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

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  • 01/06/16--16:48: Duka Brothers Have Their Say
  • By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    They wanted to tell their side of the story in their own words and their lawyers wouldn't let them.

    That's the argument brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka offered in federal court today in a last ditch attempt to have their convictions and life sentences vacated in the Fort Dix terrorism trial.

    With friends and family members rallying outside the federal courthouse in Camden and amid tight security, a day long series of hearings -- each brother had his own -- played out in the fourth floor courtroom of Judge Robert Kugler, the same judge who had presided over their trial eight years ago and who had sentenced each to a term of life plus 30 years.

    "Free the Dukas now," supporters chanted from behind gated barriers set up in front of the courthouse as dozens of law enforcement officials from Homeland Security, the Camden County Police Department and the Sheriff's Department stood watch. The rally included dozens of placards decrying the convictions and proclaiming, among other things, "Islamaphobia Convicted the Dukas Brothers" and "Innocent Until Proven Muslim."

    "We hope this time they see it the right way," Ferik Duka, the father of the three brothers, said as he stood in the cold outside the courthouse. "God willing. There is no way they intended  to do (what the government alleged.)"

    That, as always, has been the fundamental issue in the case.

    Were the Dukas and their two co-defendants, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar, homegrown terrorists who had embraced jihad and were planning an attack on the Fort Dix military complex? Were they the infamous Fort Dix Five? Or were they young, naïve Muslim-Americans entrapped by overzealous government informants wearing body-wires who turned idle and hollow rhetoric into a conspiracy?

    While emotions ran high outside the courthouse, the legal proceedings inside amounted to "he said, he said" arguments with all three brothers claiming they wanted to take the stand but were coerced by their lawyers not to. In turn, their former defense attorneys, called as government witnesses, testified that none of the brothers ever expressed a desire to testify.

    The hearings, which began around 9:30 a.m. ended shortly before 6 p.m. Judge Kugler reserved ruling on the petitions after lawyers for the three brothers asked for time to file additional briefs. Those documents are due on Feb. 12. Kugler is expected to rule a short time later.

    All three brothers, who were brought back from federal prisons in different parts of the country, appeared dressed in olive green prison jump suits with their wrists in handcuffs and their ankles linked in chains. Each nodded and smiled to friends and family who had taken up seats in the fourth floor courtroom.

    The brothers, ethnic Albanians who had come to the United States as children and who were living in Cherry Hill at the time of their arrests, were targeted after a clerk at a Circuit City store reported to authorities that they had left a video to be copied that showed them firing weapons and shouting "God is great" at a firing range in the Poconos.

    The Dukas would later say the video was from a vacation they had taken. The FBI launched an investigation and insinuated two informants into their social circles. Those informants recorded dozens of conversations that were used to support the conspiracy charge. One of the informants also arranged for the sale of 10 rifles and assault weapons to the Dukas. That "sale" capped the investigation and triggered the arrests that came down in May 2007.

    Dritan Duka, the first to testify today, sounded the themes that were repeated throughout the session. He said that he wanted to take the stand to explain what he had said on the tapes, but that his lawyer, Michael Huff, had told him not to. He said Huff also told him that he was unprepared to put him in front of the jury during the trial.

    "I believed I would have to get on the stand to explain myself," said Dritan Duka, 37, later adding that "the jury needed to hear what I got to say."

    But Huff said his client never asked to testify. Huff, like the other defense attorneys, said everyone in the defense camp thought that was the wisest move.

    "I think he could have done nothing but hurt himself," the defense attorney said, adding that all the defense lawyers and all the defendants agreed on that strategy.

    Defense attorneys Troy Archie and Michael Riley, who represented Eljvir and Shain Duka, testified in similar fashion. All three attorneys were court-appointed and all three said the consensus was that any defendant who took the stand would be subject to grueling cross-examination that would allow the prosecution to replay damaging audio tapes and videos that had been introduced as evidence, including videos from radical Muslim leaders extolling violent jihad.

    The videos, found on a computer owned by Shnewer, were played during the trial. They included depictions of beheadings and shots of American soldiers being gunned down. On at least one audio tape made by an informant, some of the defendants could be heard cheering the actions.

    That, said Michael Riley, was one of his key concerns and one of the reasons he believed his client should not take the stand. He said Shain Duka never asked to testify.

    The tapes "were damning," Riley said, and the videos "were devastating."

    Riley said the defense strategy was to raise questions about the roles and motives of the informants who made the tapes and to try to show that the defendants were manipulated into making comments that appeared conspiratorial.

    "The government's case was based primarily on words," he said. 

    He said when, during trial preparation, he had asked Shain Duka about some inflammatory comments Duka had made, his client replied, 'I said it, Riley, but I didn't mean it."

    Riley said he believed any benefit that might have come from his client taking the stand would have been outweighed by the fact that it would have provided the prosecution the opportunity pto revisit the audio and video evidence and replay it for the jury.

    The prosecution also pointed out that each defendant was asked in open court by Judge Kugler if he  understood that he had the right to testify even if his lawyer had urged him not to. Each defendant, according to trial transcripts, said he understood and said he had opted not to take the stand.

    But today all three brothers said they felt coerced by their lawyers and also were taken aback when all three attorneys said they were unprepared to put them on the stand. The defense attorneys denied that was ever said.

    Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the lead prosecutor at the trial, also underscored the govenment's position when he asked each defendant about his motive for filing the habeas corpus (Rule 2255) petition that was the basis for today's hearing. The defendants claimed ineffective counsel and argued their constitutional right to a fair trial had been denied.

    Fitzpatrick noted that the petitions came after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the convictions and the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to consider the case. In none of those appellate motions, the prosecutor said, had the question of be denied the right to testify been raised.

    "Isn't it true that unless you prevail on this petition you will serve the rest of your life in prison?" he asked Dritan Duka.

    Duka responded that while that might be the prosecutor's opinion, "Only God know what the future holds. I am innocent and, God willing, it will be proven."

    Shain Duka, responding to the same line of questioning, told the prosecutor, "You can say, do I have a motive to lie? Yes. But am I lying. No."

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

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    Here is a link to a piece in AARP magazine called OldFellas. You may recognize some of the names and events.

    - George Anastasia

    http://www.aarp.org/work/on-the-job/info-2015/aging-mobsters-refuse-retirement.html?intcmp=ATMBB3

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Nobody wants to go to jail, but 30 months is a lot better than 30 years.

    That's the bottom line for John Parisi who was sentenced this morning for his role in the FirstPlus financial fraud case.

    Parisi is the cousin of Nicodemo S. Scarfo who, along with Salvatore Pelullo, was convicted last year of masterminding the $14 million ripoff of FirstPlus Financial, a Texas-based mortgage company. The government charged that Scarfo, the son of jailed mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, and Pelullo, a mob wannabe, used the specter of organized crime to instill fear into FirstPlus officials and employees while secretly taking control of the company back in 2007.

    Each was sentenced to 30 years in prison by Judge Robert Kugler back in July.

    Parisi, 54, was one of more than a dozen defendants indicted in the case. He pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge in September 2013 as part of a plea agreement and was facing a maximum five-year sentence. Other charges against him were dropped. This morning, during a brief hearing in federal court in Camden, Kugler sentenced Parisi to 30 months in jail.

    Authorities alleged that Parisi helped set up and control one of several straw companies that Scarfo and Pelullo used to siphon cash out of FirstPlus. The money came through FirstPlus purchases of over valued companies the two had set up or through bogus consulting contracts.

    Parisi was tied to Learned Associates, an Atlantic City straw company that was part of the scam. He was described as a player, but not a major participant, in what the government said was an organized crime foray into the banking and mortgage business. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Scarfo and Pelullo had given new meaning to the term "corporate takeover" when he announced indictments in the case back in 2011.

    In a news release announcing the sentencing, the U.S. Attorney's Office said today that Parisi managed a family trust and a limited liability company on behalf of Scarfo as part of the scheme to defraud FPFG.

    "Parisi said Scarfo directed him in the use of various bank accounts through which Scarfo received hundreds of thousands of dollars between July 2007 and April 2008 as part of the scheme," according to the press release.

    In addition to his prison term, Parisi was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $14 million in restitution, authorities said.

    That figure, while an unrealistic number in terms of actual restitution, is indicative of the scope of the fraud.

    Parisi, of Atlantic City, is the second person with family ties to Scarfo to take a hit -- however minor -- in the FirstPlus scam. Scarfo's wife, Lisa Murray Scarfo, was sentenced to probation for her role in a mortgage fraud tied to the couple's purchase of a $715,000 Egg Harbor Township home.

    The house, jewelry, a yacht and a Bentley automobile owned by Pelullo all have been lost or forfeited as a result of the convictions and guilty pleas growing out of the case.

    This was not the first time Parisi was caught in the line of fire. He was one of two people dining with Nicky Scarfo Jr. on a now infamous Halloween night in 1989 when a hitman opened fire. Scarfo was at a table at Dante & Luigi's Restaurant in South Philadelphia when the attempted hit went down. He was eating a plate of clams and spaghetti when a man wearing a Halloween mask and carrying a trick-or-treat bag walked up to the table, pulled a machine pistol out of the bag and opened fire.

    Scarfo was hit six times, but survived the shooting. The attack, however, marked the end of his jailed father's attempt to continue to run the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra by using his son as a proxy.

    Parisi was was not hit by any of the gunfire. But more than a decade later, he couldn't dodge a bullet in the FirstPlus case.

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

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    A forensic psychiatrist and the retired detective who led the district attorney's investigation into Billy Doe's allegations of serial rape don't believe he's telling the truth.

    The Newsweek cover story that outed the "lying, scheming altar boy" can be read here.

    http://www.newsweek.com/2016/01/29/billy-doe-altar-boy-sends-four-men-prison-philadelphia-rape-case-417565.html

    If either of these links don't work, the story is prominently featured on newsweek.com under U.S.

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  • 01/22/16--07:25: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.

    By Shealyn Kilroy
    for BigTrial.net

    Philadelphia District Attorney:

    Jan. 19 - The capital murder trial Alfred Whitefield, 42, accused of gunning down Carmen Medina, 31,  and her boyfriend Thomas Gorman, 39, on April 23, 2013 began on Tuesday. In an alleged feud to rent out a drug corner in Kensington, preliminary testimony divulges that Whitefield took Medina and Gorman’s life instead of paying $500. The Medina family’s corner on Somerset and Swanson Streets has been a popular and busy drug corner that sold over 100 prepackaged branded heroin a day, according to authorities.

    Two juveniles are schedule for a hearing Friday, Jan. 22, who are accused of beating to death a homeless man outside of a Sunoco in April 2015. Robert Barnes, 51, died from his injuries on Nov. 25, 2015. Out of the six accused, three adults - Aleathea Gillard, 34; Shareena Joachim, 24; and Kaisha Duggins, 24, - face attempted murder charges. Three juveniles are accused of participating in the attack and range in age from 12 to 14-years-old at the time of the incident. Two of the juveniles are Gillard’s children, but their names have not been released.According to the DA’s office, only two of the juveniles are expected to attend Friday’s hearing and could be tried as adults. 



    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

    Jan. 14 - Nathaniel Rodriguez, 40, of Philadelphia was indicted on Jan. 14 for two counts of kidnapping for ATM access around Nov. 6, 2015. Rodriguez could face life in prison for allegedly forcing “K.J.” to accompany him to withdraw money from K.J.’s account and for allegedly forcing the same process on “P.M.N.L.” Both K.J. and P.M.N.L. have not been identified to the public but are known to the grand jury.
    New Jersey Attorney General:


    Jan. 19 - Juan Gutierrez-Valencia, 25, of Pemberton Township, N.J., pleaded guilty of  first degree possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in an undercover meth and heroin crackdown led by the New Jersey State Police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called “Operation Speed Racer.” 

    Gutierrez-Valencia was arrested back on July 7, 2014 when he allegedly planned to buy two kilos of crystal meth at a hotel in Mount Laurel. After allegedly showing the detective a large gym bag containing crystal meth, the detective got out of the car and called for backup. In efforts of allegedly trying to flee from the feds, Gutierrez-Valence struck and injured two state troopers. 

