn't you remember whether the priest took off your boxer shorts or not?

    "I was nervous," the alleged victim testified. He said he didn't remember telling his grandfather that the priest took off his boxers shorts, but if it was down on the report he must have said it.

    "It was my grandfather," the alleged victim testified on cross-examination. "I was a little boy."

    At the defense table, Father Andy stared straight ahead. In the second row of the courtroom, the alleged victim, a 27-year-old gay man, was sitting next to his grandfather, watching the replay.

    For a jury already at an impasse was this reasonable doubt? The alleged victim first saying the priest took off my boxer shorts, and then saying the priest left them on?

    By 4 p.m., after hearing the read back on the testimony, the jury was back in front of the judge saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.

    The judge asked if jurors were confused about any points of law that she could explain to them.

    "No, the foreman said.

    The judge asked if there was any chance that further deliberations would result in a unanimous verdict.

    "No, the foreman said.

    The judge declared a mistrial. She asked the jury foreman to stand and give the result of the jury's deliberations on each of the five charges.

    The district attorney had charged Father Andy with: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor.

    On each count, the jury foreman said, "No verdict."

    The judge asked the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp, if the D.A.'s office had decided whether to retry the case.

    A year ago when the judge asked that same question, Assistant District Attorney Kemp's immediate response was, "Yes, Your Honor."

    This time around, Assistant District Attorney Kemp said her office would need 30 days to make that decision.

    Father Andy left the courtroom looking relieved but not being able to talk to reporters. He remains on administrative leave with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which means he cannot administer the sacraments publicly or present himself as a priest in good standing.

    In the hallway outside the courtroom, the mother of the alleged victim hugged a relative. Members of the family were overheard talking about in this case whether the truth would ever finally come out. But because of the gag order, they couldn't say anything either.

    Ralph Cipriano can be reached at

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    On Monday, the prosecutor in the rogue cops case asked the judge to drop a couple of charges from their big indictment after one of the government's alleged victims of police misconduct got busted for drug dealing.

    This morning, the U.S. Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss another couple of charges from the indictment, along with some episodes of alleged police misconduct, presumably because another alleged victim had gone south.

    A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office had no comment on what's gone wrong in the case where they're scheduled to pick a jury starting Tuesday. A defense lawyer, however, had a few things to say.

    "It's not unusual when the government takes a shotgun approach to a case pre-trial and a lot of the charges are reaches for some of their evidence to implode," said Jeffrey M. Miller, the defense lawyer representing former Police Officer Thomas Liciardello.

    Liciardello is currently held without bail in the Special Housing Unit, AKA the SHU and "the hole."

    Liciardello, the feds claim, is the alleged ringleader of a band of six rogue cops that allegedly stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property from drug dealers. While they were on their robbery spree, the feds charge, the rogue cops beat and kidnapped the hapless drug dealers in addition to falsifying police records to cover up their alleged misconduct.

    There's a lot riding on this case.

    When the feds issued their 26-count federal indictment issued last July, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called it "one of the worse cases of corruption I have ever heard." The city's top cop was so enraged by the allegations that he announced at a press conference he was planning to destroy the officers' badges.

    There's a ton of paperwork in the case: some 90,000 pages of government documents. But while the feds were dropping that paper blizzard a couple of government witnesses have disappeared.

    In a motion filed today, the U.S. Attorney's office asked U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno to drop two counts and some alleged episodes of police misconduct from the indictment.

    A hearing on the government's motion is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in front of Judge Robreno.

    In Episode 13 of the indictment, on March 7, 2010, Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser, Michael Spicer and Jeffrey Walker allegedly entered the residence of a person identified as C.C. on Porter Street in South Philadelphia by "kicking in the front door."

    C.C. has been identified as Chris Ciragliano.

    The indictment states that the officers allegedly seized $3,200 from C.C.'s house. Then on April 18, 2010, according the indictment, Officer Liciardello, attempting "to conceal the theft from authorities," wrote a phony Philadelphia Police Department report that said that only $196 was seized from C.C.

    Count 18, which the feds now want to drop from the indictments, lists a false police report filed on April 18, 2010. Count 21, the other count the feds want to drop from the indictment, lists another false police report allegedly being filed on June 24, 2011.

    In their motion filed today, the feds also moved to withdraw "W.L." as a victim in Count 2 of the indictment, and get rid of some alleged criminal acts of misconduct as alleged in Paragraphs 81 through 84 of the indictment.

    On June 23, 2011, according to the indictment, Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds and Linwood Norman forced their way into a machine shop on Sedgwick Street owned by W.L.

    During a police search, Liciardello "kicked W.L. in the teeth, breaking off a portion of his teeth in the upper half of his mouth." The cops also "Kicked W.L. in the groin and hit him with a steel bar in the back of the head."

    In addition to beating W.L., the indictment stated, the three cops also seized approximately $41,158 in cash from inside W.L.'s shop. The next day, on June 24, 2011, the indictments states, Liciardello, in order to "conceal the theft and physical abuse of W.L." from authorities, authored a police report that  left out the physical abuse of W.L. The phony police report also falsely stated that only $6,650 in cash had been found in the search, according to the indictment. The feds charged Liciardello with failing "to report the additional $34,400 in cash that they had stolen from W.L."

    W.L. has been identified as Wayne Layre. On Feb. 25th, Layre got bused along with 31 others as part of a heroin and meth trafficking ring in Montgomery County. That prompted the feds to drop Layre from the case against the narcotics cops. Layre had also has  filed a civil suit against the cops that's been put on hold pending the resolution of the criminal case.

    On Monday, Judge Robreno granted the government's motion to drop two counts from the indictment after the Layre's arrest.

    While the government continues to whittle away at the charges in the indictment, defense lawyer Miller is having problems all kinds of problems trying to prepare his client to assist in his own defense.

    The government served Miller on Monday with 700 pages of rough notes used to prepare FBI witness interview statements known as "302s," as well as police interviews in the case.

    On Wednesday, Miller said, he dropped off copies of the 700 pages at the SHU for Liciardello to read. On Thursday, prison officials had still not given the documents to Miller's client.

    In 25 years of working as a defense lawyer, Miller says, Liciardello is the first client's he's ever had who's being held at the SHU. The other five defendants in the case have all been released on bail.

    Under prison regulations, Miller said, Liciardello was only allowed to make one phone call a week to his lawyer, to help prepare for trial. Before Liciardello could make the call, however, Miller said, it had to be approved in advance by prison officials.

    After Miller complained to the judge, prison officials relented.

    Now, Miller said, Liciardello gets to make two calls a week to his lawyer. But they still have to be approved in advance.

    "It's just not fair," the defense lawyer said.

