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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Jack McMahon, the lawyer for former Officer Brian Reynolds, has blasted Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for his "ugly arrogance" and "blatant disregard" for the constitutional rights of the six defendants in the rogue cops case acquitted last week on all 47 racketeering charges.

    If that wasn't enough, McMahon, a former prosecutor, ripped Ramsey for being a coward, "a man without a backbone," as well as an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia and its police department.

    In the rogue cops trial that lasted seven weeks, McMahon functioned as the lead defense lawyer, tearing apart a bunch of drug dealers as well as former Officer Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness against his former fellow members of the narcotics field unit.

    McMahon is pissed because ten months ago, when the defendants were indicted, Ramsey, playing judge and jury, pronounced them all guilty at a press conference. The rogue cops case was "one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard" in his 40 years as a cop, Ramsey said. To make it worse, Ramsey told reporters that he was going to destroy the former officers' badges.

    Then, after a jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges, Ramsey didn't offer any apologies. Instead the police commissioner who fired the defendants said they would have to go through arbitration to get their jobs back.

    McMahon
    "Dear Mr. Ramsey," McMahon began in his May 19th letter. "I want to share with you some information that apparently in your 40 years in law enforcement and the criminal justice system you have not learned: Citizens, which by the way includes police officers, are PRESUMED INNOCENT when charges are brought against them by the government. This bedrock constitutional principle protects all of us, even you, Mr. Ramsey. It is shocking and disappointing to see someone who should know better so disgustingly disregard such a fundamental American concept."

    "Your comments at the time of the six narcotics officers' arrests were not only a blatant disregard of these constitutional protections but a complete abrogation of your role as a leader of the rank and file police officers. The only information you had was the charging indictment, yet you said it was the worst case of police corruption you had ever seen in 40 years and called for melting the officers' badges before one witness was called or one verdict rendered."

    "Is that your interpretation of 'fair;' is that your interpretation of 'justice;' and is that how you would want a family member of yours to be treated by those in a position of authority? You jumped on the expedient bandwagon for political reasons without any careful and conscientious review of the real evidence. Why could you not have waited until an objective, complete and fair process played out in court? Your ugly arrogance continued even after total vindication on every count of every officer. You said, 'I thought the government had  good case' -- yet you never knew the true facts and still don't know them and twelve citizens, without your political agenda, have rejected any unfounded belief you might have had."

    "Any real man, faced with the repudiation of his beliefs, and after making such outrageous defamatory comments would apologize. You, however, have to choose the coward's way by digging your heels even deeper in your misguided and erroneous beliefs to prevent the unthinkable, that you were dead wrong and embarrassed yourself to the people of Philadelphia."

    "All of us make mistakes, but a man of character owns his mistakes and learns; a man without backbone and strength will never go that route. Every police officer in this city should, and probably does, know just what kind of real man you are. I can only hope that in the future some fair-minded person in authority will recognize this and move the leadership of this great police department in a completely different direction."

    "Sincerely, Jack McMahon."

    A spokesperson for Ramsey did not respond to a request for comment.

    The same day he letter-bombed Ramsey, McMahon went after the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board.

    In case you missed it, the newspaper that usually acts as the press agent for the U.S. Attorney's office printed an editorial on May 19th saying that Police Commissioner Ramsey didn't owe the defendants in the rogue cops case an apology.

    Ramsey
    Under the headline "Define Not Guilty," the Inquirer editorial board wrote, "A lawyer for one of the defendants had the audacity to say Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey owes an apology to the former officers he fired. But Ramsey doesn't need to apologize. He has been consistent in trying to root out corruption in his force."

    "The charges against the defendants sounded like the script from the movie Training Day, which depicts rogue narcotics cops who stole from drug-dealers," the editorial continued. "Real-life Philadelphia drug dealers testified to being locked in car trunks, dangled from balconies, beaten, and robbed."

    "In the end, the jury apparently could not accept the testimony of drug dealers, who are not known for their honesty. Nor did it believe the testimony of a former partner of the defendants who pleaded guilty to corruption and said the other officers were guilty too."

    "The jurors aren't speaking, but it could be that some were also caught up in an national wave of sympathy for police officers that has developed in reaction to violent antipolice protests," the Inquirer editorial concluded in an impressive exercise of group mind-reading. "While not all cops are bad -- in fact, most aren't -- a corollary is also true: Not all cops are innocent."

    When McMahon wrote the Inquirer editorial board, he began by responding to the request in their headline to "define not guilty."

    "Dear Editorial Board," McMahon wrote. "Let me give you and your board a quick dictionary lesson. 'Guilty' means culpable for committing an offense, and even your board, working collectively, can probably figure out 'not.'

    "Your editorial of today regarding the six narcotics police officers is shockingly misguided and without any appreciation of the bedrock constitutional principles that protect even you and your editorial board."

    "The justice system of our country is so designed that rumor, innuendo and mere allegations are given a full, complete and fair analysis before they can be accepted as truthful. Your editorial demeans and marginalizes a system meticulously designed for fairness."

    "You and your paper clearly were wishing for a different verdict to advanced your preconceived agenda. Justice and truth prevailed and you simply cannot accept it, and have taken the tact of giving credence to unresolved lawsuits, making accusatory allegations against the jury and disregarding the truth-finding function of a criminal jury trial."

    "I would like to know which one of your editorial board sat through any of the trial to make such spurious and unfounded comments. You say it 'sounded like' the movie Training Day. Thankfully for all of us 'sounded like' is not a standard our system embraces."

    The Ivory Tower Of Truth
    "You probably know more about the movie than the true facts of this case. Your editorial can't even get the rejected facts right. No drug dealer testified about being locked in a car trunk. No drug dealer testified of being 'dangled' from a balcony and the only person supposedly beaten has an arrest picture that looks like he's going to the prom. The hubris of this editorial to indicate facts that weren't even alleged demonstrates your lack of knowledge of the case and your unfair agenda."

    McMahon goes on to tell the editorial board about how "Mr. Ramsey jumped on the expedient bandwagon for political reasons."

    "In my world," McMahon wrote, "when you make outrageous defamatory comments that are later completely repudiated by twelve citizens [on a jury], an apology is the manly thing to do."

    "You can be sure that the government picked the 'best' of the cases from the 80 [civil] lawsuits [filed against the cops] to make up the indictment and yet they were totally rejected. I can only imagine the quality of the rest of these cases. If the city doesn't cave in to mass extortion, fed by editorials such as this, they too will be successful and can direct those funds in a better direction than to the 'anxiety' issues of drug dealers."

    "Lastly, to suggest that this jury, after working diligently for seven weeks, made their decision based on a 'wave of sympathy' is an insult to each of those twelve good citizens who committed their time, intelligence, and emotion to this endeavor."

    "Sincerely, Jack McMahon."

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Thomas A. Bergstrom, the defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, is seeking a return visit before a panel of three state Superior Court judges who previously ruled that his client should get out of jail immediately.

    Bergstrom also is seeking permission to brief that Superior Court panel on other appeal issues that the defense lawyer hopes will get his client a new trial.

    In response, top appeal lawyers for District Attorney R. Seth Williams argued that Bergstrom was "judge-shopping." Furthermore, the D.A. asserted that the state Superior Court panel of judges that previously ruled on the Lynn case had made a "material misrepresentation of the law." Because of that material misrepresentation, the district attorney argued in his brief, it would constitute an "appearance of impropriety" if the same panel were allowed to rehear the case.

    On Wednesday, Bergstrom filed a reply brief that claimed the D.A.'s accusation of judge-shopping was "unfounded and insulting." Regarding the alleged material misrepresentation of the law, Bergstrom wrote that the charge was "disturbing." He argued that the Superior Court panel of judges was best-suited to rehear the Lynn case because they are already familiar with it.


    Msgr. Lynn is the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who was convicted three years ago by a jury on one count of endangering the welfare of a child [EWOC].

    On July 24, 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in jail.

    Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence when on Dec. 26, 2013 a panel of three state Superior Court judges -- John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno -- reversed the monsignor's conviction and ordered him "released forthwith." But Judge Sarmina didn't agree, and instead imposed conditions on the defendant that amounted to house arrest.

    Lynn had spent 16 months under house arrest until April 27th, when the state Supreme Court reversed the reversal by the Superior Court. Three days later, Judge Sarmina granted a motion by the D.A.'s office to revoke bail and send Lynn back to jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

    Bergstrom filed a motion seeking a return before the same panel of state Superior Court judges, so the panel could rule on other appeal issues in the case.

    On May 15th, Ronald Eisenberg, deputy of the law division of the D.A.'s office, and Hugh J. Burns Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit, filed a 9-page answer to the defense petition that opposed a return visit to that same panel of state Superior Court judges.

    Lynn was convicted under the state's original child endangerment law that says, "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

    The state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction because the court found Lynn did not have "any direct supervisory role over" the victim, the district attorney wrote. In rendering their decision, the Superior Court panel "heavily relied" on a previous 1998 case, Commonwealth v. Halye, which held that the "true meaning" of "supervising the welfare of a a child" was "not supervision of children's welfare but 'actual' or 'direct' supervision of children," the district attorney wrote.

    The Superior Court also took "the highly unusual step" of declaring that Lynn was "ordered discharged forthwith."

    "The original panel's decision is the one and only published Pennsylvania appellate decision, that, in granting relief on the basis of insufficient evidence, ordered the appellant 'discharged forthwith,'" the district attorney wrote.

    The state Supreme Court found that the Superior Court panel had misstated the meaning of the Halye case, the district attorney wrote.

    "This is a high profile case," the district attorney wrote, so avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a "particularly acute consideration."

    "In that regard the appearance that defendant is judge shopping should be avoided," the district attorney wrote.

    In their brief, the district attorney said that Superior Court panel had claimed as "unmistakable" a Superior Court ruling that "simply does not exist." That mistake does not constitute a "mere error of law, but a material representation of the law," the district attorney wrote. "Such conduct creates an appearance of impropriety."

    "The appropriate exercise of discretion is to assign this case on remand to a different panel," the district attorney concluded.

    In a second brief of 12 pages filed May 18th, the district attorney opposed Bergstrom's motion to file an additional briefing with the state Superior Court.

    "This argument not only disregards the final and controlling decision of the Surpme Court that the evidence is sufficient, it mischaracterizes that [Supreme] Court's opinion as if it somehow invited further litigation of this settled issue," the district attorney wrote.  Bergstrom's "latest legal gyration . . . should be rejected," the district attorney wrote.

    On May 20th, Bergstrom filed a 5-page reply in support of his previous motions to return before the state Superior Court panel, and be allowed an additional briefing.

    Instead of engaging in judge shopping, Bergstrom argued, his motivation was to seek a decision on the appeal issues in the case as soon as possible. Especially now that his client is back in jail.

    "The original panel is clearly familiar with this long, complicated case and thus would be in the best position to reach a decision in the most expeditious manner," Bergstrom wrote.

    "The Commonwealth also alleges impropriety based upon the original Panel's alleged 'material misrepresentation of the law,'" Bergstrom wrote. "This disturbing accusation is not supported by either the facts or the law."

    Bergstrom in his brief pointed out that at the opinion arrived at by the three Superior Court judges was the same opinion stated by Chief Justice Saylor of the Supreme Court in a dissent.

    "Differences of opinion among judges happen constantly, and rarely amount to a 'material misrepresentation of the law,'" Bergstrom wrote.

    In their opinion, the state Supreme Court ruled that under the law, Lynn was considered an "other person supervising the welfare of a child." 

    "In other words, the supreme court decided the very narrow issue of whether ... Msgr. Lynn, could be a supervisor who could, therefore, be convicted of EWOC, and determined that he could,"Bergstrom wrote. "What the Supreme Court did not decide was whether the 'Commonwealth's evidence sufficed to prove that [Lynn] was aware of his duty of care, protection or support [whether] he violated this duty or [whether] he knowingly endangered the welfare of a child, because, again, these questions are beyond our grant of allowance of appeal."

    "None of those elements of EWOC were before the Supreme Court, but they are directly before" the Superior Court on appeal, Bergstrom wrote. So an "additional briefing would assist this Court by further exploring those additional elements of the crime of EWOC."

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    They may not have their jobs back yet or their paychecks.

    But the six defendants in the so-called rogue cops case are getting a parade down Broad Street.

    So says James J. Binns, now in his tenth year as president and CEO of the Hero Thrill Show. It's an annual event that raises money for college scholarships to benefit the sons and daughters of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

    On Saturday Oct. 10, former Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser will be grand marshals of the 61st annual Hero Thrill Show, Binns said. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at City Hall. The six former narcotics cops and their families will ride in six white Bentley convertibles in a "Heroes Parade" down Broad Street.

    The parade ends at the Wells Fargo Center, where the thrill show will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Last year's event attracted 50,000 people. This year, Binns hopes to triple that number.

    Binns was the defense lawyer for Michael Spicer, the only one of the defendants to take the stand. After a seven-week trial, all six former members of the Narcotics Field Unit were found not guilty on all 47 charges contained in a 26-count federal RICO indictment.

    "These heroes have been vilified in the press and it's time that they were recognized as the heroes they are, Binns said. Asked if expects any controversy, Binns responded, "I don't see how any reasonable fair-minded individual could have the slightest doubt about their innocence if you were there and heard the testimony."

    Police Commissioner Ramsey might not be there at the parade to cheer on his former narcotics officers. Ramsey, who fired the six after they were indicted last year, has said they'll have to go to arbitration to get their jobs back.