    Gutierrez-Valencia suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound to his arm when another trooper fired at him. State troopers found two kilos of meth and a stolen 9mm handgun after issuing a search warrant for Gutierrez-Valencia’s vehicle.  Gutierrez-Valencia also pleaded guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and fourth-degree obstructing the administration of law - for striking the troopers. The state suggested that Gutierrez-Valencia face over 10 years in prison and three and a half years parole ineligibility.

    Four other men last week pleaded guilty under Operation Speed Racer. Sentencing for Gutierrez-Valencia is scheduled for April 1, and the four men are scheduled for sentencing on April 15.

    U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey:
    Jan. 21 - Former UConn and NBA star Tate George, 47, was sentenced to 108 months in prison for his role as “CEO” of “The George Group” in an investment fraud scheme. The George Group was George’s fake real estate business that claimed to have $500 million in assets that allowed George to steal $2 million from investors, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. 

    George’s status as a player for New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks made investors think The George Group and its finances were legit, because NBA players supposedly are trustworthy, authorities said. The money did go to a “good” cause: George's daughter’s sweet 16 birthday party and a YouTube video about himself, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
    Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at bigtrial1@gmail.com.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    In a "victim's impact" statement read in court on June 12, 2013, "Billy Doe" told Judge Ellen Ceisler, "It finally feels good to make my family proud of me."

    Well congratulations, Billy. They must have really been proud last week when you were outed coast-to-coast as a lying, scheming fraud with a Pinocchio nose on the cover of Newsweek!

    On the internet, reaction to Newsweek's scoop spread across more than four Google pages. Catholic bloggers teed of on the former altar boy. Conservative commentators Breitbart and Hot Air noted the Rolling Stone connection, that the same reporter who bought Billy's serial rape story in that discredited magazine also fell for "Jackie's" bogus story about gang rape at a UVA frat house.

    Susan Matthews, publisher at catholics4change.com, wondered, "Why is the church paying the [$]5 million?" Oh, that was another bombshell in the Newsweek story; that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had basically caved in to fraud and paid Billy an estimated $5 million to settle his civil suit for his alleged pain and suffering. Good question, Susan. It's one that every Catholic should be asking their archbishop before they put another dollar in the collection basket.

    Over at Philly mag, the self-appointed arbiter of taste and truth in our city, the Billy Doe story set off a tizzy. "Who to believe," shrieked a sub-head in the story.

    Well, let's see. On one side, the argument that Billy Doe is quite possibly a fraud, Newsweek quoted a forensic psychiatrist who examined Billy for nearly three hours. He also sifted through Billy's medical records from 28 different doctors, hospitals and drug clinics, as well as Billy's school records, along with his testimony in the criminal and civil cases.

    And what did Dr. Stephen Mechanick conclude? That none of Billy's myriad injuries, both physical and psychic, were corroborated by any of the records. All of the evidence contradicted Billy.

    The Newsweek story also quoted the civil deposition of retired Detective Joseph Walsh, who led the Philadelphia district attorney's investigation into Billy's allegations. Walsh testified that he questioned Billy on nine different factual discrepancies with his stories. And what was Billy's response? According to Walsh, Billy either sat there and said nothing, or claimed he was high on drugs, or told a new story.

    On the other side of the argument, that Billy was telling the truth, we have Billy's lawyer, who claimed that "the science is clear" that victims of abuse typically turn to drugs and alcohol and crime.  Really? Who knew that victimology was a science? Philly mag also recruited David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, to weigh in with his impartial take.

    Clohessy attempted to explain away all the factual contradictions and astounding changes in Billy's stories by saying that "traumatized individuals, especially those violated as kids by adults who claim to represent God, rarely recall all the facts and timelines perfectly."

    Nice rhetorical flourish, Dave. Keep pouring on the gasoline.

    So on one side of the controversy, Newsweek examined all of the facts relevant to the Billy Doe case, relying on testimony from a couple of expert witnesses in the case -- Dr. Mechanick the forensic psychiatrist and Detective Walsh, who led the D.A.'s investigation into Billy's allegations.

    On the other side we have some generalities spouted by a couple of partisans about legitimate sex abuse victims, generalities that have no application in the case of the fraud known as Billy Doe.

    Only a magazine that missed the big story for the past four years would try to pass off the two opposing arguments as equivalents. Oh but wait, isn't Philadelphia magazine the same rag that used to print Sabrina Rubin Erdely's fantasies as truthful stories before she went on to write more ambitious fiction for Rolling Stone?

    Isn't Philly mag the same magazine that printed the story about the gay Mummer that turned out to be a fraud? The same magazine that hired an idiotic sports talk radio show host known as "the Cuz" to write a story about a former Marine sniper who amazingly lived next door, a guy who supposedly killed scores of people and was haunted by the memories? And then they ran the hoax without any fact-checking? It's no wonder at Philly mag, where they can't separate fact from fiction, that they were confused by the Newsweek story.

    Ironically, the argument advanced by Clohessy was also made by Dr. Berkowitz, another psychiatrist in the Billy Doe case who was paid to examine Billy in 2014 by Billy's lawyers. 

    Dr. Berkowitz concluded that “Mr. Gallagher’s false reports of abuse” are typically common among abuse victims trying to come to terms with their experience.

    In his 40-page report on Billy Doe, Dr. Mechanick addressed that argument, and suggested some alternative explanations for why Billy Doe might have told his false stories. It's not an argument you'll hear from any of Billy's defenders:

    “Dr. Berkowitz’s report does not discuss the possibility that Mr. [Daniel] Gallagher has made false reports of abuse for personal gain,” Dr. Mechanick wrote. “He does not discuss the possibility that Mr. Gallagher reported that he was abused by various people to rationalize and excuse his substance abuse. Dr. Berkowitz’s report does not discuss the possibility that Mr. Gallagher reported that he was abused so that his parents and others might be less critical of him, and so that they might see him as a victim rather than being responsible for his drug abuse.”

    Wow, did the doc tee off on Billy/Danny.

    Oh, that was another thing that upset Billy's lawyers and the SNAP guy, that the Newsweek story outed Billy Doe for who he really is, Daniel Gallagher. That's how he was identified when he twice testified as a witness in two criminal cases; that's how he was identified by Dr. Mechanick in his report, as well as by Detective Walsh in his deposition.

    There is no legal reason not to print Billy Doe's real name. It's a hypocritical self-censorship policy designed by the media to protect victims of sex abuse. While the names of the accused are always hung out to dry. At this point in the game, however, there seems to be plenty of evidence to doubt whether Billy was ever a victim of sex abuse. 

    Time to stand on your own two feet, Mr. Gallagher! Shortly after Newsweek outed Billy, the National Catholic Reporter, which has reported extensively on the case, also followed suit.

    In Philly mag, Billy's lawyer complained that the Newsweek story "cherry-picked" quotes from the Mechanick report. Here are some other quotes from the Mechanick report that were used to describe Billy: 

    chronically maladjusted . . . immature . . . self-indulgent . . . manipulating others to his own ends . . . He refuses to accept responsibility for his own problems . . . exaggerated . . . grandiose . . . hedonistic . . . may overuse alcohol or drugs . . . quite impulsive . . . paranoid features and externalization of blame . . . manipulative and self-serving . . . He tends to blame others for problems he has helped to create . . . paranoid or passive aggressive personality . . . delusional.

    In short, the perfect psychological makeup for a star witness foisted on the criminal justice system and the public by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

    Eight days after they received Dr. Mechanick's report, Billy's lawyers folded their civil case on the eve of jury selection. It's easy to see why when you read the report.

    In the Philly mag article, Billy's lawyer also claimed that his client had passed a polygraph, a claim he previously made in the Legal Intelligencer.

    We'll skip over the fact that theres a voluntary confidentiality stipulation in the case that's supposed to prevent lawyers from making such pronouncements to reporters. The facts are these: When Billy Doe was deposed in the civil case, he was asked whether he had ever been polygraphed.

    His answer was no.

    We know that the district attorney never polygraphed Billy. We also know that polygraphs are not admissible in civil and criminal proceedings. So why Billy's lawyers would polygraph him after he testified in two criminal cases and his civil case doesn't make much sense.

    There's also the possibility that either Billy or his lawyer aren't telling the truth. Now that would be a shocker!

    But let's get to the bottom of this. When I printed that the late Father Charles Engelhardt passed a polygraph test, I had the results in hand.

    Let's review. On July 31, 2012, William L. Fleisher, a former FBI agent, Philadelphia cop and forensic psychophysiologist used by the district attorney and the U.S. Attorney's office, wrote a report about his polygraph test on Father Engelhardt. In the report, Fleisher said he discussing the allegations with Engelhardt before posing three key questions:

    "While in St. Jerome's Sacristy, did you have sex with Daniel Gallagher?

    "No," the priest replied.

    "Regarding Daniel Gallagher, did you have sex with him?"

    "No."

    "Are any of [Gallagher's] accusations about you true?"

    "No."

    All three times, Fleisher wrote, the polygraph result was "no deception indicated," the highest grade you can get on a polygraph test.

    "It is my professional opinion based on the reactions to the formulated questions in this examination that Mr. Engelhardt was being truthful when he denied having engaged in sexual activity with the boy known to him as [Billy Doe]," Fleisher wrote.

    Attention, Billy's lawyers. If Billy Doe passed a polygraph, please mail me the report and I will be happy to print it.

    In other words, put up or shut up.

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    "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and George Borgesi/photo courtesy Fox 29
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Ron Galati won't be taking part in the underworld renaissance currently unfolding in South Philadelphia.

    Instead, the wannabe wiseguy and auto body shop owner, who is already serving a 23-year federal sentence for a murder conspiracy conviction, is due in Common Pleas in September to answer fraud and murder-for-hire charges.

    A trial date of Sept. 7 was set this morning at a status conference hearing before Judge Jeffrey Minehart. Galati, his wife Vicki and his son, Ron Jr., are slated to be at the defense table along with several other defendants if that trial goes off as planned.

    Galati has been off the streets for the past two years and has missed out on what law enforcement sources are describing as the resurgence of the local crime family. At his bail hearing two years ago, Galati, now 65, was described by Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz as having a "close personal relationship" with then mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and Ligambi's nephew, mobster George Borgesi.

    Both Ligambi and Borgesi were back in the news this week. On Monday, reporter Dave Schratwieser on a Fox 29 television special report, offered an update on the local mob, noting that Ligambi, Borgesi and others are frequently spotted at a recently opened clubhouse at 11th and Jackson Streets and that Borgesi and others have branched out into the construction and home rehab business with an office on Passyunk Avenue.

    "It's all legit," said one source familiar with the new business ventures. "They're not doing anything wrong."

    The television report said as much, but that hasn't stopped some of the wiseguys, wannabes and sycophants now hanging out at the clubhouse from complaining about media coverage.

    "You have to admire their resilience," said one state investigator who, like several others, has been surprised at how quickly and easily the mobsters have fallen back into their old routines, hanging with the same individuals, congregating at a clubhouse to socialize and branching out into the business world.

    The FBI and investigators with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and State Police have been tracking the activities.

    David Fritchey, the recently retired head of the Organized Crime Strike Force for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, said the business ventures and associations bear watching and that he is confident law enforcement is doing just that.

    "They have a long and successful business model" that involves "violence and intimidation," Fritchey said while dismissing the argument that the one-time convicts have paid their debt to society and ought to be left alone. "If they're not doing anything wrong, then they shouldn't be worried about who's looking at them."

    No one is claiming any criminality in the current activities. But Fritchey noted that, "it doesn't bode well for their rehabilitation if they are hanging out with the same people with whom they committed crimes."

    That, the ex-prosecutor said, is a formula for "recidivism."

    Law enforcement investigators are also aware that back in October there was a mob initiation ceremony in which five associates were formally inducted into the crime family. Traditionally, a making ceremony is overseen by the crime family boss and the initiates are individuals who have sworn a blood oath of allegiance to Cosa Nostra and who have proven that allegiance by having taken part in a murder.

    But this is Cosa Nostra 2000 and individuals are often "made" because of their blood relationship to another member or because they are good earners. Money trumps murder in the modern American Mafia, at least in South Philadelphia.