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    Best guy pals Billy [left] and Leo
    By Ralph Cipriano

    When he last tracked Leo Omar Hernandez, Billy Doe's "best guy friend" had been ordered by a Common Pleas Court judge to testify at a deposition in the former altar boy's civil suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Judge Jacqueline F. Allen issued that order on Feb. 9th. The next day, Hernandez's lawyer filed a motion  seeking to quash the subpoena and grant an order of protection for Hernandez. That prompted Judge Allen on March 9th to vacate her previous order and schedule a hearing on Hernandez's new motion.

    In his motion seeking a protective order, Francis Malofiy, the lawyer for Leo Omar Hernandez, alleged that his client was the victim of a conspiracy. Malofiy charged that Michael J. McGovern, attorney for the late Father Charles Engelhardt, was "viciously and publicly . . . defaming" Leo Hernandez on this blog, as well as "conspiring to obtain Hernandez's confidential medical, psychiatric and personnel records."

    If Hernandez was ordered to give a deposition, it would "cause him further annoyance, harassment, embarrassment and humiliation," Malofiy argued. Furthermore, Malofiy charged that McGovern's conduct was "tantamount to blatant witness intimidation."

    In a response filed March 12 by Thomas R. Hurd, McGovern's law partner, dismissed Malofiy's claims as a "litany of vitriol" spewing charges that were "wholly unwarranted and unfounded."

    Meanwhile, Nicholas M. Centrella, the attorney for the archdiocese, has weighed in. Because Hernandez was the only witness that Billy Doe told his story to, Centrella argued in a response filed March 12, Hernandez possesses "truly unique information." Therefore, the archdiocese should have the right to depose Hernandez in a civil deposition to "explore his credibility," Centrella wrote.

    Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for the former altar boy who claimed that he was raped by two priests and a Catholic school teacher when he was 10 and 11 years old. Doe was the district attorney's star witness in two sex abuse trials; his allegations put three priests and a former school teacher in jail.

    On the eve of the first trial, former priest Edward V. Avery, pleaded guilty on March 22, 2012 to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and conspiring with Msgr. William J. Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child.

    [Avery, 69, facing a sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years, instead got 2 1/2 to 5 years. At the second trial, Avery, called as a prosecution witness, recanted on the witness stand. He claimed he didn't even know Billy Doe, but took the plea bargain because he didn't want to die in jail.]

    At the first trial, Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy, was convicted by a jury on of one count of endangering the welfare of a child. The Philadelphia monsignor became the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for clerical sex abuse. Lynn never touched anybody; his crime was failing to adequately supervise Avery.

    Since Lynn never met Billy Doe, the monsignor's lawyers decided not to challenge the former altar boy's credibility.

    [On Dec. 26, 2013, the state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction].

    At the second trial, lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero did challenge Doe's credibility. Enter Leo Omar Hernandez, the only prosecution witness who could corroborate any part of Doe's improbable tale of multiple rapes.

    Hernandez was supposedly the "best guy friend" that Billy Doe first told his story of abuse 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.

    On March 28, 2013, two months after he testified in the Billy Doe case, Leo Hernandez filed a civil complaint in Common Pleas Court against a Philadelphia osteopath. In his suit, Hernandez claimed in court records that the male doctor got him hooked on drugs and then had an abusive sexual relationship with him.

    Records gathered for the medical malpractice case say that Leo Omar Hernandez was a former drug addict, steroid abuser, and dancer in gay male strip clubs. According to a deposition Hernandez gave on May 22, 2014, Hernandez stated that he lived alone and was discharged early from the Air Force because of what he described as a "failure to adapt."

    After Big Trial recounted the glaring contradictions in Hernandez's legal stances, Malofiy, in his motion denounced a "virulent blog post attacking Mr. Hernandez due to his role as a witness for the prosecution in the criminal trial."

    In that blog post, Malofiy argued, McGovern defamed Hernandez by "baselessly claiming that Mr. Hernandez is a liar, a perjurer" who was "actively conspiring" with Billy Doe to "defraud the court system."

    Malofiy asked for a seal on the case. He also wrote that McGovern's law firm, McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP, should "withdraw from case or be disqualified" because McGovern allegedly leaked sealed documents regarding Hernandez.

    McGovern has "engaged in highly unethical and defamatory attacks on Mer. Hernandez that make it certain that the taking of this deposition will subject Mr. Hernandez to unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden or expense," Malofiy wrote.

    In response, Hurd of the McElroy firm argued that Hernandez has "done nothing but submit a litany of vitriol instead of providing any factual support that would come close to substantiating any of these highly incredible claims."

    In his response, Hurd wrote that it was "denied that Michael McGovern . . . has engaged in any unethical or defamatory attacks on Hernandez. It was also denied that McGovern "conspired to illegally obtain records," Hurd wrote. "Hernandez cites no evidence in support of this contention."

    Hernandez voluntarily waived his right to confidentially when he filed his civil suit, Hurd wrote. The filing of the civil suit waives Hernandez's "right to confidentiality of matters placed directly at issue" in the lawsuit. Hernandez, Hurd wrote, "attached various records as publicly available exhibits to his complaint."

    Hurd, who represents the late Father Engelhardt in Billy Doe's civil suit, wrote that Hernandez's deposition "is material and necessary to obtain relevant information needed for Engelhardt to craft a proper defense."

    "Creative and colorful language and creative font choice aside, Hernandez's motion completely lacks merit and should be denied in its entirety," Hurd wrote in an accompanying memorandum of law. "Hernandez has not provided a scintilla of evidence indicating that appearing for a deposition would impose an undue or unreasonable burden."

    In his response, Centrella, the defense lawyer for the archdiocese, argues that Hernandez should have to appear at 10 a.m. on March 23 for his previously scheduled deposition at Conrad O'Brien P.C.

    Herenandez is a "witness with highly relevant information," Centrella argued. And Hernandez doesn't have to worry about the contents of his deposition being publicized, Centrella wrote.

    That's because all the parties in Billy Doe's civil case against the archdiocese have entered into a "confidentiality agreement which should alleviate Hernandez's alleged concern that his deposition testimony will be disseminated outside of this litigation," Centrella wrote.

    In his response, Centrella argued that the archdiocese has a right to depose Hernandez because he's  going to be a witness for Billy Doe in the civil case, scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 3rd.

    In Billy Doe's answers to interrogatories, Billy Doe's lawyers have identified Hernandez as a "fact witness, Centrella wrote. "Upon information and belief, plaintiff intends to call Hernandez as a witness at this civil trial."

    "Hernandez is a witness with highly eleveant information who the archdiocese is entitled to depose pursuant to the Pennsyvlania rules of civil procedure," Centrella wrote. "At the criminal trial of Engelahrdt and Shero, Hernandez corroborated plaintiff's account of abuse, thereby bolstering plaintiff's credibility."