    The former cops are still defendants in some 80 civil rights lawsuits filed against the city. In what amounted to a holiday for drug dealers, more than 400 arrests by the defendants were also thrown out of court. But Binns doesn't seem too worried about any negative fallout from cheering on the former narcs.

    In an email today to 150 motorcycle cops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware that he rides with at charity events, Binns talked about what the defendants went through:

    "They persevered through an 8-year investigation, 5:30 a.m. arrests at gunpoint with AR-15 rifles pointed at their heads, incredible humiliation of their wives and children INSIDE THEIR HOMES [they all worked 2 blocks away from the Federal Building and didn't wear weapons], 10 days of pre-bail incarceration in solitary confinement [8 months in the case of Officer Liciardello, who was denied bail], 8 months of house arrest with ankle bracelets and 7 weeks of trial."

    "They, like you, are Heroes who form the Thin Blue Line," Binns wrote the motorcycle cops. "They, like you, are whom Our Lord spoke about at the Sermon on the Mount where he discussed the Seventh of the Eight Beatitudes upon which he built His Church. He told the assembled multitudes: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.' Be safe out there! Jimmy Binns."

    In his email to the motorcycle cops, Binns included an email from Lt. Robert Otto, a supervisor of the Narcotics Field Unit who was a witness during the trial. Otto sent the email to Binns and five other defense lawyers in the case.

    "I know that Joe [Sgt. Joseph McCloskey] and I were not on trial and in jeopardy of losing our freedom for crimes we did not commit," Otto wrote, "but we anguished with these men and their families for a very long time."

    "While I know you guys are the best at what you do and you all worked tirelessly to ensure these innocent men were set free, I also believe that divine intervention guided you all in the form of the Blessed Mother and God's will."

    "I cannot and will not ever forget what you have done for these men and their families," Otto wrote. "As I know they are, so am I forever indebted to you. I am still very emotional over this . . . Their families also deserve much thanks and credit for being so strong throughout this ordeal."

    "You are all my HEROES," Otto wrote to the six defense lawyers.

    "Your friend, Bob Otto."

    For more details about the Hero Thrill Show check out herothrillshow.org.

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  • 05/27/15--09:09: "I Stood Up For A Hero"
  • Michael J. Diamondstein's closing in the rogue cops case.




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  • 05/29/15--02:44: About That Parade . . .
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    As Babs Would Sing, Don't Rain On My Parade!
    for Bigtrial.net

    A funny thing happened to that proposed Heroes Parade down Broad Street for six former narcotics officers found not guilty by a jury two weeks ago on 47 racketeering charges.

    A week after he announced plans on this blog to honor the defendants in the so-called rogue cops case, James J. Binns, the CEO and president of the annual Hero Thrill Show, changed his mind.

    "In my opinion, it's more important for these men to enjoy their families and get their lives back in order after what has unquestionably been an ordeal," Binns said in a phone interview.

    "The Hero Thrill Show stands on its own merit," Binns said. "There should be no confusion here."

    The thrill show, he said is about raising money to pay for the education of the children of police officers and firefighters who have "given their lives in the line of duty," Binns said. "And nothing should detract from that."

    Certainly not a "bunch of pissants," Binns said, referring to the critics still sniping at the defendants.

    It's been a week since Binns sent up a trial balloon about a parade honoring the former narcs.

    Last Friday, Binns, one of the defense lawyers in the case, told Big Trial, "These heroes have been vilified in the press and it's time that they were recognized as the heroes they are."

    That's why Binns wanted the six former members of the Narcotics Field Unit to ride as grand marshals in a parade down Broad St., on their way to the Oct. 10th Hero Thrill Show at the Wells Fargo Center.

    A week later, Binns told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "I just think that all things considered, it was better to stick with Cathy."

    Cathy is Cathy Burke, owner of the Irish Pub. According to what Binns told the Inquirer, Burke will ride in a white Bentley convertible as the grand marshal of the parade, rather than the six former narcs.

    Some people think it would be inappropriate to honor the former narcs with a parade.

    The Inquirer reported a tweet by Ed McCann, first assistant at the Philadelphia district attorney's office who said, " A not guilty verdict means the prosecution didn't prove its case. Doesn't mean you are innocent or owed an apology and a parade in your honor."

    That quote ticked off Binns, who referred to McCann as a "little pissant."

    "If he [McCann] got into Mike Spicer's car on a Friday night he would need seven changes of underwear," Binns said.

    Binns defended former Police Officer Michael Spicer for free. Spicer, a former milkman, was the only one of the six defendants to testify at the seven-week trial that concluded with all six defendants being acquitted on all 47 charges contained in a  26-count racketeering indictment.

    As far as the Hero Thrill Show is concerned, no matter who the grand marshal is, it's still a worthy cause.


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    The sentencing of mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and three co-defendant convicted of looting a Texas mortgage company has been put off for the third time while a judge decides whether information in a modern day slave labor case should have been turned over to the defense prior to the trial.

    Scarfo, 49, was scheduled to be sentenced this morning for his role in the secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial back in 2007. Co-defendant and alleged mastermind of the scam, Salvatore Pelullo, 47, was scheduled to be sentenced yesterday. Both sentencings, along with those of co-defendant brothers John and William Maxwell, have been pushed back to July in order to give Judge Robert Kugler a chance to rule on 11th hour motions from the defense camp seeking to overturn the convictions.

    Lawyers for Scarfo and Pelullo have argued that the prosecution withheld information about a separate investigation that could have provided ammunition to discredit government witnesses in the FirstPlus case.

    "The government withheld evidence that was demonstrably relevant in the (FirstPlus) trial," Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley wrote in a motion filed last month. The result, Riley contends, "cut deeply into the guarantee of due process and gravely impaired the basic function of the court."

    Prosecutors, in a response brief filed yesterday, argued that the motions were "nothing more than last ditch efforts" by the defense to "forestall their well deserved sentences."

    The motions focus on a racketeering case in Philadelphia in which five Ukrainian brothers were charged with bringing workers from the Ukraine into the United States illegally and then forcing the them to work for little or no pay for cleaning service companies the brothers controlled.

    The Philadelphia-based operation was the target of a federal investigation that resulted in the convictions of the organizers, including brothers Omelyan and Stepan Botsvynyuk. Omelyan, 52, was sentenced to life plus 20 years on racketeering and extortion charges.

    Testimony at his four-week trial indicated he beat, threatened and sexually assault workers while forcing then to live in housing he provided and working six- and seven-day weeks with little or no pay. The government contended the workers were told they had to work off debts of from $10,000 to $50,000, the cost of bringing them to the United States.

    Two of the cleaning companies controlled by the Botsvynyuk brothers -- A-Plus Cleaning and U.S. Cleaning -- at one time shared offices with cleaning companies owned by Pelullo. The Botsvynyuk companies did contract work for major department stores, including Wal-Mart, Target and Safeway.

    There was no evidence indicating that those stores were aware of the "enslaved labor" situation that the investigation uncovered. But there were indications that during the investigation, Pelullo was picked up on surveillance and that possible links to his cleaning companies were explored.

    Riley, Scarfo's lawyer, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the defense should have been provided with details about that probe and any overlap with the FirstPlus investigation. Riley said he was particularly interested in any links in the two investigations to Corey Leshner, a key Pelullo associate who emerged as a star prosecution witness during the trial.

    Leshner had worked at Pelullo's industrial cleaning company before taking part in the FirstPlus operation. Riley said he would have liked to have had the opportunity to ask Leshner what he knew about the slave labor operation when he was on the witness stand.

    "The information would have served the defense as potent impeachment ammunition in discrediting various government witnesses," Riley wrote in his motion.

    In a response motion filed yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Gross, said that none of the charges in the slave labor case "are remotely related" to the charges in the FirstPlus case and that there was no relevant overlap in the investigations.

    "Nothing in the Botsvynyuk documents suggests that Leshner had any involvement" in any of the slave labor crimes, Gross wrote, adding that Scarfo's arguments are "built on a foundation of sand" and that "Scarfo's contention that he could have tarred Leshner with the Botsvynyuk brush is merely wishful thinking."

    Gross called the defense arguments the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, a desperate effort with time running out to alter the inevitable. Scarfo and Pelullo, both with prior federal convictions, are looking at potential 30-year sentences. The Maxwell brothers -- John served as CEO of FirstPlus and William was private counsel to the firm -- are looking at less time because neither has a criminal record.

    The government alleged that Scarfo and Pelullo took behind-the-scenes control of FirstPlus in 2007 and that the Maxwell brothers help facilitate the siphoning of more than $12 million out of the company's coffers through bogus business deals, inflated consulting contracts and exorbitant  purchases and expenses.

    Judge Kugler has been given the FBI documents from the slave labor case cited by Pelullo's lawyers to review privately prior to a hearing next month. Scarfo's request to be permitted to subpoena documents from the that case "is the epitome of a fishing expedition," Gross argued, and should be denied. 

    Neither Pelullo nor Scarfo were implicated in any way in the slave labor case, Gross wrote, adding that Scarfo's attempt to make that point somehow relevant to the FirstPlus conviction is disingenuous.

    "One might also say that the Government has failed to uncover evidence that Scarfo is responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa," Gross wrote. "But that does not undermine one whit the evidence of Scarfo's guilt in this case."

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

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    Photo: Gary Pancavage
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Almost a century ago, the fabled Pennsylvania Railroad had a safety system in place on the tracks at the Frankford Junction curve that would have automatically put the brakes on a speeding locomotive.

    The old safety system was a "marvel of technology and engineering when it was conceived, designed and installed 90 years ago," wrote Bennett Levin, a professional engineer and former commissioner of Philadelphia's Department of Licenses & Inspections.

    Levin, a self-described train nut, owns a train yard where he restores antique railroad cars and locomotives less than a mile from the site of the May 12th derailment that killed 8 people and injured more than 200. He also served for six years as a voting member of the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, until the early 2000s.

    The old Pennsylvania RR safety system "is still functionally sufficient to insure safe operation today," Levin wrote in a primer on the derailment circulated among some 100 people on an email chain. But would that old PRR system have prevented last month's fatal derailment at Frankford Junction?

    "That's a hypothetical question," Levin said in an interview. "We still don't know why he [the engineer] sped up. But in the normal course of business that system would have countermanded a mental lapse or a distraction" on the part of the engineer.

    A couple of decades ago, however, a key feature of that old safety system was believed to have been removed from the one pair of tracks at Frankford Junction where the accident occurred. In the wake of the derailment, the mystery of why a perfectly functional safety system may have been disabled could be of interest to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, and to the members of a congressional panel who have scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. today.

    But if Congress and and the media can't figure it out, expect the trial lawyers to jump on it. Especially with a $200 million incentive, namely that civil damages cap on rail accidents.


    There are four pairs of parallel passenger tracks that run "railroad" north-south through the Frankford Junction complex. The fatal derailment occurred on Track 1, the pair of tracks on the eastern-most side of the yard.

    The unlucky passengers aboard Amtrak's Northeast Regional Train 188 were headed north on Track 1 when the derailment occurred. Train 188 ran off Track 1 and plowed through an adjacent freight yard.

    Tracks 2 and 3 have been upgraded to a more modern positive train control [PTC] system in place, a system mandated in 2008 by Congress that is costing the railroad industry billions of dollars. According to a congressional mandate, the PTC systems were supposed to be in place by the end of this year.

    All four pairs of tracks at one time were outfitted with an automatic braking system put in place during the 1920s by the old Pennsy Railroad.

    On Track 4, the old PRR safety system is still in place and fully functional.

    But on Track 1, a key feature of the automatic-braking system believed to have been removed decades ago. At the time, trains on that track were typically traveling at a speed well under the calculated tipping speed of a train as they approached the curve.

    NTSB officials, however, have said Train 188 was doing 106 mph on the Frankford Junction curve where the speed limit is 50. The train route and accident site is shown in a 1985 video posted on youtube.com, with the Frankford Junction curve appearing at the 12 minute mark.

    Safety has always been a paramount concern for railroad management. When Congress passed the Federal Employees Liability Act [FELA] of 1908 it set railroads apart from other employers and substantially increased the financial penalties for injures sustained by workers while on the job.

    The law is a powerful incentive. Under FELA, railroad workers not covered by workers' compensation are able to sue their employers over injury claims. FELA allows monetary payouts for pain and suffering based on comparative negligence, rather than according to a schedule of pre-determined benefits mandated for non-railroad workers under workers' compensation law.

    The move to automatically control train speeds dates back to 1922, when the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a ruling requiring all trains to be equipped with automatic train stop technology that would kick in if an engineer failed to respond to a signal requiring that some action be taken to reduce the speed of the train.

    In 1923, according to a 1976 Congressional report from its Office of Technology Assessment, "Automatic Train Control In Rail Rapid Transit," the Pennsylvania RR "placed in service, experimentally, the first installation anywhere of the continuous inductive cab signal and train controlling system covering 43.5 miles of single track and 3.4 miles of two-track, between Lewistown and Sunbury."

    This was the first time that "cab signals were used in lieu of wayside signals for operating trains by signal indication," according to the Congressional report.

    In 1926, the "Cab Signaling System" [CSS] developed by Union Switch & Signal and the General Railway Signal Co. was installed on the Pennsylvania Railroad. The system uses electric signals transmitted within railroad tracks themselves and received by a signal displayed inside the locomotive cab.