    For now, at least, the greed, treachery and violence that once were the hallmarks of the organization are on hold. It has not been lost on law enforcement, however, that the ventures into home rehab, construction and mortgage refinancing are exactly what mob informants Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick testified about at Borgesi's last two racketeering trials.

    Both said Borgesi, from prison, was planning a foray into those fields once he was released. Borgesi's first trial ended with his acquittal on all but one charge on which the jury hung. At the second trial he was found not guilty of that as well.

    Monacello and Aponick were vilified by the defense camp as "lying rats" who were fabricating information to curry favor with federal prosecutors. While the jury rejected the bulk of their testimony, it appears that at least in terms of what Borgesi's future plans were, they were telling the truth.

    Part of the reason for the continued monitoring of the local crime family is the belief in law enforcement circles that several of the mobsters who have returned from prison and are back out on the streets have literally gotten away with murder. None of the murder or attempted murder charges that were part of a 2001 racketeering case against mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, Borgesi and five other defendants were proven, however.

    What's more, there are those who believe that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia no longer has the mob as a top priority. Terrorism, political corruption and narcotics trafficking are the topics of primary concern. The FBI's organized crime unit, which once boasted nearly a dozen investigators, currently has four or five members.

    Still, local, state and federal investigators continue to work on the unsolved murders of Raymond "Long John" Martorano, John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto and Ron Turchi. The hope in investigative circles is that pressure can be put on someone who knows enough to help make one of those cases.

    George Borgesi and Stevie Mazzone/photo courtesy Fox 29
    To date, that hasn't happened. In fact, part of the resilience of the local organization stems from the fact that the most recent mob informants -- like Monacello -- haven proven to be ineffective witnesses. Monacello came across as arrogant and vindictive on the witness stand and what he said was often overshadowed or undermined by his tone and demeanor.

    Still, Fritchey said, "there are a lot of people in law enforcement who believe he was telling the truth" when he described the roles Ligambi and Borgesi played in the mob, its penchant for violence and its deceit and treachery.

    Among other things, Monacello testified that he, Borgesi and others helped Galati carry out insurance fraud scams in the 1990s by deliberately crashing into and wrecking cars. Galati was convicted and sentenced to 38 months in prison in 1994 for insurance fraud.

    Two years ago, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced a new indictment alleging that Galati was back to his old tricks, orchestrating a $5 million insurance fraud scheme through false and trumped up accident and repair costs. What's more, the indictment alleges, Galati hired two hitmen to kill two rival auto body shop owners who had testified before a grand jury that was investigating him.

    All of that is part of the case now set for trial in September.

    Authorities say Galati came out of prison in the late 1990s and went right back to doing what landed him in jail in the first place. Both law enforcement and underworld sources say there's a lesson there for the mobsters with whom he has had "close personal relationships."

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

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  • 01/29/16--07:14: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.

    By Shealyn Kilroy
    for BigTrial.net
    The gunman who shot Officer Jesse Hartnett on Jan. 7 in the “name of Islam” is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 25, according to the district attorney’s office. Edward Archer, 30, from Yeadon told detectives, "I follow Allah. I pledge my allegiance to the Islamic State, and that's why I did what I did," according to Homicide Capt. James Clark. The investigation is still pending on whether Archer had direct ties to ISIS or acted on his own. The story has furthered a national conversation around what can be defined as terrorism. Philadelphia’s new mayor, Jim Kenney, said he believed the shooting “has nothing to do with Islam.”

    Retired Philadelphia Police Department mounted cop Walter Sasse, 75, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a girl beginning when she was 15. Sasse is scheduled to make an appearance in court on Jan. 27, according to the District Attorney’s office.The two-and-a-half year relationship allegedly occurred at Courtesy Stables in Andorra where Sasse and the victim worked, according to authorities. Sasse retired in 1991 after 20 years with the force. According to the docket, Sasse was arrested on March 6, 2014 and will stand trial for eight charges, including engaging in anal or oral intercourse (IDSI) with a person less than 16-years-old and indecent assault of someone less than 16-years-old.

    Jan. 26 - Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s senior services provider Catholic Health Care Services has agreed to resolve allegations relating to resident care at two nursing homes, St. Monica Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare and St. Monica Manor in South Philadelphia, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.  The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has agreed to improve, or has already improved, care in relation to physician orders; wound care and pressure ulcers; medication administration; documentation of care; and transfer and toileting of residents.  The Archdiocese will pay up $80,000 in addition to the agreement to improve care.  St. Monica Manor in South Philadelphia, along with other nursing homes, were sold in 2014 to Center Management Group (CMG)  in a $145 million dollar deal. According to the Archdiocese, CMG is supposed to “operate each facility in accordance with the moral, ethical and social teachings of the Catholic Church” when the 2014 transaction was made.


    Pennsylvania Attorney General:
    Alden Shallcross Clark, 28, of Franklin County was arrested on Jan. 27 on charges for distributing and possessing child pornography, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. During an online investigation by the Office of Attorney General Predator Section and West York Borough Police Department, a computer that traced back to Clark was identified as having “investigative interest.” While executing a search warrant of Clark’s residence, officers seized a computer that forensic investigators found child porn on related files. Clark is charged with 16 counts of possession of child pornography and one count each of distribution of child pornography and criminal use of a communication facility. Clark failed to post $100,000 bail and is being held at Franklin County Prison. A preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 2, according to Attorney General’s office.


    U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey:
    Schirmer Monestime, 39, of Elizabeth, N.J. was sentenced to 63 months in prison on Jan. 26 for conspiracy to smuggle approximately three kilos of cocaine into the U.S. from Haiti. During a routine check of incoming mail from Haiti, feds found six large picture frames filled a white powdery substance that tested positive for cocaine in a package addressed to Bobby Lewis, 59. The cocaine was replaced with fake cocaine and then delivered by an undercover cop to Lewis.  Surveillance displayed Lewis in a parking lot awaiting Monestime arrival, he did not show but planned to pick  up the package, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Monestime was also sentenced to a three year supervised released in addition to his prison sentence. Charges against Lewis are still pending, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.



    Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at bigtrial1@gmail.com.


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  • 02/03/16--07:27: The Stonewallers
  • The original Stonewall: General Thomas Jackson
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    In Philadelphia, three strong silent types represent the law, the church and the Fourth Estate.

    We're talking about District Attorney Seth Williams, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow.

    And what do all three of these guys have in common? In the case of what increasingly looks like a fraudulent prosecution of the Catholic church -- featuring a compromised investigation, a falsified grand jury report, and a "lying, scheming" star witness -- all three men continue to stonewall. None of these guys will answer any questions.

    If the prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was over, the stonewallers might prevail. But the prosecution of the church may have a second act, a third, and possibly even a fourth.

    Msgr. William J. Lynn has been granted a new trial. One of Lynn's original co-defendants, Father James J. Brennan, is scheduled for a retrial on Oct. 24th.

    And now a trio of criminal defense lawyers say that newly discovered "Brady material" -- evidence beneficial to the defense that was allegedly withheld by the prosecution -- may result in a motion for a new trial on behalf of former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, now serving 8 to 16 years for the alleged rape of altar boy "Billy Doe."

    In Philadelphia, the prosecution of the Catholic Church is seemingly endless. And so are the doubts and legal challenges to what increasingly looks like a state-sponsored witch hunt. The big question is, how long can the stonewallers get away with ignoring the unmistakable stench of scandal?

    Stonewall Seth

    Our first silent man is Stonewall Seth, the district attorney of Philadelphia.

    In January 2013, this blog, citing previously confidential grand jury transcripts and police records, reported on some disturbing irregularities with the D.A's investigation of the church. Such as the district attorney allowing the parents of Billy Doe, including Billy's police sergeant father, to sit in on an initial interview with the D.A. Even though Billy was 21 at the time, and the usual procedure in the D.A.'s office and the Philadelphia Police Department called for interviewing an adult complainant by himself.

    There were other problems with the prosecution, such as the claim by the D.A.'s office that Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen sat in on the initial interview with Billy Doe but supposedly took no notes. And the subsequent 2011 grand jury report written by Sorensen that contained 20 factual errors.

    Many of those factual errors were blatant rewrites of grand jury testimony to fit preconceived story lines cooked up by the D.A. Other errors in the grand jury report were contradicted by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives.

    I sent a list of questions to Seth Williams, detailing the 20 errors in the grand jury report, and the irregularities with the investigation. His response -- stonewalling.

    In April 2013, I wrote a lengthy story for National Catholic Reporter about the case -- "Star witness's story in Philadelphia sex abuse trials doesn't add up" -- that asked many of the same questions again, plus some new ones. Once again, District Attorney Seth Williams had nothing to say. The only response from his office came from ADA Sorensen, who tried unsuccessfully several times to talk an editor at National Catholic Reporter out of running the story. Maybe Sorensen had a personal stake in the outcome. Less than two months after the story was published, she resigned from the D.A.'s office.

    In the absence of official comment from Williams, a commentator believed to be former ADA Sorensen briefly surfaced on this blog to try and dispute those errors in the grand jury report. The commentator, who only identified herself as "Mariana," tried to defend the indefensible by saying that a "spooning" committed by a priest wearing boxer shorts against a 14-year-old victim wearing boxer shorts constituted an anal rape.

    Although "Mariana" impressed all of us with her legal citations, she disappeared after she was confronted with the proof of how empty her argument was. And here's the proof: on the eve of trial, not even Seth Williams, a man who can justify just about anything when it comes to putting a priest in jail, reduced the charge against Father Brennan from rape to attempted rape, with no explanation.

    Just like when D.A. Williams decided to go after Msgr. Lynn on the same charge -- endangering the welfare of a child -- that a previous district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and a previous grand jury, had decided did not apply to Msgr. Lynn. It was a complete reversal of course, but one that D.A. Williams decided he didn't have to explain to the citizens of Philadelphia.

    In Philadelphia, when you're the district attorney, you are apparently above question.

    Last week, Newsweek ran a cover story about the "lying, scheming altar boy" behind the church prosecution. Once again, a list of 20 factual errors was sent over to the district attorney's office. Once again, Seth Williams had no response.

    Four years into this mess, it's clear that Seth Williams has no answers and no defense to the serious questions raised about the integrity of his grand prosecution of the church, and the falsity of his 2011 grand jury report.

    How lame does the D.A.'s office look after four years of stonewalling? All Seth Williams can do is continue to hide under his desk and hope that no TV cameras ever show up to out him as the craven  political animal he is, an elected official who put playing politics above the law.

    Stonewall Seth may look even more pathetic if Father Brennan is retried as scheduled on Oct. 24th, four years after the original jury deadlocked. The case is ridiculous on the face of it: Father Brennan is accused back in 1996 of spooning 14 year-old Mark Bukowski in what the D.A. claims constituted an attempted rape. The victim's testimony is that both men were wearing T-shirts and boxer shorts when the alleged event occurred.

    Bukowski is a former Marine who went AWOL and was discharged under less than honorable conditions. He's got a history of drug problems and criminal arrests. His own mother accused him of stealing from herself and her husband. Bukowski has pleaded guilty to forgery, identity theft, and two counts of filing a false statement to authorities.

    In short, Bukowski makes another perfect star witness in Stonewall Seth's crusade against the church, alongside Billy Doe, the Newsweek cover boy with the Pinocchio nose.

    Stonewall Charlie
    Next on our list of stonewallers is Stonewall Charlie, the archbishop of Philadelphia. Back when the civil case was filed against the archdiocese, the scuttlebutt was that the archbishop didn't really believe that Billy Doe/Danny Gallagher had ever been sexually abused.

    The archbishop supposedly was a regular reader of this blog. And the word was that Archbishop Charlie was determined to slug it out in court with Probably Fraudulent Billy.

    But then the Pope came to town. I heard the archbishop's lawyers ran some mock trials, and got worried about the prospect of an enormous jury verdict.

    Somehow, between the pope's visit and the mock trials, Archbishop Chaput got weak in the knees. Given a chance to stand up for his falsely accused brothers in collars, one of whom had already died in prison, the archbishop decided that the truth would set anybody free. Instead, he rolled over, and threw the defendants under a bus. He had his lawyers write Billy Doe a check for an estimated $5 million.

