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

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  • 03/18/13--16:14: Pumping The Block
  • By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    They called it "pumping the block" or "getting the block jumping."

    It was the underworld equivalent of a retail "loss leader." The idea was to give something away for free in order to attract customers.

    In this case, the product was drugs -- cocaine, marijuana and a methamphetamine concoction known as "wet."

    Lamont Lewis had taken over a corner at 8th and Venango Streets in North Philadelphia, government witness Eugene Coleman said from the witness stand, and the kingpin he worked for, Kaboni Savage, decided they had to do something to "get the block jumping."

    "We did this to let people know there was drugs on that corner," said Coleman, who took the stand this morning in the racketeering-murder trial of Savage and three co-defendants.

    Coleman was a key Savage associate through most of the 1990s before pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges and agreeing to testify for the government. Prosecutors contend that Savage ordered the October 2004 firebombing of Coleman's mother's home on North Sixth Street in retaliation.

    Coleman's mother, his infant son and four other family members, a woman and three children, were killed in the early morning blaze. The fire is considered one of the most despicable examples of witness intimidation in a Philadelphia underworld where violence against witnesses and their families is a common occurrence.

    Soft-spoken with his head neatly shaved, the heavyset Coleman spent nearly five hours on the stand today detailing his life in the underworld and offering the jury an inside look at the way business is conducted. He was not asked about the fire, but that is expected to be a key area of testimony when the trial resumes tomorrow.

    Instead, he spent most of the day discussing how he worked for and with Savage. He talked of murders that he said Savage had ordered and of the cheating, lying and stealing that were every day occurrences.

    "That's the game," he said Savage told him after another associate had been robbed of a shipment of cocaine and Coleman suspected that Savage was behind it.

    "That's a done deal," he said Savage told him when they were discussing someone who had been marked for death and would soon be killed.

    Savage, 38, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a drug trafficking conviction in 2005. Coleman was one of the witnesses against him in that case. While Coleman's family had been killed prior to the start of that trial, the homicides were not part of that case.

    They are, however, central to the current case against Savage and his three co-defendants. In all, the case includes 12 homicides. Seven have been tied to witness intimidation. All were part of what the government alleges were Savage's violent reign of terror while controlling a multi-million dollar cocaine distribution network in North Philadelphia.

    Coleman said he became a close member of Savage's "drug family," and spent hours each day at Savage's home on North Darien Street. He said in early 2000 when Savage was under house arrest, he not only did his bidding in the drug underworld, but also ran errands and did favors for Savage's mother and his sister Kidada.

    Kidada, a co-defendant in the case, is charged with helping relay her brothers orders to firebomb the Coleman home.

    "I would come to his house every morning," Coleman said. "Drive his mother where she needed to go...run errands. Sit and talk with him."

    Later, when Savage was allowed to leave the home but was under a court-imposed curfew, Coleman said he was frequently his driver, taking him to the gym and around the neighborhood.

    Coleman also said that Savage had "been to my mother's home on Sixth Street, met my mother and other members of my family." While he didn't mention the firebombing, Coleman appeared to pause and compose himself as he spoke of his family.

    Returning to the business of the underworld, Coleman said he was assigned by Savage to help Lamont Lewis get the block at 8th and Venango Streets "jumping." He said Lewis, who was known as "Poppy," worked the corner and a bar called Big Faces that was located there.

    "Kaboni told Lewis that to get the block jumping you have to give away $200 or $300 worth of drugs free one day...so that people would know there were drugs on the corner," Coleman said.

    Coleman said that on Savage's orders he helped Lewis get started and coordinated the free drug giveaway. While working with Lewis, he said, he met Lewis' cousin, Robert Merritt.

    Lewis and Merritt have been accused to carrying out the firebombing in which Coleman's family was killed. Merritt is a co-defendant in the case.

    Lewis has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify for the prosecution later in the trial.

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


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    The family photos brought tears to the eyes of government witness Eugene Coleman.

    His mother, Marcella, 54, smiling in her living room. His sister, Tameka Nash, 34, hugging her 10-year-old daughter, Khadjah. Another photo of Khadjah smiling impishly. A nephew.
    Tahj Porchea, 12, standing tall and proud. And Coleman's infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15-months, laughing in his father's arms.

    Each color photo was flashed on large television screens in the eighth floor courtroom where Coleman was testifying in the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage.

    Family members in happier times.

    Family members killed when their North Sixth Street rowhouse was firebombed in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, on the orders, authorities allege, of Savage.

    Six people, including another Coleman nephew, Sean Rodriguez, 15, died in that blaze, victims the government contends of the violent, take-no-prisoners, kill-all-the-rats reign of terror that Savage unleashed in the Philadelphia underworld ten years ago.

    Coleman, 43, had been cooperating with authorities for about a year when his family was targeted. He had been threatened and warned repeatedly after Savage and members of his organization suspected Coleman had cut a deal with the government, the soft-spoken, admitted drug dealer said from the stand this morning.

    In fact, he said, the day before the firebombing he had come face-to-face with Savage when both were in the federal courthouse for hearings. They and a dozen other members of the Savage organization had been jailed in 2003 on drug conspiracy charges.

    Savage, Coleman said, went into a rant when he saw Coleman in an adjacent holding cell.

    "Kill all the motherfucking rats," he said Savage told another inmate in a voice loud enough that he knew Coleman would hear. And their families as well, Savage continued, screaming, "They all should die ... Kill all the motherfuckers."

    On their way back to the Federal Detention Center later that day, Coleman said, he again found himself in Savage's presence as they waited in line to be readmitted to the prison. Savage, he said, looked him in the eye, smiled and then ran his finger across his throat in a slashing motion.

    Coleman said the motion confirmed what he already knew -- Savage had marked him for death.

    "Within twenty-four hours of that incident," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer asked Coleman, "were six members of your family dead?"

    "Yes," Coleman replied quietly.

    The firebombing murders are six of the 12 homicides listed in the case against Savage, 38, and three co-defendants. Savage's sister, Kidada, 30, is charged with relaying orders and setting the firebombing in motion. Co-defendant Robert Merritt, 31, is charged with taking part in the firebombing. Co-defendant Steven Northington, 40, is not charged with the arson, but is linked to several other murders.

    Savage showed little emotion during Coleman's testimony, conferring occasionally with his two defense attorneys and writing, as he has each day during the seven-week old trial, on a yellow legal pad at the defense table.

    He, Merritt and Northington face potential death sentences if convicted of the murder charges. Kidada could be sentenced to life.

    Coleman is expected back on the stand this morning. He spent most of today's afternoon session in a verbal sparring match with Christian Hoey, one of Savage's two court-appointed lawyers. Hoey continually challenged statements Coleman made to authorities, pointing to potential conflicts and inconsistencies in what he has said at debriefing sessions and from the witness stand when he testified against Savage in a drug conspiracy trial in 2005.

    Savage was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in that case.

    Coleman broke down in tears and struggled with his words as he was shown the pictures of his family members, but before and after that part of his testimony, he was focused and direct.

    He told the jury he was a close associate of Savage's from the mid 1990s until they were arrested in 2003.

    "We were like brothers," he said.

    But he said he began to question his own loyalty to the volatile drug kingpin along the way.

    In 1999, he said, he was upset with Savage after they had been apprehended in an apartment in Maple Shade, N.J. Savage was "on the run" at the time from a murder charge in Philadelphia. Authorities found about two ounces of cocaine in the apartment at the time of the arrest, Coleman said.

    Two days earlier, he testified, he and Savage had processed a shipment of 21 kilograms at the apartment but by the time authorities arrived, the drugs had been distributed. Nevertheless, Coleman said, Savage wanted his then pregnant girlfriend, who was also in the apartment, to take the fall for the two ounces of cocaine.

    "I told him it was his responsibility," Coleman said. "I told him he was the boss and he should not let his baby momma take the case."

    Four years later, in March 2003, Coleman said he was shocked when another Savage associate shot and killed Tyrone Toliver in an apartment in the 3500 block of Palmetto Street where Coleman was living. The murder was ordered by Savage, he said.

    Coleman admitted that he helped dispose of the body and clean up the apartment -- cutting out a section of rug that had been stained with Toliver's blood -- but he said the shooting preyed on him.

    "He was my friend," Coleman said while admitting that he lied to Toliver's family, claiming he had not idea what he happened, even as he attended Toliver's funeral.

    The murder was something that continued to bother him and ultimately was one of the reasons he  agreed to cooperate, even though he knew he was putting himself and his family at risk. Savage, he said, had a history of threatening those who turned on him.

    "He hated snitches and rats," Coleman said. "Hated them and hated their mothers...He said whoever had birthed them" should be killed.

    Coleman also testified about a letter he had received in prison from Kidada Savage in 2003 at a time when the Savage organization suspected, but had not yet confirmed,  that he was cooperating. The letter, introduced as evidence and read to the jury, was both a plea and a warning.

    "Yo, man...I thought we were family....What the fuck is going on?" the letter read in part. "We're all in this thing together...You're disappointing a lot of people."

    Kidada Savage then urged Coleman not to tell authorities anything and to let her and other members of the organization know what, if anything, he had already told federal agents.

    "Fuck them," she wrote. "Feed them niggers dog shit."

    She then wrote about better times when Coleman, who was like a brother, took her to Wildwood, Great Adventure and other amusement parks and attended her graduation.

    "Nigger, I'm still your little fuckin' sister," the letter continued. "... Where's the love? Don't say shit to them. They're going to divide and conquer."

    The letter, dated Sept. 9, 2003, closed with the lines, "Death before Dishonor (to your family.)"

    Coleman said the words in parenthesis were a clear message to him that his family was at risk.

    A little more than a year later, his mother, his infant son and four other members of his family were dead.


    Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    On Feb. 9, 2011, Bernard Shero sat down to type a suicide note to his parents.

    "Dear Mom and Dad," he began. "I know the Easter season has become a very sad season for us. We have lost many loved ones during the year. I am truly sorry for making the time of your birthday a time of loss as well but I feel that I do not have much of a choice here, and I think deep in your hearts, you know why."

    On Feb. 9, 2011, Bernard Shero was a 47-year-old ex-Catholic school teacher accused of raping a former sixth-grade student named Billy Doe.

    The day he wrote his two-page note to his parents, Shero was a hunted man. Detectives from the district attorney's office had called Burton Rose, Shero's lawyer, to ask if Shero was going to turn himself in. The detectives wanted Shero to report to the D.A.'s office at 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2011. Or else, the detectives would be driving out to Shero's apartment armed with an arrest warrant.

    Bernie Shero told his lawyer he couldn't be at the D.A.'s office by 6 a.m. And when Rose called him back, he couldn't get Shero on the phone.

    On Feb. 10, 2011, the day after he wrote his suicide note, Shero took some sleeping pills and went to bed.

    He did not foresee detectives banging on his door, or a groggy ride to the hospital in an ambulance.

    He also made the mistake of not showing that suicide note to his lawyer.

    Was Bernard Shero's suicide note an admission of guilt?

    The jury certainly thought so.

    We're going to take a look at that note, so everybody can make up their own minds. But before we get to that let's review what Shero was accused of. Billy Doe claimed that during the 1999-2000 school year, when he was an 11-year-old sixth grader at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Bernard Shero raped him.

    On Jan. 30, 2009, Billy Doe told his story to Louise Hagner, a social worker from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Billy Doe would subsequently tell a grand jury on March 19, 2010 that he was high on heroin the day he talked to Louise Hagner, so he couldn't remember a thing he told her.

     In a Jan. 21, 2011 grand jury report, the district attorney took Billy Doe's side, and was highly critical of Hagner.

    The D.A. accused the social worker of an conducting an "unprofessional, forced interview with a distraught" Billy Doe. It was an interview, the district attorney wrote, that "defense attorneys will undoubtedly find useful in trying to cast doubt on Billy's story."

    The district attorney charged that Hagner's actions were part of an ongoing archdiocese strategy of "moving quickly to solicit highly detailed statements from victims."

    Nowhere in that grand jury report, however, does the district attorney accuse Louise Hagner of fabricating any details.

    WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE ARCHDIOCESE

    On April 8, 2010, Louise Hagner testified before a grand jury. She said that when she first spoke to Billy Doe, on the phone on Jan. 29, 2009, Billy Doe said the rape "happened after class in the classroom on one occasion."

    But the next day, on Jan. 30, 2009, when Hagner went out to interview Billy Doe, he told her a different story. This time, Billy Doe said, the rape by Shero occurred at 3:15 p.m. in a parking lot outside an apartment building and a dumpster near Shero's home:

    Mr. Shero was his sixth grade teacher. He said the students thought there was something wrong with him and he was constantly touching everyone, both boys and girls. When asked if the kids had a nickname for Mr. Shero, Mr. Doe said they called him pedophile.

    One day in class Mr. Doe made a smart comment and Mr. Shero told him to stay after class. Mr. Shero talked to him after class and then offered to drive him home. Mr. Doe told him no because he only lived a block away; however, Mr. Shero forced him to go into his car. Instead of driving him home, he [Shero] pulled behind an apartment building near his home. It was 3:15 in the afternoon but no one saw them because he parked by a dumpster.

    Mr. Shero punched him [Billy] in the face and tried to pull his pants off. He grabbed the seatbelt and wrapped it around his neck. Mr. Shero performed oral sex on him and then Mr. Shero made Mr. [Doe] masturbate him. He also licked him all over.

    [Mr. Doe] also said that Mr. Shero tore his shirt and ripped it off. Mr. Shero told him if you ever tell anyone, no one will believe you. I will make your life a living hell. [Mr. Doe] said after the incident he arrived home before his parents and threw the torn shirt in the sewer so that his parents would not see it.

    He [Billy] said that after this incident he was out of school for a while due to illness. When he returned to school, Mr. Shero said to him you liked it, didn't you?

    WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE POLICE

    On Jan. 28, 2010, Detective Drew Snyder interviewed Billy Doe, with his parents present. Here's what Snyder wrote in his notes:

    [Billy Doe] is in the sixth grade and Bernard Shero is his homeroom teacher and English teacher. [Billy Doe] states that Shero is a weird touch/feely guy. Shero put his arms around the students when he is talking to them and whispers in their ears. He rubs their backs and is just creepy to be around. [Billy Doe] says there are multiple complaints about Shero .. [Billy Doe] further states that Shero had him doing odd erands.

    [Billy Doe] is in "Morning Detention" for not doing his homework. [School starts around 7:30 a.m.] Shero is the teacher in charge of detention. Shero approaches [Billy Doe] at detention, starts rubbing [Billy Doe]'s back and whispers in his ear, "I have my eye on you, you're a very good looking young man and it is time for you to become a man. He tells [Billy] that "We'll discuss this later."

    About a week later while at lunch, Shero tells [Billy] to come up to the classroom. When [Billy] arrives in the classroom, Shero says, "Remember our conversation? It is time to become a man." Shero starts taling about sex, asking [Billy] if he knows about sex. Shero says that he'll be giving [Billy] sex education soon.

    A couple of days later at the end of the school day, Shero approaches [Billy] and tells him that he is going to give [Billy] a ride home. [Billy] protests but Shero is insistent. [Billy] gets into Shero's car. Shero drives [Billy] away from [Billy]'s house towards Father Judge High School. Father Judge is letting out so Shero drives to Rhawn and Holmhurst Sts. and pulls into the parking lot that sits below street level. (Shero has an older model Ford Taurus). Shero tells [Billy] "It's time for your sex education."