    "Generally, signals did not determine speed restrictions on any given piece of track but rather the distance between trains occupying the same track," Levin wrote.

    CSS was installed first on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pittsburgh Division. Then, it was installed by the Pennsylvania RR from New York to Washington and Harrisburg. By the end of the 1930s, the system was in place all the way to Chicago and St. Louis.

    The early systems had a display in the locomotive cabs that duplicated the railroad signals along the side of the railroad right of way. The display in the cab was also equipped with a warning whistle. The system was designed so that it could be modified to accommodate speed restrictions that the wayside signals did not usually display.

    According to Levin, the PRR "added features that allowed a 'phantom device' to be installed at critical locations [like Frankford Junction] to cause a signal to be displayed in the cab of a locomotive . . . that was more restricting than the indication on the next wayside signal that would force the engineer to make a brake application not in conformity with the actual track occupancy."

    This "phantom device" was the safety feature absent on the Frankford Junction that was believed to have been removed decades later.

    In 1933, according to the 1976 Congressional report, the "Pennsylvania RR was granted permission by the ICC to convert all its locomotives equipped with the coded continuous train stop system to the coded continuous cab signal system with whistle and acknowledger."

    The operation of the cab signal system and the automatic speed control system with the warning whistle was demonstrated memorably in a 1952 promotional film,"Progress On The Rails," produced by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and posted on youtube.com. [Start watching at 4 minutes and end at 8]. According to the film, the engineer had six seconds to obey a signal to reduce his speed or the system would do it automatically for him, slowing the train to a dead stop.

    Even though the old system was perfectly functional, Congress in 1988 passed a law requiring that all trains operating after April 1, 1990 on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston shall be equipped with "automatic train control systems designed to slow or stop a train in response to external signals."

    But implementation was delayed. It wasn't until 2008 that Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act that required railroads to install much more expensive positive train control systems by Dec. 15, 2015.

    On May 21, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order mandating that an Automatic Train Control [ATC] system be installed on Track 1 at Frankford Junction, where the accident occurred. It was a classic case of locking the barn door the after the horse was out. In essence, the fix called for the replacement of the phantom signal device that was believed to have been removed decades ago.

    The derailment is being investigated by the NTSB; it's also the subject of a 10 a.m. hearing today of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

    At the hearing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Amtrak Chief Executive Joseph Boardman testified that an older safety system was in fact in place on southbound tracks at Frankford Junction, but not on the northbound side where the train derailed because Amtrak did not believe it was needed there.

    "The notion that an engineer might actually accelerate into the northbound curve was not a circumstance we anticipated," Boardman said in his opening statement. The older safety system was installed on that side of the track shortly after the accident, the Inquirer reported.

    Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the NTSB, also testified before Congress today about the old safety system.

    "The area is equipped with automatic train control [ATC], an older automatic braking system," Hart testified, according to a transcript published by the NTSB. "ATC is designed to enforce restrictive and stop signals by applying a penalty brake application to slow or stop the train to prevent or mitigate the results of a train-to-train collision."

    "The system can be configured to permanently display a restrictive signal that would apply a penalty brake application if the train exceeds a preset speed limit," Hart said. "This particular ATC configuration was in place on the southbound tracks where a greater speed reduction was required; [but] there were no automatic systems in place to enforce the 50 mph permanent speed restriction at the curve on the northbound tracks where the accident occurred."

    Any changes in safety measures regarding railroads typically must be approved by the federal government. Would the government be liable for approving the removal of the former safety system from the Frankford Junction curve?

    "This raises very serious concerns as to whether the government has any independent responsibility above and beyond what Amtrak did or did not do," said Heidi Villari, a lawyer at The Beasley Firm. "The original safety measures that were known to be in place were not replaced in time for the accident," she said. "These issues as well as whatever immunities the government may benefit from will have to be resolved in the civil lawsuits to follow."

    In the wake of the Frankford Junction derailment, civil litigants are limited by a $200 million cap on rail accident damages imposed by Congress in 1997; an amount that local trial lawyers are already saying won't be enough.

    It's tough for people who use Amtrak today to really appreciate the ingenuity of the technology developed and installed by the former Pennsylvania Railroad almost 100 years ago. The railroad's advertising slogan back then was "speed and security."

    "Do not think of the Pennsylvania Railroad as a business enterprise," Fortune Magazine wrote in a cover story back in 1936. "Think of it as a nation. It is a bigger nation than Turkey or Uruguay. Its boundaries are wider and it has larger revenues and a larger public debt than they. Corporately also it behaves like a nation; it blankets the lives of its 10,000 citizens like a nation, it requires an allegiance as single as a patriot's."

    The PRR safety system formerly in place in the Frankford Junction yard is "still functionally sufficient to insure safe operation today," Levin wrote. "Furthermore, it is not subject to "hacking attacks" or attacks on the 'grid'" that might disable the new ATC systems operated by computers, Levin said.

    "Simplicity is the key and reliability has been its hallmark."

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


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    As Newspaper Guild members voted overwhelmingly last night to authorize what would be the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years, people were asking about "Gerry."

    "The real question is, is Gerry aware of what's going on," asked Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. Ross said he was amazed that "such a great philanthropist as Gerry would allow things to get to this point."

    "Gerry" is H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the 85-year-old former billionaire philanthropist who overpaid when he and the late Lewis Katz bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com on May 27, 2014 for the inflated price of $88 million. [When Katz died in a plane crash, Lenfest was left holding the bag as sole owner]. After 35 fruitless negotiating sessions over 7 months, Guild members voted 287 to 26 to authorize union leaders to prepare for a strike on June 27th, when the current contract expires.

    If there's a newspaper strike, "It's part of his legacy," Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild said about Lenfest. "If they [the newspapers] fail on his his watch that certainly doesn't jive with all the great things that he's done."

    Amy Buckman, the former TV reporter who's the public relations manager for Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the owner of the two newspapers and philly.com, insists that Geriatric Gerry is awake and alert, and up to speed.

    "I can assure you that the company negotiators keep the Owner/Publisher updated on the ongoing talks," Buckman said in an email. She also reiterated in a prepared statement that if the Guild goes on strike, Philadelphia Media Network will continue to publish a newspaper and keep the website going, presumably with replacement workers.

    Stu Bykofsky, veteran Daily News columnist, is one of the old-timers who remembers the last newspaper strike of 1985 that lasted 46 days.

    "We don't want to strike, but if they force us into it we will have no choice, and we'll be ready," Bykofsky said as he cast his vote.

    "I've never seen the membership so mobilized," Ross said. That's because they're desperate.

    "We've lost half our membership in the past 15 years," a Newspaper Guild statement said. "We've given up sick days, daily overtime and salary. When will the company understand the harsh economic realities facing its employees?"

    The Guild and management are fighting over seniority and health benefits. The Guild says the company wants concessions on seniority and also is trying to extract an additional $60 to $150 a week from each worker's paychecks to make up for a $2.8 million shortfall in the company's health care program.

    As employees filed in to cast their votes, the talk was if they have to go to the mattresses, it was time to get tough with Gerry.

    Union members have taken notice of a recent Facebook post by Lenfest's son Chase. On the occasion of his father's 85th birthday, Chase Lenfest gushed about his father's generosity.

    "My father H.F. [Gerry] Lenfest will be 85 years old this Friday and has done more for this city than possibly anyone else in its history," Chase Lenfest wrote. "He grew up with no money and . . . made billions of dollars selling Suburban cable to Comcast in 2000 and is giving every penny he has away before he dies."

    "He is or until recently was chairman of the board of the Art Museum, the Curtis School of Music, The American Revolutionary Center to name a few, in addition to giving thousands of scholarships to needy Philadelphia students," Chase Lenfest wrote.

    "He grew up working extremely hard on a farm and was captain of a destroyer in the Navy," Chase Lenfest wrote about his father. "He is all about hard work and has never worked less than 60-70 hours a week. He still lives in the 3-bedroom 2,000 square foot home I grew up in. My parents have never had a maid or a landscaper or any help. All he cares about is doing EVERYTHING he can while he has time to help as many people as possible."

    "He is a great guy," Gensler conceded. But now, "Gerry needs to do the right thing for his employees," the union president said. They "should not have to go broke paying for health care."


    In a swipe at the company's requests for concessions on seniority, the Newspaper Guild published an ad in the May 29th Daily News that said, "Seniority Matters. Happy 85th Birthday to Publisher HF "Gerry" Lenfest. From the Newspaper guild -- CWA Local 38010."

    Can a parasite bill a host?
    If Philadelphia Media Network needs to cut needless expenses, sources say that former Inky Publisher Brian Tierney is still billing the company between $20,000 and $25,000 a month for his "services" as a consultant. Can a parasite bill a host? Tierney was fired in 2013 after company officials discovered they paid him $25,000 a month for three straight months to boost advertising revenues, and that for three straight months Tierney brought in zip.

    Lenfest, however, in one of his first brilliant moves as the new owner, reinstated Tierney as a consultant.

    Buckman did not respond to a request for comment regarding Tierney's bills. In her defense, maybe she was busy rounding up scabs.

    Guild members remember Tierney not so fondly as the guy who overpaid when he bought the papers in 2006 for $515 million. The guy who in December 2008 awarded himself and another executive, Mark Frisby, -- another guy brought back by Lenfest -- six-figure bonuses. Then, three months later, Tierney filed for bankruptcy.

    And while in bankruptcy in 2009,  Tierney defaulted on a $50 million payment owed the Guild pension fund. A fund that Guild officials say as a consequence will run dry in eleven years.

    Tierney doesn't just confine his talents to the Inquirer. He's also chairman of the Poynter Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Florida nonprofit institute for journalism. According to the Poynter Foundation's 990 tax filings, Tierney hasn't raised a dime for the foundation the past two years.

    At least he's remarkably consistent.

    Beginning on Sunday, local Newspaper Guild leaders will be in Detroit, meeting with the leaders of the Communication Workers of America and the International Newspaper Guild, to seek funds for a strike.

    In response to the union strike vote, spokesperson Buckman said that while PMN "recognizes and respects the right of the Guild members to authorize" a strike vote, that decision "does not change PMN's commitment to operate both digitally and in print in the event of a strike, so that we can continue to serve our readers, subscribers, advertisers and employees, and so we can best protect the long-term future of our company."

    Management has warned the union that in the event of a strike their pay and health benefits would end immediately.

    So would Gerry's reputation as a philanthropist.

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Robert Kushner said he told the truth when he took the witness stand as the prosecution's leadoff witness in the trial of six Philadelphia narcotics cops indicted for allegedly going rogue.

    A jury verdict last month finding all six not guilty doesn't change any of that, the bulky 32-year-old former marijuana dealer said as he sat in a deli off City Avenue earlier this week offering more questions than answers in the wake of the high profile trial and what he said was "the perfect crime" committed by men sworn to uphold the law.

    "I know what happened to me," Kushner said as he calmly recounted the same details he had offered the federal court jury when he took the stand back in March. "Those charges were valid."

    Kushner, who lost his job as a basketball coach at a private high school after he took the stand and went public with his drug dealing past, said he had nothing to gain by lying and in fact had lost more -- a job he loved -- by taking the stand.

    "I'm not suing the city (as dozens of other drug dealers arrested by members of the tainted Narcotics Field Unit are)," he said. "My arrest had been expunged because I was a first time offender. I had nothing to gain."

    Kushner said he was not speaking for any of the other witnesses and could not comment on the validity of what they had alleged. But he repeated again and again that his story was true. Why the jury didn't accept it, he said, is a question that he asks over and over.

    Only those who served on the jury have the answer to that and thus far none of the six men and six women who heard testimony during the seven-week trial and spent another week in closed door deliberations have commented publicly. (Any juror who would like to do so, is invited to contact bigtrial.net.)

    A George Washington University graduate from Lower Merion who drifted into the drug underworld after graduating, Kushner does not try to sugarcoat his past or the troubling back story that is also part of his life.

    His father, Alan, a chiropractor, was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman in 2007 to kill his wife, Robert Kushner's mother. The case was never mentioned during the trial, but it underscores the troubled and dysfunctional family background of the prosecution's leadoff witness. Testimony at Alan Kushner's trial in 2009 indicated the family estate was worth about $5 million.

    Robert Kushner said he grew up in an economically comfortable home environment. But, he said, the family dynamic was less than harmonious. His father, he said, provided for him materially, but was not there in other ways. His father and mother were estranged long before his father allegedly sought to end the marriage through a murder-for-hire contract. 

    He used his father's case -- Alan Kushner was sentenced to 71/2-to-20 years and is now in jail -- in explaining his conflicted feelings over the jury verdict in the narco cops case.

    "Do I think my dad did what he was accused of?" Kushner asks. "Yes. Do I know for sure? No."

    But in the police corruption case, he said, "I know for sure what happened. I know what they did to me."

    Kushner told the jury he had gone from a recreational marijuana user to being a big time seller by the time he was targeted by Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds and Jeffrey Walker, three members of the Narcotics Field Unit, in October 2007.

    Liciardello, Reynolds and four other member of the Narcotics Field Unit were indicted in 2013 in a racketeering conspiracy case that alleged they systematically targeted drug dealings, stealing more than $500,000 in cash, valuables and narcotics and then falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.

    Walker was not charged in that case because he had been arrested in an earlier FBI sting and agree to cooperate. He testified for the prosecution in the corruption trial. Among other things, Walker corroborated Kushner's testimony. But the jury, it would appear, found the corrupt cop no more credible that the 14 drug dealers who took the stand.