    Since he settled the case, Stonewall Charlie has refused all comment. His spokesperson no longer even responds to inquiries. In light of the Newsweek story that outed Billy Doe as a "lying, scheming altar boy," can Stonewall Charlie get away with not explaining his part in the $5 million shakedown?

    Ironically, it's one of Stonewall Charlie's own lawyers that dug up the possible "Brady" material that may aid another defendant locked up by Stonewall Seth in a possible bid for a new trial.

    On Jan. 29th, 2015, Nicholas Centrella, a lawyer for the archdiocese, was questioning retired Detective Joseph Walsh about all the contradictions in the stories told by Billy Doe/Danny Gallagher, as first disclosed in Newsweek. Walsh is the detective who led the D.A.'s investigation into Billy's wild stories of serial sex abuse.

    Every witness statement that I am aware of taken by Detective Walsh contradicted Billy's wild stories. As did other witness statements in the case gathered by other detectives. The case overflowed with factual discrepancies. In his deposition, Walsh shed new light on what he did about it.

    "What I recall is I would say a large percentage of the time where there was a discrepancy and I brought it to his attention, he would not answer," Walsh testified. "Most of the time going over these discrepancies, he either remained silent or said I was so high on drugs, I just said anything."

    Or, Walsh said, Billy would tell a new story.

    Walsh's deposition occurred before the archdiocese decided to pay Billy Doe, so the civil case was over. But when the archdiocese's defense lawyers from the criminal case  read what Walsh had to say at his deposition, a light went off.

    Three defense lawyers who represented Msgr. William J. Lynn say they were never informed about Walsh's continued questioning of Billy, and Billy's responses, or lack thereof. The defense lawyers say that the undisclosed police interviews with Billy amount to "Brady material." They're referring to the landmark 1963 case, Brady V. Maryland, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that if the prosecution withholds evidence beneficial to a defendant, it violates due process of law.

    Burt Rose, Shero's lawyer in the criminal case, could not be reached for comment. But three of Lynn's criminal defense lawyers say that Walsh's deposition amounts to Brady material.

    "It is and we never saw it," said Thomas A. Bergstrom.

    "Of course it's Brady material," agreed Jeff Lindy.

    "Yes, this is unequivocally Brady material," said Alan J. Tauber. "A detective re-interviewing a complainant who gives a different account of what happened, or refuses to answer, would constitute Brady material."

    "This case rose and fell on the credibility of the complainant," Tauber said. "Any of his statements that call into question his honesty is Brady [material]."

    Our last strong silent type is "Stonewall Billy" Marimow, editor of the Inquirer. When it comes to reporting on the prosecution of the archdiocese, Marimow's newspaper has a strange and indefensible record. They are staunchly in the pocket of the prosecution, serving as the D.A.'s press office.

    During the 2013 trial of Msgr. Lynn, defense lawyers raised the argument with the judge that the law Lynn was charged under, endangering the welfare of a child, did not apply to him. It was the same argument that the state Superior Court cited last month when it overturned Msgr. Lynn's conviction and granted him a new trial.

    But what did the Inquirer reporter have to say about that argument when it was raised in court, and he had the opportunity to write about it? Thanks but no thanks. My editor isn't interested in that.

    Nor was the Inquirer interested in investigating any of the irregularities with the D.A.'s investigation and the errors in the grand jury report, after they reported on this blog, or in National Catholic Reporter.

    Once again, the Inquirer repeatedly functioned as the district attorney's press office, covering for Stonewall Seth.

    In May 2013, the Catholic League offered to take out a $58,000 ad in the Inquirer that would have called into question the district attorney's prosecution of the church. The newspaper turned down the ad, said goodbye to $58,000, and wouldn't explain why.

    "There are two scandals going on in Philadelphia, and both involve injustices done to the Catholic Church," protested Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. "One is legal, and the other is journalistic."

    "The legal scandal involves the prosecution of three Catholic priests, and one Catholic layman, in a case so incredible that it would be turn down as too fictional a script for a TV crime show," Donohue wrote. "The other involves The Philadelphia Inquirer's decision to keep the public in the dark about the case."

    The Inquirer has run 55 stories about Billy Doe, whom they have described in headlines as the "central figure in the priest scandal," and the former altar boy "at the heart of a criminal case alleging sexual assaults."

    In an Inquirer editorial on Feb. 4, 2013, the newspaper also cited the Billy Doe civil case as justification for creating a two-year window in Pennsylvania to allow other alleged victims of sex abuse to file more civil lawsuits.

    "A civil lawsuit filed by the former St. Jerome's altar boy known as "Billy Doe". . . could prove just as important as the criminal inquiries in finding the truth and achieving justice for sexual-abuse victims," the Inquirer editorialized.

    The editorial was on behalf of a legislative proposal in Harrisburg to open a two year window for civil suits against sexual predators, and a companion proposal to remove the statute of limitations for sexual abuse, on the grounds that it can take decades for victims to acknowledge abuse.

    "With another verdict in .. . lawmakers must take action for the victims of abuse," the Inquirer proclaimed about the verdict in the Engelhardt-Shero trial. But the rest of us have to wonder, would such legislation open the door to more Billy Does? With "Charlie the Chump" Chaput holding the archdiocese's purse strings, it would seem like a better ticket than the lottery.
    Stonewall Billy

    But let's get back to the Inky, and Stonewall Billy. The Inquirer has run 77 stories about that tainted 2011 grand jury report, where they passed it off to the citizenry as gospel. But they haven't run one story about the errors in that grand jury report that are easily provable by comparing what the report says with what the witnesses actually told the grand jury, and what the evidence says that was gathered by the D.A.'s own detectives.

    On Oct. 25, 2014, I gave Marimow a chance to make amends. I sent him a detailed memo outlining the problems with the prosecution of the church and the grand jury report. I then made him an offer "with no strings attached."

    I offered to hand of Marimow's police reporters all of the grand jury transcripts and police files from the archdiocese sex abuse case. I offered to take that reporter around town and introduce him to sources in the case. And then, I told Marimow, his reporter and newspaper could conduct their own investigation of the investigation of the church, and that grand jury report, and come to their own conclusions.

    It would have been a public service for the region, and for justice.

    On Oct. 28, 2014, Marimow responded by email, saying, "I've decided to say no thank you to your offer." He suggested I could stop by and talk to him about it. I wrote back, "I don't think we have much to talk about."

    When the Newsweek story ran last week, philyvoice.com ran a story about it; phillymag.com ran two stories. And over at the Inquirer, they just ignored it. Nothing like being scooped on your own turf by a national magazine, but the Inky didn't care.

    Last week, I wrote Marimow an email, telling him I was going to write a blog post about his newspaper's continuing lack of curiosity when it came to the Billy Doe story. I asked if he would care to explain why the city's paper of record was snoozing through yet another news cycle.

    He did not respond. Instead, Stonewall Billy just kept on stonewalling. Just like those two other guys who have apparently taken that same vow of silence, Stonewall Seth and Stonewall Charlie.

    They're all hoping it just goes away. The rest of us will decide whether they get away with it.

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  • 02/05/16--08:47: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.


    By Shealyn Kilroy

                                                                              (AP/Matt Rourke)
    for BigTrial.net

    Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr.’s sentencing to 5 years in prison for tax and bank fraud along with the ruling for Bill Cosby’s continuance of his sexual-assault charges were this week’s most talked about courtroom dramas. To read the release right out of the U.S. Attorney’s office about Chip’s sentencing, click here.

    But while everyone was tuned in to the Cosby and Chip spectacles, there were some other stories worth noting in local courts. 

    Eli the Horse
    (Courtesy Stables)
     
    Philadelphia District Attorney:

    Last week’s roundup mentioned a scheduled trial appearance of retired Philly officer Walter Sasse, 77, who was charged with having sexual relations with a minor. On Jan 29., Sasse was convicted of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with a minor, aggravated indecent assault, statutory sexual assault, corruption of minor and other related offenses. A mental health evaluation and sexual offender assessment has been ordered. Sentencing is scheduled for May 6, according to the District Attorney’s office.

    Before trial, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright ordered Sasse not to ride with females under the age of 18. However, Judge Bright told Sasse he was “permitted to ride his horse Eli from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sundays.”


                   

    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

    francisco acosta former reading city council president
                                                       (Reading Eagle/Harold Hoch)

    Reading’s former City Council President Francisco Acosta, 40, was sentenced on Feb. 2. to two years in prison for conspiracy to commit bribery offenses to repeal an ethics law. Acosta pled guilty on Aug. 5, 2015 on information based on these charges. In a complicated scheme that took place before the May 19, 2015 primary election, “Public Official #1” gave Acosta an $1,800 “loan” to the campaign committee of Acosta’s ally, “Public Official #2”, which would be “forgiven” upon Acosta successfully orchestrating a repeal of Sections 1012 and 1006(H).  Both Sections 1012 and 1006(H) are anti-corruption statutes enacted in Reading to limit the influence of money on political candidates and public officials. 

    After taking the bribe, Acosta tried to persuade others in  City Council to pass the repeal bill for the best interest of Reading, lied to the FBI about the matter, and then tried to withdraw himself from the conspiracy scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney. In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez ordered a fine of $1,800, three years of supervised release, 200 hours of community service, and a $100 special assessment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.



    The arrest of a Cumberland County doctor, Joseph Thomas Acri, 58, who’s accused of prescribing extremely high doses OxyContin and Oxycodone to patients he’s never examined, was announced on Feb 2nd by the Attorney General’s office. Acri was allegedly using a prescription pad from Carlisle Regional Medical Center,  which he has had no affiliation to. Acri’s alleged fraudulent practices occurred between February 2011 to March 2014. Acri is charged with four counts of unlawful prescription of controlled substances and one count each of acquisition of a controlled substance by fraud, criminal conspiracy to acquire by fraud and failure to keep records of distribution of controlled substances. Bail is set at $10,000 unsecured, and Acri is scheduled for a preliminary hearing around Feb. 18, according to the Attorney General’s office


    Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at shealyn@bigtrial.net.        


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    CBy Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams lost an appeal in state Superior Court this morning in his crusade to keep Msgr. William J. Lynn behind bars.

    Williams had asked the full, nine-member court to review a Dec. 22nd decision by a three-court panel of Superior Court judges that reversed Lynn's conviction and ordered a new trial. But in a one-sentence decision released this morning, the Superior Court announced that the D.A.'s application "requesting reargument" of the case before the full court had been "DENIED."

    Lynn has remained behind bars pending appeals.  The 64-year-old monsignor is currently working for 19 cents an hour as the prison librarian at the State Correctional Institute in Waymart, Pa. But now that the state Superior Court has ruled on the D.A.'s appeal, it will surprise nobody if Lynn's lawyers file a motion for bail.

    Meanwhile, the D.A. has a decision to make; whether he will appeal the state Superior Court decision overturning Lynn's conviction to the state Supreme Court, where he has been successful in the past. The D.A. has not yet issued any public pronouncements on what he will do. But in a press conference last month, Williams vowed to do whatever it takes to keep Lynn in jail, including another appeal to the state Supreme Court.

    On June 22, 2012, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury found Lynn guilty of a single charge of endangering the welfare of a child; but the alleged "victim" in the case was the infamous former altar boy known as "Billy Doe." Lynn became the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for failing to control a sexually abusive priest.

    On July 24, 2012, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in prison, but twice in the past two years, the state Superior Court has reversed the monsignor's conviction. The legal drama has kept the monsignor shuffling between jail and house arrest.

    Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence on Dec. 26, 2013 when a panel of three state Superior Court judges -- John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno -- unanimously reversed the monsignor's conviction the first time and ordered him "released forthwith." But Judge Sarmina didn't agree, and instead conditions that amounted to house arrest. In doing so, the judge voiced concerns that if she granted the bail motion, Lynn might flee to the Vatican.

    Under Judge Sarmina's orders, Lynn was confined to living on two floors of a church rectory in Northeast Philadelphia. He had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times and needed the permission of his parole officer to visit his doctor or lawyer.


    Lynn had spent 16 months under house arrest on April 27th, when the state Supreme Court, after an appeal by the D.A., 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.