    Engelhardt died in prison last November; Shero remains in prison pending appeal. Both Engelhardt and Shero are among the parties Billy Doe has sued for damages in his civil suit. Besides the archdiocese, Billy Doe has also sued the estate of the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

    "The archdiocese has the right to depose Hernandez concerning the allegations in plaintiff's complaint and explore Hernandez's credibility as a witness," Centrella wrote. "Upon information and belief, Plaintiff intends to heavily rely on Hernandez as a trial witness in this civil action in order to recreate the corroboration of the alleged abuse that was elicited during the underlying criminal trial."

    "Indeed, Hernandez possess truly unique information as he is purportedly the only person that plaintiff ever told about the alleged abuse," Centrella wrote.

    "Moreover, Hernandez's medical malpractice lawsuit is potentially relevant to the underlying criminal trial, and thus, this action," Centrella wrote. The "facts that give rise to the medical malpractice action occurred at the same time (April 2011 to March 2013) that . . . Hernandez and [Billy Doe] had a purported chance rendezvous at Hammerhead's bar in 2012," Centrella wrote.

    "While the archdiocese is uninterested in the ultimate outcome of Hernandez's civil action it is entitled to discover any facts from that action which overlap and/or are commonly relate to [Billy Doe's] cause of action," Centrella wrote.

    At the Engelhardt-Shero trial, Hernandez testified that he became a witness in the criminal case after a chance encounter with his old pal.

    "I went to a bar after work, Hammerheads, Cottman and Frankford," Hernandez testified. "And I'm walking in and he is walking out. And we just see each other and what not and just yell and hug because it had been so long. And that was about when we first got back together."

    On the witness stand in the criminal case, Hernandez told the jury he didn't have any idea that Billy was headed to trial. But Billy told him, "Oh, I'm going to court soon." He didn't say anything else about the case, Hernandez claimed to the jury.

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  • 03/16/15--08:47: Rufus, Rambo & Father Andy
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    The district attorney has until May 10 to decide, after two mistrials, whether to retry Father Andrew McCormick a third time for the alleged attempted rape of an altar boy.

    On his twitter account, Rufus Seth Williams, our crusading district attorney, was remarkably low-key about the case. He briefly noted Father Andy's latest mistrial before deleting the tweet and moving on to more important things.

    Like he D.A.'s call-in on the WIP morning show where he joked about subpoenaing Eagles Coach Chip Kelly to find out "where all these deals will lead us." And the D.A.'s comparison of himself to Rambo in the D.A.'s running feud with state Attorney General Kathleen Kane over whether to prosecute local pols caught in a sting operation. ["I find myself like John J. Rambo," the D.A. tweeted. "They drew first blood not me."]

    Meanwhile, the "friends of Father Andy" have launched a petition drive online to "demand an end to the persecution of Father Andrew McCormick by the District Attorney of Philadelphia." Maybe Father Andy's friends are on to something. Like those tired Rocky and Rambo franchises it might be time to end the priest abuse trials in Philadelphia before we waste any more taxpayer money and have to suffer through any further embarrassments.

    "Sign this petition because you don't want more of your tax money spent on a trial and investigation that's been going on since 2011," says the online petition in support of Father Andy. "Sign this petition because it's not fair for a man of limited financial resources to spend more than $100,000 to defend his name for a third straight time."

    In the Father Andy case, none of the principals can talk because of the gag order imposed by Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright. It did seem fitting, however, that in the fourth installment of the D.A.'s priest abuse trials a defense lawyer finally put the right guy on trial, namely the D.A.

    Trevan Borum, Father Andy's lawyer, ripped the D.A.'s office for not doing their homework in the case, and instead relying on a blatant appeal to emotion.

    "Do not decide this case based on sympathy," Borum told the jury. He asked the jury to recall how many times he had objected to questions from the prosecutor "designed to evoke an emotional response" from a witness, and how many times a witness broke down crying.

    Borum's indictment could easily be applied to the D.A's entire prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia beginning with the 2012 trial of Msgr. Lynn and Father James J. Brennan, the 2013 trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, and last year's mistrial of Father Andy.

    During the Engelhardt-Shero trial, while Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti gave his 82-minute closing statement, the prosecution kept a photo up on several courtroom TVs of the alleged victim in the case, a smiling 10-year-old Billy Doe, wearing his parochial school uniform and looking like the star of Leave It To Beaver.

    In her closing in the Father Andy case, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp talked about how only a guilty verdict could take away the pain of the alleged victim, as well as the collective guilt felt by his mother, father and cousin, who was 11 when the alleged victim told her about the abuse and still feels bad about not doing anything.

    While Cipolletti and Kemp gave their speeches, the frequently sobbing victims were used as props in the courtroom, to soak up more sympathy from jurors.

    In the Father Andy case, Borum said, the D.A. took the witnesses at their word. "Instead of vetting anybody, they decide to run with it," Borum said, because, "We're gonna convict a priest."

    "It doesn't matter how we do it," Borum said. "The ends justify the means."

    Again, Borum could have been speaking about the entire prosecution of the archdiocese. Talk about not doing your homework.

    It starts with a 2011 grand jury report that had more than 20 mistakes in it. And an investigation of Billy Doe's allegations two years later where every witness interviewed by the D.A.'s own detectives, including the alleged victim's mother and brother, contradicted the star witness.

    Instead of vetting anybody, the D.A. just decided to run with it. Because the ends justify the means.

    Down in the Italian Market on Wednesday, they're closing off Ninth Street for the filming of Creed, the latest Rocky movie. In this one, Rocky's the manager schooling Apollo Creed's grandson, who wants to be a contender.

    A guy who works at Lorenzo's pizza joked that they're going to keep filming Rocky sequels until they have to push Sylvester Stallone down Ninth Street in a wheelchair.

    Would Stallone sink that low? What about our D.A.? Has he hit bottom yet?

    In the Father Andy case, in order to get a guilty plea, the D.A. was willing to bargain five sex charges -- involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor -- down to a single guilty plea for corrupting the morals of a minor.

    In order to win at all costs, the D.A. was willing to let a priest he publicly accused of attempting to rape a 10-year-old altar boy not spend a day in jail, go on probation for four years and not even have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

    Father Andy's friends noticed.

    "This offer [declined by Father McCormick] stands as proof that the main objective of the district attorney is not to keep someone they believe to be a rapist and child molester off the streets but rather to inflate their own conviction statistics," says the petition to free Father Andy.

    What about the SNAP crowd and the victims' advocates? If you're on the other side of this issue, and you believe the D.A.'s story line, that Father Andy is a menace to society, how does that plea bargain protect children?

    Maybe the next time Seth Williams does some grandstanding, somebody should ask him that question.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    On the eve of jury selection, a defense lawyer in the rogue cops case has tossed a live grenade.

    On Sunday, Michael J. Diamondstein, the defense lawyer for former Police Officer John Speiser, filed a bombshell motion to quash the federal indictment of his client.

    In the motion, Diamonstein charges there is ample evidence to prove that the only witness to implicate his client in a RICO conspiracy perjured himself when he testified before a grand jury.