    "Garbage bags" was one of the terms the defense used to describe the government witnesses, drug dealers and a dirty cop who were less than credible and who should not be believed.

    "I can't speak for anyone else," said Kushner, who followed the trial in the media after he had his day in court. He rolls his eyes over the testimony of a suspected heroin dealer who had a loaded AK-47 in the apartment where he lived with his wife and five young children. The target, who denied he was a drug dealer, said he was kidnapped and threatened by the rogue cops and was forced to cooperate. He said cash was stolen from him and drugs and the assault rifle were "planted" by the cops during a raid.

    Kushner said he also understands the jury's possible skepticism over the plumber suspected of dealing meth who said police stole $11,000 in cash from a safe in his house. The money, he testified, was to pay for his daughter's college tuition. And he understands how the panel might have found it hard to believe that the ex-state trooper who lived in squalor claimed that $14,000 in cash that he had secreted in the pocket of a pair of pants hanging in his closet was taken during another raid.

    But how, Kushner asked, did any of that "undermine what I was saying?"

    To recap his story: Kushner said he was stopped on the night of Oct. 16, 2007, as he was driving just off Ridge Avenue. He said Licardello, Walker and Reynolds emerged from an unmarked car and confronted him. At first, he said he thought, he was being robbed. He was taken to a secluded area where he was threatened and then driven to a nearby police precinct. Only then, he said, was he convinced that that three armed men were police officers.

    He was placed in a holding cell where he spent the night while the three arresting officers headed for his apartment on City Avenue. They used his key to gain access and then ransacked the 18th floor unit, he alleged. They took clothes, jewelry and a safe hidden in his closet that he said contained $80,000 in cash, proceeds from his lucrative marijuana trade. 

    At the time, Kushner said, he was making "a couple of thousand dollars a week" selling from 10 to 20 pounds of marijuana. He said the officers confiscated $30,000 during the car stop, but reported seizing only $13,000. They also never mentioned the safe or its contents in any police report.

    Walker testified that, under Liciardello's orders, he carried the safe down 17 flights of stairs and out of the apartment building. He said he, Licardello and Reynolds later split "chunks" of cash before he disposed of the safe by dropping it into a river. Federal investigators used trained divers to search for the safe after Walker began cooperating, but were unable to locate it.

    Did the safe exist? That's one of the questions lead defense attorney Jack McMahon asked during a pointed cross-examination of Kushner during the trial. Was it "bolted" to the closet floor, as he told a grand jury? If so, how did the police get it out of the closet?

    McMahon and Kushner also sparred over Kushner's comment that he was "highly educated," with the defense attorney emphasizing what he perceived as the witness' hubris.

    Walker had testified that Kushner was the proto-typical target for the field unit -- a white, khaki-wearing college preppy. He said Liciardello liked to instill fear into that kind of target, someone who had little contact with the real urban underworld and who had little past experience with the justice system.

    Kushner said he was afraid and then resigned to his fate when he was picked up and that Liciardello's offer not to arrest him if he cooperated was literally an offer he couldn't refuse. Kushner was, in fact, charged but with a lesser offense than he could have faced had police reported the amount of cash and marijuana he was dealing.

    It was a trade off, he said, and one that he still regrets. He gave up information about others in the drug trade in order to cut a deal for himself. He said he was targeted and beaten by two men who showed up at his new apartment in Penn Valley in January 2008, apparently in retaliation for his cooperation. And he frankly admits he went back into the marijuana business and was eventually arrested again in Montgomery County in 2011. He was sentenced to three years probation in that case.

    Ironically, he said, one of his business associates gave him up, just as he had given up others.

    "I paid my debt and have a clean slate and I'm trying to move on," he now says.

    But he's not sure where. He would like to get back into coaching, but knows that may not be  possible. He's not working, but since he is living with his mother, he has no significant expenses. He is still receiving income from stock and bond investments his parents made for him when he was growing up. That is the residue of an economically beneficial upbringing.

    "My family had financial resources," he said. "I had whatever I needed. I got a good education, but..."

    His parents' troubled relationship, things were turbulent long before the alleged murder contract, left a void in his upbringing. That, he conceded, may have contributed to his lack of direction after graduating from college and his drift into the drug subculture. It is not, he said, an excuse, but merely an explanation. He admits that he was wrong and he contends that following his second arrest in Montgomery County in 2011, he put the drug dealing world behind him.

    People wonder why the drug bust in 2007 and the horrific account of his dealings with the Narcotics Field Unit wasn't enough to scare him out of the drug business, he said. But he tells them he didn't see it that way.

    "I didn't get a taste of reality at that point," he said. "I got a taste of crooked cops."

    The entire experience -- from the time he was stopped in 2007 to the day last month when the jury issued its verdict -- has him questioning the criminal justice system.

    "I'm sure they did a lot of good things," Kushner said of the three police officers involved in his part of the story. "Not everything they did was bad. They took dangerous people and drugs off the streets...But once they crossed that line, everything good gets erased."

    Kushner paused, then shook his head.

    "They crossed the line," he said. 

    Two days after the interview in the deli, Kushner sent a lengthy email that concluded this way:
    "I am very remorseful this happened and upset with myself for making bad decisions to enable something like this to happen to me.

    "I take full responsibility for my actions and am not looking to place blame on other people. I just know this was the perfect crime scheme for the police as everything worked out in their favor. That's what makes this not guilty decision so difficult to accept and so unjustified."

    "To answer the question you asked me before, this really does sour my belief in our federal justice system ... In this situation justice failed and did not prevail ... I wonder why the jurors came to the conclusion they did and I hope one will come forward and explain."

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


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  • 06/25/15--13:38: Pope Pickets Inky
  • By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Reporters and editors picketing The Philadelphia Inquirer today carried along a life-size cardboard cutout of the pope flashing a thumb's up sign.

    "Help Us Pope Francis," the picket signs said. Other placards carried by members of the Newspaper Guild proclaimed, "Six Years No Raises," and "No More Givebacks."

    "Our members can't afford to give back another penny," Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild shouted through a bullhorn. "We're not asking for charity, we're asking what's right for our members."

    With the Guild contract set to expire at midnight Saturday, union members have authorized a vote that could result in the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years. As a couple hundred union members marched in front of the newspaper offices on Market Street, the wealthy philanthropist who was the target of the demonstration was nowhere in sight.

    H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest is the owner of Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com. Lenfest, who sold Suburban Cable to AT&T in 1999 for $2.2 billion, has since given away more than a billion dollars of his fortune to charity.

    But Lenfest has made it clear that his largesse does not extend to the 150 reporters and editors who work at his two newspapers and website.

    "PMN is not a charity but rather it is a business, and as such it must be sustainable," Lenfest declared in an email sent to all employees this week.

    In response, officers of the Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia sent out a bulletin that said, "For us, this company has been a charity. We have lost our pension. We haven't had a raise in six years. In fact, we have given back raises. We have paid more for health care because the company has not increased its contribution in 15 years."

    "We want Mr. Lenfest to understand one thing: It's not a charity, it's an investment," Guild officers wrote in an email promoting today's demonstration, which drew the support of the AFL-CIO and Communication Workers of America.

    Amy Buckman, a PMN spokesperson, said she believed that Lenfest was in the country but wasn't sure. She works for Lenfest, she explained; he doesn't tell her his whereabouts.

    In his email to employees, Lenfest says PMN is in trouble.

    "I have invested in the Company without any expectation of financial rewards but because of my belief that these institutions are worth preserving," Lenfest wrote. "However, like the rest of the news industry, PMN faces serious economic challenges, and we all have to work together to do what is needed to ensure the long-term viability of the newspapers and Philly.com."

    The circulation of the Sunday Inquirer is down 25,000 over last year, Guild officials say. Meanwhile, revenues are in the tank.

    PMN and the Guild are at loggerheads over seniority and health benefits.

    In the event of more layoffs, which are expected, the company wants the right to exempt 60 recent hires from seniority rules. With a list of only 150 reporters and editors left at the two newspapers and website, that's too much to give up, Guild officers say.

    Regarding health benefits, the Guild says each of its 400 beneficiaries faces an average annual increase of $4,500 to make up for a $1.8 million shortfall in the company's health care program. That's too much to pay for workers who haven't had a raise in six years, Guild officers say.

    Veteran journalists out on the picket line said that after all the givebacks of recent years, including two weeks of annual unpaid furloughs, they are making less than they earned more than a decade ago.

    The surviving Guild members have been through court battles and one ownership change after another. Morale is said to be at a new low after management last month overruled the unanimous decision of the Inquirer editorial board to endorse Jim Kenney for mayor. Instead, the Inquirer endorsed Anthony Hardy Willliams, who had received past donations from Lenfest.

    Buckman says that in the event of a strike, PMN plans to keep publishing a newspaper as well as keeping philly.com in operation.

    To further ramp up tensions, Keith Black, PMN's vice-president of human resources, sent out a memorandum to all employees today that explains how to cross the picket line in the event of a strike so the employees can keep their jobs and continue getting paid.

    As far as fearing for safety in the event of crossing a picket line, Black told employees, "We will make arrangements for security to protect everyone's safety. At your manager's discretion, you may be permitted to work from home or from another location."

    In response, Guild officials sent out a bulletin that described Black's supposedly helpful memorandum as a "disingenuous blueprint on how to become a scab that has been used by union busting employers for decades."

    Contracts talks have been going nowhere. After 35 fruitless negotiating sessions in 7 months, Guild members voted 287 to 26 to authorize union leaders to prepare for a strike on Saturday, when the current contract expires.

    There's one last bargaining session scheduled for tomorrow with a federal mediator.

    "The hope of the company is that it will be a fruitful session," Buckman said.

    Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice 


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    There might have been some mobsters lurking behind the FirstPlus Financial fraud case, a lawyer for lead defendant Nicodemo S. Scarfo says in legal papers filed recently, but their drink of choice would have been vodka not vino.

    In an apparent attempt to distant himself from co-defendant Salvatore Pelullo -- and also get a shot at a new trial -- Scarfo's lawyer Michael Riley has argued that there was an "alternative theory" to the government's organized crime pitch in the high profile case and he was denied the opportunity to present it. 

    Pelullo, an Elkins Park businessman with two prior fraud convictions and a Ukrainian-born wife, might have been kicking back funds from the multi-million dollar scam to Russian gangsters rather than Scarfo's Lucchese crime family, Riley wrote in a motion filed last month.

    "In retrospect the connections to the Russian mob are far more substantial than those with Uncle Vic," Riley argued. The "Uncle Vic" reference is to Vittorio Amuso, the jailed boss of the Lucchese crime family who was named, along with Scarfo's father Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, as unindicted co-conspirators in the looting of FirstPlus, a Texas-based mortgage company.

    Riley has argued that the government's failure to disclose a parallel investigation into a group of Ukrainian-born businessmen with possible ties to both Pelullo and the Russian mob denied Scarfo a chance to offer a proper defense in the high profile trial.

    The government has labeled Riley's arguments and similar claims by lawyers for Pelullo in a series of post-trial, pre-sentencing motions a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the case. Prosecutors are scheduled to reply to the defense's latest assertions by Friday. Judge Robert Kugler has scheduled a hearing for July 17.

    Riley's motion cited an FBI memo in which an unnamed informant alleged that Pelullo "loans money" to Russian mobsters. The defense attorney said that information about possible links to Russian mobsters would have provided him with an "alternative theory" to the government's position that Scarfo and Pelullo were tied to the Lucchese crime family and used those connections to intimidate officials at FirstPlus and facilitate a behind-the-scenes takeover in 2007.

    Authorities allege that Scarfo, 49, and Pelullo, 47, wrested control of the beleaguered mortgage company and siphoned more than $12 million out of the company through bogus business deals and phony consulting contracts.

    "The government's failure to disclose the existence of another `mob' or criminal organization with which a financial obligation could have existed, barred (Scarfo's defense) from offering an alternative explanation for unaccounted monies at trial," Riley wrote.

    While taking a somewhat different approach, lawyers for Pelullo have argued that the government had an obligation to turn over details of the investigation into brothers Omelyan and Stepan Botsvynyuk because the defense might have used that information to impeach prosecution witnesses and undermine the government's theory behind the FirstPlus takeover.

    Two cleaning companies controlled by the Botsvynyuk brothers -- A-Plus Cleaning and U.S. Cleaning -- at one time shared offices with cleaning companies owned by Pelullo. The Botsvynyuk companies did contract work for major department stores, including Wal-Mart, Target and Safeway.

    The Botsvynyuk brothers were the target of a federal investigation that began in 2000 and ended with their convictions in 2011 on racketeering and extortion charges. Omelyan Botsvynyuk, 52, was sentenced to life plus 20 years.

    Testimony at his four-week trial indicated he beat, threatened and sexually assault workers while forcing then to live in housing he provided and working six- and seven-day weeks with little or no pay. The government contended the workers were told they had to work off debts of from $10,000 to $50,000, the cost of bringing them to the United States.

    Riley, Scarfo's lawyer, argued that Pelullo was at least a "subject" if not a target of the Botsvynyuk investigation and that the government had an obligation to disclose that. Riley and Pelullo's lawyer, Troy Archie, have asked for access to debriefing memos and surveillance reports tied to that case. Both lawyers have argued that information in those documents might have to used to mount a defense in the FirstPlus case and that by being denied that information the defendants were denied a fair trial.