    Lynn will have served his minimum sentence of three years this October, when he would be up for parole.

    In their most recent reversal, the same panel of three state Superior Court judges ruled that the trial court had "abused its discretion" by allowing 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be admitted as evidence against Lynn.

    The 21 cases dated back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, and took up at least 25 days of the 32-day trial. In his appeal brief, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, argued that the prosecution "introduced these files to put on trial the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia, hoping to convict [Lynn] by proxy for the sins of the entire church."

    The Superior Court judges agreed, ruling that the "probative value" of the supplemental cases "did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court's cautionary instructions."

    In their decision, the Superior Court judges heavily criticized Judge Sarmina.

    "None of the evidence concerned the actual victim in this case, and none of it directly concerned [Lynn's] prior dealings with either [former priest Edward V.] Avery or [Father James J.] Brennan," the Superior Court judges wrote, referring to the two co-defendants who were on trial with Lynn. "In this regard, the trial court has apparently mistaken quantity for quality in construing the probative value of this evidence en masse." The Superior Court judges further declared that the "probative value of significant quantities of this evidence was trivial or minimal."

    Now, Judge Sarmina may have a new bail motion to consider. And if she turns Lynn down again, or puts him on house arrest one more time, Lynn's defense lawyers can appeal to the state Superior Court.

    Meanwhile, the D.A. has to decide whether he will appeal the case a second time to state Supreme Court, where his odds on winning another successful challenge would be more difficult.

    But at a Dec. 28th press conference, the D.A. made his intentions clear.

    "My office is committed to ensuring the safety of all the citizens of Philadelphia and today, specifically the victim of Msgr. William Lynn," Williams declared. "Simply put, we will continue to use all of my office's resources to ensure that the Defendant Lynn remains in state custody as ordered by Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina."


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    By George Anastasia
    For BigTrial.net

    An appeals court has upheld the convictions of mobsters Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Damion Canalichio and Anthony Staino, all of whom are serving lengthy prison sentences following their convictions in 2013.

    "The evidence established that the Philadelphia (La Cosa Nostra)...exercised control over illegal gambling, bookmaking and loansharking operations, all bolstered by implicit and explicit threats of physical violence," a three-judge panel for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion filed earlier this month.

    The ruling also reaffirmed the sentences of Massimino (188 months), Canalichio (137 months) and Staino (97 months) that were imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno who had presided over the controversial racketeering case.

    Mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and mob capos Joseph "Scoops" Licata and George Borgesi beat the charges that were built around the testimony of cooperating witnesses and undercover FBI agents. (Ligambi and Borgesi were tried twice after the jury hung on some of the charges during the first trial.)

    A seventh defendant, Gary Battaglini was also found guilty but his case remains in front of Robreno who has yet to schedule a hearing on post-trial motions Battaglini has filed, including an argument that he had ineffective counsel during the trial and that prosecutors had deliberately withheld evidence that would have exonerated him.

    The appellate court ruling comes as federal and state authorities have opened a new investigation into the operations of the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra, focusing on real estate, construction and mortgage refinancing businesses reportedly linked to several members of the crime family. Investigators are also revisiting the cold case files of three unsolved mob murders, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

    The appellate court opinion rehashed several of the controversial issues raised during the racketeering trial in 2013, a trial in which defense attorneys had argued that the government had overreached in an attempt to build a racketeering conspiracy where none existed.

    "So, what we’re saying loud and clear is...there was no racketeering conspiracy, there never was...It didn’t happen," Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., told the jury in his opening statement back in October 2012.

    What's more, Jacobs added, "It is not a crime to be associated with or a member of the Mafia … In America, you can be a member of almost anything. It’s not what you’re a member of, it’s what you do. That is not the charge in this case, just being a member of the Mafia. They make it sound like that, but that’s not the charge in this case because that is not a crime."

    Guilt by association and by gossip and innuendo were the recurring arguments of the defense during the trial which stretched into February 2013 and included a grueling 21 days of jury deliberation. One juror was dismissed and motions for a mistrial and for the dismissal of two other jurors were denied by Robreno as both the prosecution and defense questioned whether the jury truly understood the meaning of racketeering and conspiracy. 

    But the appellate court ruled that none of the challenges raised by the defense during the trial or in their appeal motions merited a reversal of the convictions or an order for a new trial.

    Among other things, the panel cited the testimony of several government witnesses who said they were intimidated by the defendants.

    These included bookmaker Jack Buscemi who said he routinely paid "Christmas money" to Massimino and the mob in order to avoid any "disruption" in his gambling business. Buscemi said he paid $7,500 each year beginning in 2002 through 2007.

    The court also noted the testimony of Joseph Procaccini who said Ligambi, Massimino and Staino strong armed their way into his video poker machine business, taking it over against his will and trying to hide the takeover by paying him $65,000. That, Procaccini had testified, was substantially less than the business was worth; a business, he added, that he did not want to sell.

    But he said he and his business partner knew "we would get hurt if we didn't play ball with them."

    The court also rejected an argument by Massimino that a personal letter he had sent to a friend while Massimino was an inmate in a New Jersey State Prison should not have been entered as evidence because the seizure and disclosure of the letter by prison and federal authorities violated his constitutional rights.

    The court, however, found that authorities had the right to examine Massimino's correspondence which were the subject of a federal grand jury subpoena and which, the court ruled, could reasonably be considered "related to Massimino's ongoing participation in illegal (Cosa Nostra) activities."

    In the letter, which was read in open court, Massimino prevailed upon a friend to collect a $35,000 debt that Massimino claimed another man owed him.

    "He better get my fuckin' money," Massimino wrote. "I don't care who the fuck he owes, he better get mine. The motherfucker owes me 35,000. I don't care if he has to rob a bank. He fuckin' better get my money."

    In upholding Massimino's conviction, the court rejected his argument that the debt was personal and had nothing to do with mob activities. The court also turned a deaf ear to Massimino's contention that he was not, as authorities claimed, the underboss of the crime family.

    Massimino had argued in his appeal that he was "just another made guy" and was not part of any conspiracy.

    Similar claims focusing on the lack of evidence to support the charges and the lack of credibility of some government witnesses did not rise to a level that would justify overturning the convictions, the panel ruled.

    It also noted that two FBI undercover agents had infiltrated the organization and had taped incriminating conversations with either Canalichio or Staino.

    In another FBI-related appeals issue, the defendants had argued that their lawyers were improperly denied the right to question three Philadelphia-based FBI agents about a disciplinary action against them. The agents had worked the racketeering case and had testified for the government.

    The court said that the three agents along with several other members of the FBI "were administratively sanctioned after an investigation revealed that they and other agents had improperly consulted an answer key while taking a test on FBI internal investigation guidelines."

    An FBI investigation, the court noted, determined that the agents had shown "a serious lack of judgment" but had not committed an act of dishonesty or untruthfulness. The defense hoped to argued that the agents had cheated on a test and were less than credible. One agent was suspended for two days and two others were suspended for one day because of their conduct while taking the test.

    But the appeals court upheld Judge Robreno's ruling during the trial that the issue was irrelevant to the racketeering case and would have been "more prejudicial than probative." What's more, the appeals panel found, allowing the agents to be questioned about the test issue "would have required a lengthy detour in an already complex trial."

    In most cases, the appellate court is the last chance for defendants to have their convictions overturned. Barring some other issue surfacing or the unlikely prospect of a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme, Massimino, Canalichio and Staino will have to complete their sentences before returning home.

    In the past three years, mobsters who had served even more time have in fact returned to South Philadelphia. Many of them are now the focus of the current federal investigation. The more things change, the more...

    Or as Judge Robreno said in sentencing the oft-convicted Massimino back in July 2013:
    "I can only conclude, Mr. Massimino, that you don't get it. You have dedicated your life to a life of crime, something that is not permitted in a civilized society."

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


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  • 02/13/16--09:30: The Roundup
  • Joemygod.com
    A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.

    By Shealyn Kilroy

    for BigTrial.net

    Infamous gay-basher Kathryn Knott caught local and national attention from the media this week
    for her Feb. 8 sentencing. Knott, from Bucks Country, will face 5 to 10 months in prison, followed by two years of reporting probation, in addition to paying $2000 in fines on Feb. 8 for her role in the Sept. 11, 2014 attack on 16th and Chancellor Streets.

    If Knott’s name never showed up in mainstream media, who knows if it would have shown up in the courts. As daughter of police chief Karl Knott, Kathryn apparently possessed the “my daddy’s a cop, I can get away with anything” mentality. She was convicted of misdemeanors, no felonies. It’s fair to question whether Knott would have been charged at all if this case wasn’t spotlighted.

    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    Michele Ford, 61, of Philadelphia was charged on Feb. 10 for allegedly and fraudulently cashing in her deceased father’s Social Security and pension benefits after he died in Feb. 2011. From the time of his death to when the fraud was discovered in Sept 2013, Ford allegedly stole approximately $44,186 from the government and $2,800 in pension checks. If found guilty, Ford could face 15 years in prison and a fine of $44,186 in restitution to the government.

    patricia mcgrill healthcare fraud
    Patricia McGill
     Facebook
    Registered nurse and director of a Northeast Philadelphia hospice center Patricia McGill, 68, of Philadelphia was convicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 8 for taking part in a multi-million dollar scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. McGill authorized and supervised the admission of inappropriate and ineligible patients for hospice services which added up to around $9.32 million in fraudulent claims at Professional Services for Home Care Hospice between 2005 to 2008. The jury found McGill guilty of four counts of healthcare fraud. Co-owners of the business, Matthew Kolodesh and Alex Pugman, were convicted separately. McGill could face up to over three years in prison, a fine, and a $400 special assessment. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24.


    Philadelphia District Attorney:
    17-year-old Giovanni Cotto who is charged in the shooting Pennsylvania State trooper Patrick Casey is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 11, according to the District Attorney’s office. The shooting occurred back on Nov. 24, 2015 during a chase on I-676 in Center City that ended into a fiery crash with a yellow school bus and the suspect’s car. Casey was wounded and left Hahnemann University Hospital one day following the shooting. Cotto is being charged as an adult, and bail is set at $3 million.

    Pennsylvania Attorney General:
    Mark Makela/Files/Reuters
    The real winner out of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office this week was the Attorney General herself. The Senate voted to not remove Kathleen Kane from office despite her perjury allegations and her suspended law license. Following the vote, Kane released a statement that she would continue the investigation into inappropriate email exchanges occurring in the judiciary.

    New Jersey Attorney General:
    Thomas Ballard
    New  Jersey Attorney
    General's Office
    Thomas L. Bowen Ballard, 38, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was sentenced on Feb. 12 for sending thousands of pictures and videos of child pornography via email, according to the Attorney General’s office. Ballard was sentenced to seven years in state prison, including three and a half years of parole ineligibility. Ballard bragged to private investigators on a child porn trading site that he had impregnated an eight-year-old girl. When a search warrant was executed on Ballard’s home, he locked himself in a bathroom and dropped his Android phone down the toilet. Investigators found that Ballard sent around 12,000 videos and images of child pornography to other users from Aug. 2012 through Aug. 2014, including videos of prepubescent girls being bound and tortured. Ballard pleaded guilty on Sept. 24 and admitted that he sent more than 1,000 files of child pornography via email to other users.


    Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at shealyn@bigtrial.net.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    He was a Catholic priest with a secret life, posing on the Internet as "Katie Caponetti," a teenage girl.

    The priest would email a photo of a girl's naked torso, or a video of a naked girl masturbating, and claim it was "Katie." Then he would ask the girls he met online to send back naked photos and videos of themselves.

    "A predator" who sexually exploited both teenage girls and boys was how Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella described Father Mark Haynes in federal court today. "He surrounded himself with children," the prosecutor said. Throughout his 30-year career as a priest, he used his position to  "sexually exploit and sexually abuse children."

    Defense Attorney Alan J. Tauber had a more entertaining explanation. He described the 56-year-old priest as a "woman occupying a man's body." According to Tauber, Father Haynes was a troubled soul who, while demonstrating an "extraordinary record of community service" as a priest at eight different parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, never came to terms with his own "gender identity issues."