    The perjury, Diamonstein writes, was "easily and readily identifiable by the government's agents," but the feds chose to willfully ignore it, exhibiting a "reckless disregard for the truth."

    If Diamondstein's charges are true, the feds were pretty sloppy. Diamondstein claims that before a witness identified as "C.C." perjured himself before the grand jury, the feds didn't bother to interview C.C. or check out any easily obtained court records that plainly show the government's witness is "an immoral, despicable and opportunistic liar."

    Diamondstein's motion to quash the indictment was prompted by the government's March 13th motion to withdraw counts 18 and 21 from the 26-count indictment; the feds also want to drop "Episode 13" from a greatest hits list of police misconduct alleged by the feds.

    In Episode 13 of the indictment, the government alleged that on March 7, 2010, Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser, Michael Spicer and Jeffrey Walker allegedly entered the residence of a person identified as C.C. on Porter Street in South Philadelphia by "kicking in the front door."

    The indictment states that the officers allegedly seized $3,200 from C.C.'s house. Then on April 18, 2010, according the indictment, Officer Liciardello, attempting "to conceal the theft from authorities," wrote a phony Philadelphia Police Department report that said that only $196 was seized from C.C.

    In their motion to drop Episode 13 from the indictment, the government has offered "no reason of record" to explain why, Diamonstein writes. The government wants to preclude Diamondstein and the other defense lawyers in the case from ever mentioning Episode 13 to the jury.

    The motion to withdraw Episode 13, Diamondstein writes, is "nothing less than an attempt to hide and whitewash" a fraud that was either "negligently or recklessly" played upon the grand jury.

    It's also a "vain attempt to spare" the feds the "embarrassment and scrutiny" that will result from the disclosure that the government "called a witness that perjured himself in front of the grand jury," Diamondstein writes.

    In his motion, Diamonstein asks Judge Eduardo C. Robreno to quash the indictment, deny the government's motion to "substantively amend the indictment," and deny the government's motion to preclude defense lawyers from referencing Episode 13 during the trial.

    Diamonstein's motion has been joined by lawyers for four other defendants in the case, including Linwood Norman, Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds and Perry Betts. A hearing is scheduled in front of Judge Robreno at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, before the start of jury selection.

    In the indictment the feds claimed that six rogue cops allegedly stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property from drug dealers while they were beating and kidnapping them, and  falsifying police records to cover up their dirty work.

    The cops arrested C.C. arrested on March 10, 2010 and charged him with possession with intent to distribute. C.C. went to trial and the case ended on Aug. 6, 2012 with a hung jury.

    C.C. has also filed a civil suit seeking $1 million in damages from Speiser and the other five defendants.

    In spite of the fact that C.C. is a primary witness in the federal racketeering case, Diamonstein charges, there is no record that the feds ever conducted a "proffer" interview session with him, sat C.C. down for an FBI "302" interview, or even took down some "rough notes" from the witness.

    "The government has asserted that no 302 exists for C.C.," Diamonstein writes. "Assuming that the government's representations are correct, the government and /or its agents either never spoke to CC prior to offering him immunity and allowed him to testify in front of the grand jury" without ever talking to the witness.

    Even thought C.C. was a "notorious drug felon with convictions for crimes of dishonesty," Diamonstein writes, the feds recruited him as a witness to testify against the cops in the RICO case.

    C.C. appeared before a federal grand jury on Feb. 18 2014.

    In his motion, Diamonstein contrasts C.C.'s grand jury testimony with his testimony from his criminal trial that ended in a hung jury. The defense lawyer cites these contradictions:

    -- C.C. told the grand jury he was using 6 Vocoder pills a day but C.C. told the jury in his criminal case that he took 25 to 35 Percoet pills a day.

    -- C.C. told the grand jury he had only Vocoder in his closet, but told jury in his criminal case that he had at least 3 bottles of Oxycodone in his home.

    -- C.C. told grand jury he was prescribed the pills that were found in his home and that the defendants ripped the labels off of the bottles. But C.C. told the criminal jury that he did not have a valid prescription for the pills. "He instead procured the pills by waiting outside of pharmacies, waiting for random people to come out, asking them if they had Percoet pills and then purchasing the pills from the unknown pharmacy customers," Diamonstein writes.

    "The labels were ripped off by the pharmacy customers so that C.C. would not be in possession of their personal information," Diamondstein writes.

    -- C.C. told the grand jury he had provided copies of his prescriptions to the judge in his criminal case, but he told the judge in his criminal case that he did not have the prescriptions.

    -- C.C. told the grand jury the cops stole $3,2000 from his home. But in civil lawsuit he stated he did not have any money. And when he testified before the jury in his criminal trial he never mentioned the alleged robbery.

    -- C.C. told the grand jury that Officer Brian Reynolds was one of the cops who kicked his door in and then robbed him. Yet the cops'"daily attendance report and other indisputable evidence show that Mr. Reynolds was in Florida," Diamondstein writes.

    "Quite frankly the evidence of the perjury was staring the government right in the face," Diamonstein writes. "They choose to ignore it."

    "The nature of the government's incompetence cannot be understated," Diamonstein writes in a memorandum of law that accompanied his motion to quash. Diamonstein said he was able, "without the aide of an investigator or a team of FBI agents" to easily find the evidence in court records that shows C.C. is a liar.

    The government, Diamonstein writes, was "willfully bind to this evidence" that a second year law student or a first year detective could have dug up by simply reading a court docket online or dialing a phone.

    In attempting to prevent defense lawyers from mentioning Episode 13 to the jury, Diamondstein writes, the government "seeks it insulate itself from the outrageous conduct of C.C."

    Diamonstein wrote that he should be able to show the jury in the RICO case that C.C. "sold the FBI a bill of goods." He also wanted the right to "ask whether any of the other underwood figures upon whom this prosecution is built have done the same."

    The only witness against his client, Diamonstein writes, "has been exposed as an immoral, despicable and opportunistic liar."

    Late today, the U.S. Attorney's office filed a response calling for the defense motion to quash the indictment to be denied, and for the government's motion to withdraw Episode 13 from the indictment to be granted.

    In the government's response, the feds did not dispute any of contrary facts about C.C.'s testimony raised by Diamondstein. But the prosecutors denied that the government had acted in bad faith.

    "In this case, the government did not become aware of a civil suit filed by C.C. until March 4, 2015," wrote U.S. Attorney Zane David Memger and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony J. Wzorek and Maureen McCartney.

    "Once becoming aware of the suit, the government scheduled and met with C.C.'s attorney and C. C. and asked them about the civil filing, which contradicted C.C.'s grand jury testimony," the prosecutors wrote. "Based upon their answers the government did not believe that it had a prosecutorial case as to Episode 13. Under those circumstances, the government moved to withdraw Episode 13 on March 13, 2015."