    John and William Maxwell, two brothers convicted along with Scarfo and Pelullo, have joined in the post-trial motions. John Maxwell was the CEO of FirstPlus. His brother was an attorney hired by the company. Both were convicted of helping Scarfo and Pelullo loot the company. Sentencings in the case have been put off until the end of July.

    Scarfo has another battle looming in New Jersey where he remains under indictment in a organized crime-linked bookmaking case. Dubbed "Operation Heat," the investigation focused on a multi-million dollar sports betting and loansharking operation controlled by the New Jersey branch of the Lucchese crime family.

    Scarfo was one of more than 30 mobsters and mob associates indicted in the case back in 2010. Six major defendants, including one-time boss Matthew Madonna and former Scarfo allies Ralph V. Perna and his sons Joseph and John Perna, pleaded guilty last month and are to be sentenced in August or September.

    To date, 12 defendants in that case have pleaded guilty. Four others have died since being indicted and 18 others, including Scarfo, as still scheduled for trial.

    Scarfo is representing himself in that Morris County-based case. But with a potential sentence of 30 years to life for his FirstPlus conviction, Operation Heat is not a priority for the one-time mob scion.

    "He's got more to worry about," said a source familiar with the Morris County investigation.

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



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    Michael Spicer [left] with Brian Reynolds and Perry Betts
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    An arbitrator ruled today that all six defendants in the alleged "rogue cops" case are getting their jobs back.

    "They are back on the payroll right now," James J. Binns, the lawyer who represented Officer Michael Spicer, said of the six defendants. "They're being paid as of today."

    The former narcotics officers will also be receiving a year's worth of back pay.

    "Obviously it's been recognized that these men never did anything wrong and they've been totally vindicated of all the charges that have been leveled against them," Binns said. "Mike [Spicer]'s on cloud nine."

    The six members of the narcotics field unit were charged in a 26-count federal indictment with allegedly using their positions to run a criminal enterprise. The rogue cops, the feds said, robbed and beat the drug dealers they arrested out of at least $500,000 worth of cash and drugs. The feds also accused the cops of falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.

    It was a case filled with over-the-top charges. And not much to back it up except the uncorroborated allegations of a bunch of drug dealers.

    The rogue cops, the feds said, had allegedly dangled a couple of drug dealers by their feet off of high balconies. They had allegedly used sledgehammers to blast open drug dealers' front doors. They supposedly beat one drug dealer with a steel bar in the back of the head and kicked in his teeth. They had allegedly kidnapped another drug dealer and held him hostage. They had allegedly stole Rolex watches, iPods, and a Calvin Klein suit.

    At a press conference the day of the arrests, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey declared, "I have been a police officer for more than 40 years and this is one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard."

    Ramsey vowed to melt down the officers' badges.

    Then, the case went to trial for nearly six weeks and a jury heard all the evidence or lack thereof. On May 14, the jury unanimously acquitted Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser of all 47 charges. It was a complete repudiation of the government's racketeering case.

    Right after the verdict, Binns said, he took sixteen boxes of files over to the FOP's lawyers who were handling the arbitration case that sought to get the officers reinstated.

    "They had all the transcripts from the trial, they had all the exhibits," Binns said of the FOP lawyers. "They were prepared to go to trial immediately."

    "It's been almost a year since they were arrested and indicted," Binns said of the defendants.

    On July 30, 2014, the FBI raided the officers' homes at 5 a.m., with guns drawn, and placed them under arrest.

     In the past year, the six cops have been "indicted, arrested, set free on bail, tried, acquitted vindicated, and got their jobs back," Binns said. "Obviously the system works."

    The officers were represented by FOP President John McNesby, who showed up at trial to support the narcs, as well as FOP labor lawyer Thomas Jennings.

    In spite of Ramsey's stated intentions to melt the officers' badges, Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the officers would be getting their original badges back.

    McDonald also told the Inquirer, a Johnny-come-lately on the story, that the officers would not be returning to the narcotics unit, but would instead be reassigned to various police districts and the impound lot.

    Binns called this case from the beginning.

    In an Aug. 12, 2014 bail hearing, Binns told Judge Eduardo Robreno, "We believe that we will prevail on every one of the charges. He [Spicer] will leave your courtroom not guilty of one single crime."

    Maybe when the cops go back to work Commissioner Ramsey will finally get around to apologizing.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Billy Doe, the truth-challenged former altar boy who's seeking to cash in on his improbable tale of serial sex abuse, was originally scheduled to go to trial against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Aug. 3rd.

    The Pope is scheduled to be in Philadelphia a month later, from Sept. 25-27, for the World Meeting of Families.

    What were the chances of the Pope and Billy, however briefly, sharing a media spotlight?

    Apparently none. As of July 10, on the court docket there's a new trial date posted for Billy Doe v. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al -- Nov. 9th.

    Meanwhile, when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia, he's scheduled to visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on State Road in Northeast Philly. But one of the inmates the Pope won't be meeting with is Msgr. William J. Lynn.

    According to Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, the monsignor, the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to reign in predator priests, was moved last week from Curran-Fromhold. Lynn is now at SCI Waymart,  a state prison located two and a half hours north of the city. Bergstrom said he doubts "the Pope will go to Waymart."

    It's kind of amazing how two potential embarrassments for the archdiocese during the Pope's upcoming visit have just disappeared.

    Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese, isn't buying any conspiracy theories.

    "I'd say that any suggestion that the archdiocese is controlling the movements of Msgr. Lynn is a ridiculous one," Gavin said.

    Gavin said he'd get back to Big Trial on questions about Billy Doe's new trial date and whether it had anything to do with the Pope's visit.

    In the Billy Doe civil case, there's a voluntary confidentiality stipulation agreed to by all the parties that prevents lawyers from discussing the case.

    Billy Doe is the former altar boy who claims he was raped by two priests and a Catholic school teacher. His tales of abuse at two historic trials sent three alleged assailants to jail, as well as Msgr. Lynn for not adequately protecting Billy.

    Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was convicted three years ago by a jury on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

    On July 24, 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in jail. Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence when on Dec. 26, 2013 a panel of three state Superior Court judges reversed the monsignor's conviction and ordered him "released forthwith." But Judge Sarmina instead imposed conditions on the defendant that amounted to house arrest, such as wearing an electronic ankle bracelet and reporting to a parole officer every week.

    Lynn had spent 16 months under house arrest until April 27th, when the state Supreme Court reversed the reversal by the Superior Court. Three days later, Judge Sarmina granted a motion by the D.A.'s office to revoke bail and send Lynn back to jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

    He's been in prison ever since.

    While the monsignor's doing his time, his lawyers are seeking a hearing in state Superior Court before the same panel of judges that reversed Lynn's conviction. At the hearing, Bergstrom will argue for a new trial. The district attorney's office has until Aug. 5th to respond to Lynn's motion.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    Lawyers in a nationally prominent libel suit pitting a University of Virginia dean against Rolling Stone magazine are sparring in court over the veracity of Billy Doe.

    Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for a former Northeast Philly altar boy who claimed he was raped by two priests and and a Catholic school teacher. Billy's allegations at two historic criminal trials here in Philadelphia sent his three alleged assailants in jail, as well as Msgr. William J. Lynn, for not preventing the alleged abuse.

    The libel suit that seeks $7.5 million was brought by Associate Dean Nicole P. Eramo of UVA over the November 2014 publication by Rolling Stone of "A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At UVA." The article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, since retracted, claimed that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. Eramo's lawsuit calls the story a "monumental hoax."

    But it may not be the reporter's only screwup. Three years before she wrote about Jackie for Rolling Stone, Erdely wrote a story about Billy for Rolling Stone that accepted as gospel Doe's fantastic rape claims. The article was titled, "The Catholic Church's Sex-Crime Files: How a scandal in Philadelphia exposed documents that reveal a high-level conspiracy to cover up decades of sexual abuse."

    In the legal complaint filed by Dean Eramo in the Circuit Court of the city of Charlottesville, VA, the plaintiff's lawyers wrote that "Following the debunking of 'A Rape on Campus,' Newsweek examined the Billy Doe story, determining that 'the factual discrepancies in Jackie's story are dwarfed by the factual discrepancies in Billy's story" and also "noting Billy Doe's 'astonishing lack of credibility."

    It's not mentioned in the lawsuit but should be noted here that the author of this blog post was also the author of the Newsweek story referred to in the legal complaint.

    In that complaint, lawyers for the dean claim that there were factual discrepancies with a third article that Erdely wrote for Rolling Stone in 2013, "The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer." And that all three articles in Rolling Stone by Erderly exhibit similar patterns of shoddy journalism.

    "Rolling Stone published both the Billy Doe and Officer Blumer articles and was therefore aware of Erdely's penchant for placing wholesale trust in unreliable sources and for purposefully avoiding facts that do not support her preconceived narrative regarding the particular institution that is failing to protect individuals from rape," the dean's lawyers wrote in their complaint.

    "The narrative fits Erdely's pattern and practice of using narrative journalism in which a shocking rape case is used as the vehicle to show that a given institution is indifferent to, or actively seeks to conceal, sexual assaults, just as she did in her 2011 and 2013 Rolling Stone articles, 'The Catholic Church's Sex-Crime Files,' and 'The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer,'" the lawyers wrote in their complaint.

    "Thus, even before she spoke to Jackie or settled on UVA as her target, Erdely was intent on writing a narrative that used a single, shocking rape case to depict a pervasive 'rape culture' on a college campus and an administration that supposedly sought to cover up sexual assaults," the lawyers wrote.

    In a response filed last week, lawyers for Rolling Stone denied the allegations in the complaint, specifically that Erderly had written stories about sexual abuse that resulted in "serious criticism for their factual inaccuracy." The stories, the magazine's lawyers wrote, speak for themselves.

    The lawsuit on behalf of the UVA dean was filed in May by lawyers Thomas A. Clare, Elizabeth M. Locke, and Joseph R. Oliveri. In the lawsuit, the lawyers claimed that Rolling Stone cast the dean, who had met with and counseled Jackie, as "the chief villain of the story."

    The lawsuit claims that in the Rolling Stone story and in interviews Erdely gave to promote the story,  the reporter libeled the dean by claiming she was indifferent to Jackie's allegations, and that she claimed to Jackie that UVA withholds rape statistics "because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."

    The complaint alleged that as part of their effort to defame Dean Eramo, the magazine hired an illustrator to doctor an innocuous classroom photo of Eramo to make it seem like she was standing in front of a desk and flashing a thumb's up sign while a rape victim is crying in front of her. As part of that effort, the lawsuit claims, Rolling Stone altered the whites of Eramo's eyes to make her appear "wild-eyed" and to portray her as the "villain" of the UVA rape story.

    In their response, Elizabeth A. McNamara and other lawyers for Rolling Stone argue that Erdely wrote in the story that Dean Eramo comforted the student and calmly laid out her legal options.

    Rolling Stone's lawyers admit the magazine procured the photo of the dean and hired the illustrator who provided the artwork for the magazine's since retracted story. But Rolling Stone's lawyers denied the dean's allegations and said that both the photo and the illustration speak for themselves.

    Billy Doe has a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It was originally scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 3rd, but last week was postponed until Nov. 9th, when Pope Francis will be safely out of town.

    A Hollywood Reporter story on the UVA lawsuit made the Drudge Report today because of the magazine's claim that a university staffer had supposedly vouched for Jackie's credibility.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    At both of Father Andrew McCormick's criminal trials, the alleged victim in the case, as well as the prosecutor, made a point of saying that the victim who claimed he was sexually abused as a 10-year-old altar boy wasn't in it for the money.

    That's why he hadn't filed a civil suit, the victim said on the witness stand at both trials.

    On March 6, 2014, at Father Andy's first trial, the priest's defense lawyer, William J. Brennan, cautioned the jury that although the alleged victim had not yet filed a civil suit against the archdiocese, "I don't know what he's gonna do tomorrow."

    If people keep telling you, "It's not about the money, it's about the money," Brennan told the jury.

    On June 10, the alleged victim in the case fulfilled Brennan's prophecy by filing a civil suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, John Doe v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn, and Father Andrew McCormick.

    Both of Father Andy's trials ended in deadlocked juries. On April 10th, after the second mistrial in 14 months, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright that the D.A.'s office would not retry the case a third time. But now the alleged victim is after Father Andy in the civil courts. And in the civil complaint, "John Doe" is seeking damages of more than $50,000, plus punitive damages.

    The victim in the case was a slender, 26-year-old business manager for a large New York cosmetics firm.


    He claimed that back during the 1997-98 school year when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in fourth grade, Father Andy lured the boy up to his room in the rectory at St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg. Then, according to the alleged victim, the priest locked the door, shoved the boy down on the bed, tore off his clothes, and tried to jam his penis in the boy's mouth.

    Fourteen years later, the alleged victim came forward to publicly accuse the priest after he had a dream where the priest was supposedly attacking the victim's 5-year-old nephew.

    At Father Andy's first trial, on Feb. 27, 2014, the alleged victim was red-faced and dabbing his eyes with tissues when Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked, "Why are you doing this?"

    "So this does not happen to another little boy," he responded. Then he told the jury he had not filed any civil lawsuit against the archdiocese.

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino asked, You say you're not suing the archdiocese for money, but didn't you go see a lawyer to check out a possible civil lawsuit?

    "I went to see a lawyer," the alleged victim said. But it was for his own protection, he said. He did not file any civil lawsuit. He was not seeking money from the archdiocese.