    Shero undoes his pants and tells [Billy] to undo his pants. Shero tells [Billy] to get into the back seat. Shero masturbates [Billy] 'til [Billy] is erect, and then tells [Billy] to spread Shero's buttocks cheeks. Shero guides [Billy] through the process of anal sex. After this act, Shero has [Billy] lay on his back and Shero sucks [Billy]'s testicles. Shero then wipes [Billy]'s penis and begins sucking [Billy]'s penis. Shero has [Billy] in a '69' position and tells [Billy] to suck his penis. When they are through, Shero's demeanor changes. He throws [Billy]'s clothes at him and tells him "you were very good." Shero tells [Billy] to walk home from the parking lot. (The encounter was about an hour long). [Billy] walks home and takes a shower.

    After a couple of weeks, [Billy] gets real sick and missed a lot of school. When [Billy] returns to school, Shero treats [Billy] the same way.

    In his notes, Detective Snyder wrote down one additional detail that Billy told him about the attack -- "Shero ejaculates in [Billy's] mouth."

    WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE GRAND JURY

    Q. Did anything happen in your sixth grade year?

    A. Yes.

    Q. What time period or what part of the school year where you in when something happened?

    A. It was towards the end. Like, probably Spring.

    Q. Can you tell us what happened at that time?

    A. Mr. Shero was kind of a creep. He would always be touching students when he would come up and talk to you. He would put his arm around you and kind of whisper in your ear. He was inappropriate when he would talk to the students. He was talking to me for like a while, and he was getting kind of intimate ... Asked me about stuff that I did outside of school, like if I had a girlfriend, all that kind of stuff ...

    Q. Ok. What happened after that?

    A. One day after school, he said he was going to give me a ride home ... Instead of giving me a ride home -- not too far from my house, there's a park. I used to live up the street from Pennypack, and there's an entrance that's a couple parking lots where you park your car, but it has three levels to it. We always called it Little City, and that's where he took me.

    Q. Ok. Did you say anything to him about not taking you straight home?

    A. Yes.

    Q. What did you say?

    A. I asked him why we were stopping here.

    Q. What did he say to you?

    A. We're going to have some fun ... He told me get in the back seat .. He had me take off all my clothes but he was very pushy ...

    Q. What happened after that?

    A. He ripped off his clothes and he started to play with my genitals with his hands ... He started to give me oral sex and then he tried to put his penis up my ass ... He got it in a little bit and I started screaming in pain.

    Q. Ok. So what happened after that?

    A. He had me give him oral sex and a hand job. .. And he had me give him anal sex ...

    Q. Ok. What happened after this?

    A. He told me to get dressed and walk home ...

    Q. Ok. Did he say anything to you when you showed up at school?

    A. No.

    Billy Doe told the jury a "a couple of weeks" or "a month" after Shero raped him, he got sick:

    I was coughing profusely, and at the end of every cough, I would vomit violently ... I went to see my pediatrician. He didn't know what was wrong with me. He sent me to a specialist and they couldn't figure out what was wrong. I was vomiting so much I was losing a lot of weight. I couldn't eat. They had to knock me out for a couple of days. I was out of it for a while ... I missed a lot of school.

    A RECAP OF BILLY'S VARIOUS STORIES

    Billy gave Louise Hagner two different locations for where he was raped by Shero -- in the classroom, and in a parking lot behind an apartment building and a dumpster near Shero's home. Billy Doe said that Shero punched him in the face, wrapped a seatbelt around his neck, and ripped his shirt off. Shero performed oral sex on Billy and made Billy masturbate him. After the rape, Shero threatened to make Billy's life a living hell. Billy got sick and missed a lot of school, and when he came back, Shero told Billy, you liked it didn't you?

    Billy told the police he was raped in a parking lot near Rhawn and Holmehurst during an hour-long attack. Billy said Shero forced the boy to perform anal sex on the teacher, afterwards they engaged in mutual oral sex. Billy added some new dialogue to his story, with Shero telling him, "It is time to become a man," and "It's time for your sex education." The rape ended when Shero ejaculated in Billy's mouth. When the attack was over, Billy said Shero threw the boy's clothes at him and told him he was good. After the rape, Billy got sick and missed a lot of school.

    Billy told the grand jury he was raped in parking lot up the street from Pennypack Park. Shero performed oral sex on Billy and attempted to have anal sex with Billy, but Billy cried out in pain and Shero stopped. Shero then had Billy give him oral sex, a hand job, and anal sex. When it was over, Shero told Billy to get dressed and go home. A couple of weeks or a month later, Billy became violently ill and missed a lot of school.

    The locations of the rape are different every time Billy Doe told the story, and so are the details of the attack, as well as the dialogue or lack of it.

    This is a victim who can't get his story straight.

    The one constant in the three stories was that Billy Doe told the archdiocese, the police and the grand jury that he got sick after he was raped by Shero and missed a lot of school.

    Like many other details in Billy Doe's stories, the business about Billy getting sick was not backed up by any evidence. Instead, what evidence was available only served to contradict Billy Doe.

    During the Engelhardt-Shero trial, Burton Rose, Shero's lawyer, held up Billy's report card from sixth grade to remind the jury that after Billy Doe claimed he was raped during the fourth quarter of the 1999-2000 school year, Billy supposedly missed a lot of time at school. But Billy Doe's report card for the fourth quarter of sixth grade showed zero absences.

    "His report card tells us that [Billy] is not telling us the truth," Rose told the jury.

    WHAT HAPPENED THE DAY BERNARD SHERO WAS ARRESTED

    On the night of Feb. 10, 2011, Detectives Drew Snyder and "Gibby" Brook drove out to Bristol Township to arrest Bernard Shero. The detectives knocked on Shero's door and got no answer. The detectives heard a loud thump inside Shero's apartment, so they called the fire department.

    The fire department showed up at 10:35 p.m. Detective Brook climbed up on the roof and entered Shero's apartment through an unlocked window. Detective Brook handcuffed Shero and led him downstairs to unlock the door. Detective Brook informed Detective Snyder that Shero had "overdosed' on two sleeping pills he took at 11 a.m. The detectives searched the apartment but could not find the sleeping pills. But they found the suicide note in a folder on a table addressed to "Mom and Dad." Detective Brook rode in an ambulance with Shero to Lower Bucks Hospital.

    Detective Snyder recorded what happened next:

    While in the E.R. Shero had asked me what was the worse case scenario and I explained that he could go to prison. Shero denied doing anything wrong ... I also noticed that there were several pictures of a Hispanic girl hanging in his apartment I asked Shero why he had pictures of thse girls and he responded that he sponsors three kids from Guatemala ... At 4:30 p.m., Shero was released to us and we transported him to the Philadelphia police detention unit. Shero was arraigned and released on $95,000 bail.


    THE SUICIDE NOTE

    Dear Mom and Dad,

    I know the Easter season has become a very sad season for us. We have lost many loved ones during the year. I am truly sorry for making the time of your birthday a time of loss as well but I feel that I do not have much of a choice here, and I think deep in your hearts, you know why.

    I could not have asked for two more wonderful parents. Being born with the vision problem things did not come easy for me. Most people would not have helped me the way you have. You have really been a gift to me and I can never thank you enough for all you have done.

    [During the trial, Bernard Shero's mother, Bonita, testified that her son was born with congenital cataracts, and between the ages of six months and seven years old, he had 23 eye surgeries.]

    Mom, you have always been that light of optimism for me. It seemed like any time I had a problem, you gave me the courage to continue and perserve. You said to me on many occasions that you did not have to worry about me. That comes for 47 years of your guidance and support. The other day you said that you are now worrying about me every day. That really saddened me that I have now become the burden I never wanted to be.

    Dad, there were many times you lost your temper with me but in retrospect I know that it was for my own good. I have learned many things from you and I am so sorry that my situation has become a burden for you as well.

    You both know that the DA of Philadelphia has decided to go forward with the case. There is no way I could survive another fight, it seems like that is all I have been doing with my life is fighting and I can't do it anymore. I along with our family will be dragged through the mud and in the end, whether innocent or guilty, I will have nothing and you will have to live with the ridicule and the shame. You two are strong, but not that strong and I can not let that happen. I love my supportive family too much to think about it.

    I want you to have everything that I  own. All of my bank accounts, IRAs, and property.

    You are listed as the beneficiary on my IRAs. I have attached statements to this letter. I have about $3,000 in a savings and $700 in my checking account at TD bank. You an access it using my debit card ... In addition, there is a life insurance policy through LENOX that should be worth about $40,000 ...

    I have just one request; please continue to sponsor Josselyn through Children International. I recently found out that her father abandoned her. We did celebrate the same birthday so I think this would be nice. If this is too difficult for you, I understand ...

    It was very comforting to know that you were behind me in this situation, as you always were, there is no way I could put you through the grief and anguish this will cause. This is a hard decision for me, I really don't have any friends and you know that even if such an allegation gets out, you are ostracized by everyone. I can only hope you understand and forgive me. I have had a good life and was really fortunate to have done all of the things I have done.

    I really love you both. It is my hope that I will be able to watch over you in heaven and that I will see you there.

    Love,

    Bern

    EPILOGUE

    Burton Rose said the district attorney offered to avoid a trial by having Bernard Shero plead guilty to a lesser charge.

    "We went back and forth and we came up with numbers," Shero recalled. But in the end, Shero couldn't do it.

    "I just can't take any plea bargain that would require me to admit to something I didn't do," Rose recalled his client telling him.

    Burton Rose lost a pre-trial motion to exclude the suicide note. The judge thought it was "evidence of consciousness of guilt," Rose said.

    About that note, Rose said, "Look, he never said he did it either."


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     (From left) Ralph Abbruzzi, George Borgesi, the late Frank Gambino, Joey Merlino and "Uncle Joe" Ligambi

    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Is jailed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi or any other member of his organization a secret "patron of the arts?"

    That question surfaced this week as the FBI in Boston said it was close to solving a $500 million art heist that may have had a Philadelphia underworld connection.

    In a week full of wild speculation, rumor and innuendo about the 1990 robbery -- one bizarre and unfounded report had some of the masterpieces stashed in the backroom of a South Philadelphia bar -- the story of mobsters and stolen masterworks was getting lots of traction.

    In more mundane courtroom developments, meanwhile, two major players from the crime family, underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and mob soldier Damion Canalichio are scheduled to be sentenced in May following their convictions last month on racketeering conspiracy charges. Each faces a potential double-digit prison term, given the nature of the charge and their lengthy criminal records.

    Canalichio, 41, has two prior federal drug convictions. Massimino, 62, has been jailed on drug dealing and racketeering charges.

    Ligambi, 73, his nephew George Borgesi, 49, and his top associate, Anthony Staino, 55, are to be retried on those same racketeering conspiracy charges in October after the jury hung on those counts at the earlier trial. Staino was convicted of two counts of extortion for which he is to be sentenced, but that has been put off until after the retrial.

    There has been some speculation that Staino might be willing to cut a deal and plead guilty to the conspiracy count if the sentence for that crime would not bring more prison time than he is already facing for the extortion charges.

    Several other prominent players in the Philadelphia mob, including Marty Angelina and Gaeton Lucibello, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges prior to the start of the trial and are serving prison sentences. In all, nine of the original 13 defendants have either been convicted or have pleaded guilty.



    Skinny Joey Merlino and Damion Canalichio

    While the Ligambi racketeering case continues to wind its way through the court system, there is a different buzz on the streets. Media reports out of Boston have speculated that members of the Ligambi organization may have information about the infamous heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in which an estimated half-billion dollars in art was stolen.

    Media reports have mentioned both Ligambi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino as potential Philadelphia connections in the investigation into the missing paintings which include 13 masterworks stolen 23 years ago by two men posing as police officers.

    A report in the Boston Herald earlier this week said the FBI believes the heist was orchestrated by "members of an East Coast crime organization" and that some of the art work was being offered for sale in the Philadelphia area a decade ago.


    Rembrandt's Stolen Storm On the Sea of Galilee




    Ligambi was the boss of the crime family at that point. Merlino, jailed in 1999, was serving a 14-year sentence for racketeering. Before he was jailed, however, Merlino had established contacts in Boston with a group of organized figures headed by Robert Luisi Jr., who according to some law enforcement and underworld sources, was formally initiated into the Philadelphia mob by Merlino.
    Luisi, later convicted of drug dealing, began cooperating with authorities, but reneged on that deal, claiming among other things that he had "found Jesus" and had turned away from the gangster life. Luisi's father, brother and cousin were killed in an infamous mob hit at a suburban Boston restaurant in 1995.

    Manet's Chez Tortoni


    In the mid 1990s, Luisi surfaced as a close associate of Borgesi's, then Merlino's crime family consigliere. Luisi's name has also been mentioned in media reports about the art heist investigation.


    The stolen art included Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Manet's "Chez Tortoni." In a statement released earlier this week, the FBI in Boston said, "We have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England."

    While the statute of limitations has run on the theft charge, possessing the stolen works would still be a criminal offense. A $5 million reward has been offered for the recovery of the art work which in addition to paintings, includes drawings, a sculpture and a beaker.

    The heist occurred on the night of March 18, 1990, when two men dressed as Boston Police officers gained entry to the museum and overpowered a security guard.



    Marty Angelina and Damion Canalichio

    The Philadelphia connection to the notorious art heist comes amid reports that federal authorities hope to build yet another case against Ligambi and his top associates around three unsolved murders. Anthony Nicodemo, a mob soldier who is to be arraigned next month on first degree murder charges for the December slaying of Gino DiPietro, has been identified as a suspect in one of those homicides, the gangland hit on John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto in 2003.

    Damion Canalichio, who is to be sentenced in May in the racketeering conspiracy case, has also been mentioned in connection with the Casasanto investigation. No one has ever been charged with that murder. The two other gangland hits that authorities would like to place on Ligambi's doorstep are the 1999 slaying of Ronald Turchi and the 2002 shooting of Raymond "Long John" Martorano.

    George Borgesi and Damion Canalichio
    Ligambi, who ran the crime family from 1999 until his arrest in May 2011 in the racketeering case, is generally credited with taking the organization back into the shadows. His approach was to make money, not headlines.

    Missing masterworks and unsolved mob murders, however, are now shining two large spotlights on the mob boss and his beleaguered organization.

    (The photos attached to this article -- except for the Rembrandt and Manet masterpieces -- were introduced as evidence at the Ligambi racketeering trial that ended in February.)

    Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net.



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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for bigtrial.net

    An alternate juror in the Engelhardt-Shero case recalled the moment she got a courtesy call from the court clerk, telling her the jury had reached a verdict.

    It seemed pretty fast to her. The call came in at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2013, after three days of deliberation, only five days after she had been dismissed as an alternate.

    They came back guilty on all the charges except one, the court clerk told the alternate juror, a young woman in her 30s.

    "I was like, 'Are you serious?' I couldn't believe it," she said in an interview. "I thought for sure they were going to vote not guilty because there was absolutely no proof that these men had done that." To the alternate juror, who wishes to remain anonymous, the guilty verdict was "incredible," even "insane."

    "I was completely shocked by it," she said. "It was very hard for me. It was, however, an appropriate finish to her first experience of being a juror, which she described as "two weeks of insanity."

    Was justice done in the case of Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero?

    "No," she said. "I think it was a tragic miscarriage of justice."

    The alternate juror interviewed Thursday night was the first of 12 regular jurors and six alternates to speak out publicly on the case in the seven weeks since the Jan. 30 verdict.

    Let's hope it's the start of a trend.