    "The government categorically denies the scurrilous charges that it committed a fraud upon the grand jury," the prosecutors wrote. "In fact, the government acted promptly upon receipt of the information  conceding the civil suit."

    But the prosecutors contended that the motion to quash the indictment be denied because Speiser was still a  "knowing participant in the [criminal] enterprise." By moving to withdraw Episode 13 the government "merely eliminated a superfluous allegation that the evidence did not support," the prosecutors wrote.

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    Judge Eduardo C. Robreno
    By Ralph Cipriano

    They haven't picked a jury yet but the lawyers in the rogue cops case are already going at it.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wzorek today challenged defense lawyer Michael J. Diamondstein on his claim that the government may have perpetrated a fraud on a grand jury by putting a witness on the stand who perjured himself.

    Turning toward Diamonstein and speaking in a loud voice, Wzorek told the defense lawyer, "We look forward to answering that." The prosecutor told Diamondstein that he and the other defense lawyers in the case could put Wzorek on the witness stand to see if those charges were true.

    The prosecutor's baiting of the defense lawyers did not go over with U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.

    "Address the court," the judge snapped at the prosecutor.

    Diamonstein, who represents former Police Officer John Speiser, started the ruckus on Sunday when he filed a  motion seeking to quash the federal indictment of his client under the RICO act. In his motion, Diamonstein charged that perjury committed by a witness identified as "C.C." was "easily and readily identifiable by the government's agents." But the feds chose to willfully ignore it, exhibiting a "reckless disregard for the truth," Diamondstein charged.

    Clearly those were fighting words to Wzorek.

    In oral arguments, Diamonstein raised the ante, telling the judge, "The government made a big mistake here."

    "We really messed up here," Diamondstein said about the feds' use of a false witness. The only way out, the defense lawyer said, was to go begging to the judge.

    "We're asking you to rescue us," Diamonstein said about the prosecutor's request to have the judge strike two counts from the indictment, as well as "Episode 13" from a list of alleged police misconduct.

    Wzorek, who jousted with Diamonstein during oral arguments, jumped up to respond, but before he could utter a word the judge slapped him down.

    "I think that's enough," the judge told the frustrated prosecutor.

    The defense wanted to stop the feds from dropping the two counts and Episode 13 from the indictment. But Judge Robreno denied that motion. The judge told the lawyers in the case that he would consider at a future date the issue of whether the defense would be able to tell the jury about the withdrawn counts, as well as Episode 13.

    In Episode 13, the officers allegedly "kicked in the front door" of C.C.'s house and stole $3,200 from him. But when C.C. testified to a jury in his criminal case he never mentioned the robbery. And when C.C. filed a civil suit against the cops seeking damages, he stated he didn't have any money the day the cops kicked down his door, according to Diamonstein's motion.

    In the government's response, the U.S. Attorney's office said they did not become aware of C.C.'s civil suit until March 4, 2015. The government then met with C.C. and his lawyer in the civil case. On March 13, the government filed a motion to withdraw Episode 13.

    The feds, however, in their  official response, and today in court, did not challenge Diamonstein's allegations that the government granted C.C. immunity and allowed him to testify before the grand jury without ever interviewing C.C.

    The prosecutor today conceded in court that the government never looked at the transcript from C.C.'s criminal case until Diamonstein attached those records to his motion to quash the indictment.

    C.C. was arrested by the cops who are defendants in the RICO case on March 10, 2010 and charged him with possession with intent to distribute. The criminal case ended in a hung jury.

    "We didn't have those notes until Mr. Diamond presented them," Wzorek told the judge about the transcripts of the criminal case.

    The judge told Diamondstein that he would delay a ruling on whether to quash the indictment of Speiser.

    The lawyers in the case then turned their attention to jury selection, as the clerk was preparing to bring in a panel of about 200 prospective jurors.

    The case, scheduled to begin March 30, is expected to last 10 weeks, lawyers on both sides agreed.

    The judge also, in a sidebar, imposed a gag order that will prevent lawyers in the case from talking to the media.

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    By George Anastasia

    Goodfellas Sal and Nicky Jr.

    Unless there are some unforeseen developments -- and in this case that's always possible -- the hammer comes down next week in the multi-million dollar FirstPlus Financial fraud case.

    Nicodemo S. Scarfo, Salvatore Pelullo and the brothers John and William Maxwell each have sentencing hearings before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler in the same federal courtroom in Camden where a jury delivered guilty verdicts last year.

    Scarfo, the 49-year-old son of jailed mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, is looking at a sentence that could land him in prison for the better part of the rest of his life. The same can be said for Pelullo, 47, described as a mob associate and with Scarfo the brains behind the 2007 takeover and looting of the Texas-based mortgage company.

    The Maxwell brothers -- John the CEO of FirstPlus and William a lawyer hired as private counsel by the firm -- were convicted of many of the same racketeering, conspiracy and fraud counts, but with no prior criminal convictions, they face less potential jail time. That, of course, is a relative term. A 10-year prison sentence might be considerably less than a 30-year sentence but is little solace to the defendant serving the 10 years.

     Pelullo's lawyers have filed an eleventh hour motion asking Kugler to recuse himself from the sentencing hearing, arguing that the judge had demonstrated preconceived notions about Pelullo that would impact his ability to deliver a fair and impartial sentence.

    Kugler has scheduled a hearing on that issue on Tuesday, the same day as Pelullo's sentencing hearing. This is the third time Pelullo has asked Kugler to recuse himself from the case. The judge rejected motions in 2012 and 2013. The third time is not likely to be the charm for the sometimes bombastic and always opinionated defendant.

    Scarfo is to be sentenced Wednesday. The Maxwell brothers go before Kugler at separate hearings on Thursday. 

    Kugler has already rejected motions to have the convictions overturned, but that hasn't stopped defense attorneys from hammering away at the same issues that will likely form the basis for ongoing appeals.

    The key issue remains the introduction of organized crime into a case that the defense contends had nothing to do with the mob. The prosecution used mob references and alleged mob connections to prejudice the jury and to glamorize and sensationalize an otherwise mundane financial case, defense attorneys have argued.

    In a motion filed in November, Jeremy C. Gelb, one of Scarfo's lawyers, wrote that evidence tying organized crime to the case was irrelevant, an "abuse of discretion" on the part of the prosecution and created "unfair prejudice" with the jury.

    Pelullo's lawyer contended that the organized crime "evidence" was "the definition of unfair prejudice and short of allegations of child molestation, it is difficult to even conceive of any evidence more prejudicial."

    Kugler heard similar argument before, during and after the trial and rejected them. Prior to the start of deliberations, the judge gave instructions to the jury that were designed to keep the organized crime issue in perspective. The defense clearly believes that didn't work.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, on the other hand, has said repeatedly that references to the mob were relevant and that the multi-million dollar fraud was carried out in large part because of the fear and intimidation that Pelullo used by alluding to his mob ties to Scarfo.