    In the end, U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick decided that although there was "no question he did a number of good things" as a priest, Father Haynes's crimes against children were so "outrageous" that his victims would spend "the rest of their lives" trying to recover. So the judge gave the priest a 20 year sentence, a $15,000 fine, and, upon his release, 10 years of supervised probation.

    Father Haynes pleaded guilty in June 2015 to seven federal counts of child pornography and destruction of evidence. In court today, prosecutor Rotella said that while posing as "Katie," Father Haynes interacted with 28 children online.

    Shortly after his arrest, the archdiocese suspended Father Haynes. In court today, defense attorney Tauber said that Haynes was voluntarily cooperating with a laicization process that would strip him of his priesthood.

    After he was arrested, the prosecutor said, two adults came forward to claim that more than 30 years ago, Father Haynes had sexually abused them. But no charges could be filed as the crimes had exceeded the statute of limitations.

    The former victims included a woman who said that when she was a teenager, she went to see Father Haynes for counseling, and confessed that she had performed oral sex on her boyfriend. The priest counseled the victim by having her demonstrate oral sex on him.

    Another victim was a former altar boy who told the FBI that on his first assignment as a new priest at St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church in Phoenixville, Father Haynes repeatedly asked the boy for oral sex. When he didn't get it, he whipped out his genitals and climbed on top of the boy, who responded by kicking the priest so hard he bled in his urine, the prosecutor said.

    The priest's crimes over a two-year period "sexually destroyed that man's life," prosecutor Rotella told the judge.

    When it was his turn to speak, defense attorney Tauber told the judge that a 30-year-old allegation was "virtually impossible to defend." He also mentioned that in three prior interviews, the alleged victim had made other accusations, but had never accused the priest of asking for oral sex.

    The alleged former victim, now 46, testified in court that the "horrible experience" he suffered at the hands of Father Haynes had a "devastating" effect on his life. He said at the time he was an altar boy, he was too scared to confront the priest. "I don't want this to happen to anybody else," he told the judge.

    In pleading for mercy, defense attorney Tauber cited the priest's "zeal and commitment to serve" Catholics at eight different parishes. Father Haynes always volunteered to visit the sick while leading "a life of service, a life of sacrifice and austerity," Tauber said. The priest's good deeds included agreeing to serve as legal guardian to two elderly priests who had no family members to look after them.

    "He worked 24/7," Tauber said. At every stop on his career path, the priest would extoll the virtues of a merciful God, Tauber said. All the while he was leading a double life, and fearing that because of his own sins, he was "beyond the pale of redemption," the defense lawyer told the judge.

    When Father Haynes was arrested, it was a "cathartic experience" for him, Tauber said. The priest's secret life was finally exposed. He no longer had to hide a "life full of contradictions." The priest immediately began to avail himself of every type of therapy he was eligible for, Tauber told the judge.

    To counter such arguments, the prosecution had a mother from Vancouver, WA, testify about the effect Father Haynes's emails had on her 12-year-old daughter.

    "She started becoming more withdrawn," the mother said. Then she began cutting her arms and legs. She failed eighth grade. She became agoraphobic and wouldn't leave the house for two years.

    The daughter was supposed appear in court as a witness, the mother said, but at the last moment, she decided she couldn't go through with it. "She's still in therapy," the mother said.

    Next to testify was the mother of the 46-year-old man who claimed he had been abused by Father Haynes. Thirty years ago, the mother said, it was a different world. When she had the new parish priest, Father Haynes, over for dinner, "I thought it was wonderful" that he was paying so much attention to her son the altar boy.

    After the abuse, her son "lost his self-confidence, he lost his self-respect," the mother said. What really galled her was when she realized that while the priest was abusing her son, "he would still show up and eat food off my table."

    The prosecutor described Father Haynes as an incorrigible abuser. On his first assignment at St. Ann's, she said, his "immediate" reaction was to begin "grooming" an altar boy for future abuse.

    And when the priest completed six months of "intensive therapy" at a mental hospital, "immediately he began distributing child pornography," the prosecutor said. She also dismissed the priest's gender conflicts by saying that being transgender "doesn't make you a pedophile."

    When it came time for the defendant to speak, Father Haynes recited the 51st Psalm, written by King David, after he was accused by Nathan the prophet of committing adultery with Bathsheba, and trying to cover it up by killing her husband:

    For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.

    The priest, who had his head down during most of today's prosecution testimony, apologized to his victims, to the archdiocese, to his fellow priests, and to his family, including four of his five brothers who showed up in court today to support him.

    The sentencing guidelines for the crimes Haynes pleaded guilty to ranged between 235 and 295 months. The judge gave the priest 20 years, or 240 months.

    After the sentencing was over, and Father Haynes was on his way back to jail, the mother of the adult male victim who testified in court said she was satisfied with the sentence.

    But a minute later, when asked if the sentence was justice, she had tears in her eyes.

    "There's never justice," she said.

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  • 02/20/16--09:30: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.


    By Shealyn Kilroy

    for BigTrial.net

    New Jersey Attorney General:
    Jayme Shannon
    Bergen County Sheriff

    Ex-NYPD officer and registered sex offender Jayme Shannon, 53, of East Windsor was sentenced on Feb. 16 to over 20 years in prison for human trafficking charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Shannon and the 15-year-old victim met on chatavenue.com in September 2013. An arrangement was made to meet at Skyview Motel in New Jersey, and Shannon drove to New York to bring the victim back to the hotel. On Oct. 14, 2013, Shannon engaged in sexual activity with the victim and was later found by Fort Lee police at the motel. Shannon pleaded guilty to an information charging him with interstate transportation of a minor for illicit purposes and doing so while being a registered sex offender.



    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:


    Everybody makes mistakes?
    The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released an indictment for Calvin Johnson, 45, of Philadelphia on Feb. 18. Johnson was charged with failing to appear in court after he was released on bail awaiting trial for one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. However, it wasn’t just Johnson who failed to be responsible. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not seem to double check “Johson”’s indictment.

    Philadelphia District Attorney:
    Knott Not Satisfied with SentenceKathryn Knott’s lawyer William J. Brennan, the same lawyer who represents Father J. Brennan, asked a judge this week for a lighter sentence, according to philly.com. Brennan argued that the time Knott could be spending in jail, she could be giving back to the LGBT community.“She does not like gay people,” said Prosecutor Michael Barry. Can Knott fully give back to the LGBT community if she is granted her wish?

    Joseph Marion
    Philadelphia Police officer Joseph Marion is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Feb. 16 for allegedly attacking a Dunkin’ Donuts employee, according to the District Attorney’s office. Four year vet of the department Marion, 39, was charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person on Nov. 15, 2015. The incident took place on Valentine’s Day of 2015 outside of the Dunkin’ Donuts on the 1600 block of East Wadsworth Avenue, according to police. Authorities said that after an employee accidentally struck a vehicle, Marion, off-duty at the time, allegedly assault the employee and then a female who tried to intervene. Commissioner Ramsey suspended Marion for 30 days back in the fall of 2015. 
    Kai-Guo Huang who’s accused of decapitating and dismembering a man in 1998 is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 17, according to the District Attorney’s office. Huang allegedly murdered Hoi Yang in Philadelphia’s Chinatown section and then placed his body in a dumpster in New Jersey. According to a 1998 Inquirer article, police found seven bloodied butcher knives and a meat cleaver in the blood-splattered basement of restaurant Min Du, on 10th Street near Filbert, the day after Yang’s body was discovered. Huang fled and eventually was Toronto, Canada in 2012 on drunk-driving charges. If convicted, Huang faces the death penalty.



    Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at shealyn@bigtrial.net.



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  • 02/21/16--17:47: Why "Shady" May Walk
  • By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    It's been exactly two weeks since former Eagles running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy allegedly got involved in a Feb. 7th brawl at the Recess Lounge, supposedly over a $350 bottle of pink champagne.

    It took only four days for Mayor Jim Kenney to pronounce McCoy guilty. On Friday, 12 days after the incident, John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, went on the WIP morning show to announce that the district attorney's investigation should be over by now.

    "I've never waited this long, ever, to see somebody arrested," McNesby told WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi. "So it doesn't pass the smell test. Something's funny going on. I know that they have more discovery on this case than they had in the O.J. Simpson case."

    That prompted the district attorney to respond, "We're not going to rush because some people are impatient. My only goal is to get it right, not fast. The last thing we need is a rush to judgment."

    So why would the district attorney be dragging his feet? The factual chronology from the previously undisclosed Shady side of the story indicates that there may be plenty of valid reasons. McNesby may be right about the case not passing the smell test, but it might be his guys who reek of too much pink champagne.

    For starters, two of the three cops involved in the fracas at the Recess Lounge at 125 Second St., were seen earlier in the night partying at another night club in Olde City, the Reserve Lounge on 724 Arch St. The cops, Officer Roland Butler and Sgt. Daniel Ayers, were off-duty at the time and drinking. And according to what two witnesses told investigators, both men appeared to be clearly intoxicated.

    The off-duty officers were hard to miss. Ayers, known to clubbers as "Sgt. Dan," is described as a frequent barfly. And Officer Butler is the size of an NFL tight end, at 6-foot-4, and at least 250 pounds.

    McCoy showed up at both nightclubs with five male friends, identified as Chris Henderson, LeVar Burhanan, former Pitt running back Tamarcus Porter, Mikal Ellis, and Ryan Brim. McCoy's party was accompanied by a pair of young women, who were also known to the cops. McCoy's side of the story is that when he stopped by the Reserve Lounge, he didn't have a drink. He and his friends were going to a concert at the Sound Garden later that night.

    At the Reserve Lounge, there apparently was no contact between the cops and McCoy and his friends. After McCoy and his entourage left to go to a concert, the young women stayed behind. When they left, they told the cops they were going to continue the party at the Recess Lounge, where they planned to meet up with McCoy and his friends.

    The cops and the young women drove in two separate cars, but ran into a problem on their way to the Recess Lounge. When they turned off Market St. onto 2nd St., the road was blocked by a barricade and a police officer.

    According to witnesses, Officer Ayres was driving. He got out of his car and flashed his badge at the cop manning the barricade. The officer on the street moved the barricade out of the way, allowing the  cops to drive down Second Street. But the officer wouldn't let the car with the two young women pass by. That's when Officer Butler got out of his car, flashed his badge at the cop, and the two young women were allowed to drive down Second Street on their way to the Recess Lounge.

    Expect defense lawyers in the case to suggest that both Sgt. Ayres and Officer Butler abused their badges when they both asked the cop on the street to move the barricade. And expect the defense lawyers to ask the cop manning the barricade whether Sgt. Ayres and Officer Butler were sober enough to be driving.

    At the Recess Lounge, the two young women went in while the cops waited outside. When the two cops went inside, they were joined by a third off-duty cop, Officer Darnell Jessie. McCoy and his friends were already there. It was between 1:45 and 2 a.m. The McCoy party was joined by as many as nine women, including the two young women who had been at the Reserve Lounge earlier that night.

    The cops ordered four bottles of Moet & Chandon Rose Champagne priced at $350 each. Now, we know McCoy, who makes $8 million a year, can afford a bottle of champagne at that price. But the district attorney may wonder how three Philly cops who earn an average salary of some $70,000 a year can afford a $1,400 bar tab.

    At McCoy's table, he and his buddies had ordered two bottles of Moet & Chandon Rose Champagne, two bottles of Hennessy Cognac, and one bottle of Patron tequila.

    A witness standing next to McCoy said that Christopher Henderson, one of McCoy's pals, stepped on his foot by mistake. The witness told investigators that Henderson was respectful and apologetic. To the point where he began sharing his drinks with the witness.

    Everybody was having a nice time when a waitress came over to McCoy's table bearing a bottle of pink champagne and some sparklers. McCoy and friends were waiting for the sparklers to go out when Officer Butler showed up unannounced at their table.

    Apparently, one of the four bottles of champagne that the cops had ordered was missing. It may have been deliberate; some witnesses say that Sgt. Ayers may have sent over a bottle of champagne to one of the young women at McCoy's table, who may have been celebrating a birthday.