    It would help everyone's understanding if more jurors came forward to explain a verdict that not only shocked this alternate, but also just about every reporter who covered the case, as well as the former sex abuse victims and the many lawyers who visited the courtroom during the trial.

    Whether you chose to believe Billy Doe or not, the verdict made no sense, because it was not supported by the evidence presented at trial.

    The district attorney was surprised by the verdict; the lead prosecutor expected to lose.

    For this alternate juror who chose to speak out, the verdict made no sense, she said, because "the prosecution was riddled full of reasonable doubt."

    "The stories were so inconsistent," she said about the various versions of the sex abuse allegations made by the 24-year-old victim in the case known as "Billy Doe."

    "What I couldn't get over was there was no consistencies about the story."

    The details of the allegations kept changing every time Billy Doe told his story, the alternate juror noted. He told four different versions.

    First, Billy Doe told his story to Louise Hagner, a social worker for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Then Billy was interviewed by Detective Andrew Snyder of the district attorney's office. Next, Billy Doe testified before the grand jury. Finally, Billy Doe testified to the jury in the Engelhardt-Shero case.

    "Nothing was consistent," the alternate juror said. "Not what happened, not where it happened."

    "There was so much 'I can't recall' from the witness, and we were supposed to say of course he can't recall?" she said. "I had a hard time buying wholesale what this witness had done."

    Several times during the trial, defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern pointed out to the jury the presence of Billy Doe's civil attorney in the courtroom. McGovern usually described Billy Doe's civil attorney as the most interested spectator in the courtroom.

    Then, on the witness stand during cross-examination, Billy Doe dropped a bombshell. He told an incredulous McGovern, a former prosecutor himself,  that it was the district attorney's office that hooked him up with the civil attorney, so that Billy Doe could sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for damages.

    That had an effect on the alternate juror.

    "There was nothing that made me believe that this was not financially motivated as well," she said.

    While some people choose to believe that Billy Doe made it all up, the alternate juror said she could not conceive anyone would be evil enough to do such a thing.

    In her mind, Billy Doe was a victim, she said, but she just didn't know of what.

    "Something terrible happened to this young man," the alternate juror said. "Something damaged him to the point that he became a completely different person. But I can't believe these two men assaulted him. To me it didn't seem truthful that these guys did it. To me it was shocking to hear because they seemed like good people."

    The alternate juror brings her own perspective to the case. She's an elementary school teacher, a mandated reporter of child sex abuse. So for her, that's where the problems started.

    Both Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero had no history of sexually abusing children.

    "Pedophilia is not just something that you just tried out," the alternate juror said. Child abusers usually have a history of abusing multiple victims. So where, she wanted to know, were the other victims.

    Billy Doe's story was that back when he was a 10-year-old fifth grader, he was raped at St. Jerome's Church by two different priests, Father Engelhardt and Father Edward Avery. And that a year later, when he was an 11-year-old sixth grader, he was raped again by Shero, his sixth grade teacher.

    It's an incredible story about a child being passed around from predator to predator while nobody notices anything.

    It's a story that left even people in the district attorney's office divided. Some felt Billy Doe was telling the truth. Others, in the immortal words of Mike McGovern, became convinced that Billy Doe was a "lying sack of shit."

    The alternate juror didn't know what to believe. But she does know what to look for when it comes to child abuse.

    "We're taught the signs of child abuse, sex abuse," the alternate juror said. In the case of three rapes of a child, she said, you would think that either his parents -- a police officer and a nurse -- or his older brother -- an eighth grader at the same school -- or Billy's doctor, or one of the teachers at St. Jerome's would have seen something.

    "I would hope that you would notice something," she said. "To have these terribly violent attacks and to not have someone notice anything at all seemed amazing to me."

    In Father Engelhardt's case, the rape of Billy supposedly took place after Mass in a tiny church sacristy with four doors. A sacristy that, according to trial testimony, was a place traversed by priests, altar boys, sextons, nuns, the church pastor and parishioners, all passing through on their way to the church, the sanctuary, a storage room, and the only bathroom in the place. 

    The prosecution claimed that Billy Doe was raped by two different priests inside the church after Mass, and nobody saw anything, and nobody heard anything. 

    "To believe that no one would be around for that period of time," the alternate juror said about the alleged rape in the sacristy by Father Engelhardt. According to one of Billy's versions of the story, the rape went on for five hours. 

    "That to me was outrageous, that no one would notice, no one would hear anything,"the alternate juror said.

    The prosecution alleged that Father Avery raped Billy Doe after Mass in a closet outside the sacristy. 

    Once again, the alternate juror found that story incredible.

    "How is this happening, an attack on a fifth grader in a closet and nobody's noticing?" she asked.

    In the case of Bernard Shero, according to Billy, that rape took place in broad daylight. Billy gave three different locations for the rape: in the classroom, or inside Shero's car that was parked in either a parking lot at an apartment building in Northeast Philadelphia, or a section of Pennypack Park known as a lover's lane. 

    And once again, nobody saw anything, and nobody heard anything.

    "He was assaulted in a classroom? That to me was completely unbelievable," the alternate juror said.  


    As far as she was concerned, regarding the whole prosecution case, "It seemed like it was propped up on unbelievable facts."


    The alternate juror was underwhelmed by the defense lawyers. She came to loathe the prosecutor. She was impressed by the judge. She felt sympathy for both defendants in the case, as well as for the alleged victim.

    "He's a terribly troubled young man," she said of Billy Doe. But at the same time, he did not come across like a 24-year-old man.

    "He didn’t strike me as mature as a 24 year old should be," she said. She recalled when Billy Doe was asked what he was doing now. He replied he was working for his uncle as a landscaper down in Florida. 


    To the alternate juror, that was not something a 24-year-old would be doing; to her, it sounded more like a 16-year-old.

    "Every answer seemed so convenient and so processed to me," she said. "It just didn’t feel genuine. It didn't feel like a young man trying to get right. It felt like a young kid trying to get out of trouble."

    "I have kids lying to me every day," she said. "I felt like I was watching somebody trying to get out of trouble."

    "He also wasn’t extremely emotional on the stand," she said. "It wasn’t like a moving story. It wasn't the heartbreaking story of a man who spiraled out of control because of this one event," she said. 

    "That didn’t come across."

    Not surprisingly, the alternate juror, herself a teacher, found the testimony of Billy Doe's former teachers to be credible. Especially when they testified about how only eighth grade boys were big and strong enough to be members of the bell choir maintenance crew.

    The prosecution's story line was that 10 year-old fifth grader Billy Doe, four feet tall and 63 pounds, was lifting the 30-pound bells as a member of the bell choir maintenance crew. He was putting away the bells by himself and that's when Father Avery hit on him.

    The alternate juror did not like the way the lead prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, attacked Billy's former grade school teachers on cross-examination.

    "I felt it was a vicious prosecution to start with," she said. "The prosecution was nasty to everybody who stepped up there."

    As she took notes in a notebook, the alternate juror recalled feeling, "I'm going to find it super-frustrating" to watch the prosecutor "drag these women through the mud."

    "I believed the teachers without a doubt," she said. "I've seen those giant bells."

    Similarly, the alternate juror was alarmed by the prosecution's attack on Louise Hagner, the social worker from the archdiocese who took notes on what Billy told her.

    "Louise Hagner, I felt terrible the whole time" the social worker was on the witness stand, the juror said. "I could only think this woman's just doing her job ... Watching her testify and how they treated her was terrible. It makes it sort of scary to be a social worker" if the prosecution is going to treat "every social worker who takes a statement" like they have "an agenda," she said.


    The alternate juror found it incredible that Billy Doe remembered so many details of what he said and did moments before he got into a car occupied by two archdiocese social workers. 

    He had just come back from the methadone clinic.

    He remembered the social workers calling him on his cell phone and knocking on his door. He remembered his father telling him not to talk to the social workers. He remembered telling the social workers to drive down the street and wait a few minutes and he would come out and talk to them. He remembered that Hagner was from the archdiocese and she was taking notes. 

    And then, almost magically, the moment after he got in the car, he could not remember anything he told Hagner because he was high on heroin.

    "I think that was crazy," the alternate juror said. "I felt like he [Billy Doe] was filling holes with whatever he wanted [us] to believe. I'm supposed to believe that he can't remember anything? A [social worker] would know if he was so impaired that he wouldn't remember." 

    "That to me that seemed very engineered," she said.


    She did not hold it against either defendant that they didn't take the witness stand to testify.

    "I can't imagine what kind of an ordeal that is to go through," she said. "Father Engelhardt seemed much more stoic to me ... Every time Bernard Shero cried, I almost cried myself."

    "It was insane to watch people treated that way," she said. "It was crazy to watch this play out."

    And then Father Avery showed up, fresh out of prison, to recant his guilty plea, and say he never touched Billy Doe. He just pleaded guilty because the prosecution gave him a sweetheart deal.

    "Oh my God, that was the craziest day," she said. "It was both sad and like, what the hell is going on?"

    She noticed Avery's "poorly fitting" prison outfit. And she couldn't believe that Cipolletti engaged Avery in an argument over whether he'd been defrocked or laicized.

    "Are we really having a semantics issue?" the alternate juror recalled thinking. What difference does it make? Either way, Avery is still an ex-priest.

    By this time, "I had already made up by mind that Cipolletti was a bully," she said. "This guy's a jerk. He's s so snotty he couldn’t talk  to anybody. I hope that I'm never up against D.A. Cipolletti because hes a snotty jerk."

    Amazingly, the alternate juror believed the smiling padre was telling the truth. 

    "I did believe him," she said. "I think for the same reason that I would take a plea if I was staring down the barrel of a gun."

    The alternate juror praised the "no-nonsense" way Judge Ellen Ceisler presided over the trial, rebuking lawyers for "theatrics," and keeping the case on schedule, so that the people on the jury could get back to their normal lives.

    "I thought she was a fabulous judge," she said.

    She wasn't impressed by the defense attorneys. 

    "McGovern, he was kind of like a cartoon," she said. "I could picture him as a D.A. with his little mustache," she said. "I think he's a much more intelligent and thoughtful man than he came off as."

    McGovern represented Father Engelardt. Burton Rose, the lawyer who represented Bernard Shero, was obviously sick during the trial, and was always sneezing and blowing his nose.

    "You almost wished for a more suave type," she said. "The case against Shero was the weakest." 

    Even though personally, she found Shero to be "so creepy looking," she did not take Shero's suicide note as an admission of guilt.

    "He had been so through so much and his family had been through so much," she said. "He was being paraded around. Who's to say the strongest among us wouldn’t have done the same thing? He was so embarrassed for his family."


    "He wasn’t writing that to explain the away the problem," she said. "He was thanking his family for being so amazing and saying, I don’t want to put you through it. It was a letter to his family about what was going to happen next. It wasn't about what was happening now."


    What was the juror's takeaway from her first brush with the criminal justice system?

    "Innocent until proven guilty," she said. But, "that's not the case if you're a Catholic priest."

    The woman who is not a Catholic said there has been so much publicity over the sex scandals in the Catholic church that "priests are assumed to be guilty immediately." 

    In this Lenten season, if any more jurors care to unburden themselves, Ralph Cipriano can be reached at ralph@bigtrial.net. Anonymity is available; a sympathetic ear guaranteed.



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    A stolen Rembrandt
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    The bottom line is that the Philadelphia  mob has always been a bottom-line kind of outfit.

    So if mob boss Joe Ligambi or any of his associates had information about the art work  stolen from a Bostonmuseum 23 years ago, they would have cashed that info in for the $5 million reward.

    That, at least, is the view of Robert Wittman, a retired FBI agent who specialized in art theft and who spent the bulk of his career working out of the FBI’s Philadelphiaoffice.

    “I sat next to the organized crime squad guys,” Wittman said in a telephone interview from his suburban Philadelphiaoffice this week. “If they had heard anything, I would have known about it. We didn’t hear a thing.”

    The FBI in Boston announced last week that it now knew who was behind the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart GardnerMuseumback in 1990. But authorities did not disclose the names of the suspects.

    Instead, they hinted at mob connections to both the heist and attempts to move the $500 million in priceless art work that was stolen. The take included  a Vermeer, a Manet, three Rembrandts and five works by Degas.

    The FBI announcement included speculation that the art was being “shopped” in the Philadelphia area 10 years ago and that some local mobsters were trying to expedite the sale.

    Wittman said he’s “skeptical.”

    “I can’t say it didn’t happen,” said the veteran investigator who during his career was credited with recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen art works. “But it doesn’t make sense.”

    Ten years ago, Wittman points out, the statute of limitation for the theft of the art work had expired and anyone who could lead authorities to the stolen booty could have claimed a $5 million reward.

    “No questions asked,” said Wittman who now heads his own art security firm. 

    If Ligambi or other members of his crew had a shot to cash in, he believes they would have jumped at the chance.

    They could have done it through one of their lawyers, Wittman said. Or anonymously through a lawyer who had no clear connection to mob clients.

    A stolen Manet
    “There would have been nothing illegal about it at all,” he said. “If the art had shown up in their territory and they led us to it, it was free money for them. You know those guys. What do you think?”

    Ligambi was just tried on racketeering and gambling charges that included allegations that he and two top associates took over a video poker machine distribution network that involved about 30 poker machines. Some of the machines, according to testimony, generated $1,000-a-week. Others a few hundred.

    A $5 million reward makes that operation look like peanuts and, given Ligambi's bottom line, let's-make-money approach, it would appear Wittman has a point.

    The jury hung on a racketeering conspiracy charge against Ligambi and two others. The case is to be retried in October. There has been some talk that the mob boss doesn't have -- or isn't willing to spend -- the cash needed to hire Edwin Jacobs Jr. to represent him again.

    Joe Ligambi as a secret patron of the arts makes for a good story, Wittman said. But Joe Ligambi, the mob boss out to make a buck, is a more realistic profile.

    “The whole Philly thing just doesn’t make sense,” Wittman said. “If you had the art works and were looking to sell them to someone in Philadelphia, would you go to the trouble and risk of bringing the art to Philadelphia or would you just tell a potential buyer to hop on a plane and fly to Boston. It’s less than an hour.. What would be the purpose of bringing the art to Philadelphia?”

    Was the Philadelphia mob involved in trying to find a buyer? Perhaps.

    But did local wiseguy ever have their hands on the art works or know where they had been stashed? Unlikely, says Wittman, whose life as an undercover FBI agent tracking stolen treasure around the world is recounted in "Priceless," a book he co-authored with reporter John Shiffman. 

    There's also this.
     
    The Philadelphia mob has a less than stellar track record in dealing with valuable stolen property. Back in the 1990s, then mob boss Ralph Natale had a connection with a Cleveland mobster who had stolen a $110,000 Lamborghini but was unable to find a buyer for the automobile.
     
    Like the stolen art work at the Gardner, the Lamborghini was difficult to move because it was so easily recognizable. The stolen vehicle was a 1988 fuel-injected 500S model, anniversary edition, with gold wheels and only five thousand miles on the odometer. Several years after it was stolen, the mobster in Cleveland, unable to find a buyer, gave the car to Natale.
     
    The car was shipped to Philadelphia and stored in a South Philadelphia garage. Natale told mob associates Martin Angelina and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino that it was theirs to sell. Angelina made a "connection" who offered $20,000. Angelina and Merlino took the deal, not knowing the "buyer" was an undercover FBI agent who had been tracking the stolen vehicle for several years. 
    But there was more.
     
    Angelina boasted that he could get fake papers -- title and tags -- for the car. He failed to do so. He also got spooked and thought the garage was under surveillance so he and an associate tried to move the car.