    Wiretap conversations and the testimony of witnesses backed the government's position, the prosecutor said. One example pointed to was a phone conversation between Pelullo and Scarfo during the takeover in which Pelullo emphasized that he used Scarfo's name and reputation to advance their scheme.

    Scarfo was on probation at the time following a mob-related gambling conviction and could not travel to Texas while the takeover was being orchestrated. But that, Pelullo said, didn't matter.

    "Just because they didn't see you, I tried to enforce that is was, you know, you behind the scenes and I was just a conduit...through you to make sure things got done the way we planned to get them done," he said in a conversation with Scarfo picked up on an FBI wiretap.

    The defense, however, argues that the entire FirstPlus investigation was built on a shaky foundation and that the convictions should be overturned as a result. The position of Pelullo, Scarfo and the Maxwells (who have joined in the motions) is that the government started out looking for organized crime and was determined to find the mob no matter what the evidence might show.

    In fact, the defense has offered detailed information about the origins of the probe which, they say, wasn't about a takeover of FirstPlus, but rather an effort by the FBI to track the younger Scarfo's attempt to retake control of the Philadelphia crime family his jailed father once headed.

    That, at least, is the information contained in an FBI affidavit that is part of the case.

    In that light, Scarfo was involved in more than one power grab when he and Pelullo took behind-the-scenes control of FirstPlus back in 2007 and siphoned more than $12 million out of the company.

    At the same time, the FBI document indicates, Scarfo was also maneuvering to re-establish himself in South Jersey and align himself with mob figures who might support his underworld power grab.

    Few details of that scenario surfaced during the FirstPlus trial, but the jury heard that Scarfo was a member of the Luchese crime family; that his jailed father had set that up through Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, the Luchese organization boss serving time with the elder Scarfo, and that both Scarfo Sr. and Amuso were to get a piece of the FirstPlus take.

    The two aging mobsters were named unindicted co-conspirators in the FirstPlus case.

    The jury also heard that Scarfo Jr. was shot and nearly killed on Halloween night in 1989 at Dante&Luigi's Restaurant. The notorious mob hit, carried out by a gunman wearing a Halloween mask and carrying his 9 mm machine pistol in a trick-or-treat bag, was the stuff of mob movies and further prejudiced the jury, said the defense.

    In contrast, defense lawyers contend that the looting of FirstPlus was a "garden variety white collar crime" dressed up to look like a  mob bust out in order to influence the anonymously chosen jurors weighing the charges.  

    Mob or no mob, at $12 million that's quite a garden.

    Whatever its impact on the FirstPlus case, the affidavit from the FBI case Agent Joseph Gilson cited by the defense offers an intriguing look at the Philadelphia - South Jersey underworld in 2006. The affidavit was submitted with a wiretap application and while the original thrust of the probe was the suspected takeover of the Philadelphia mob, those wiretaps eventually brought the feds into the FirstPlus scam.

    Among other things, Gilson wrote that "Little Nicky" Scarfo from his prison cell in Atlanta was backing his son's attempt to wrest control of the Philadelphia crime family from then mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, a one-time Scarfo ally and suspected hitman.

    "Scarfo Sr. has secured the backing of some of the New York LCN Families in this attempt to take control of the Philadelphia LCN Family and is directing his son, Scarfo Jr., in the attempted takeover," Gilson wrote.

    While the affidavit doesn't mention which New York families were supporting the Scarfo move, most law enforcement sources believe the Luchese organization, at least the faction loyal to Amuso,  was backing Scarfo's play.

    The younger Scarfo, who had been living in North Jersey under the protection of the Luchese organization, moved back to the Atlantic City area in 2006. For a time he ran a restaurant and later got involved in the construction business.

    Rumors surfaced at the time that he was trying to recruit local mobsters who might still be loyal to his dad whose bloody reign between 1981 and 1989 had decimated the crime family. During that period, nearly two dozens mob members and associates were killed and nearly that same number were indicted and sent off to prison.

    The elder Scarfo is currently serving time for racketeering and murder. His earliest parole date in 2033 when he will be 103 years old. 

    The brutality that was the mark of the Scarfo organization continued after he was jailed in the late 1980s. What followed was twenty years of wanton and often senseless violence, a bloody soap operate that often pitted brother against brother and that undermined any stability or sense of loyalty that might have existed.

    Gilson touched on that in his 94-page affidavit, noting that, "It's difficult to chart the history of the Philadelphia Mafia given its frequent personnel changes caused by the violent deaths of several of its members."

    Whether the younger Scarfo had a chance to retake control of the family is an open question. It is hard to imagine many mobsters lining up behind him in a clash with Ligambi. The FBI affidavit said that one confidential source indicated Scarfo had approached  Joseph Ciancaglini Jr. , the son of then jailed Scarfo family capo Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini. The source, according to the affidavit, said Scarfo approached Ciancaglini and asked if "he wanted to be with" him in a power grab.

    The younger Ciancaglini "had not been active in the affairs of the Philadelphia LCN Family since the attempt on his life (in 1993)," Gilson wrote. Joe Ciancaglini Jr. was shot and nearly killed in an ambush orchestrated, authorities believe, by Joey Merlino and Ciancaglini's own brother, Michael in March 1993. The shooting was part of a brutal mob struggle between the Merlino faction and another group headed by then mob boss John Stanfa. That summer, Michael Ciancaglini was killed in the Stanfa-Merlino war.

    A third brother John was serving a federal sentence for racketeering at the time, but later became a Merlino ally.

    None of that bloody history, of course, had anything to do with the FirstPlus takeover. And only the Dante&Luigi shooting and Scarfo's ties to the Luchese organization were introduced as evidence.

    But federal authorities argued that the mob connections and reputations of Scarfo and Pelullo were the driving force behind the multi-million dollar extortion.

    In his affidavit Gilson pointed out that several FirstPlus officials were aware of the organized crime ties of Scarfo and Pelullo and that those officials said they were intimidated and went along with the takeover out of fear. One director, according to a source cited in the affidavit, said he believed Pelullo was using extortion to wrest control of the company. But that director said he would not cooperate with authorities because "he did not want to be a rat and end up at the bottom of a lake."

    That, the prosecution contends, was the role that organized crime played in the takeover of FirstPlus and that, they argued, was justification for the mob references that surfaced during the trial.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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    By George Anastasia

    Mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and his partner-in-crime Salvatore Pelullo will have to wait two more months before they find out how much time they will be spending as guests of the federal government for their convictions in the FirstPlus Financial fraud case.

    Sentencings originally set for this week before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler in Camden have been pushed back to June in order for authorities to have more time to prepare what are expected to be detailed pre-sentence reports.

    Scarfo, 49, and Pelullo, 47, are looking at jail time in the 20- to 30-year range. Both have prior convictions which enhance the guidelines used to determine the range of sentence in federal cases.