    Officer Butler, however, seemed to believe that the waitress had mistakenly delivered a bottle of his pink champagne to the wrong table. Officer Butler then grabbed the bottle of pink champagne off McCoy's table and started to leave. He got into an altercation over the bottle with McCoy's friends.

    Tamarcus Porter asked Butler, what are you doing, man, and the two had words.  LeVar Burhanan tried to grab the bottle away from Butler. Butler told Burhanan words to the effect of, you touch that bottle and I'm gonna drop your ass. Burhanan, trying to calm things down, told Sgt. Ayres to come over and get his man. The sergeant showed up at McCoy's table in an attempt to diffuse the situation. But Butler made a show of taking off his coat and puffing up his chest, witnesses said, before coming right at Porter, who at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, was at a distinct disadvantage against the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Officer Butler.

    Butler, according to witnesses, got in Porter's face, grabbed him by the neck and body slammed him to the ground, where he proceeded to pin Porter. Witnesses described Butler on top of Porter, holding the former Pitt star by his dreadlocks. McCoy rushed over with his friends, but fell. McCoy got up and attempted to pull Butler's hands off Porter's neck but was unsuccessful. A woman pulled McCoy back. Meanwhile, on the ground of the VIP lounge, Porter was able to hip toss Butler off of him.

    A melee ensued. One of the men attacking Officer Butler had a bottle in his hand. Officer Butler wound up getting punched and stomped. Club bouncers rushed in.

    It got ugly real fast was how one witness described it.

    As McCoy was being led away from the melee, he felt someone shove him. He turned around and saw Sgt. Ayres standing beside another man.  Sgt. Ayres got shoved. Then, a witness saw Sgt. Ayres reach for his firearm, a black 9 mm pistol. The witness told McCoy that Sgt. Ayres was a cop, and pulled McCoy away.

    On the police side of the story, the gun presents another problem. According to a directive from the police commissioner, off-duty officers are not supposed to carry guns inside bars. Sgt. Dan may have some explaining to do.

    The club bouncers evicted the three cops and Porter. A witness saw the bouncers outside the club throw Butler hard to the ground. Uniformed cops were standing within 15 feet but didn't do anything. Butler was still protesting that he wanted to go after the guy with the dreads. McCoy came outside and told Sgt. Ayres to come get his man and take him away.

    According to police procedures, after the fracas, Butler and his fellow off-duty officers should have called 911 and waited for on-duty police officers to arrive at the scene and conduct an investigation.

    But what did Officer Butler do? He apparently drove past several Philadelphia hospitals on his way to checking himself in at Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Upper Darby, where he was treated for a laceration to his right eye, a broken nose, broken ribs and a sprained thumb.

     Expect defense lawyers in the case to ask whether Officer Butler fled the scene and drove around in an attempt to sober up.

    Officer Jesse was admitted to Hahnemann University Hospital where he received eight stitches over his left eye and treatment for a possible skull fracture. Sgt. Ayers was uninjured but filed a police report two days after the altercation.

    McCoy was uninjured, and no bouncer bothered to evict him from the club. McCoy's lawyer, Dennis Cogan, told the Buffalo News, "I'm telling you that McCoy did nothing wrong, nothing wrong. And he was sober. The questions will have to be asked about the conditions of the other people."

    Photographs were taken of McCoy's hands right after the battle: they show he didn't have bruises or any other sign of injury.

    As for Officer Butler, at 4 a.m. Feb. 7th, hours after the fracas, he posted comments on his Facebook page that said that the guys who attacked him "can't hide behind Shady." Some 96 comments were posted on Butler's page.

    The next day, Officer Butler admitted to witnesses that he was drunk at the time of the altercation. He said he was going to see a civil lawyer. Subsequently, Butler's Facebook page was taken down.

    So we have a big drunken cop apparently starting the altercation by grabbing one of McCoy's friends by the neck and body-slamming him to the ground. Butler is identified as one of the guilty parties by club bouncers who evict him, along with his two fellow plainclothes cops. The bouncers let McCoy stay inside the club but he voluntarily goes outside to act as peacemaker, according to the witness outside the club.  The lawyers in the case are left to fight over whether some of Officer Butler's injuries were caused by the bouncers.

    That's the Shady side of the story. No wonder the district attorney may have reservations about the case.

    The D.A.'s investigation may have to explore whether Officer Butler and Sgt. Ayres abused their authority by possibly driving while intoxicated, and getting a fellow officer to twice move a barrier on Second Street. The off-duty cops may have to explain why they didn't call 911, and why Sgt. Ayres may have been packing a gun, in violation of the police commissioner's directives.

    They will also have to explain their bar-hopping, and that $1,400 bar tab.

    Yo Mr. Mayor and Mr. McNesby, you may have to be patient. The D.A.'s investigation may go on for a while.

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  • 02/27/16--08:21: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab on what's going on in the courts.
    By Shealyn Kilroy
    for BigTrial.net


    It takes two to make a thing go right. Or wrong, according to court.
    Each case in this week’s roundup didn’t make it to trial through the work of just one individual.





    New Jersey Attorney General: 
    Thomas Rospos

    Twas the night before trial when former top executive of Birdsall Services Group (BSG) Thomas Rospos pleaded guilty to corporate misconduct, according to the Attorney General's office. Rospos, 64, of Belmar, N.J. was part of a scheme that made $1 million in corporate political contributions illegally through the firm’s employees to evade New Jersey’s pay-to-play law, according to the Attorney General’s office. BSG, now out of business, was an engineering firm behind projects like the New Jersey Turnpike.

     BSG, Rospos and Howard Birdsall, the former CEO of BSG and the firm’s largest shareholder, were charged in an indictment on March 26, 2013, which also charged five other executives and shareholders.  The NJ law bans corporate entities from receiving public contracts award by government entities if political contributions are made. Shareholders and employees of the firm made political contributions that amount to $300 or less, which don’t have to be reported. BSG bundled and sent off the personal checks to a certain political entity, and the employees and shareholders were  reimbursed through added bonuses or other indirect matters. The scheme occurred for over six years. 

    In pleading guilty to the third-degree tampering with public records or information, Rospos must pay $150,000 to the state and will be debarred for 10 years from making personal bids on any N.J. public contracts or holding an interest of 5 percent or greater in any company that bids for such contracts. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to three years in state prison. Rospos must waive the presumption against incarceration under state sentencing guidelines for a third-degree offense committed by a defendant with no felony record. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 13. 

    Birdsall, 72, of Brielle, N.J. pleaded guilty on Feb. 18 to to second-degree misconduct by a corporate official. He faces a recommended sentence of four years in prison and must forfeit $49,808 to the state. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 22. The entire BSG firm pleaded guilty on June 13, 2013 to charges of first-degree money laundering and second-degree making false representations for government contracts and paid 3.6 million dollars to the state in connection with this criminal case. The Attorney General’s office also names Scott MacFadden, 61, of Brick, N.J., Philip Angarone, 43, of Hamilton , N.J. and Eileen Kufahl, 51, of Bradley Beach, N.J. who pleaded guilty in relation to the  scheme.

    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:
    Medicare's Most Wanted Blog
    Thael Kuran, 24, of Philadelphia was sentenced to over three years in prison for conducting health care fraud scheme under  Brotherly Love Ambulance, Inc., according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Kuran racked up $2,015,712.52 that he has to pay in restitution. Along with other conspirators, Kuran transported patients via ambulance who were “able to walk” and who’s Medicare requirements did not make them eligible for ambulance transportation tentatively from  July 2010 to Oct. 2011. Kuran and others also used their personal vehicles to transport patients and then billed them for ambulance services. Medicare paid over 2 million for the fraud scheme. Kuran’s mother, Feda Kuran, who played a role in the scheme was charged and convicted separately. In addition prison sentence and paying restitution, Kuran was ordered to three years of supervised release and a $200 special assessment.

    Two Ukrainian brothers were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their roles in a human trafficking enterprise, announced the U.S. Attorney’s office on Feb. 25.  Mykhaylo Botsvynyuk, 38, and Yaroslav Churuk, 48, were convicted at trial on Feb. 24, 2015, of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. 

    The act, known as RICO, imposes penalties and a civil cause of action to leaders of a criminal organization. RICO is usually applied to Mafia cases, but was first used in a 2009 human trafficking case in Missouri, according to the AP. In addition to being charged under RICO, the brothers were charged with other offenses including peonage, involuntary servitude, extortion and attempted extortion and several immigration offenses. Mykhaylo Botsvynyuk, Omelyan Botsvynyuk, Yaroslav Churuk or Stepan Botsvynyuk had a role in familial ran enterprise that lured Ukrainian nationals to the U.S. and divided these smuggled workers in a crew per brother placed in multiple cities. From Fall of 2000 through the Spring of 2007, the defendants participated in the physical beatings of male workers, rape of a female worker and  instituted a climate of fear to their workers to prevent them from escaping. The victims were not paid and were fed sparingly. In addition to the prison sentence, Mykhaylo and Yaroslav must serve three years of supervised release, pay joint and several restitution in the amount of $288,272, and pay a $100 special assessment. In a separate trial, Omelyan was convicted and sentenced to life plus 20 years, and Stepan was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

    Philadelphia District Attorney:

    Trial for Joshua Voght and Andrew Baker was scheduled to begin on Feb. 24. Voght and Baker are charged with the murder of Moises Mora, robbery, conspiracy, and other related charges, according to the District Attorney’s office. On June 10, 2014, three men approached Mora who was sitting outside of a house on Caskey Street near 5th in Feltonville and threatened him. As Mora tried to escape, the gunmen shot him in the back and robbed his friends of money and a cellphone. An arrest warrant was issued for the third alleged gunman Kharee Muhammad four months after the slaying, according to philly.com. As of today, authorities have not stated that arrest has been made.
    Pennsylvania Attorney General:
    Two men accused of a telemarketing scheme based in Ohio received a 10.8 million dollar civil penalty that was imposed in a Commonwealth Court was announced by the Attorney General’s office on Feb. 25. Phillip Howells and Martin Vernello, as well as their corporations, Phil's Productions, LLC and MVP Productions, LLC called consumers to sell concert tickets claiming all the proceeds would go to firefighters unions located in McKeesport, New Castle, Sharon and Butler. Along with the firefighter lies, telemarketers also told consumers that the charitable contributions made would help handicapped children freely attend concerts. The dollar figure represents restitution to consumer, legal costs, and civil penalties that must be paid. Until the penalty is paid in full, Howells and Vernello are barred from collecting charitable donations in Pennsylvania.

    Shealyn can be reached at shealyn@bigtrial.net



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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Steven D'Aguanno, a hard-driving federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey, died this week.

    Unexpectedly.

    The details are not important.

    His passing is.

    Born and raised in South Philadelphia, D'Aguanno, 48, fashioned a 21-year career as an attorney by building cases against organized crime figures, first with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and then as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

    In many ways, it was personal.

    "He was one of the most dedicated anti-Mafia prosecutors I've ever encountered in court," said defense attorney Christopher Warren, who like dozens of others said he was shocked to learn of D'Aguanno's passing. "There was something that motivated him that went beyond the law."

    High strung and intense, D'Aguanno seldom discussed his motivation. But in court he took a bulldog approach to trying cases. Broad chested with thick dark hair and piercing dark eyes, the veteran prosecutor brought a laser-like focus to whatever case was at hand.

    More often than not, those cases involved members of Cosa Nostra.

    "He was an Italian from South Philadelphia," said mobster-turned-government witness Ron Previte who got to know D'Aguanno while testifying for the government in a high profile 2001 racketeering case. "He knew you didn't have to be a mobster to be Italian. Some of those guys think that way."

    Whatever demons D'Aguanno was dealing with at the time of his death, he does not deserve the snide and self-serving comments making the rounds today in underworld circles by individuals he prosecuted.

    D'Aguanno grew up in the same South Philadelphia neighborhood as those he helped put in jail. They shared the same ethnic background and coming of age experiences, went to the same parish churches, played on the same youth baseball and hockey teams.

    He went one way.

    They went the other.

    And in the end, he saw them for what they were -- gangsters who have taken the positive values of the Italian-American experience, a strong sense of family, fierce and unwavering loyalty and an unshakeable sense of honor -- and bastardized them to justify who they were and what they did.