    The battery was dead, so they rented a Ryder panel truck. Problem was, there was no ramp on that truck. They got two wooden planks, fashioned a makeshift ramp and tried to push the $110,000, limited edition Lamborghini into the panel truck.
     
    The car slipped off the ramp and crashed to the floor of the garage. Front end and bumper damage further reduced the sale price of the six-figure piece of priceless automotive machinery. Angelina eventually agreed to take $5,300 for the car.
     
    The transaction became part of the racketeering case that landed him, Merlino and five others in jail in 2001.
     
    If the FBI in Boston is correct, it would have been shortly after that racketeering trial that the Philadelphia mob got involved in the art heist case.
     
    There are some facts to support that supposition. In the late 1990s, both Merlino and George Borgesi had become close associates of a crew of Boston wiseguys headed by Robert Luisi Jr. Borgesi, who is Ligambi's nephew, was convicted in the 2001 case and is a co-defendant with Ligambi in the pending case.
     
    Like his uncle, Borgesi is not one to pass on a deal where money could to be made. No dummy, he also would have been smart enough to realize the upside of merely turning the priceless Boston art work in for the reward -- no questions asked.
     
    So while it may have made for an interesting story, a Philadelphia mob connection to one of the most famous art thefts in American history may be little more than idle speculation.

    Two men posing as police officers gained entry to the Gardner Museum on March 19, 1990, and made off with the treasured art work. The FBI now says it knows the identities of those men, but won't say who they are.



    Wittman said he doesn't believe the thieves had been commissioned by a collector to take the work. Several paintings were cut out of their frames, a procedure that puts the art work at risk in both the short- and long-term. No collector would have sent anyone in to do that, Wittman said.
     
    Instead, the heist looks like a grab-and-run by hustlers who were attracted by the value of the property, but who didn't realize how difficult it would be to find buyers for their stash.
     
    In that regard, they were not unlike the mobster from Cleveland who grabbed a priceless Lamborghini and then didn't know what to do with it. That treasure did, in fact, end up in Philadelphia. And some local wiseguys ended up in jail.

    Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net.

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    They made a pact to kill the mothers of any associate who became a "rat."

    And that's what Lamont Lewis said he thought he was doing in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, when he and his cousin, Robert Merritt, firebombed the rowhouse of Marcella Coleman, the mother of Eugene "Twin" Coleman.

    What Lewis didn't know, he said, his voice cracking, was that there were children in the house at the time. But when he angrily confronted Kidada Savage, who he said had set the murderous plan in motion, she was indifferent to the plight of the victims.

    "Fuck'em," Lewis said Kidada Savage told him a day after the arson in which six people, two women and four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, were killed.

    Lewis, a self-described drug dealer and hitman, testified for nearly six hours today in the racketeering-murder trial of cocaine kingpin Kaboni Savage, Savage's sister Kidada, Merritt and Steven "Smoke" Northington.

    The six homicides tied to the firebombing of the Coleman rowhouse are part of a dozen murders authorities have tied to the Savage drug organization,. Kaboni Savage, 38, once described by a high ranking Philadelphia police official as "pure evil," is accused of ordering the murders to solidify his multi-million dollar drug network and to intimidate potential witnesses.

    The firebombing has been labeled by authorities as one of the most violent and brutal examples of witness intimidation in the history of the city. Eugene Coleman, a one-time Savage associate who had begun cooperating with authorities lost six family members in the blaze, including his mother and his 15-month old infant son.

    But Coleman, 42, testified against Savage in a 2005 drug trial and again in the current racketeering-murder case. Savage, Merritt, 31, and Northington, 40, face possible death sentences. Kidada Savage, 30, could be sentenced to life in prison.

    Lewis, 37, said he recruited Merritt, his cousin, to help with the arson after talking on the phone with Kaboni Savage on Oct. 8, 2004. Savage was in prison awaiting trial on federal drug dealing charges at the time. (He was convicted and is currently serving a 30-year sentence.)

    The phone call was arranged by Kidada Savage who received the call from her imprisoned brother at the family home on North Darien Street and had told Lewis to be there when the call came in. Recorded by prison officials -- as are all prison phone calls -- the conversation played for the jury today included oblique references to what was planned with both Kaboni Savage and Lewis pledging their loyalty to one another.

    "I'll be the last man standing, whatever it takes," Lewis said after Savage told him that Kidada had a message for him and would tell him what needed to be done.

    "You gonna feel it when she say it," Savage told Lewis.

    Both had alluded to reports that Coleman, once a top associate of Kaboni Savage, was cooperating. Earlier Lewis had testified that he, Savage, Coleman and others had agreed to a "pact" whereby their own mothers' lives would be in jeopardy if any of them "snitched."

    After the phone conversation, Lewis said, Kidada Savage drove him past Marcella Coleman's rowhouse in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street, showing him where the target lived. Lewis said Kidada told him Coleman's mother and brother lived in the  house along with a pit bull.

    Lewis said he recruited his cousin, Robert Merritt, to help. He said they bought two cans of gasoline and were driving to Merritt's West Philadelphia apartment at 4 a.m. when they were stopped by police. Lewis was given a ticket for driving without a license, but, he said, "the cop got another call" and let them go.

    A copy of the ticket, issued at 4:08 a.m. on Oct. 9, was introduced as evidence.

    About two hours later, gas cans at the ready, Lewis said he kicked in the door of Coleman's rowhouse and, after a woman screamed from upstairs, "Who's that?" he fired two shots in the air.

    Merritt then threw one of the gas cans, with a lit, makeshift cloth fuse, into the  house.

    "There was an explosion," said Lewis as he quietly recounted the events of that morning, his eyes looking toward the floor, his voice cracking. He said Merritt then threw the other can into the house as the woman screamed.

    He and Merritt fled, heading to a bar nearby where he picked up some "weed." He said he and Merritt then went to a home where they sat on the porch smoking marijuana and "listening to the fire trucks."

    Lewis said he called Kidada and left a message -- "It's done."

    Later that morning, he said, while he was watching the television news, he learned that six people, including four children, were in the home and had died in the blaze. Merritt, he said, was "shell shocked" when he learned that children had been killed.

    But he said Kidada showed no emotion. He said she gave him $2,000, part of a $5,000 payment that he had been promised. He said he never received the other $3,000, but that another drug associate Kaboni Savage gave him drugs worth about $5,000 as additional compensation.

    Broad shouldered and soft-spoken, Lewis started what is expected to be a grueling cross-examination late today. He will be back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow. Kaboni's Savage's lawyer William Purpura began by challenging Lewis' account of several other murders he was involved in, including at least two he said he carried out on Savage's orders.

    Those murders, of Carlton Brown on Sept. 12, 2001, and Barry Parker on Feb. 26, 2003, are also part of the case. Northington, who has not been charged in connection with the firebombing, is charged with taking part in the Parker murder.

    Lewis said he killed Parker on Savage's orders because Parker was trying to horn in on a drug corner that Northington controlled. Northington drove him to and from the hit and pointed Parker out to him, Lewis said.

    Lewis said he killed Brown because Savage suspected Brown of murdering "Pumpkin," a drug dealer described as "like a brother" to Savage. Savage was on house arrest at the time and told Lewis he would have to take care of Brown. Lewis said he immediately agreed.

    When Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher asked him why, Lewis coldly replied that that was his job in the Savage drug organization.

    "That's what I do... for our team," Lewis said. "That's the role that I played."

    He said he happened to bump into Brown a few days later and took advantage of the situation. Brown, he said, asked Lewis to drive him to his girlfriend's house in Southwest Philadelphia. On the way, Lewis said, they stopped on South Street at Condom Nation, where he and Brown made some purchases.

    Brown apparently thought he was going to get lucky that night. Instead, he ended up dead. Lewis said he shot Brown after he had gotten out of the car in Southwest Philadelphia and had spoken to his girlfriend on the cell phone.

    "I shot him once in the back of the head and when he turned, I shot him twice in the chest," Lewis said.

    Lewis admitted to 10 murders in all. Not every one was carried out on Savage's orders, however,

    He said he killed a woman, Tiffany Summers, who was the girlfriend of a paraplegic drug dealer. The drug dealer put the contract on Summers after she had allegedly tried to extort money. Lewis said Summers had tied up her crippled, drug dealer boyfriend, "sliced him about 100 times with a razor and poured bleach on him."

    The drug dealer, who Lewis said paid about $23,000 for the hit, wanted her dead.

    "He told me to shoot her in the face," Lewis said.

    "Did you do that?" Gallagher asked.

    "Yes," the unapologetic hit man replied.

    In fact, it was only during testimony about the firebombing and the children who were killed that Lewis showed any emotion over the murders he has admitted to. The others, he said, were part of his life in the drug underworld, part of his business.

    "That's what I did," he said.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Defense attorneys spent several hours today painting a picture of Lamont Lewis as a cold, calculating murderer who usually carried a gun and was never afraid to use it.

    Lewis, 37, didn't dispute the portrayal. In fact, he often added to the picture.

    Discussing the killing of a rival who lay paralyzed outside his North Philadelphia bar, Lewis was asked if he hadn't told an associate "to kick his fucking ass."

    "Yes sir," Lewis replied, adding that his associate "actually kicked him in the face two times."

    Over the course of two days on the witness stand in the racketeering murder trial of Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants, Lewis has admitted to all manner of murder and mayhem. He has provided details about nearly a dozen shootings in which he was involved; he has admitted to being a contract killer; he has conceded that he used his then 13-year-old son to help arrange to have drugs sent to him when he was serving a time in a city jail, and he has described himself as an "alcoholic" who would spend all day drinking in a bar.

    But none of that, Lewis said quietly and repeatedly during lengthy and pointed cross-examination, changes the story he has told from the witness stand.

    "I'm just in a messed up situation," said the linebacker thick, tattooed assassin who became a government witness in 2011, turning on his friends and underworld associates and putting the lie to the tattoo he has scrawled across his stomach. "Ride or Die" it reads, his commitment to "ride" out any charges rather than "die" and become a government snitch.

    "I wasn't the best father," Lewis said at another point. "I'm not denying any of this."

    But he said he has agreed to "tell the truth" and sees that as a way to fulfill "an obligation to the victims and their families."

    While not specifying which victims -- there in fact have been more than a dozen -- it appeared Lewis was referring to the two women and four children killed when he firebombed a North Philadelphia row house on Oct. 9, 2004.

    The six people who died in that blaze are among the 12 homicide victims listed in the case against Savage and three co-defendants. The trial, now in its ninth week, will resume tomorrow with Lewis still on the stand.

    The firebombing is the centerpiece of the case against Savage, 38, a North Philadelphia cocaine kingpin who authorities say used intimidation and murder to control his drug network and eliminate witness.

    Lewis has testified that he and his cousin Robert Merritt, a co-defendant in the case, firebombed the house on Savage's orders in an attempt to intimidate and silence Eugene Coleman, a drug dealing associate who in 2004 had become a government witness.

    Coleman's mother, his 15-month-old son and four other family members, including three children, were killed in that blaze.

    While defense attorneys spent most of today peppering Lewis with questions about a half dozen other murders and shootings he had admitted to, they moved gingerly around the arson. The event is the legal equivalent of the 500-pound gorilla in the courtroom.

    Whatever else Lewis admits to and however cold and calculating he may appear, his story of the firebombing remains critical to the case against Savage, Merritt and Savage's sister, Kidada, who Lewis said helped plan it.

    The defense is hard pressed to offer any other explanation for why Lewis would firebomb the house or why he would implicate himself and his cousin in the brutal killings. Lewis testified earlier that neither he nor Merritt knew children were in the home at the time.

    Lewis, under a plea deal, will face a sentence of 40 years to life.

    For nearly four hours today he answered questions posed by Savage's attorney, William Purpura.

    "Yes sir," he would say.

    Or "no sir."

    Or, "that would be correct."

    He admitted that his testimony in the trial sometimes conflicted with earlier statements he had given to authorities or with his testimony before a grand jury. But he explained the discrepancies away by claiming he had made "mistakes."

    "I make mistakes," he said in response to a line of questions from William Spade, Merritt's attorney, that began late in the day. "Believe it or not, I'm human."

    Cold, calculating and, when he was in the drug underworld, deadly. That's the picture of Lamont Lewis that has been presented during two days of testimony.

    He will be back on the stand tomorrow and perhaps Thursday as well. When he finally steps down, there will be no dispute about his role as a murderer and contract killer. The only question for the jury will be whether he was believable.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net


    At 8:11 p.m. on June 9, 2010, the district attorney's star witness in the case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a man subsequently identified in a 2011 grand jury report as "Billy Doe," was walking on the 200 block of Allegheny Avenue when he caught the eye of Police Officer Cesar Torres.

    At the time, Torres was on patrol in a marked police car, the officer subsequently testified.

    Assistant District Attorney Katie Brown asked the officer what caught his eye about Billy Doe:

    Q. What was the defendant wearing when you saw him?

    A. I believe he had [on] sweatpants with a hoodie that had a jacket over it ...

    Q. Did something draw your attention to the defendant that brings you here today?

    A. Yes, ma'am. I was traveling eastbound and I observed a large bulge coming out of the right side of the defendant's waist area.

    Q. What happened after that?

    A. At that time, myself and the defendant made eye contact and he looked very surprised ... um, just like, you know a look of shock. His eyes opened wide.

    That large bulge turned out to be 56 bags of heroin. This is the story of how a smart criminal lawyer made that heroin disappear.

    First, a little background courtesy of formerly secret records from District Attorney Seth Williams's "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:

    On June 9, 2010, the night Billy Doe got nailed with 56 bags of heroin, he was already an important witness in the ongoing sex abuse investigation of the archdiocese.

    Five months earlier, Billy Doe had been sprung out of Graterford Prison by Detective Andrew Snyder, and driven to the district attorney's office to be interviewed by Snyder and Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen from the Special Investigations Unit. 

    Billy Doe, who was in jail on a parole violation at Graterford -- the largest maximum security prison in Pennsylvania -- subsequently enrolled in a drug rehab known as Gaurdenzia House.

    On May 3, 2010, according to police records, Detective Snyder drove to Gaurdenzia House to check up on Billy Doe. The detective wrote in his notes:

    I stopped by Gaurdenzia House to have [Billy] sign the release papers and was informed that [Billy] absconded. I talked to Jack Kelly, director of Gaurdenzia. Kelly stated that there were rumors of [Billy] using drugs. Kelly had no evidence of [Billy] using drugs but he did cancel [Billy]'s appointments for the day and they were going to search his room. [Billy] came down for lunch and left through the out-patient entrance. I talked to [Billy's] parents. [Billy] did call them and told them that Kelly accused him of using drugs and that his probation officer, Ryan Smith, was on his way to Gaurdenzia to lock [Billy] up and take him back to prison.

    But Billy Doe was on the lam. On June 2, 2010, Detective Snyder got a phone call from the escapee:

    [Billy] told me he that he left Gaurdenzia because of his problems with the director, Mr. Kelly. [Billy] stated that he first was staying with a friend and then lived with a girl and her children in Glenside, PA. [Billy] did admit to using heroin for about a week after he first left Gaurdenzia but he assured me that he has been sober for the last couple of weeks. [Billy] is back home with his parents.

    ... [Billy] asked me if I could help get him into a rehab. I asked about Miramount and [Billy] replied that "they" are mad at him for leaving Guardenzia and then using. I told [Billy] to get me a list of some of the places that he would like to stay at and I would make some phone calls on his behalf.