    They each were convicted of more than 20 counts in the racketeering fraud case. The government charged that the pair took behind-the-scenes control of FirstPlus in 2007 and siphoned more than $12 million out of the Texas-based mortgage company through bogus business transactions and phony consulting contracts.

    Prosecutors alleged that Pelullo was the point man in the takeover and that he and Scarfo used their mob connections to intimidate and threaten FirstPlus officials who balked at the takeover.

    Scarfo, the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, has prior convictions for racketeering and gambling. Pelullo has two prior convictions for fraud.

    At a brief hearing this morning, Kugler rejected a motion filed by Pelullo asking the judge to recuse himself from the sentencing process. Pelullo's lawyers argued that Kugler should step aside because the judge had preconceived negative opinions about Pelullo that would make it impossible for him to impose an fair sentence.

    Kugler rejected those arguments. It was the third time the judge has denied motions from Pelullo asking for a recusal.

    Scarfo and Pelullo have been held without bail since their arrests in November 2011. Scarfo's new sentencing date is June 23. Pelullo is scheduled to go before Kugler on June 1.

    Co-defendants John and William Maxwell also had their sentencings delayed. John Maxwell, the former CEO of FirstPlus, will be sentenced on June 24. His brother, a lawyer hired as private counsel to FirstPlus, will hear his fate on June 26.

    The brothers were convicted of racketeering and fraud charges tied to the takeover and looting of FirstPlus by Scarfo and Pelullo. Kugler revoked their bail and ordered them jailed after a jury delivered guilty verdicts in the case last year.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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  • 03/24/15--14:23: Bernard Shero Loses Appeal
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    The state Superior Court has turned down Bernard Shero's request for a new trial.

    In a 36-page decision posted online today, a panel of three Superior Court judges ruled that seven appeals issues raised by Shero at a hearing last Oct. 28th "are either waived or devoid of merit."

    In their decision, the Superior Court judges affirmed the June 12, 2013 sentence imposed on Shero by Judge Ellen Ceisler. The judge sentenced Shero, 51, to 8 to 16 years in jail after he was convicted by a jury of 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.

    In its decision, the Superior Court judges did not address the appeal filed on behalf of Shero's co-defendant, Father Charles Engelhardt, except in a footnote to say that the priest's case is "currently pending before this court." Judge Ceisler sentenced Father Engelhardt to 6 to 12 years in jail after being convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault.

    The 67-year-old priest died in prison last November. In spite of his client's death, defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern, and Engelhardt's religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, had vowed to continue the appeal,  to clear the priest's name. But the courts aren't bound by such sentiments. When an appellant dies, a court can decide that since there's no longer any controversy, the appeal is "abated."

    In the case of Father Engelhardt, it's not stated what the Superior Court will do with the priest's appeal. But in treating Shero's appeal separately, the Superior Court judges didn't do Shero any favors. Twice, the Superior Court judges ruled against Shero for raising appeal issues that applied only to Engelhardt.

    McGovern, Engelhardt's lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

    Burton A. Rose, the defense lawyer for Shero, said he was "very disappointed" by the Superior Court decision and that he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

    In his appeal to the Superior Court, Rose had accused prosecutors of misconduct for not telling him about a witness they interviewed before trial -- Judy Cruz-Ransom, a social worker who was a victims’ assistance coordinator for the Philadelphia archdiocese.

    Cruz-Ransom and another archdiocesan social worker, Louise Hagner, took the first statement from Billy Doe, the alleged victim in the case, after he called in on an archdiocesan hotline to claim he had been abused.

    Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for a former altar boy who claimed when he was 10 and 11, he was raped in separate attacks by two priests and a former school teacher.

    In a civil deposition, Cruz-Ransom corroborated the testimony of Hagner in the criminal case: that Billy Doe had appeared sober and seemed to be faking tears as he told the two social workers wild stories about being anally raped by his alleged assailants for hours. Billy also claimed he was punched and knocked unconscious, tied up with altar sashes and strangled with a seat belt.

    But when Billy retold his stories to the police and grand jury, all that violence and anal rape was dropped from the narrative. Billy attempted to explain it away by claiming he was high on drugs when he talked to the social workers.

    The Superior Court judges, however, ruled that the "bulk of Cruz-Ransom's statements were merely cumulative evidence, as they would serve to corroborate Hagner's testimony."

    Cruz-Ransom's statements would only "highlight more inconsistencies" in Billy Doe's accounts of his alleged abuse, "which were already well established to the jury by defense counsel through Hagner's testimony," the Superior Court judges found.

    In addition, the Superior Court judges wrote, the state Supreme Court has consistently ruled that claims of new evidence discovered post-trial cannot succeed in an appeal where the sole purpose is to impeach the credibility of a trial witness.

    In his appeal, defense lawyer Rose had also faulted Judge Ceisler for allowing the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, to misstate evidence in his closing statement to the jury regarding the number of absences Billy Doe had on the final marking period of his sixth grade report card. 

    At trial, Billy Doe testified that after he was raped by Shero, his homeroom and English teacher, he became seriously ill and missed a lot of school. 

    Billy Doe's report card for the time period in question, however, the fourth quarter of the 1999-2000 school year, showed zero absences. In his closing statement to the jury, prosecutor Cipolletti, according to Rose, told the jury three times that Billy Doe during the fourth quarter of sixth grade was absent 3 1/2 days.

    The report card showing zero absences was "evidence of reasonable doubt," Rose told the Superior Court judges when he argued his appeal last October. "Where he [Cipolletti] got that number I don't know."

    The defense objected at trial, but Judge Ceisler overruled their objections. Judge Ceisler decided not to instruct the jury that Cipolletti had stated the wrong facts. Instead, the judge decided to rely on the jury's memory of what the facts were.

    In their filings with the Superior Court, the district attorney's office acknowledged that Cipolletti got it wrong. However, "without evidence that the Commonwealth's misstatement was intentional," Shero's argument "cannot succeed," the judges wrote.

    Merely paraphrasing a witness's testimony, or misquoting it, does not constitute a reversible error unless the "prosecutor deliberately attempts to destroy the objectivity of the jury," the Superior Court judges wrote.

    So, absent a confession by Cipolletti, that argument wasn't going anywhere.

    In addition, Judge Ceisler had instructed jurors that they were not bound by the prosecutor or the defense lawyers'"recollection of the evidence," the Superior Court judges wrote. Instead, Judge Ceisler told jurors, "It is your recollection of the evidence and your recollection alone that must guide your deliberations."

    Another issue in the Shero appeal was raised by McGovern, on behalf of both defendants.

    McGovern accused Cipolletti of prosecutorial misconduct for saying in his closing argument that although there was no other alleged victim of Engelhardt out there except for Billy Doe, more victims might be coming forward.

    "What he [McGovern] didn't tell you was no child, no student has come forward" -- dramatic pause -- "yet," Cipolletti told the jury.