    "I have a full-time job," the alleged victim told the jury. "I don't need money. I have a very successful career."

    When she gave her closing statement on March 6, 2014, Assistant District Attorney Kemp told the jury, "This was never about money."

    At Father Andy's second trial, on Feb. 27, 2025, the alleged victim again testified that he was not in this for the money. "I don't need to, I have a pretty successful career," he said. The only reason why he's doing this, he testified, is to make sure "another little kid doesn't go through this."

    On March 6, 2015, when Assistant District Attorney Kemp gave her closing statement in the second criminal trial of Father Andy, she stated that the alleged victim didn't file a civil lawsuit against the church because he wasn't after money.

     "He wants nothing from this man," Kemp said, while angrily pointing at the defendant.

    As far as the civil case is concerned, the alleged victim is in it for the money this time around but he still wants to remain anonymous.

    On July 10th, in John Doe's lawsuit, lawyers Brian D. Kent, Jeffrey F. Laffey, and Samuel I. Reich wrote that John Doe is a "pseudonymous designation for a plaintiff who was a victim of sexual abuse while he was still a minor." The pseudonym was being used in the complaint "to protect the health, safety, welfare, and privacy interests of this plaintiff." The alleged victim's "identity will be made know to the defendants by private, non-public communication," the lawyers wrote.

    In an interview, lawyer Brian D. Kent said whether his client was pursuing Father Andy in the criminal or civil courts, his motive was the same.

    "The chief motivating factor behind this lawsuit is holding those people responsible," Kent said. "His chief motivation has never changed," Kent said of his client. "He wants the people who are responsible to be held accountable."

    "I don't see any contradiction," Kent said. The two criminal trials ended in hung juries. Regarding the civil case, "This is the last opportunity that he's going to have to hold these people responsible," Kent said.

    Trevan Borum, Father Andy's lawyer in the second criminal case, said, "I would like to say I am shocked at this turn of events -- unfortunately I am not. Not even a little."

    Borum called the alleged victim's claim that it wasn't about the money "a bold-faced lie."

    "He intentionally deceived the jury to secure a conviction to cash in on his civil suit," Borum said of the alleged victim.

    "Despicable."

    Borum said that Assistant D.A. Kemp knew that the alleged victim had seen a lawyer.

    "What exactly did she think they were talking about," Borum said. "She's not an idiot. She either knew it was a lie or she just didn't care to bother to dig at all. Which was the way she investigated her whole case. Ignore anything that doesn't fit the script."

    Kemp could not be reached for comment.

    The lawsuit filed on behalf of John Doe claims that school and the church under Lynn and the archdiocese "had a history . . . of transferring priests . . . who were known and/or suspected to have engaged in inappropriate conduct with children, including, but not limited to, sexually abusing young boys."

    The archdiocese and Lynn "failed to sufficiently and adequately investigate" Father McCormick's background, the suit alleges. "Specifically, it is believed and therefore averred that Defendants knew, and/or had reason to know, that McCormick was a pedophile, child molester, and/or sexual predator who posed a danger to children."

    "It is believed and therefore averred that Defendant Archdiocese knew that McCormick had began masturbating to pornography at age seven years old and masturbated one to two times a day through adulthood because he 'likes it,'" the complaint states.

    The complaint alleged that the archdiocese "forced McCormick to submit to a polygraph examination concerning the Archdiocese's concerns/suspicions that McCormick may be a pedophile."

    The complaint states that in bold print that "McCormick failed the polygraph issued by the Archdiocese specifically relating to his answers concerning whether he had ever abuses children and whether he had watched child pornography. [emphasis added]."

    But the archdiocese took no action and allowed "McCormick to remain in ministry until the February 2011 Grand Jury Report was issued," the complaint states. The complaint further charges that Msgr. Lynn and the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua had exhibited "callous indifference" to the "safety and well-being of children."

    Borum, however, said that the lawsuit is in error and that Father McCormick did not fail the lie detector test administered by the archdiocese. Instead, the retired FBI agent in charge of the test concluded "the exact opposite," Borum said.

    "I also had Father McCormick take polygraph exam prior to trial at his request," Borum said. "He passed with flying colors."

    "I shared the results of my test with Ms. Kemp prior to trial," Borum said. "She couldn't have cared less."

    Kemp could not be reached for comment.

    As the result of "forcible oral rape, Plaintiff sustained severe psychological and emotional distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, manifested by physical ailments and complaints, including, but not limited to, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, attempted suicide and drug addiction," the complaint states.

    "Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self esteem, disgrace, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life, and has suffered and continues to suffer spiritually," the complaint states.

    The "significant emotional and psychological injuries" have "dramatically transformed" the alleged victim's personality, the complaint states. "Plaintiff turned to marijuana use at the age of eleven and began using prescription painkillers. He also attempted suicide."

    The archdiocese and Msgr. Lynn, according to the complaint "knew that at least 120 members of its clergy and teaching staff had reportedly sexually molested children, committed acts of violence upon children, or otherwise preyed upon children." But they did nothing to protect children, the lawsuit charges.

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    In one corner, we have Helen Ubinas, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist who can't believe those "rogue cops" got their jobs back. She wants to know why our top city officials who previously did so much political grandstanding  in this case don't have much to say about it anymore.

    In the other corner we have Jimmy Binns, the veteran defense lawyer who not only represented Rocky on the silver screen but also Michael Spicer, one of the rogue cops who beat the rap and got his job back. The same Jimmy Binns who publicly predicted to Judge Eduardo Robreno at a bail hearing last August that his guy would beat all the charges and walk out of federal court a free man.

    In her July 15th column, Ubinas wrote about how Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the guy who described the rogue cops scandal as "one of the worst cases of corruption" that he ever heard, sounded like a beaten puppy when she talked to him. After all six cops were acquitted by a jury on all 47 counts, Ramsey told Ubinas, "It was just a matter of time" before they got their jobs back . . . That's our system, unfortunately."

    Ubinas wrote Binns an email seeking a copy of the arbitrator's decision that reinstated the six former narcotics officers. Binns responded by writing Big Trial a letter where he ripped Ubinas's column as "silly" and the "naive musings" of a "know-nothing" reporter and her editors.

    As a public service, Big Trial will attempt to mediate this dispute and make everybody happy.



    "I talked to one guy who said he was dangled over an 18th-floor balcony by some members of the crew," Urbinas wrote. "I believed his story. A jury didn't."

    In Ubinas's defense, she's not the only journalist at 8th and Market who put their faith in the RICO indictment of the rogue cops.

    At least she doesn't work at the Inquirer, where they treat documents  issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office as though they just came down from Mt. Sinai.

    Since the rogue cops got their jobs back, Ubinas wrote that she feels like she's dead. She's pinning her hopes for reform on a future sit-down with Jim Kenney, our next Democratic mayor.

    Uh Helen, do we really need any more political grandstanding in this case? Haven't we already heard enough of that from Ramsey and Mayor Nutter?

    I disagree with Binns about Ubinas. She's a tough reporter who holds people accountable, like Richard Basciano, the slumlord behind the fatal building collapse at 22nd and Market. We may disagree about the rogue cops, but I admire her for knocking on doors and asking what the hell is going on with that case for her July 15th coumn. But after she visited the police commissioner's office, the mayor's office, and the D.A.'s office, she should have made one more stop.

    The U.S. Attorney's Office at Sixth and Chestnut. They're the ones who have some explaining to do.

    I sat through some pre-trial hearings and quite a bit of the trial in the rogue cops case. I was shocked by how bad the prosecution's case was. They had nothing but the accusations of a bunch of drug dealers. And no corroborating evidence of any kind to back it up.

    The prosecution did not even bother to interview 12 of 15 cops and supervisors who were eyewitnesses at the scene of many of the alleged episodes of brutality until 3 to 7 months after the indictment was issued. When an investigation is that shoddy no wonder the jury wound up tossing all the charges. In a RICO case no less.

    One of my favorite government witnesses in the case was Kenneth Williams, the former state trooper and admitted marijuana user who claimed the cops broke down the door of his North Philly home and seized $16,200. That included $14,000 that Williams claimed he had hidden in a suit pocket in his bedroom.

    The bulk of that money, Williams told the jury, came from a worker's compensation settlement that he supposedly got ten years earlier. Williams claimed he stored that money in his suit pocket rather than a bank because he was hiding money from family court. But did he have any paperwork to prove he ever got a workers' comp settlement? Nope. Did the feds present any evidence of that payout? Nope again.

    I wasn't in the courtroom the day the verdict was read. The doors were locked by the time I got there. But a cop who was inside the courtroom said that when the jury foreman read the verdict, not guilt 47 times, he was staring straight at the lead prosecutor.

    If you believe the drug dealers' allegations, as Ubinas  did, then the government's shoddy case is an even bigger travesty. An FBI agent admitted on the witness stand that mistakes were made. Shouldn't some heads roll after a monumental stinker like this, where all six defendants beat every charge on a 47-count RICO indictment? When was the last time that happened?

    In the more than two months since the verdict, the U.S. Attorney's office has only issued a couple of canned statements that basically said, we knew this was going to be a difficult case and we stand by our case, even though everybody knows by now that it really sucked.

    The day of the verdict, after a gag order was lifted, I asked Patricia Hartman, the spokesperson for the imperial U.S. Attorney's office, why the government didn't interview before the indictment a dozen cops and superior officers who were witnesses to the episodes of alleged police misconduct. I asked why the government didn't offer a paper trail or any proof that the money allegedly stolen from the drug dealers was in their possession when they were busted by the cops.

    "I do believe the public is owed an explanation for what went down in this case," I wrote Hartman on May 16th.

    Hartman obviously disagreed; she never bothered to write back.

    But if Helen Ubinas of the Daily News knocks on Hartman's door, maybe the U.S. Attorney would have to explain how they bungled the case.

    Hold them accountable Helen, like anybody else.

    Now there's a column that Jimmy Binns would love to read.

    Here's the full text of Binns' letter to Ubinas:

    Dear Mr. Cipriano,


    Helen Ubinas, who works at the Philadelphia Daily News, requested that I share with her the Arbitrator's Award that restored 6 former members of the Narcotics Field Unit to the Philadelphia Police Force, after their recent acquittal.


    I was privileged to represent Police Officer Michael Spicer in defense of an Indictment that accused him of engaging in a Rico Conspiracy. The Indictment was the result of an 8 year investigation. The trial of Officer Spicer and his 5 co-defendants lasted for 7 weeks, during which over 40 witnesses testified, including Officer Spicer.


    I have read an "article" posted on Philly.com authored by Ms. Ubinas entitled "How Did The Six Cops Get Their Jobs Back". The author said that she engaged in conversation with one of the drug dealing prosecution witnesses, whom she believed, although none of the 12 jurors who listened to his sworn testimony during the trial shared her opinion as to his veracity. Ms. Ubinas ranted about the failings of the "system" and, by implication, criticized not only the jurors but all those whom she guessed might be in a position to institute changes to correct what she perceives as imperfections within the Police Department and/or the political system/structure of the City of Philadelphia.


    During the trial I took notice of your daily presence and that of Mr. Anastasia as well as several other individuals seated in the row allocated to members of the media. I don't know Ms. Ubanis and consequently I have no idea whether or not she attended the trial.  However, from the silly comments contained in her rant I suspect that she did not. As a 6 time indulgent grandparent I usually error on the side of instruction as opposed to scolding. I'm all in favor of giving youngsters a break. Since your reputation as a brilliant journalist has spoken for itself for several decades, I am enlisting your help to seize upon which could be a teachable moment in Ms. Ubinas's “career”. I enclose 3 audios which I request that you forward to Ms. Ubinas and her editors.


    The first is an excerpt from the August 12, 2014 contested bail hearing for Officer Spicer before the Honorable Eduardo Robreno. I predicted that Officer Spicer would "prevail on all of the charges and leave his courtroom not guilty of one single crime." My statement to the Judge was based upon what Officer Spicer told me before and after his Indictment, all of which turned out to be true.


    The second is my opening statement to the jury at the commencement of the trial.  I promised that the evidence, or lack thereof, would enable them to easily acquit Officer Spicer and the other 5 defendants. That promise was based upon personal interviews with eyewitnesses and the review of over 110,000 documents, the vast majority of which were provided to me by the prosecutor (and most of which formed a part of the “petard” with which the prosecutors hoisted themselves).


    The last is my closing speech which was predicated upon what the jury had seen and heard during the 7 week trial. The witnesses for the prosecution and defense (Mike Spicer testified on behalf of ALL the defendants as to each incident that formed the basis of the indictment) were subject to rigorous cross-examination by the lawyers on both sides of the case. I am not going to burden you with transmitting to Ms. Ubinas and her editors the transcript of the trial but please inform them that it is available at the United States District Court Clerk's office, 2nd floor, 601 Market Street. Philadelphia PA.


    Hopefully, after listening to the audios and perhaps reading the trial transcript Ms. Ubinas and/or her editors will refrain from publicizing rants about something that they know absolutely nothing about. This will benefit their dwindling readership and perhaps lead to an increase thereof, once they learn to publish articles based on facts, not the naive musings of a young lady.



    I sent this letter in an email to Ms. Ubinas and offered her an opportunity to reply. "Speaking of facts," she wrote, and then she pointed out that both Binns and I had misspelled her name. She thanked me for sharing the letter with her.

    For anyone who's interested, here's Binns'closing in the rogue cops case.

    And here's Binns's prophecy at the bail hearing last August.