    Despite Billy Doe's assurances to Detective Snyder, his new attempt to stay sober would last exactly one week.

    On June 9, 2010, Billy Doe was arrested by Officer Torres and and charged with possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin.

    On Jan. 7, 2011, there was a hearing in the case of the Commonwealth V. Billy Doe. In Courtroom 604 of the Criminal Justice Center, the Hon. Judge Adam Beloff was listening to a motion to suppress evidence.

    "My grounds for the motion to suppress are based on Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution as well as the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution,"said Brian Edward McLaughlin, the attorney for Billy Doe. "My client was stopped by police, who did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the stop. Additionally, after the stop, items were recovered and they were seized in violation."

    That's when Assistant District Attorney Katie Brown put Officer Torres on the stand. The officer testified that he saw Billy Doe walking with a large bulge around his waist. After the officer made eye contact with the suspect, Torres testified, Billy Doe started moving down Allegheny Avenue at a "faster walking pace."

    Q. And what did you do?

    A. I went around with my patrol vehicle and pulled up next to him and asked where he was going. He stated he was going home, so I stopped him for investigation of the bulge coming out of the right side of his pants and asked him if he had a weapon, and he stated no. I conducted my frisk, and during the frisk, in the lower left-hand pocket, I asked the defendant what were those and he stated four bundles of heroin which he purchased on Mutter [Street].

    Q. Did you recover anything as a result of your conversation with the defendant?

    A. Just four bundles of heroin ...

    A. And back to the bulge. When you saw the defendant, how far were you from him?

    A. At first, I would say 30 to 40 feet ...

    Q. Can you describe the size and shape of the bulge?

    A. It was sticking out ... I thought it was a firearm ...

    Q. Where were the bundles of heroin recovered from?

    A. They were recovered from the shorts inside the pants. He was, you know, wearing shorts and then pants over the shorts ...

    At this point, Judge Beloff interrupted the proceedings.

    The Court; Hold on. They were recovered from inside the shorts, in the pants?

    The witness: Yes, Your Honor. He was wearing shorts, basketball shorts, and then pants over the basketball shorts. He had pockets inside of the basketball shorts with pants over it.

    On cross-examination, Attorney McLaughlin questioned Officer Torres about the particulars of the stop.

    Q. You're driving down Allegheny Avenue in a marked police unit?

    A. Yes.

    Q. It's daylight out?

    A. It's sunlight. It's 8 o'clock in the afternoon, it's dusk.

    Q. You see my client walking down the street, right?

    A. Yes.

    Q. All he's doing is walking, right?

    A. Yes, sir.

    Q. Your driving towards my client or away from him?

    A. Towards ...

    Q. While driving towards him, you're claiming you make eye contact with my client?

    A. Eye contact, yes. I observed him and I was checking him out and as I observed him, he we made eye contact?

    Q. This is from a distance of 50 feet?

    A. Forty feet. I would say 40 feet.

    Attorney McLaughlin brought up Officer Torres's testimony at a preliminary hearing on Aug. 6th, 2010. McLaughlin handed the officer a transcript from that hearing.

    Q. All right. Directing your attention to page 7 of the testimony. You were asked a question on direct about how far away you were from him just as an estimate and your answer was 50 feet?

    A. Yes, sir ...

    Q. Now, regarding the eye contact you mentioned, where you said he had a surprised look, does the [transcript] mention that eye contact?

    A. No, sir ...

    Q. All right. So at that point, that's when you see the bulge on this person's waist band?

    A. Yes, sir.

    Q. You don't know what the bulge is?

    A. Yes, sir.

    Q. At that point in time, you make a decision to go to my client and basically tell him to stop?

    A. Yes, sir.

    Q. When you go up to him, you stop him and he's not allowed to go?

    A. At that time, no.

    Q. Ok. Nothing was ever recovered from the waist band?

    A. It wasn't a firearm, just a water bottle.

    The Court: A water bottle? Like a plastic water bottle?

    The witness: Like a plastic water bottle ...

    Q. So the bottle is what you thought was potentially a gun?

    A. Yes ...

    Q. You patted him down first or ask him questions?

    A. Asked him questions first.

    Q. Then you pat him down. What did you ask him, first? What are you doing?

    A. What are you doing, identification, do you have weapons on you?

    Q. What was the response to that?

    A. Nothing.

    Q. And at that point in time, did you conduct a pat down?

    A. Yes, sir

    Q. And during that pat down, you said you felt an object.

    A. A couple. Some small items on the left side.

    Q. It's your testimony today when you ask those questions, you knew what the items were?

    A. At that time, at that point, when I felt those small items, I knew that they were some type of narcotics. I did not know that they were heroin or cocaine. I knew it was narcotics ...

    Q. Did you have any information he was wearing a gun at that time?

    A. No sir ...

    Q. Never recovered a firearm?

    A. No.

    In arguments before the judge, McLaughlin said the police stop "wasn't based on some type of anonymous call for a robbery in progress."

    "We didn't hear anything about a lot of gun arrests in that particular location," McLaughlin said. Instead, the officer claimed he made eye contact and spotted a bulge before he "stopped my client and he wasn't free to go," McLaughlin said.

    "I submit to Your Honor that's not enough to allow a stop."

    And when the officer conducted a pat down of the bulge in the waist, McLaughlin told the judge, all he found was a water bottle. Then he discovered the lumps in Billy Doe's shorts. When the officer asked Billy Doe what was in his shorts, he told him about the heroin. That's when the officer goes in and recovers the drugs. That's why the drugs and the statement given by Billy Doe should be suppressed as evidence, McLaughlin argued.

    Assistant District Attorney Brown countered that "there was a reasonable suspicion" to stop and search the suspect "because of the bulge." When the officer approached the defendant, "based on experience .. he immediately knew that there were some kind of narcotics in the pocket."

    "I would submit that he did have probable cause," the assistant district attorney said. "I'm not saying that statement -- the statements were made without the Miranda warning. I'm not going to argue that. I would just say based on Officer Torres's experience, based on his interaction with the defendant, it was sufficient enough for him to have probable cause to make the arrest."

    The judge was ready to make his ruling.

    It was the court's findings that the officer observed the defendant walking down Allegheny Avenue. He observed a large bulge at the defendant's waist and indicated he made eye contact with the defendant. The officer stopped the defendant, asked where he was going, and then conducted a pat down for weapons and narcotics. A water bottle was recovered. The officer then discovered several small objects hidden in the defendant's shorts. When he asked the defendant what they were, the defendant stated it was four bundles of heroin.

    "The court finds that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause at the time to stop the defendant," the judge said. The officer did not have probable cause to conduct "a further pat down beyond the area where the alleged water bottle was found. Therefore, the motion to suppress is granted."

    During the trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, Billy Doe disagreed with the charge he was originally arrested on, possession with intent to distribute. Billy Doe told the jury he intended to use those 56 bags of heroin himself.

    Alan J. Tauber, one of the defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, has had considerable experience representing defendants at the Criminal Justice Center, also known as the CJC. He says the judge made the right call.

    "It's just another day at the CJC," Tauber said. "The police had no lawful justification to stop Billy Doe. He wasn't observed behaving in any criminal behavior, or even suspicious behavior at the time they stopped him and frisked him."

    "That doesn't mean the police shouldn't get a merit badge for good instincts," Tauber said. "On the positive side they kept Billy Doe from injecting himself with 56 bags of heroin."

    The Commonwealth did not appeal the case.

    During the hearing on the suppressed evidence, Judge Beloff made no public mention of having conferred with Billy Doe when the judge was a civil lawyer about whether Billy Doe could sue the archdiocese in the civil courts for damages. Billy Doe has told authorities Beloff was one of the lawyers he conferred with before filing a civil suit against the archdiocese.

    The judge committed suicide on Dec. 1, 2012.

    The heroin bust wasn't Billy Doe's last arrest.

    On Nov. 10, 2011, ten months after the hearing to suppress the 56 bags of heroin, Billy Doe was arrested again in Philadelphia, this time for possession of a controlled substance. It's still an open case that's been continued nine times in the past 16 months.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    For Vince Fumo, the news just keeps getting worse.

    The former state senator still resides in a federal prison in Kentucky where he's serving a 61-month sentence for his 2009 conviction on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. 

    Since late January, after doctors discovered three blockages in his heart, the 69-year-old Fumo has been walking around with a zipper in his chest after undergoing triple bypass surgery and dealing with depression, which doctors have told him is a frequent side affect of the surgery.

    In February, a federal appeals court sided with the prosecutors who put Fumo away, ruling that the former state senator should give back even more money. The feds, who have already extracted $3.8 million in restitution and fines from Fumo, are seeking an additional $783,264.

    On March 21, Fumo got a visit in prison from an IRS agent bearing a notice from Guadalupe N. Ortiz, acting area director of the agency's Philadelphia office. The IRS was formally notifying Fumo that he was being hit with an extremely rare "notice of jeopardy assessment and levy," which, including tax, interest and penalties, amounts to a bill for a total of $2.9 million.

    In an interview, Mark E. Cedrone, Fumo's tax lawyer, termed the jeopardy assessment "a draconian infrequently-used weapon of mass destruction" employed by the IRS in only a fraction of cases. And the jeopardy assessment is not just a bill.

    "They IRS has served levies on various financial institutions resulting in the freezing of significant assets" belonging to his client, Cedrone said.

    Cedrone said the government's case is without merit, because the IRS is in no danger of failing to collect on any debts it may be owed. Fumo is still listed as a co-owner on five of the six transferred properties that the IRS has raised questions about, Cedrone said. So the IRS remains protected.

    Not that the government deserves any more of his client's money, Cedrone said. While the IRS is seeking $2.9 million, Cedrone argues that under the law the amount due the IRS is "zip." That's what he plans to argue in appeals to the IRS, and possibly in a federal lawsuit as well.

    "Where I come from, they call this piling on," said Cedrone, a South Philly guy.

    "Under Sections 6861 and 7429 of the Internal Revenue Code, you are notified that I have found you are, or appear to be, placing property beyond the reach of the Government, by concealing it, dissipating it, or transferring it to others, thereby tending to prejudice or render ineffectual collection of income tax for the taxable years ended Dec. 31, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2005," Ortiz wrote Fumo.

    "Since Fumo's indictment to present, he has transferred one-half interests or full interests in all of the properties he owned to his son (Vincent E. Fumo II) or current girlfriend/fiancee (Carolyn Zinni)," Ortiz wrote. "All of the transfers were for less than full, fair and adequate consideration, usually for $1 or $10."

    In an accompanying narrative, the IRS lists eight properties that Fumo has sold or transferred between June 12, 2008 and April 6, 2012, including:

    -- 1831 Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, with a market value of $235,000, sold on June 12, 2008.

    -- 1936-38-40 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, with a market value of $130,000, transferred on Dec. 16, 2008 for $1.

    -- 6601 Mommouth Ave., Ventnor, N.J., valued at $525,000, transferred on Oct. 12, 2011 for $10.

    -- 108 Kenyon Ave., Margate, N.J., valued at $1.1 million, transferred on Oct. 12, 2011 for $10.

    -- 30 Fiesta Way, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., no market value noted, transferred on Oct. 18, 2011 for $10.

    -- 2220 Green St., Philadelphia, valued at $3 million, transferred on Feb. 2, 2012 for $10.

    -- 30 Fiesta Way, Fl., valued at $2.3 million, sold on April 6, 2012.

    The idea that the IRS is in jeopardy of not collecting any money it might be due is "nonsense," Cedrone said. "The IRS could still attach a lien to the properties. His [Fumo's] name continues to be on all of the properties except one."

    Cedrone said the property transfers took place "at a time when there was a lot of talk about the current estate tax exclusions expiring as a matter of law. A lot of people were transferring assets from their own names to their heirs jointly at that time," Cedrone said.

    In its accompanying memo, the IRS deals with Fumo's recent transfers of cash.

    "The Service received information that within a little over one month after sentencing, on or about the end of August 2009 through the end of January 2010, Fumo made a series of large dollar transfers into his son, Vincent E. Fumo II's bank account for no known purpose. It was reported that Fumo and son were engaging in a suspicious movement of funds between banks in order to hide their original source in a manner that is indicative of layering. The total amount involved was $2,793,500. In addition, the son subsequently transferred some of this money (approximately $1,427,500) to another bank, solely in the son's name."

    "That's just malarkey," Cedrone responded. While Fumo was in prison, Cedrone said, his son was acting as his conduit, to see that his father's bills were paid. Of the money originally transferred through Fumo's son, Cedrone said, nearly $2 million was to paid to the government, to satisfy fines and restitution. 

    Fumo was going to prison when he transferred the money, Cedrone said. He had no way to manage his affairs. So he had to put his money in joint bank accounts, so that his son could manage his affairs for him.

    "This is the most heavy handed that the IRS could ever be," Cedrone said of the jeopardy assessment. "This has substantially interfered with his [Fumo's] ability to conduct his life."

    Cedrone believes that the IRS decided to impose the jeopardy assessment after a story was published about Fumo's transfers in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    On Oct. 21, 2012, the Inquirer published a story under the byline of Craig R. McCoy and Miriam Hill, headlined, "Fumo Shifts Property Ownership, Keeps Quarreling."

    If the first few words in the first paragraph was any indication, the rest of the story may not have exactly been on the money:

    "From his spare prison cell in Kentucky, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo is fighting one last high-stakes battle with federal prosecutors, and quarreling once more with former allies-turned enemies." 

    Oops. At the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland, Kentucky, where Fumo is a prisoner, inmates are housed in "units" designed for two people; they do not live apart in a "spare prison cell."

    "I firmly believe that they [the IRS] decided that he [Fumo] was transferring assets based in large part, I believe, on that article," Cedrone said. "As a consequence they took the position that because he was transferring assets he was placing in jeopardy the IRS's ability to collects the taxes in the future."

    Cedrone said negotiations with the IRS were underway when the Inquirer story hit. On Oct. 3, 2012, the IRS sent Fumo a notice on "proposed adjustments to Vince's tax returns," Cedrone said. The IRS was asking for $2 million. Cedrone said he was in the process of responding when the Inky ran its story.

    On Dec. 4, 2012, Cedrone sent the IRS his response. "Our position is, he [Fumo] owes zero," Cedrone said. Cedrone said he notified the IRS that his client was in prison and back in December, was dealing with three heart blockages, one of which was at 90 percent.

    Cedrone does not understand the government's rush to collect from his client. In "99.999 percent of tax cases," a final determination of tax owed, if any, occurs before the IRS can engage in collection efforts," Cedrone said.

    "Generally, it takes no less than two years and can take as much as five years" to resolve a dispute, Cedrone said. In 25 years, Cedrone said, he has represented hundreds of clients before the IRS, and "this is only the third jeopardy assessment I've been involved in."

    In its jeopardy assessment, the IRS noted that Fumo owes money based on the the fraud he was convicted of.

    "Fumo's conviction did not involve specific income tax crimes," the IRS wrote. "However, based on the evidence established during the three-month criminal trial, the Service determined the following deficiencies, penalties and and interest are due and owing by Fumo based on his fraudulent failure to report the benefits he received from defrauding the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods."

    "The Service determined that Fumo is liable for the fraud penalty ... for taxable years 2001 through 2005," the IRS wrote. "The Service's determination is supported by the following findings:"

     -- "Fumo repeatedly failed to report the taxable income and benefits received from" the Senate and CABN.

     -- "Fumo failed to maintain adequate records regarding the taxable income and benefits he received" from the Senate and CABN.