    He never bought into that and it came across as he methodically and doggedly went about his business.

    "If he put his head to anything, he conquered it," said Joe Goodavage, a friend who grew up in the same neighborhood around 9th and McKean in South Philadelphia. "He was methodical, not flashy. But if he wanted something, he got it."

    D'Aguanno's nickname growing up was "Boops," said Goodavage who described his friend as an avid hockey player who tried, but failed, to turn professional.

    "He went to Canada to play," said Goodavage. "But those guys up there are skating from the time they're five."

    D'Aguanno came home, he said, and focused on his education, graduating from Temple and going on to law school. He worked as a summer cop in Wildwood one year and as a valet parking attendant at a restaurant on Passyunk Avenue. He was, Goodavage said, a neighborhood guy who made himself into a professional through hard work and dedication.

    "His ambition in life was to be more than just a guy from the corner," Goodavage said.

    As a prosecutor he never lost sight of where he had come from, but he never let it cloud his judgment.

    "He was never officious," said Previte who sometimes clashed with members of law enforcement while being debriefed. "He was down to earth. He talked to you like he lived next door. Just a regular guy."

    In 2001, while still with the District Attorney's Office, he was cross-deputized and served as a federal prosecutor in a racketeering case against mob leader Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and six co-defendants. All seven ended up in prison.

    A year later, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney based in Newark, he was co-counsel for the prosecution in a murder case that ended with Merlino's  acquittal.

    "I'll never forget the look on his face when the verdict came back," said Warren, one of Merlino's defense attorneys. "It was like a member of his family had died."

    That kind of commitment can take its toll. D'Aguanno was described by several people who knew him as "tightly wound" and as someone who "had difficulty letting go."

    Two years ago he capped an eight-year investigation by convicting mobster Nicky Scarfo Jr. and mob associate Salvatore Pelullo in the FirstPlus Financial fraud case, a $12 million scam that D'Aguanno's boss, Paul Fishman, said gave new meaning to the term "corporate takeover."

    In a statement released this morning, Fishman said, "Steve D'Aguanno was an outstanding attorney and dedicated public servant who took on some of the most important and complex cases this office has handled. More importantly, he was a cherished friend and colleague whose untimely death leaves us all deeply saddened. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

    D'Aguanno leaves a wife and two children.

    "He was a formidable prosecutor who truly believed in what he was doing," said Michael Riley, the defense attorney who represented Scarfo in the FirstPlus case.

    Rich Sparaco, another defense attorney in that case, said "Steve had a great sense of the human side of the law (and) he handled the most difficult cases with the highest degree of professionalism and an uncanny ability for compassion."

    The case, which began in 2007, included tens of thousands of financial documents, hundreds of secretly recorded conversations, thousands of emails and dozens of cooperating witnesses. Those familiar with the investigation said it was not unusual for D'Aguanno to work 12- to 15-hour days while the case was being built and again while the trial was taking place.

    The emotional and psychological drain is difficult to measure, said Riley, himself a former prosecutor.

    "There's a grind to it," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of pressure. It can permeate every aspect of your life. You're sitting at the dinner table and all of a sudden you realize you haven't heard what your wife or one of your children has said because you're thinking about the case. Your brain is off somewhere else."

    D'Aguanno's career was built around that kind of dedication. But there are those who believe he paid  a terrible price for it.

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

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  • 03/05/16--07:50: The Roundup
  • Steven Montgomery
    A weekly tab of what's
    going on in the courts

    By Shealyn Kilroy

    For BigTrial.net

    New Jersey Attorney General:
    A Newark man who was shot by state troopers pleaded guilty on March 4 to carjacking and armed robbery in connection with a February 2015 crime spree, according to the Attorney General’s office. On Feb. 9, 2015, Steven Montgomery was spotted driving in a carjacked minivan by, as the release states, “Officers 1, 2, 3, and 4.” The minivan was reported stolen earlier that morning, and the owner was threatened with a gun. Driving in front of the minivan, Officers 1 and 2 used their police vehicle in efforts to stop the vehicle on South 20th Street. Officer 1 exited the front passenger seat of Officer 2’s vehicle and drew his service weapon while announcing himself as a law enforcement officer and instructing the driver of the silver minivan to stop. Montgomery proceeded to drive onto the curb towards Officer 1 and believed to be reaching for a weapon by the dashboard, according to the officers. Officer 1 shot Montgomery twice, striking Montgomery in the shoulder and wrist and causing non-fatal injuries. A chase ensued after the first two shots were fired.

     According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, all four officers’ statements given to law enforcement were consistent with Officer 1, and therefore, did not raise any suspicion. The Division of Criminal Justice concluded that Officer 1 “used an acceptable level of force” that was “necessary to prevent the escape of an individual who had recently committed several violent crimes using a firearm.” So, Montgomery was charged and may face a up to 18 years in state prison, including more than 15 years of parole ineligibility.

    Should the police officers be identified? The full, detailed release can be found here.


    Philadelphia District Attorney:
    Tamika Gross
    Philadelphia Police Officer Tamika Gross, 35, is scheduled to attend trial on March 4, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Gross is accused encouraging her son and daughter to participate in fights on multiple occasions. During another fight, Gross is accused of punching a girl in the eye twice, which was captured on video according to police. Announced by the District Attorney’s office on June 24, 2014, Gross is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, multiple counts of corruption of a minor, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

    Charged for murdering his father, Victor Gethers, 29, was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 2, according to the District Attorney’s office. 82-year-old Soloman Gethers was found stabbed to death his home on the 5700 block of Woodbine Avenue in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia around Dec. 16, 2015. Soloman suffered stabs wounds to his face and neck and was pronounced dead at the scene. Victor lives at the residence and was there when police arrived. Soloman only had a few months to live before being stabbed to death, according to neighbors.

    U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:
     
    Judge Joseph O'Neill
    Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph O’Neill, 65, of Philadelphia was charged by indictment on March 1 with lying to the FBI about a corruption scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Then-Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters, charged previously elsewhere, called O’Neil directing him to “take a hard look” at a small claims case for a friend of Waters. When questioned about the scheme, O’Neill denied to the feds that anyone had contacted him in advance of the hearing and told him the defendant in the small claims case was a friend of the caller. If convicted, O’Neill could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a possible fine, up to three years of supervised release, and a $200 special assessment.


    Cody Corderro, 29, of Allentown will spend 30 years in prison for running a sex trafficking business, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Corderro was sentenced on March 4 after pleading guilty on Oct. 30, 2015 to to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, 12 counts of sex trafficking, one count of conspiracy to transport individuals across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, and one count of sex trafficking of a minor Corderro ran his “program,”a term he used himself, on a website similar to Craigslist called Backpage. From at least 2009 to May 2014, Corderro advertise prostitutes he recruited on the site and collected the money the women made. If the women did not follow Corderro’s “rules of the program,” he’d force the women, including a 17-year-old girl, through rape and other violent acts.

    Shealyn can be reached at shealyn@bigtrial.net.

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    By George Anastasia
    For BigTrial.net

    More bad news for Ron Galati, the South Philadelphia autobody shop owner with the Godfather complex.

    The Philadelphia District Office announced this morning that it has expanded the insurance fraud charges against Galati and two of his co-defendants, his son Ron Jr. and Robert Otterson.

    The new charges include allegations that the three set up a scheme that steered repair work on Philadelphia Police Department and other city vehicles to Galati's autobody shop where charges were inflated and repair work exaggerated. The DA alleges that the scheme netted the trio $400,000 in illegal funds.

    Galati, his son and Otterson are among a group of defendants scheduled for trial in September. An original indictment alleged a $5 million insurance fraud scheme and included charges that Galati Sr. had hired two hitmen to kill two rival autobody shop operators who were cooperating in a grand jury investigation.

    Galati, 65, is already serving a lengthy federal sentence following his conviction on charges that he hired the same two hitmen to murder his then estranged daughter's boyfriend. The boyfriend survived the shooting and the hitmen became cooperating witnesses.

      
    “Ronald Galati, Sr.; Ronald Galati, Jr., and Robert Otterson thought that defrauding the people of the City of Philadelphia of over four hundred thousand dollars was a good idea; it wasn’t," District Attorney Seth Williams said in announcing the expanded charges. "And I can assure them that my Office and our partners in government will do everything we can to ensure that they are punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

    The details of the scam were laid out by the DA who said Galati's company, American Collision, obtained a contract for work on city vehicles even though it did not legally qualify for the work. Otterson helped make that arrangement, Williams said.

    Otterson, 50, was a city Fleet Management Team Leader and a licensed appraiser who, Williams said, "manipulated the bidding process" so that Galati's company would receive the work. Among other things, American Collision did not have the type of equipment, including an inverted squeeze resistant spot welder, that was required of any company bidding for the work.

    Yet American Collision qualified as a secondary contract shop, the DA said, and Otterson steered city work to the shop.

    Otterson, William said, would also "write the initial appraisal for each vehicle’s anticipated repairs, endorse and authorize any additional costs, and approve Galati, Sr.’s fraudulently inflated repair and labor costs. As payment, Galati, Sr. would then share some of the ill-gotten proceeds with Otterson."
    In announcing the new charges, the DA's Office also alleged that:

    -- The  labor hours listed on American Collision’s appraisals were often three times greater than the amount of labor hours anticipated by Fleet Management.

    -- American Collision frequently billed for auto parts that Fleet Management had already provided to the shop for repairs.

    -- A review of 182 repair jobs,  indicated that American Collision billed approximately two hundred hours of labor, at a rate of $30 per hour, for repairs to one city vehicle. Fleet Management estimated that the repairs should take fifty-seven hours.

    -- Photographs of one damaged vehicle indicated that the car only had a few scratches to the rear bumper leading Fleet Management to estimate that it would take approximately sixteen hours to repair the vehicle. American Collision billed for 113 hours of labor for that job. American Collision also submitted a bill for $6,000 for parts  that had already been supplied and that cost $4,000.

    The investigation indicated that Otterson routinely sent more work to American Collision, the secondary contractor, rather than Pacifico Ford, the primary contractor designated by the city. Between 2011 and 2013, Pacifico received 115 cars for repair work while American Collision received 192.

    The Galati case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz. The case grew out of an extensive investigation coordinated by Det. Robert DiFrancesco of the DA's Fraud Unit, and Trooper Michael Romano who is assigned to the Organized Crime Unit of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

    Both investigators also worked the murder-for-hire cases that are now pending and the case that was tried in federal court in Camden that resulted in a 23-year sentence for Galati Sr.

    The new insurance fraud charges include an allegation that Otterson, who lived in the 1900 block of South 30th Street,  would burn the inflated estimates he submitted in a fire pit in his backyard "after he had provided the amount to Galati Jr. Investigators recovered charred paperwork and receipts for a $2,000 watch, new awnings valued at $2,000, a water heater worth $2,000, new carpets valued at $700, new windows worth $8,000 and a Harley Davidson motorcycle valued at $9,000. 

    Those purchases, the DA alleged, were made at least in part with the cash Galati shared with Otterson as part of the insurance fraud scheme.

    Galati, who served 37 months after being convicted in a 1995 federal insurance fraud case, has long been identified as an associate of high level South Philadelphia mob figures, include Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi,

    George Borgesi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. The autobody shop owner appeared to be enthralled by his mob connections and was fascinated, according to those who know him, by mob movies, frequently quoting lines from The Godfather and Goodfellas.

    Investigators have long believed that mobsters used Galati's autobody shop to cut holes into a stolen van that became a "hitmobile" during a bloody mob war in the 1990s. Then mob boss John Stanfa was ambushed while riding in a car on the Schuylkill Expressway when a van, with portholes cut in its side, pulled alongside his car in the midst of rush hour traffic. Two shooters pointed machine pistols out of the portholes and strafed the Stanfa car. Stanfa's son, Joseph, riding in the back seat, was wounded in the failed hit.

    Galati, according to investigators, has denied knowing anything about the van or its refitting. Authorities hope the new charges will add to the pressure him -- his wife and son are also facing potential prison time if convicted in the pending case. Thus far, Galati has rejected any offer to cooperate.

    "He's being a standup guy," said one investigator, noting that he could be standing up for the rest of his life behind bars.

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

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