    Binns's commentary on that audio clip:

    This is a 4 minute audio excerpt of my guaranty to Federal Judge Eduardo Robreno at Mike Spicer's 2nd bail hearing on August 12, 2014. Mike was previously denied bail by Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret when the prosecutor misinformed him that Mike struck drug dealer Jason Kennedy in the face with a sledge hammer. Judge Robreno found that allegation not to be supported by the Indictment or the facts. I predicted to Judge Robreno that Mike would prevail on all of the charges contained in the Indictment and that he would leave the courtroom not guilty of any crimes. Mike was arrested in his home @5am on July 30, 2014. In the presence of his wife, he was handcuffed while an AR-15 rifle was pointed at his head. He was placed in solitary confinement at the Federal Detention Center for 12 days until he was released on bail after the contested hearing before Judge Robreno. After a 7 week trial, during which he testified at length on direct and cross examination, Mike was totally vindicated by the jury's unanimous NOT GUILTY verdict (the jury foreman read those words 47 times!), reinstated to the Philadelphia Police Department, paid over $90,000.00 in back salary and been given back his badge and gun that he was forced to surrender at the time of his arrest on the trumped up charges. His 4 children can now return to their respective schools with their heads held high, proud of their hero Police Office father, a cop’s cop.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    Contrary to popular belief, Father Andrew McCormick was never suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for sexual misconduct. The priest also passed a lie detector test.

    So wrote Trevan Borum, the priest's defense lawyer, in a motion for mistrial filed during Father Andy's second criminal trial that ended March 11th with a hung jury. At the time the motion for a mistrial was filed, the case was under a gag order.

    The defense lawyer's claim about the priest's suspension contradicts what was said about Father Andy at trial by a key prosecution witness as well as the prosecutor. It also contradicts a Philadelphia Daily News story.

    The defense lawyer's claim about Father Andy passing a lie detector test contradicts a civil lawsuit filed July 10th against the priest by the alleged victim in the criminal case.

    When asked for comment, Borum would only say, "I was disappointed that the rules of fair play meant nothing when trying to convict a priest by any means necessary."

    A spokesperson for the district attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

    On Feb. 27, at Father Andy's second criminal trial, the alleged victim's father testified he saw on a TV news report in 2011 that Father Andy was one of 21 priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Later that same year, the son, a former altar boy, sent a text to his father at 3 a.m. explaining that "Father Andy molested me . . . That is the root of my problems."

    "I was in shock," the father told the jury.

    After the jury left the courtroom for the day, defense attorney Borum said he wanted to put something on the record.

    Borum began shouting at Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp. The defense lawyer accused the prosecutor of implying while she was questioning the alleged victim's father that Father Andy had been suspended by the archdiocese for sex abuse.

    His 2011 suspension had "absolutely nothing" to do with molestation, Borum protested loudly.

    Oh yes it did, the assistant district attorney responded, her voice rising.

    Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright dressed down both lawyers.

    "I'm not going to have any of this," she said. The judge stated that she wouldn't allow her courtroom to be turned into a circus. Then she agreed to take the dispute to the privacy of the judge's chambers where we never heard what happened after that.

    The judge subsequently denied Borum's motion for a mistrial.

    According to the motion for mistrial filed during trial, "It is established beyond question that Defendant was not placed on leave based as the result of allegations of sexual misconduct," Borum wrote.

    In a footnote, Borum wrote, "Counsel for the Government knows full well that there exists no prior complaints of sexual contact with minors against Father McCormick. At the first trial, and in open Court outside the presence of the jury, Counsel for the government falsely claimed Defendant had failed a polygraph test concerning sexual abuse of minors," Borum wrote.

    "In fact, a cautionary instruction was read to the jury based on this misrepresentation," Borum wrote. "At the time that statement was made, Counsel for the government knew, or should have known, that statement was false."

    "Despite the fact that there was a gag order in place, the press heard this false allegation, which may have led to the false report in the Daily News article," Borum wrote.

    The Feb. 27th Daily News story stated that "the Archdiocese of Philadelphia placed McCormick on administrative leave in March 2011 in response to allegations of sexual misconduct with minors."

    The motion does not state what the priest was suspended for. In an email, Borum said the priest wasn't suspended, he was placed on administrative leave. He did not say why.

    Regarding the lie detector test, Borum wrote, "Counsel for the government's claim that the Defendant failed a polygraph test was refuted by both the assigned investigator and the technician that administered that very polygraph test. In fact they reached the opposite conclusion and found that ". . . there exists no sexual abuse of minors on the part of McCormick."

    "Both the assigned investigator and the individual administering the polygraph test were retired FBI agents with over 30 years of experience," Borum wrote. "Defendant is unaware if counsel for the government has any experience in interpreting polygraph results."

    "These bad faith claims in both the first trial and in the instant trial cannot be considered harmless," Borum wrote. "They were intentional and designed to insure that Defendant does not receive a fair trial."

    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.

    If convicted on five sex charges, the 59-year-old priest was facing a prison term of 25 to 50 years.

    At Father Andy's second trial, the D.A. was so determined to win that they offered the priest a sweetheart deal. After, the jury sent the judge a note saying they were at an impasse, the prosecutor told the priest that if he would plead guilty to a single charge of corrupting the morals of a minor,  he was looking at no jail time, four years probation, and he wouldn't even have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

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

    The jury came and said they were hopelessly deadlocked. It was the second time a criminal trial of Father Andy had ended in a deadlock. The D.A. then announced they would not try Father Andy a second time.

    On July 10th, the alleged victim filed a civil suit against Father Andy.

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     Three "Grandstanding" Public Officials Targeted In "Laughable" Prosecution
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    Five of the "rogue" cops who won their jobs back, as well as their supervisor, have filed a  defamation and false light suit against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

    The suit seeks monetary and punitive damages for the alleged irresponsible "grandstanding" done by Williams, Ramsey and
    Nutter in the rogue cops case, according to an amended complaint filed July 24th in U.S. District Court by Philadelphia lawyer Christopher D. Mannix.

    The lawsuit, the most entertaining court file I've read in years, has been ignored so far by the Inquirer, and confined to just four paragraphs near the bottom of a 34-paragaph story in today's Daily News about the sentencing of Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness. But the defamation lawsuit for the first time tells the back story behind the rogue cops case only whispered about at trial -- a petty turf battle between law enforcement agencies allegedly feuding over drug forfeiture money and credit for drug busts. It was a feud supposedly set off by the blunt personality of Officer Thomas Liciardello, the former leader of the Narcotics Field Unit.

    The amended complaint also shines an unflattering spotlight on the inner workings of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office its dealings with the media, especially a cozy relationship with Fox 29.


    The amended complaint traces the origin of the defamation to a Dec. 3, 2012 letter sent by D.A. Williams to Police Commissioner Ramsey. In the letter, the D.A. stated he would no longer prosecute any cases filed by any of the six plaintiffs in the defamation suit.

    "D.A. Williams' entirely misbegotten and irresponsible letter started a gigantic, destructive avalanche of severe and permanent wrongs, damages and injustices, inflicted not only upon the Plaintiffs but upon all Philadelphia citizens who count on the fundamental purpose of government -- public safety and order through the criminal justice system," attorney Mannix wrote in his amended complaint.

    Only July 29, 2014, the five cops who are plaintiffs in the defamation suit -- Officers Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser and Thomas Liciardello -- were indicted by the U.S. Attorney's office. On May 14, 2015, the defendants were found not guilty by the jury on all 47 counts in the RICO indictment. [The sixth defendant in the rogue cops case, Linwood Norman, also found not guilty, was not mentioned in the district attorney's letter and is not a plaintiff in the defamation suit].

    At the criminal trial of the rogue cops, the criminal case presented by prosecutors to the jury was "literally laughable, and disgraceful -- as to the prosecutors," Mannix wrote.

    In addition to the five rogue cops, the sixth plaintiff in the defamation case is Lt. Robert G. Otto, former supervisor of the Narcotics Field Unit.

    When Williams sent his 2012 letter to Ramsey, "Plaintiff Otto was an extremely effective, skilled, dedicated, hard-working, honest and experienced Police Lieutenant," the amended complaint said. Meanwhile, Officers Spicer, Reynolds, Betts, Speiser and Liciardello "were all extremely effective, skilled, dedicated, hard-working, experienced police officers," the lawsuit states.

    "The Plaintiffs are authoritatively considered to have constituted the most accomplished and effective narcotics unit in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department," the complaint states. "The public service, efforts, courage, unflagging energy and dedication exhibited by the Plaintiffs could be fairly characterized as heroic."

    The Williams letter to Ramsey, however, was "an irresponsible, outrageous, [and] defamatory," the complaints states. In the letter, D.A. Williams, not exactly a details guy, misspelled Ramsey's name:

    "Dear Commissioner Ramsay:

    "I am writing to inform you that in an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will no longer be using the following officers as witnesses in narcotics cases," the district attorney wrote. The D.A. then listed the names of Officers Liciardello, Reynolds, Speiser, Spicer and Betts; and Lt. Otto.

    "Also the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will no longer accept any narcotics cases for charging when any of these police officers is a necessary witness," Williams wrote. "Finally, we will no longer approve any search or arrest warrants on narcotics cases when any of these officers is the affiant, nor if the probable cause portion of the warrant contains any averments from any of these officers."

    "Very truly yours,

    R. Seth Williams, District Attorney."

    That letter, which basically put the five narcs and their boss out of the law enforcement business without any kind of due process, "was written in bad faith and recklessly," the complaint states.

    "There was no legitimate reason or colorable basis whatsoever for D.A. Williams to promulgate a policy and practice of not using the Plaintiffs as witnesses or affiants, and no such basis to promulgate a policy and practice of not using any averments of the Plaintiffs," the lawsuit states. "To the contrary, such a policy and practice was utterly reckless and irresponsible."

    The letter sent by Williams was "clearly and deliberately intended to -- and did -- state and create the false statement and impression that the Plaintiffs were neither credible nor honest, including under oath," the complaint states. It describes the "credibility and honesty of police officers" as the "sine qua non' of the profession," -- Latin for something absolutely needed.

    The Williams letter to Ramsey was written "in bad faith and with deliberate indifference to, and reckless disregard for, the liberty interests and the reputational interests of the Plaintiffs," the complaint states. It also exhibited an "irresponsible disregard for the truth."


    The lawsuit charges that during the week of Nov. 26, 2012, D.A. Williams met with Commissioner Ramsey and "demanded that the Commissioner remove the Plaintiffs from Narcotics."

    "Commissioner Ramsey, not knowing or even being then informed of any legitimate reason for such a demand, then rightly resisted D.A. Williams' request,'" the complaints states. The commissioner asked Williams to put his request in writing. Ramsey's "then-principled stand forced the birth of the letter that started the avalanche of injustices," the complaint states.

    The D.A.'s request, the lawsuit said, was "motivated by petty or non-pertinent, bureaucratic, administrative and political conflicts (between the D.A.'s Office and the Police Department), personality conflicts (between Plaintiffs and persons in the D.A.'s office), and resentments (of the Plaintiffs by persons in the D.A.'s Office)."

    The conflicts, the lawsuit said, "arose out of the D.A. Office's desire to receive more credit for narcotics successes and receive a greater share of seized and forfeited drug money." The "conflicts and resentments arose out of the very blunt, speak-his-mind, get-things-done, personality of Plaintiff Liciardello," Mannix wrote.

    "Incredibly, these petty and often wrong-headheaded bureaucratic, administrative, 'political' and personality conflicts, and the aforesaid resentments, are behind D.A. Williams' request to the Commissioner that the Plaintiffs be transferred," the complaint states. "Out of that pettiness and wrongheadedness, the letter was created and an avalanche of destruction began."

    The lawsuit states that when the D.A.'s letter was delivered to Rasmey, "both the Commissioner and the District Attorney knew there was no legitimate evidence against the Plaintiffs' honesty and credibility." But both the Police Commissioner and the D.A. "acting as policy makers, irresponsibly and recklessly acted, represented and promulgated policies and uttered statements that were premised on the falsehood that the honesty and credibility of the Plaintifs could be legitimately attacked," the lawsuit states, "when there was zero legitimate evidence for that premise."

    The amended complaint say that on Dec. 2, 2012, First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann, the second-highest ranking official in the D.A's office, "instructed Director of Communications/Spokesperson [Tasha] Jamerson on how to handle media inquiries about the letter."

    Jamerson, a former defendant in the suit when it was first filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court on Nov. 21, 2013, had her deposition taken on Jan. 10, 2014.

    According to the lawsuit, McCann "instructed Jamerson that she had authority to communicate to the press that the D.A.'s office would no longer be using the six Plaintiffs in narcotics cases because of prosecutorial discretion." Five days later, Jamerson was telling the media that the D.A.'s office would no longer be prosecuting the narcs' cases, the complaint states.

    The decision to publicize the D.A.'s letter to Ramsey was "explicitly authorized" by the superiors in her office and was "made and carried out in bad faith and with deliberate indifference to, and reckless disregard for, the liberty, interests and the reputational interests of the Plaintiffs," the complaint states.

    On Dec. 4, 2012, Ramsey ordered the six plaintiffs transferred out of the narcotics field unit to other assignments.

    "If Commissioner Ramsey, whose very public persona is as a fierce advocate of the integrity, honesty and ethics of his Department and its officers, believed for a minute there was any basis for D.A. Willliams' letter, he would have taken those putatively untrustworthy officers off the street and confiscated their weapons," Mannix wrote.