     -- "Fumo had dealings in cash to conceal his illegal activities and to avoid reporting the taxable income and benefits he received" from the Senate and CABN.

    -- "Fumo concealed assets from the IRS."

    -- "Fumo failed to cooperate with the IRS."

    -- "Fumo's conduct demonstrated a pattern of misleading and concealing the receipt of income and illicit benefits from" the Senate and CABN.

    -- "Fumo engaged in and attempted to conceal illegal activities."

    In response, Cedrone said that the government's burden in this case is to prove the civil equivalent of a tax crime by proving fraud occurred with "clear and convincing evidence, which they don't have," he said.

    "Fumo never dealt in cash, he never concealed assets, and he never failed to cooperate," Cedrone said. He said tax law also says that "money at issue in causing a loss to a victim," such as the Senate or CABN, "does not necessarily mean he [Fumo] received a benefit or a gain."

    "We still say he owes nothing," Cedrone said.

    If the government would have gone through with the usual process, Cedrone said, at the end of the day, if the tax court decided Fumo owed the government money, "Vince Fumo would have paid it."

    "Vince Fumo's pattern of addressing obligations to the government is consistent; he pays it," Cedrone said.

    Fumo's lawyer in the criminal case, Dennis Cogan, said he found the IRS's recent actions part of a disturbing pattern.

    "I think that it's more than just piling on," he said. "It seems like the government is out to destroy this human being."

    That goes ditto for the Inquirer, Cogan said.

    Cogan talked about the "toxic atmosphere" created by the Inquirer. The newspaper crusaded for five years against Fumo before the trial began. Then they buried him during and after the trial.

    Cogan talked about the appeals judges who have sat in judgment since the trial, and their law clerks who just don't seem to understand what really happened in the Fumo case.

    "To suggest he [Fumo] lined his pockets on the backs of Citizens Alliance makes no sense," Cogan said. "He didn't line his pockets."

    Cogan sat in on a U.S. Court of Appeals hearing on Dec. 14th, 2012, when the feds were seeking to extract from Fumo another $783,264 in restitution. He said the prosecutor in his arguments to the appeals court should have stated the facts in the case accurately, and not gone beyond those facts.

    "Mr. Fumo is the one who took all the money," argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer to a panel of three appellate judges for the Third Circuit. "This is someone who has all this money."

    A pre-sentence report said that Fumo was worth $11 million, Zauzmer said. In contrast, Zauzmer told the judges that  Fumo's co-defendant, Ruth Arnao, had a net worth of less than $100,000.

    As part of her sentence, Arnao was ordered to pay $783,264 in restitution at the rate of $1,000 a month. At that rate, it would take her 60 years to pay the money back. Why should the Citizens Alliance have to wait for their money when Fumo has plenty, Zauzmer told the appeals judges. His argument was, why not stick Fumo with Arnao's tab of $783,264.

    "Mr. Fumo ran this scheme ... he put it all in his pocket," Zauzmer told the appellate judges. 

    That's not what happened, Cogan said. Out a total of $4 million that was stolen in the Fumo case [from Citizens Alliance and two other victims of fraud, the state Senate and the Independence Seaport Museum] most of that money didn't wind up in Fumo's pocket. It wound up in the pockets of Fumo's employees, consultants, state senate contractors, and political allies, such as Bob Casey's campaign for governor.

    The largest portion of the $1.5 million in restitution for Citizens Alliance was hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the purchase and renovation of a building on Tasker Street, Cogan said. The building was owned by Citizens Alliance and rented to the state Senate, for an amount of rent that prosecutors said was a bargain. As Dennis Cogan will tell you, how do you stuff a building into your pocket?

    "They're forgetting so many positive things he did for so many," Cogan said about his client. Cogan recently was dining at a restaurant on Passyunk Avenue, when he noticed another patron who happened to be a Third Circuit Appeals Judge.

    That judge was "taking advantage of the wonderful restaurant renaissance down there," Cogan said. None of it would have happened without Vince Fumo. He's the guy who got the money for the renovations, and the singing fountains. He got the money for Citizens Alliance, so it could do many positive things for the community, like picking up 100,000 tons of trash.

    "He didn't line his pockets," Cogan lamented. "He donated thousands of hours of uncompensated time. If he had put that down in the proper box when he filed those 501C3 returns with the government, there would be no issue in this matter."

    But don't expect to read about in the Inquirer. As Cogan says, the newspaper, like the government, appears hell-bent on the destruction of one man. While the rest of us have to watch.

    Ralph Cipriano is writing a book about Vince Fumo.



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  • 04/09/13--16:09: A Juror Finally Speaks
  • By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    It took 69 days, but finally a juror in the Engelhardt-Shero case has spoken out.

    The barefoot, stylish lady who came to the door accompanied by her doting husband said it all came down to the victim's testimony.

    "I believed him," said the juror, who asked to remain anonymous after a reporter knocked on her door.

    And while "Billy Doe," the victim in the case, may have told a story where the details varied every time he told it, his behavior remained the same. And apparently, that was the consistency this juror was looking for.

    "His pattern never broke," the juror said of Billy Doe. "He started changing when he went to high school. He never broke his pattern of getting in trouble." And "his way of letting go of the pain" never varied either.

    It was always drugs.

    "When you're on drugs, a drug addict will tell you a lot of stories," she said. So this juror apparently gave Billy Doe a pass when his story changed every time he told it.

    Because he was a consistent drug addict.

    Go figure.

    The juror recalled the wild stories that Billy Doe told Louise Hagner, the social worker from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    To recap:

    -- Billy Doe told Hagner that one day after Mass, Father Charles Engelhardt locked all four doors of the sacristy, took off all his clothes, and anally raped the 10-year-old altar boy for five hours. Then the priest threatened to kill Billy if he told anybody.

    -- Billy Doe told Hagner that Father Edward Avery "punched him in the head" and when he woke up, the boy was naked and tied up with altar sashes.

    -- Billy Doe told Hagner that Bernard Shero punched him in the face and wrapped a seatbelt around his neck before raping him in the back seat of Shero's car.

    When Billy Doe retold all these stories to the police and the grand jury, all those crazy details mentioned above disappeared from his stories -- the five hours of anal sex with Father Engelhardt and the death threat from the priest; the punch in the head from Father Avery and that whole business about waking up naked and being tied up with altar sashes; and that punch in the face from Shero and the seatbelt wrapped around his neck.

    All of that stuff goes out the window, and this juror wound up feeling suspicious about Hagner.

    "She did not shred her notes," the juror said of Hagner.

    The social worker did testify that her usual pattern was to get rid of her notes, but she could not explain in this case why she varied from her usual pattern.

    To this juror, that inconsistency spoke volumes.

    "And then she lawyered up," the juror said about the social worker, who passed her notes about Billy on to the archdiocese's lawyers.

    As far as lawyering up, this juror was not upset by the presence of Billy Doe's civil lawyer in the courtroom almost every day, and Billy Doe's ongoing lawsuit seeking civil damages from the archdiocese.

    To this juror, it was all about the suffering the victim had endured after being attacked by three rapists at St. Jerome's Church.

    The juror's husband recalled the day his wife came home, and sat down at the kitchen table. As he watched, his wife bowed her head and began sobbing.

    Her husband said he figured it was another rough day at the Engelhardt-Shero trial.

    This juror, a mom herself, obviously has a big heart for kids.

    "No amount of money is going to give him the comfort he needs," she said of Billy Doe.

    The juror gave some insights into the trial. She spoke about the day the jury sent the judge a note asking what happened to Billy Doe's brother.

    Billy's older brother was an eighth-grade altar boy when Billy was a fifth-grade altar boy.

    The older brother gave a statement to detectives where he contradicted Billy on several key points. While Billy Doe had said Father Engelhardt first hit on him when he was putting the wine away after Communion, the older brother, who was also a church sexton, said it was the sexton's job to put away the wine after Mass, and not the altar boys.

    While Billy Doe had claimed Father Engelhardt locked all four doors of the sacristy after Mass when he raped Billy Doe, the older brother told detectives the doors to the sacristy usually remained open, including one door usually propped open by a chair.

    Michael J. McGovern, the defense lawyer for Father Engelhardt, had talked about the older brother's conflicting statement given to detectives. And then one day in court, McGovern asked loudly if the older brother had showed up to testify.

    The prosecution said the defense had not properly served the brother with a subpoena, and he was out of town on business.

    "It was a deal," the juror said of the missing brother. She did want to hear what he had to say. But she figured a lawyer could have many reasons for being out of town.

     The juror had nothing but praise for her fellow jurors. It was quite a varied group, she said, with people  from varied backgrounds. There were a few Catholics on the jury, and like her, a few non-Catholics. Although she has a daughter who goes to a Catholic high school.

    The juror said initially, the group split 9 to 3 for convictions, and then 10 to 2. The jury foreman for a time was a hold out, so was a social worker on the jury who was looking for more proof. But the rest of the jurors explained the incidents were so long ago it was impossible to come up with the proof that this juror was looking for.

    The jury was not interested in talking to the press. They were not tempted by the TV cameras waiting outside the Criminal Justice Center.

    "Not this group," she said with a smile. "They were flying out of here"

    "I think they were tired," she said of the 2 1/2-week trial that ended on Jan. 30. "It was quite a long trial. Every day was tense."

    Jurors were told to line up to go into the courtroom. They frequently had to wait outside the courtroom in a hallway. The smokers on the jury -- she wasn't one of them -- had to go across the street together on a break, with a formal escort, just to catch a puff.

     "It was like being in prison," she said.

    The wildest day of the trial was when Ed Avery showed up in court in an ill-fitting prison uniform to recant his guilty plea, and tell the prosecutor he never touched Billy Doe. He only did it because he was facing 20 years if convicted and the prosecution offered a sweetheart deal -- 2 1/2 to 5 years, Avery testified.

    "I think he was trying to plead his own case," she said of the defrocked priest.

    Did you believe him?

    "Naah," she said.

    This juror was impressed by the judge. She liked the lead prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti.

    "He did an awesome job," she said.

    This juror was not impressed by the two defense attorneys in the case, Michael J. McGovern and Burton A. Rose.

     "I didn't think they were good," she said. "I didn't like either one of them."

    When told that one alternate juror had said that she didn't think a Catholic priest could get a fair trial, this juror disagreed.

    "That's not so," she said. She didn't think the Catholic Church had a monopoly on sex abuse.

    "I think it happens in every denomination," she said. "I think you have to hear the evidence."

    Ah the evidence. There sure wasn't much in this case except for the victim's stories.

    But this juror bought Billy Doe. And so did the rest of the jury.

    "I don't have any doubts," she said about the convictions on nine of ten counts against the two defendants.

    "I know in my heart if I was innocent, and God knew I was innocent, I would not be convicted of a crime," she said.

    She seemed sincere.

    Tell it to the defendants.

    Ralph Cipriano has set up a special hot line for jurors at ralph@bigtrial.net


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    By George Anastasia

    For Bigtrial.net

    They met in a Dunkin’ Donuts near the beach in Boca Raton.

    Nicholas Stefanelli, a 60-something mobster from North Jersey, was full of propositions and ideas for “business” ventures.

    Joey Merlino, recently turned 50 and out of jail for about a year, was all ears.

    Merlino was looking for a fresh start in Florida, or so he said. Stefanelli had come recommended from a defense attorney in Newark who had worked on one of Joey’s cases. 

    They talked for about an hour. At first, Stefanelli focused on ideas for bars and restaurants, businesses he knew Joey was interested in. Money and backers were available, he said. They could make something happen, he promised. Then he steered the conversation to past events in the world in which they both operated.

    Stefanelli, known as “Nicky Skins,” was a soldier in the Gambino crime family.

    Merlino, who everyone knew as “Skinny Joey,” had been or was (depending on your frame of reference) the boss of the Philadelphia mob. He had just finished a 14-year stint in a federal prison. He had no desire to go back. So when Stefanelli started asking about some of the guys up north and talking about pending criminal cases, Merlino pulled back.


    There are certain things you don’t talk about, especially with someone you’ve just met.  

    “He  asked me about Joe (Ligambi, one of several prominent Philadelphia mob figures then awaiting trial on racketeering conspiracy charges),”  Merlino recalled. “I said he was a nice guy and I hoped he beat the case.”

    Then Stefanelli asked about Nicky Scarfo Jr., who was in federal prison awaiting trial on charges that he and an associate had looted a Texas-based mortgage company, siphoning out more than $12 million through bogus business deals and phony consulting contracts.

    “When he asked me about Scarfo, I said it was a shame what happened to that kid,” Merlino said. “I said his father (jailed mob boss Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, an unindicted co-conspirator in the fraud case) was going to get him 100 years … And I meant it.”

    The meeting at the Dunkin' Donuts was in December 2010. A year later, Merlino learned that Stefanelli was recording everything they said when they sat down over coffee that day.

    “The fuckin’ guy was wired,” Merlino said. “I got the tape. In fact, I got two from Joe Ligambi’s lawyer. He thought I had talked to the guy twice. But we had only met once."

    "There were two tapes because the guy was wearing two wires, one on his body and one in his watch," Merlino said. "He shoulda fuckin’ been electrocuted.  The feds sent him down here to set me up. I told him I’m legitimate. I don’t want nothing to do with any of that other stuff … What else could I say?”

    Merlino is sitting in a posh restaurant in the W Hotel on Beach Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, a short drive from the condo in Boca Raton where he has been living with his good friend and former South Philadelphia neighbor Donnie Petullo.

    For the first time since his release to a halfway house in Florida over a year ago, Merlino has agreed to talk publicly about himself, about where he is and what he hopes to do with the rest of his life.

    “It’s beautiful down here,” he says. “Great weather. No stress. People come here, they live to be 100.”

    At 51 (his birthday was in March) he is a little over halfway there. And it’s clear he hopes to make it the rest of the way.  He said repeatedly and emphatically during two days of interviews earlier this week that he has no intention of returning to Philadelphia.

    The only things he misses, he said, are his family – and by that he meant blood relatives like his mother Rita, his sister Natalie, and others still living in South Philadelphia – and the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day.

    He hardly mentioned the other Family, but that was like the 500-pound gorilla in the room during two days of interviews. Always circumspect and cautious, Merlino is savvy enough to know what to say and how to say it. He also is aware that a return to the streets of South Philadelphia and the clubs and restaurants where his mere presence caused a stir – “Joey’s in the room. It’s Merlino.” – would attract major law enforcement attention and ultimately lead to potential criminal problems.

    Joey's life as a wiseguy during the 1990s was Entourage in the Underworld. The popular HBO series about four young, good looking guys making it in the movie business and making it with every beautiful broad they came in contact with was not that much different from Merlino's days as Philadelphia's one and only celebrity wiseguy.

    Over lunch at Steak 954 – ironically a restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale's W Hotel by Stephen Starr, the iconic Philadelphia restaurateur -- Merlino did some quick math to explain how and why he has decided to turn his life in another direction.  By his own count, he has spent close to 19 years behind bars. If you add in the time he’s spent in halfway houses, the number is close to 20. That’s a big chunk of his adult life.

    He missed his daughters – both now teenagers – growing but says he wants to be around to see them go off to college. They and his wife live in North Jersey where the girls attend school. He didn’t want to disrupt that, but they’ve visited on holidays and spent about six weeks with him last summer.

    He’s working for an advertising agency, but looking to start his own business. He’s talked about restaurants, cafes, a Philly cheese streak shop -- "It's hard to get  rolls down here" -- and a cigar bar. Nothing yet, but everything is still in play. There's also talk about a book, a movie and a reality TV show.