    In their ruling, the Superior Court judges wrote that this closing argument was "directed at Engelhardt." So Shero "cannot vicariously litigate claims of another party," the Superior Court judges wrote.

    Shero "cannot be prejudiced by remarks that were directed at Engelhardt" because those remarks "did not implicate" Shero "in any way," the Superior Court judges wrote.

    In another appeal issue, the judges used another issue involving Engelhardt to say that it posed no harm to Shero.

    In his appeal, defense lawyer Rose had faulted Judge Ceisler for allowing Dr. Gerald Margiotti, a pediatrician, to testify as an expert witness to the jury.

    Dr. Margiotti testified about the victim in the case, Billy Doe, saying that Billy's boyhood complaint of testicular pain was consistent with sexual abuse suffered after the alleged attack by Engelhardt.

    The defense cried foul because the pediatrician had never examined Billy Doe and was not qualified as an expert. Rose told the Superior Court judges that had he known that Judge Ceisler was going to allow Dr. Margiotti to testify as an expert witness, he would have brought in his own expert witness to refute the doctor.

    After Dr. Magiotti testified, the prosecutor told the jury that the doctor's testimony amounted to "scientific medical corroboration" of Billy Doe's accusation of sex abuse, Rose told the judges. Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti told the jury that Billy's testicular pain was a "silent witness" that the victim was telling the truth.

    "Dr. Margiotti's testimony was only relative to incidents involving Engelhardt," the Superior Court judges wrote. So Shero was "not permitted to argue that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting testimony against Engelhardt."

    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 against Msgr. William J. Lynn, Avery had pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and conspiring with Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child. At the time, Avery was facing a possible sentence of 13 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 their 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 even 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 any of the other alleged victims, McGovern told the Superior Court judges.

    But, the Superior Court judges found, neither defense counsel objected on the basis of "Rule 404, or improper bolstering grounds at trial." Rather the only objection raised was that the questioning of Avery was "outside the scope of everything."

    Since neither defense counsel raised "a Rule 404 argument" at trial, "We deem this issue waived," the Superior Court judges wrote.

    Shero remains in jail at SCI Houtzdale, Clearfield County, a prison located nearly four hours northwest of Philadelphia.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    A day after they ruled against an appeal from Bernard Shero, a panel of three state Superior Court judges came to the same conclusion regarding the appeal of Shero's co-defendant, the late Father Charles Engelhardt.

    In a 25-page decision issued today, the Superior Court judges ruled that seven appeal issues raised by Engelhardt are "either waived or devoid of merit." The judges then affirmed Engelhardt's sentence of 6 to 12 years in jail after being convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault.

    The 67-year-old priest died last November in jail after serving nearly two years of his sentence. In their opinion, the judges note "that appellant has passed away during the pendency of this appeal. However, consistent with our cases, we decline to dismiss this appeal as moot in its entirety."

    This was before the judges went through the appeal issues and dismissed them as "either waived or devoid of merit."

    In Engelhardt's appeal, the defense had faulted Judge Ceisler for allowing Dr. Gerald Margiotti, a pediatrician, to testify as an expert witness to the jury.

    Dr. Margiotti testified about the victim in the case, Billy Doe, saying that Billy's boyhood complaint of testicular pain was consistent with sexual abuse suffered after the alleged attack by Engelhardt.

    The defense countered that the pediatrician had never examined Billy Doe and was not qualified as an expert. After Dr. Magiotti testified, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, told the jury that the doctor's testimony amounted to "scientific medical corroboration" of Billy Doe's accusation of sex abuse. The pain was also a "silent witness" that the former altar boy was telling the truth, the prosecutor said.

    In their decision, the Superior Court judges ruled that although Dr. Margiotti had never examined the alleged victim, "We find this distinction to be immaterial for the purposes of the Rule 702 issue," regarding expert witness testimony. In their decision, the judges do not state a reason but the 702 rule does allow an expert to express an opinion based on "sufficient facts or data."

    The Superior Court judges mentioned in a footnote that the defense lawyers in the case did not seek to toss Dr. Margiotti's testimony under the hearsay rule. Perhaps they should have.

    In oral arguments last October, Michael J. McGovern, on behalf of Father Engelhardt, accused Cipolletti of prosecutorial misconduct for something he said in his closing argument. Cipollettti stated that although there was no other alleged victim of Engelhardt out there except for Billy Doe, more victims might be coming forward.

    "What he [McGovern] didn't tell you was no child, no student has come forward" -- dramatic pause -- "yet," Cipolletti told the jury.

    But the Superior Court judges wrote that "a prosecutor has considerable latitude during closing arguments."

    The Superior Court judges also noted that in his closing argument, McGovern told the jury that since the arrest of his client, the priest's "name and picture was spread all over the region, nationally, the internet, TV, radio, newspapers, national magazines, saying this is a child molester."

    McGovern told the jury that a public announcement was made from every pulpit in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that if there were any other victims of Father Engelhardt out there, they could come forward and contact the archdiocese or the district attorney.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, there has not been one child or one student from any of the institutions that [Father Engelhardt] was associated with his entire life that came forward" to make a claim of abuse, McGovern told the jury, despite saturation media coverage.

    "The trial court concluded that [Cipolletti's] remark was a fair response to" the closing argument by McGovern, the Superior Court judges wrote. As far as the Superior Court judges were concerned, "the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellant's request for a mistrial."

    In the Engelhardt appeal, the last issue raised concerned the defense's subpoena of Billy Doe's older brother to testify at the 2013 trial of Engelhardt and his co-defendant, former Catholic school teacher Shero. McGovern had contended that Judge Ellen Ceisler erred when she denied McGovern's request for a bench warrant to subpoena Billy Doe's older brother. McGovern also faulted Judge Ceisler for her response when the jury asked in a question during deliberations why the older brother didn't testify.

    During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the older brother had not been properly subpoenaed. When McGovern tried to argue, the judge cut him off, saying, "You sent it first class, you don't know if he got it."

    The judge then announced that she would write a note back to the jury, saying, "There's no evidence that he received a subpoena."

    The defense wanted to call Billy Doe's older brother because of a signed statement he gave a detective on Jan. 9, 2012. Like Billy Doe, Billy's older brother had served as an altar boy at St. Jerome's, where the alleged rapes occurred. Billy's older brother had also served as a sexton.

    The statement showed that the older brother, then a 26-year-old lawyer, contradicted Billy on several key elements of his story, such as who took care of the sacramental wine after Mass, whether priests were ever alone with altar boys, and whether the doors to the church sacristy at  St. Jerome's were  kept locked.

    But before the Superior Court would consider that issue, the judges faulted defense lawyers for making an argument "devoid of any discussion of our cases, standards, or any other legal authority on the subject of bench warrants, continuances, or jury questions."

    So the Superior Court judges ruled that the issue of whatever happened to Billy Doe's older brother was "waived for want of development."

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