    By Dec. 5, 2012, the district attorney's letter was in the hands of the managing editor of Fox 29, also the husband of Tasha Jamerson, herself a former TV reporter for Fox, the complaint states. The next day, the complaint states, Fox 29 broadcast a report naming all six plaintiffs "stating, among other defamatory and false light statements, that they had been moved out of the Narcotics unit, CREDIBILITY QUESTIONED."

    After the Fox 29 broadcast, "an avalanche of publicity unfairly blackening the reputations of the Plaintiffs followed, some by Defendants, some by the media," the complaint states.

    The Williams letter to Ramsey, publicized by the media, "stigmatized and humiliated the Plaintiffs; impugned, blackened and utterly disparaged their professional and personal reputations; put the Plaintiffs in highly offensive false light; created false impressions about the Plaintiffs, including of their honestly, credibility, morality and ethics, and caused members of the Department, the public and the law enforcement, judicial and legal communities, and prospective employers to scorn and revile them, all to their great detriment," contrary to "their emotional, reputational, and pecuniary and liberty interests," according to the complaint.

    After she gave the letter to Fox, D.A. Spokesperson Jamerson "continued to recklessly publicize and disseminate the content and substance of D.A. Williams Dec. 3, 2012 letter," the complaint states. The D.A. "began withdrawing drug cases based on the putative lack of credibility of the Plaintiffs," the complaint states.

    "Criminals began to walk free, and the Plaintiffs now became the substituted 'criminal' targets of very public scorn," Mannix wrote.

    "Within a week of the start of the irresponsible, wholesale dismissal and withdrawal of drug cases, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe was approving of D.A. Williams' actions, telling the press that 'This certainly is the right thing to do,'" the lawsuit states.

    "Actually, D.A. Williams has triggered a process that ceded to criminals the power of dismissal of their own cases," the complaint states. "Eventually, hundreds of cases were dismissed or withdrawn, and the public scorn of the Plaintiffs grew."

    "On Jan. 17, 2014, Commissioner Ramsey outrageously and recklessly and gratuitously publicized to the media that a federal grand jury was probing at least four of the Plaintiffs herein," the lawsuit states. "On that day, Commissioner Ramsey further and recklessly publicized to the media that the six Plaintiffs had been pulled off street duty. Commissioner Ramsey's spokesperson then publicized to the media that the six Plaintiffs were required to surrender their weapons."


    On July 31, 2014, "Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter held a joint, televised press conference in which they irresponsibly grandstanded at the great expense of the completely innocent indicted Plaintiffs," the lawsuit states. At the joint press conference, "Mayor Nutter called the aforesaid Plaintiffs 'sick scumbags,'" the complaint states.

    At the joint press conference, Ramsey topped the mayor by telling the press, "I have been a police officer for more than 40 years and this is one of the worst corruption cases that I have ever heard." Ramsey stated to reporters that he would destroy the officers' badges.

    "The Commissioner and the Mayor were in fact wrongfully destroying the reputations and lives and liberty interests of the officers," Mannix wrote. "As to the badges -- they all got them back after the case against them was shown to be literally laughable."

    The federal prosecution "revealed and shocking and complete lack of credible evidence, and shoddy and reprehensible work by prosecutors and investigators," the complaint states. "The witnesses against the criminal defendants were criminals and perjurers. For some reason, the United Staes Attorney could not figure out before Indictment and trial things like an officer was out of state on vacation when the drug dealers said he was committing crimes on duty in Philadelphia."

    "The hysteria created by D.A. Williams' letter and Commisioner Ramsey's imprimatur thereon was jumped on by everyone -- the media, the public, criminals, lawyers for criminals, the Mayor, and the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania," the complaint states.

    Following their acquittal on all charges, on July 10, 2015, the defendants "were reinstated to their jobs with back pay," the complaint states. "Neither the Mayor nor the Commissioner nor the District Attorney have apologized to any of the Plaintiffs. The profound repetitional damage they inflicted on the Plaintiffs can never be repaired."

    That damage was done even though there was "never a scintilla of evidence" for D.A. Williams to attack "the credibility and honesty of the Plaintiffs, nor was there ever a scintilla of evidence of the 'piling on;" the complaint states. Along with the "grandstanding statements and acts and policies of the mayor and the Commissioner thereafter," the complaint states.

    The media "served as a completely effective and efficient outlet and mechanism" for spreading the "defamatory, false light and otherwise wrongful statements and acts" of the D.A. Commissioner and Mayor," the complaint states. The subsequent "avalanche of events" irresponsibly started by D.A. Williams, and propagated, fueled and happily ridden on by all the defendants, also included the filing of dozens of civil rights lawsuits against Plaintiffs by criminals only too happy to ride on D.A. Williams' letter," Mannix wrote.

    The official reaction to the cops' defamation lawsuit was silence.

    For the third time this week, Cameron Kline, the new spokesperson for D.A. Williams, did not respond to requests for comment; neither did a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter.

    A spokesperson for Police Commissioner Ramsey said that the city's law department will address the defamation suit in court.

    "As with all lawsuits, people have a right to file them and there is a process to address the issue surrounding the suit," the spokesperson said.

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


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    Judge Eduardo Robreno today described Jeffrey Walker, the dirty cop-turned government cooperator, as a "truthful and credible" witness. What's more, the judge said, Walker's testimony withstood the "crucible" of cross-examination by a half-dozen skilled defense lawyers.

    The jury, however, didn't see it that way on May 14th when they rejected Walker's testimony and acquitted six defendants on all 47 counts of a RICO indictment.

    But an undeterred Judge Robreno approved a downward departure in the sentencing guidelines for Walker, and gave him 42 months in jail. The judge squared his findings that Walker was truthful and credible with the jury verdict by saying there was a difference between being found not guilty and being innocent.

    Jeffrey Walker entered the courtroom wearing a beard, an olive green jumpsuit and handcuffs. He was there to be sentenced by the judge on one count of attempted robbery and one count of carrying a firearm in relation to committing a crime of violence.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, the big loser in that 47-0 massacre of a verdict, stood up and went through the crimes Walker had pleaded guilty to the day he was caught red-handed walking out of a drug dealer's house with a stolen $15,000.

    Walker had planted drugs on the dealer and then arranged a police stop so the guy would get nailed, Wzorek said, while Walker was busy cleaning out the drug dealer's house. But the drug dealer turned out to be another FBI cooperator. Walker also lied to a judge to get him to sign a search warrant, Wzorek said.

    Under the regular sentencing guidelines, Wzorek said, Walker was looking at a sentence of between 43 and 57 months before the judge granted a downward departure.

    Wzorek went on to praise Walker's work as a cooperating witness. The day he was arrested in May 2013, the prosecutor said, Wallker "immediately admitted his own guilt." The prosecutor also praised Walker for breaking the "institutional code of silence" that prevailed in the Philadelphia Police Department. The defendant broke that code by admitting to crimes he had committed and implicating others, Wzorek said, meaning the defendants.

    The prosecutor seemed to be forgetting that none of the jurors believed Walker.

    Walker met with the feds between 30 and 40 times, Wzorek told the judge. Walker's testimony was very important in "providing an insider's view of what was going on in the Narcotics Field Unit," Wzorek said.

    That's all great Tony, except once again you seem to be forgetting that the jury didn't believe a word Walker had to say.

    Walker's testimony was "credible and reliable," Wzorek insisted to the judge. The prisoner has already served 26 months, Wzorek said. Besides always being honest with the feds, the prosecutor said, Walker had to contend with the illness of his sister, a cop, who died of cancer the day the jury reached their verdict.

    "His cooperation was extraordinary," Wzorek told the judge about Walker. "So were his crimes."


    The judge agreed with the prosecutor, saying that Walker's testimony was "truthful and credible." Meanwhile, the judge said, he found the testimony of two supervisors of the Narcotics Field Unit, Lt. Robert Otto and Sgt. Joseph McCloskey, to be "non-credible."

    Walker's supervisors failed to detect that Walker had been stealing on the job since he first became a cop at 19, the judge said. Walker's supervisors usually gave Walker good reviews, the judge said, telling him he was a "team player" and advising him to "keep up the good work."

    When they found out that Walker had become a cooperating witness, the judge said, those same supervisors "conveniently" changed their opinion of Walker.

    The judge then explained how he squared his finding that Walker had been "truthful and reliable" with the verdict of not guilty 47 times. To explain himself, Judge Robreno quoted the closing statement of defense lawyer Jack McMahon.

    There is no verdict of innocent, McMahon had told the jury, according to the judge. There is only the quality and quantity of the evidence to consider, and whether the evidence was sufficient to prove a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    "The government has failed to prove" a verdict of guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," the judge concluded. So the jury came to the correct verdict, the judge said. But that doesn't mean "the defendants were innocent," the judge said.

    Walker's lawyer, Thomas Fitzpatrick, said that Walker was a 20-year veteran of the police department who had  "received several commendations for bravery." In his personal life, however, Walker had been divorced twice and had a drinking problem, Fitzpatrick said. When he became a cooperator, Walker's sister and ex-wife were still still cops, Fitzpatrick said. But Walker never faltered in his work as a witness.

    Fitzpatrick conceded that Walker's crime was "a scheme for money." But the lawyer said, "in the depths of his remorse," Walker had confronted his past sins.

    Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick said, the defendants are all free men. And they are feeling "so bold" that they just filed a defamation suit against the police commissioner and the mayor, Fitzpatrick said. [He forgot to mention the district attorney, the third defendant in the defamation suit].

    "Jeffrey Walker is a good man," Fitzpatrick told the judge. He's "sincerely remorseful for the things he's done." Now, "he's trying to do the right thing," the lawyer said.

    When it was his turn to speak, Walker told the judge, "I have no excuses."

    He apologized for his crimes to the police commissioner, his co-workers, and to the community, while reaching for a Kleenex.

    The day he was arrested, Walker told the judge, was a "turning point."

    "Finally," he said, "I moved in the right direction."

    "I've been messing up for so long," Walker said, wiping his eyes before he really started crying. "I know I've messed up."

    In announcing his sentence, Judge Robreno said the rogue cops trial had been a "difficult case." About the government, he said, "They took a risk" in prosecuting a case where the victims were a bunch of "drug dealers."

    It was Jeffrey Walker's cooperation, the judge said, "that made the filing of the case possible."

    As it turned out, that may not be something to celebrate.

    The bottom line was, "without Jeffrey Walker there would be no case," the judge said. And without this case, the judge said, the community wouldn't have gotten an inside look at the work of the Narcotics Field Unit.

    Or the work of the FBI, which didn't bother to interview a dozen police eyewitnesses to the alleged episodes of misconduct before the indictment was filed. And the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which failed to provide any corroboration for the accusations of the drug dealers.

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


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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer
    for BigTrial.net

    The sixth defendant in the so-called "rogue cops" case has filed a libel and defamation claim against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and Mayor Michael Nutter.

    Officer Linwood Norman filed a writ of summons Thursday in Common Pleas Court notifying the city that he was suing the three officials.

    Norman's suit follows an amended defamation claim filed last week in federal court against the same three city officials on behalf of the other five defendants in the rogue cops case -- Officers Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser and Thomas Liciardello -- as well as the group's former supervisor, Lt. Robert Otto.

    Now all six defendants who beat the rap are suing the city for defamation.

    "Officer Norman was one of the six allegedly 'sick scumbags' referred to by Mayor Nutter after the indictment and he was one of the six officers who apparently was so contemptible and despicable according to Commissioner Ramsey that his badge needed to be melted," said Christopher D. Mannix, the lawyer who filed both lawsuits on behalf of the former narcotics officers and their supervisor.

    The writ of summons in the Norman case was filed one day short of the one-year anniversary of the joint press conference held on July 31, 2014 by Police Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter. That's the event where Nutter called the defendants "sick scumbags" and Ramsey pledged to destroy their badges.

    There's a one-year statute for libel and defamation claims.

    All six defendants were found not guilty by a jury on all 47 counts in the RICO case, creating a legal predicament for Ramsey and Nutter. An arbitrator subsequently ruled that all six officers fired by Ramsey should be reinstated at their jobs with a year's back pay. The officers were also supposed to get their original badges returned to them, according to the arbitrator's decision.

    In the federal case, D.A. Williams was sued for defamation because he sent a letter to the police commissioner in 2012 announcing that his office would no longer prosecute any cases brought by Officers Spicer, Reynolds, Betts, Speiser, Thomas Liciardello and Otto. The D.A.'s letter, however, didn't mention Norman. Whatever else the district attorney might have said that was defamatory about Norman is not mentioned in the writ of summons.

    Mannix said he expect both lawsuits to be consolidated into one case in federal court before the same judge.

    That's another interesting development. Yesterday, according to the docket in U.S. District Court, the federal defamation case filed by the cops was reassigned from Judge Felipe Restrepo to Judge Paul S. Diamond.

    Judge Diamond is the same judge who's presiding over some 138 civil suits filed in federal court against the six former narcotics officers by some 200 plaintiffs. So Judge Diamond will be in charge of all civil lawsuits in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the RICO case, including the suits filed by both the cops and their alleged victims.

    According to a scheduling order filed on June 2, the lawyers in the 138 civil suits against the city are supposed to jointly select six "bellwether" cases for trial by July 13. First sets of interrogatories in the bellwether cases were to submitted by July 23rd.

    Armando Brigandi, the lead defense lawyer for the city, did not respond to a request for comment.

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