    “Anybody can be an actor,” Merlino says at one point.

    “Look at Kim Kardashian,” adds Petullo. “What did she ever do?”

    Everyone at the table agrees that Kardashian has parlayed her physical attributes into a money-making career. Merlino doesn’t see any reason whey he can’t cash in as well. He may not have a big ass, but he's got a lot of other things going for him. The only stipulation, he said, is that whatever he does has to be legitimate.

    “This Stefanelli said he had plenty of investors and said we could do things,” Merlino said over a lunch of lobster bisque and a crab cake.  Then he rolled his eyes.

    “When I mentioned the cheese steak shop, he said we should franchise it. Call it Merlino’s and get investors," Merlino said. "He started talking about selling 10 or 12 franchises.  The 'Old’ Joey would have gone for that. But that’s not me now."

    “I’m not gonna sell something I don’t have," he said. "If I had opened a cheesesteak place and was in business and somebody wanted to talk about a franchise, then it’s legit. But I’m not gonna sell something that doesn’t exist.”

    That’s the 'New’ Joey.

    He still looks and sounds like the guy who was the John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue, the reputed mob boss who held Christmas parties for the homeless and gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving in the housing projects.

    He still has those same dark eyes that can shoot daggers and the quick, staccato delivery when he’s telling a story or asking a question. But if you take him at his word (and at this point there is no reason not to), he has a different perspective on life.

    He’s seen too much.

    He’s spent too much time in lockdown.

    He’s tired of living a regimented life where others control when you get up, when you eat and when the lights get turned off.

    Enough.

    He’s also ultra cautious.

    “Too many rats,” he said. “I want no part of that.”

    Nicky Skins Stefaneilli is a case in point.

    Skins had gotten jammed up in a drug case in Newark two years before he met with Merlino. And to get himself and his son out from under, he agreed to cooperate with the FBI. He had already recorded dozens of conversations in North Jersey, New York and Rhode Island when he headed to Florida.

    (Two Stefanelli tapes, but not the Merlino meeting, were played at Ligambi's trial earlier this year.)

    The idea was to get Joey to incriminate himself, to admit that he was still part of the crime family back in Philadelphia, to talk about the old days, maybe to brag or boast about how – and this is the fed's position not Merlino’s – he had gotten away with murder.

    Talk to anyone who has tracked the Philadelphia mob in the past 30 years and they'll tell you that Skinny Joey was involved in more than a dozen gangland shootings. They have tried, but failed, to link him to ten different murders.

    Even over a casual lunch, Merlino won’t go there.

    The racketeering case in 2001 that earned him a 14-year sentence, included a half dozen shootings. The jury found the charges “not proven.” Two years later he was tried in federal court in Newark for one of the same murders that was part of the racketeering case. While it seems mind boggling and counter-intuitive to a layman, the racketeering statutes permit what on the face appears to be double jeopardy. In any event, Merlino beat the murder rap in North Jersey as well.

    “Not guilty” said the jury.

    He’s is content to rest on those jury verdicts, offering very little else about the murder and mayhem that authorities allege he unleashed on the South Philadelphia underworld during the bloody 1990s, a period when, prosecutors alleged, the Merlino faction of the Philadelphia mob went to war with a faction headed by John Stanfa.

    “I was found not guilty,” Merlino said. “What else can I say?”

    Probably a lot more, but there’s very little chance anyone will ever get Merlino to open up.  Stefanelli, no doubt coached by his FBI handlers, was tap dancing around a volatile subject when he brought up the Scarfo name at  the Dunkin’ Donuts  meeting.

    There is a history between the Scarfos and the Merlinos.

    Joey’s father Salvatore “Chucky” Merlino was once the elder Scarfo’s top underworld associate and his underboss. But the volatile Scarfo had a fallen out with his one-time best friend and threatened to kill the entire Merlino clan.

    There is more to the story which when told in full sounds like an underworld soap opera. But that’s for another day. Just know that in law enforcement circles, the conventional wisdom is that Skinny Joey tried to settle accounts on Halloween Night, 1989.

    On that night,  Nicky Jr. was having dinner in  Dante&Luigi’s, a neighborhood restaurant located on the corner of 10th and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. The joint  had served up fine but inexpensive Italian dinners to three generations.

    In the fall of 1989, the Philadelphia mob was in disarray. The elder Scarfo, along with Chucky Merlino and a dozen others had been convicted of racketeering-murder charges and were serving lengthy federal prison sentences.  “Little Nicky” Scarfo,  a psychopathic mob boss, had driven the organization into the ground. During his bloody reign about 20 mob figures had been killed. With a dozen more behind bars, the organization, which never had more than 60 or 70 members, was in shambles.

    Scarfo was trying to maintain control from prison through his son, Nicky Jr. (While they called him Jr., in fact his name was Nicodemo Salvatore and his father was Nicodemo Domenic.)

    The younger Scarfo was dining on clams and spaghetti that night, one of his favorites. Two associates, his cousin John Parisi and another man, were eating with him. None of them noticed the guy with the trick-or-treat bag who walked into the restaurant and headed straight for their table. He was wearing a mask, but it was Halloween. It was only after he pulled the Mac-9 machine pistol out of the bag and opened fire that he attracted any attention.

    By then it was too late.

    Scarfo was hit six times. The gunman turned and headed for the door. As he walked out amid screaming customers who were ducking for cover, he dropped the gun.  A car pulled up. He got in and drove away.

    About a week earlier, a Philadelphia police officer had been killed in the line of duty. Some drug dealer with a gun had started firing. The cop was wearing a bullet proof vest, but one of the bullets came in on an angle and ripped into his rib cage from the side. A fraction of an inch one way or the other and the bullet would have hit the vest. Instead, it tore into his heart. The cop died.

    None of the bullets that hit Scarfo that night struck a vital organ. Less than a week after the shooting, he was released from the hospital.

    “Can you fuckin’ believe it?” a Philadelphia police officer said at the time. “He’s not wearing a vest. He gets hit six times. And he walks away. How’s that fair?”

    No one has ever been charged with the attempted murder of Nicky Scarfo Jr.

    But Joey Merlino has long been the prime suspect. Underworld informants have fingered him as the triggerman. One, in fact, told the FBI how Merlino had deliberately dropped the gun that night because he wanted to send a message to “Little Nicky” Scarfo, who was serving a 55-year sentence for racketeering at the time.

    The elder Scarfo loved gangster movies. One of his favorites, of course, was The Godfather. And one of his favorite scenes was the restaurant shooting where Michael Corleone settles the score after his father was shot and nearly killed. As Michael leaves the restaurant, he drops the gun.

    There was a purpose to the gunman doing the same thing at Dante&Luigi’s, or so the informant said.  Joey Merlino was settling a score that night. At least that’s the theory that law enforcement has been working on for the past twenty-five years.

    Scarfo Jr. never identified his shooter. But the New Jersey State Police have phone tapes in which he and his father, talking from prison, discuss the hit. On the tape, Little Nicky refers to Merlino as “a snake” and tells his son to “take him to dinner,” code, said investigators, for killing him.

     Over lunch down in Florida, Merlino said he was home the night of the Dante & Luigi shooting. He was under a court-ordered curfew imposed in an unrelated case and had to be in his house by 7 p.m. each night.

    He couldn’t have been the shooter, he said.  Hardly a solid alibi, but his position none-the-less.

    Several years later, word started to circulate in South Philadelphia that, from prison, Little Nicky had put a $500,000 contract out on Merlino’s life. When Joey was asked about this by TV reporter Dave Schratwieser, Joey calmly looked into the camera and in classic Merlino-style said, “Give me the half million dollars and I’ll shoot myself.”

    Merlino has been charged with, but never convicted, of nearly a dozen other shootings. The brother of a witness who was about to take the stand in a mob racketeering  trial, the ambush of a rival mob leader on a busy Philadelphia highway in the midst of the morning rush hour, the slaying of a mob capo who was balking about sending a monthly envelope filled with cash, the drive-by shooting of a video poker machine operator who had refused to pay a street tax.

     The list goes on and on. Even after he was arrested in 1999, authorities believe, Merlino continued to sign off on street violence. Three unsolved murders that occurred while he was in federal prison are also part of the murderous menu that the FBI and police homicide detectives believe Merlino served up in the Philadelphia underworld.

    Gambling, loansharking, extortion and robbery have landed him in jail for a big chunk of his life. But talk to any of the authorities who have been tracking him for the past twenty-five years and they’ll tell you Joey Merlino has literally gotten away with murder.

    Lunch is over and Merlino is sipping a cup of coffee at 954 Steak. It's a sunny afternoon. The restaurant windows face Beach Boulevard and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.

    Merlino is tan and fit and looking forward to his next visit to the gym. From his perspective, it doesn't matter what they say or think back in Philadelphia. Juries have been shown the evidence and heard the witnesses.

    Not proven. Not guilty.

    "What else can I say?" he asks.

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


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    It was poetic, but in a dark and frightening way.

    Kaboni Savage was trying to explain to an inmate in the cell adjacent to his how he felt about the drug case pending against him and the cooperating witnesses who were lining up to testify for the prosecution.

    “Tears of rage,” the violent North Philadelphia drug kingpin said.


    “I’m flooded … internally from’em. Almost drown myself every night man. Tears of rage cause these sons-of-bitches gonna pay, man! They gonna pay … They kids gonna pay. They momma gonna pay. I know you get tired of me saying it, man, but that’s the kind of conviction I got for this shit, man. I’m dedicated to their death, man.”


    This was in February 2004


    Savage was awaiting trial on drug charges that would eventually result in his conviction and a 30-year prison sentence. Dozens of his conversations -- angry, belligerent, vile and vindictive – were secretly recorded by the FBI and played at his 2005 drug trial.


    Now they’re being reprised, played for another jury that could determine whether Savage lives or dies. The “tears of rage” tape is one of nearly 100 conversations that have been played for the jury in Savage’s ongoing racketeering-murder trial in U.S. District Court. Most came from a listening device hidden in his prison cell.



    In its 11th week, the trial of Savage, 38, and three co-defendants has offered the jury a gritty, uncensored look at life in the Philadelphia drug underworld.

    The charges include 12 murders. Six victims were killed in a rowhouse firebombing allegedly ordered by Savage in Ocrtober 2004, several months after his tears of rage rant. The victims, two women and four children, were relatives of one of the witnesses against him.


    On another tape, he joked about how the feds should have provided “barbecue sauce” at the funerals of those “burnt bitches.”


    Defense attorneys for Savage, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted, have tried to put a damper on some of the more vitriolic rants of their client.


    In a motion filed last week they were able to block the introduction of two tapes and a portion of a third, arguing that the government was engaging in overkill.


    “Mr. Savage’s feelings toward cooperating witnesses have already been made abundantly clear to this jury through hours and hours of tape recordings,” argued William Purpura, one of Savage’s two court-appointed lawyers.


    Purpura and his co-counsel, Christian Hoey, argued that the excessive use of tapes that focused on the same topics should be barred because of the cumulative impact they could have on the jury. They also argued that the overuse was potentially prejudicial.


    “The government has cherry-picked the most prejudicial minutes of the recordings from thousands of hours available to them,” Purpura argued in his motion.


    Prosecutors countered by contending that the tapes showed “Savage’s intent, motive and consciousness of guilt.”


    Most of the tapes have been introduced with FBI Agent Kevin Lewis on the witness stand. Lewis and Philadelphia Police Detective Thomas Zielinski have spent the better part of the last decade building the cases against Savage. Lewis has been on and off the witness stand several times during the trial. He was back this week as more tapes were played.


    Savage has threatened to kill both investigators, according to transcripts of several tapes cited by the prosecution. He also lashed out at an unidentified captain at the FederalDetentionCenter, gleefully promising a particularly brutal end for the law enforcement official.


    “That captain, motherfucker, man,” Savage said in a conversation recorded on Dec. 12, 2004. “He gonna die a miserable death and I hope I’m there. I hope I’m the cause of that mother fucker. I’m gonna torture his ass. I’m gonna set him on fire. Alive. That’s what I wanna do to a nigga. I wanna set a nigga on fire alive. Watch him jump around like James fuckin’ Brown. Get a metal chair and some cuffs. Douse him with that gasoline. Set his ass on fire. Say welcome to hell, bitch …”


    Savage’s brutality – a police official once called him “pure evil” – has been part of the case from the start of the trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer flashed pictures of the firebombing victims on large television screens for the jury to see during his opening statement back in February.


    The photos were shown again when Eugene“Twin” Coleman took the stand. Coleman, a former drug-dealing associate of the Savage organization, choked back tears as photos of his mother, his infant, 15-month old son, two nephews, a niece and a cousin appeared on the large television screens set up at either end of the jury box.


    A second tape of Savage joking about barbecue sauce (one had already been played) was one of the conversations the defense unsuccessfully tried to block this week. It is just one of dozens in which, prosecutors contend, Savage’s cavalier cruelty is exhibited.


    In September 2004 he was heard talking about the daughter of another cooperating witness.


    “I gonna blow here little head off,” he said. “She like five.”


    On another tape, Savage again spoke of killing the children of cooperators.


    “Their kids gonna pay for making my kids cry,” he said. “I want to smack one of their four-year-old sons in the head with a bat … Straight up. I have dreams about killing their kids … Cutting their kids’ heads off.”

    Or blowing their heads off.

    "Open her head, wide open with 40s dumb-dumbs, man," Savage said of plans to use particularly lethal bullets to blow away the young daughter of another cooperator. "That's all I dream about."

    While the defense may claim that the conversations are the irrational and emotional rantings of a prisoner locked for months in solitary and while they may argue that the words were never going to lead to action, the prosecution has contended throughout the trial – through both tapes and the testimony of cooperating witnesses – that Savage knew just what he was doing and just what he was saying.


    Authorities allege that Savage made millions dealing flooding North Philadelphia with cocaine; that he lived well, and that he used murder and other threats of violence to control his business operations.


    On Nov. 13, 2004, a little more than a month after the firebombing that wiped out Eugene Coleman’s family, Savage was recorded talking philosophically about his life as a drug dealer.


    “I ain’t got no regrets for nothing I did,” he said in a five-minute conversation that was almost a soliloquy. “I ain’t complaining about my lifestyle.”


    From there he went on to talk about how he was able to put both his sister Kidada (a co-defendant in the trial) and his wife through school; about how his mother Barbara never had to work, and about how he bought his older sister a house.


    “Fruits of my labor,” he said proudly.


    “Been everywhere I wanted to go,” he said, boasting about a trip to California -- “Cali” – and laughing about how the prison guards at the Federal Detention Center could only dream about something like that.


    “These guards ain’t never gonna experience that,” he said.


    “They wanna be us. They just ain’t got the heart. They can’t stand this … They can’t. But trust me, then niggas ain’t never gonna know how it feel to go to a car dealer, say, `Give me that.’”


    “Niggas don’t know that feeling where you go buy what you want … That’s a hell of a feeling. For a young nigga to have …. Like, wake up in the morning, right. And say, `Damn, it’s hot as shit. Let’s go down to Wildwood and see my man. He got two jet skis.’ Man you need to get on these joints …. That fun.”


    Sex was also a part of the package.


    “Spend a dime on some bitches,” Savage said. “Twelve thousand…just to trick. That’s half these nigga’s salaries…You just spunt six months of their salary having fun. See what I’m saying. Like what kind of regrets can you have?


    “You drove the finest cars. You fucked the finest broads … And you shopped at the finest, fucking … clothing stores. Rodeo Drive. None of these guards been to
    Rodeo Drive
    . They don’t even know what the fuck that is.”


    From his isolated prison cell, a six-by-ten foot room with a sink and toilet and a slot in the door where meals arrived three times-a-day, Kaboni Savage talked about better times and the life he had lived.


    Drugs, money and murder, authorities said, were what that life was all about. But Savage offered a different perspective.


    “So I sit back in here and I ain’t got no regrets,” he said, ending the conversation the way it had begun. “Look at the watch. You pay fifty ($50,000) for a watch … These motherfuckers ain’t got fifty thousand houses or cars and you got this on your wrist.”


    No regrets.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net

    Look for an audio report of actual Kaboni Savage conversations (with transcripts as well). Appearing soon on bigtrial.net

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    The sentencing of Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, originally sentenced for Thursday, has been postponed until June 12.

    A clerk in Judge Ellen Ceisler's office said today that the sentencing most likely would be postponed, at the request of defense lawyers. Lawyers in the case say the date of the sentencing was moved to give them more time to study trial transcripts, which just arrived April 11.

    The trial ended Jan. 30, when jurors convicted Engelhardt and Shero on 9 of 10 counts for the repeated rapes of a victim identified in a 2011 grand jury report as Billy Doe.


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net



    Shortly before noon today jurors in the Kaboni Savage racketeering-murder trial once again heard  Savage promise to kill and maim "rats" and their family members, anybody, he said, who was associated with witnesses who were cooperating against him.

    "That's all I dream about...killing rats," Savage said on one of 10 secretly recorded conversations  played by the prosecution. "My dreams are contorted."

    On another, he cackled and said, "I want to smack one of their four-year-olds with a baseball bat."

    Jurors also heard him rant about how he wanted to tortured and burn a captain in the Federal Detention Center where he was being held and heard him describe how violence could prove to be a valuable asset on the streets.

    "You take a certain reputation and run it to the moon," he said.

    Minutes after the last tape was played, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, the lead prosecutor in the case, announced, "The United States of America rests."

    Eleven weeks in the making, the case against Savage, 38, and three co-defendants could be in the hands of the jury early next month. The defense is expected to take about a week presenting witnesses and evidence.

    Savage and two of his co-defendants face possible death sentences if convicted. 

    Judge R. Barclay Surrick recessed the trial today until Monday when the defense presentation will begin. Christian Hoey, one of Savage's two court-appointed lawyers, would not comment on whether his client would take the stand.

    Savage testified in his own defense at a 2005 federal drug trafficking trial. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The current case grew out of the same federal investigation. But this time the case focuses on 12 murders, 11 of which authorities say were ordered or carried out by Savage.

    The murders, authorities allege, were carried out to silence or intimidate potential witnesses and to eliminate rivals in the multi-million dollar cocaine trafficking operation Savage ran in North Philadelphia.

    Prior to hearing the tapes this morning, the jury heard autopsy reports on six of the murder victims, two women and four children killed in a firebombing authorities allege Savage ordered from prison.

    On one of the tapes played later, Savage is heard apparently making references to the firebombing, telling a fellow inmate, "Don't nobody want to be in the next house." On the same tape, he talked about how the event could help build a street reputation.

    The tapes came from a listening device hidden in Savage's prison cell. In all, during the 11-week trial, jurors heard about 300 secretly recorded conversations from prison bugs or from phone wiretaps. There was also testimony for dozens of witnesses, including Eugene Coleman, the one-time Savage associate whose family was killed in the Oct. 9, 2004, firebombing.

    Coleman's mother, his infant son, his step-sister, and two nephews and a niece between the ages of 10 and 15 were killed in the blaze.

    Another Savage associate, Lamont Lewis, testified during the trial that he and Robert Merritt firebombed the home of Marcella Coleman on orders from Savage. Those orders were relayed through Savage's sister, Kidada.

    Merritt, 31, Kidada Savage, 30, and Steven Northington, 41, are co-defendants in the case. Northington is charged with two other murders, but not the firebombing. He and Merritt face possible death sentences. Kidada Savage could face life in prison.

    The final tapes played for the jury today underscored the theme that the prosecution has presented throughout the trial. Authorities have used witnesses and Savage's own words to reinforce their depiction of the former boxer as a ruthless, uncaring drug kingpin who used fear, intimidation and murder to control his organization.

    Fire was a method he frequently referred to in his conversations, including one in which he threatened an unnamed captain at the Federal Detention Center with death, laughing about how he wanted to chain him to a chair and set him afire and how he wanted to watch him dance "like James fuckin' Brown."

    "Welcome to hell, bitch," Savage said he would tell the captain.

    The jury also heard other tapes where Savage referred to the firebombing. On one he said he, "I ain't sad they dead" of the victims, but quickly added, "I ain't killed them." Later in the same conversation, he said, "I can write my mom and tell her how much I love her. He (Coleman) can't never do that."

    And on another tape he joked about how authorities should have provided Coleman and others who attended the funerals "barbecue sauce" that could have been poured "on them burnt bitches."

    The final tape played for the jury was a poetic but frightening lament from Savage who described the "tears of rage" he felt each night for those who were cooperating and testifying against them.

    "I'm dedicated to their death," he said.

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

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Anthony Staino (left) and Gregory Pagano


    Mob leader Anthony Staino, awaiting sentencing for his conviction on two counts of extortion, decided to fold his cards and avoid a retrial on racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges still pending against him.

    Staino, 55, pleaded guilty to those remaining counts this afternoon during a hour-long hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno.

    "It just makes sense," said Gregory Pagano, Staino's lawyer, of his client's decision. "He wants to get this behind him and move on with his life."


    Staino, who has no criminal record, entered a so-called "open" plea to the racketeering conspiracy charge and to two gambling charges linked to his involvement in an illegal video poker machine operation.

    Without a stipulation between the prosecution and the defense on a plea deal, it will be up to Robreno to determine how much time Staino is to receive. Sentencing has been set for July 17.


    According to several individuals familiar with the sentencing guideline formula used in federal cases, Staino is facing about five years for the extortion convictions. His plea to the additional charges could add some time to his total sentence, but his decision to plead guilty and avoid trial would be a factor in his favor when the actual guidelines are established.

    Dressed in a green prison jump suit, Staino smiled and nodded hello to his lawyer and reporters as he was led in handcuffs into the 15th floor courtroom prior to the start of the hearing. During the proceeding he answered "Yes sir" and "no sir" to a series of questions posed by the judge and ultimately offered a "guilty" when asked how he pleaded to the three charges pending against him.

    In a telephone interview yesterday, Pagano said Staino had considered a guilty plea prior to the start of the trial last year, but he said prosecutors wanted Staino to plead guilty to all 29 counts he faced. In fact, a jury found him not guilty of 24 of those counts, most related to gambling and loansharking.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, one of the prosecutors in the case, said during the hearing that Staino was a capo in the crime family and a significant player in a organization that used the mob's reputation for violence to run its gambling and loansharking operations.

    In a conversation secretly recorded by an FBI agent posing as a corrupt gambler and financier, Staino described himself as the "CFO" of the crime family and a member of the organization's "board of directors."

    The tapes made by the FBI agent were considered the most damaging to Staino. The extortion convictions were linked to a loan he had made to the agent.

    The trial, which lasted nearly three months, resulted in a convoluted series of findings by the anonymously chosen jury. The jury deliberated for a staggering three weeks after 10 weeks of testimony and at one point Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, one of the prosecutors in the case, suggested that the panel was wandering "in the desert."

    In fact, the verdicts would suggest that the group had trouble discerning both the charges and the laws that applied. Of the 62 counts in the case, the jury delivered not guilty verdicts on 46 of the charges. The panel was hung -- undecided -- on 11 others. It delivered only five guilty verdicts.

    While defense attorneys claimed a major victory in what they had described as an poorly drafted and overcharged case, the defendants themselves have had little to celebrate.

    Only mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata has been able to walk away. The 71-year-old North Jersey mobster was found not guilty of racketeering conspiracy, the one central charge against all seven defendants.

    While mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, Damion Canalichio, 44, and Gary Battaglini, 51, beat many of the gambling charges they faced, all three were convicted of conspiracy and are to be sentenced next month.

    Massimino and Canalichio, a mob soldier with two prior convictions for drug dealing, could each face more than 10 years in prison.

    Mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, 73,  was found not guilty of five of the nine charges against him, but is scheduled to be retried on the racketeering conspiracy count, two gambling counts and an obstruction of justice count on which the jury hung. His nephew, mob leader George Borgesi, 50, was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced, but the jury also was hung on the racketeering conspiracy charge against him.

    Borgesi's lawyer is expected to file a motion seeking to have the remaining charge dropped, arguing that the not guilty verdicts on gambling and related charges undermine the broader conspiracy count.

    "What was the conspiracy if the jury found him not guilty of all the substantive counts?" an associate of Borgesi's asked recently.

    Like Ligambi, Borgesi and the other defandants are being held without bail.

    Staino's decision to plead guilty could result in a racketeering conspiracy trial in October that is literally and figuratively a "family" affair. Authorities have described Ligambi and Borgesi as leaders of the Philadelphia crime family.

    Borgesi was finishing a 14-year sentence for a 2001 racketeering conviction when he was indicted in the current case. He was considered the consigliere of the mob family headed by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

    Merlino, 51, who was also sentenced to 14 years, relocated to Florida after his release to a halfway house over a year ago. He has said he has no intention of returning to Philadelphia despite some law enforcement intelligence reports that continue to list him as the head of the crime family.

    Ligambi is considered the "acting boss" in those reports. Ligambi's sister is Borgesi's mother.

    Two minor defendants, Eric Espositio and Robert Ranieri, are scheduled to be tried along with Ligambi and Borgesi in October, but neither faces a racketeering conspiracy charge and several sources have said both are expected to enter guilty pleas and avoid trial.

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

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    In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

    Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

    Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

    The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

    The following is the first in our series of clips from the 2004 recordings. In this clip, Savage is discussing his inner rage with fellow inmate Dawud Bey.


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net


    They've heard him rant about killing witnesses and their families.

    They've listened as he's railed against law enforcement agents who were investigating him.

    And they've heard him wax philosophically and darkly -- "No witness, no crime" -- about dealing with the criminal justice system.

    But what the jury in the murder-racketeering trial of North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, 38, apparently won't hear is Savage from the witness stand. Defense attorneys indicated that neither Savage nor any of his three co-defendants are likely to take the stand as the 12-week old trial winds down.

    Savage's two court-appointed attorneys began calling witnesses this morning, but said that their client, who testified in his own defense in a 2005 drug trafficking trial, has opted not to take the stand this time.

    While the stakes were high in the drug trial -- Savage was convicted and is currently serving a 30-year sentence -- they are even higher in the current case. Savage and his three-codefendants, his sister, Kidada, 30, Robert Merritt, 31, and Stephen Northington, 40, face potential life sentences if convicted of any of the 12 homicides that were part of an indictment handed up four years ago.

    Savage, Merritt and Northington also could be sentenced to death based on the findings of the anonymously chosen jury.

    The homcides include the October 2004 firebombing of a North Philadelphia rowhouse in which two women and four children were killed. Authorities allege Savage ordered that arson from prison while awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges.

    The victims were family members of Eugene Coleman, a one-time Savage associate who had begun cooperating with authorities. Coleman testified at the 2005 drug trial and was a key witness in the current trial as well.

    The case has included testimony from several other key members of Savage's alleged cocaine distribution ring. The jury has also heard more than 300 secretly recorded conversations from FBI wiretaps or from electronic listening devices hidden in Savage's prison cell.

    The firebombing was described in detail by Lamont Lewis, another Savage associate who said that he and Merritt set the house ablaze. He testified that they were acting on Savage's orders and that Kidada had helped set the firebombing in motion.

    Lewis, a hulking, 37-year-old drug underworld enforcer, also testified about other murders he said he carried out on Savage's orders, including the killing of Carlton Brown, a drug rival.

    One of the first witnesses called by the defense today, Steven Robinson, 40, testified that he sold drugs for Lewis in North Philadelphia and said Lewis and Brown had long been at odds. His testimony was designed to support the defense contention that Lewis acted on his own, not on Savage's orders, when he killed in the drug underworld.

    Robinson, who has a plate in his head and a brace on his thigh, walked with a limp as he took the witness stand. He said he had been shot twice by Brown while dealing drugs in North Philadelphia, barely surviving the assassination attempts.

    The first shooting occurred in 1998, he said, shortly after he had completed a six-year prison sentence and returned to drug dealing.

    When asked how many bullets had pierced his body, Robinson replied, "I don't know a number, but it was a nice amount...more than 12."

    He said he was in a coma for three months and had to undergo extensive therapy to relearn how to walk. But once he recovered, he returned to his North Philadelphia neighborhood and began dealing drugs again.

    He said he worked for Lewis moving a street corner drug known as "sherm," a cigarette dipped in the liquid hallucinogen PCP. He said he was shot a second time by Brown. On that occasion, he was hit three times. After recovering, he said, he moved to Norristown and a short time later was visited by Lewis who told him. "You don't have to worry about that boy no more."

    Lewis has testified that he shot and killed Brown on Savage's orders because Brown had killed a drug dealer named "Pumpkin" who was a close friend of Savage's. The Brown murder is one of 12 listed in the case.

    The defense wrapped up its first day by calling Crystal Copeland, Kaboni Savage's longtime girlfriend, to the stand. The couple have a 13-year-old daughter named Siani.

    Copeland, who said she has a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Temple University, said she is a school teacher, but did not say where she taught. She said he has been with Savage since 1995, but acknowledge that since 1999 he had spent most of his time in jail.

    Her testimony was also designed to refute and undermined Lamont Lewis.

    Lewis had testified that he was called to the Savage family home on Darien Street by Kidada on Oct. 8, 2004, to take a phone call from prison from Kaboni Savage. That phone call, he said, set the arson in motion. Kidada, he said, later told him what her brother wanted him to do and showed him where Coleman's mother, Marcella, lived.

    Around 6 a.m. the next morning, Lewis said, he and Merritt tossed gas cans into the home, resulting in an explosion and fire that left the six people dead. He said neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the house.

    But Copeland testified that she was also in the home on the day Kaboni Savage called. She said Lewis spoke with him on the phone, and then left the house. She said Kidada did not have a conversation with Lewis, nor did Kidada leave the house any time later that day.

    While the defense has not offered an explanation for why Lewis would firebomb Coleman's home, it is attempting to raise questions about his version of the events leading to the arson.

    Copeland also testified about a June 2006 phone call that was played for the jury in which Savage appeared to reprimand and threaten her for going out to a party and to nightclubs while he was in jail. Copeland described the conversation as "playful" and said she never considered Savage's warnings about having her followed a real threat.

    "It was a playful call," she said. "It wasn't a serious conversation."

    She also dismissed other conversations, referred to during a prosecution cross-examination, in which Savage allegedly told her, "They would be reading your obituary in the paper" and "Your daughter would be wearing black" if she ever left him.

    Defense attorneys are expected to conclude their portion of the case today. Brief prosecution rebuttal testimony could come on Wednesday, setting the stage for closing arguments either later this week or, more likely, starting next Monday.

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











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    In this tape, Kaboni Savage is speaking to inmate Dawud Bey about his desire to light a prison guard captain on fire.

    About these tapes:

    In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

    Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

    Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

    The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

    0 0



    About these tapes:

    In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

    Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

    Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

    The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

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