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

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    By George Anastasia

    The defense and the prosecution both rested their cases today in the murder-racketeering trial of Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants, setting the stage for closing arguments to begin Monday in federal court in Philadelphia.

    Savage, 38, and two co-defendants, Robert Merritt, 31, and Steven Northington, 41, could be sentenced to death if convicted of any of the 12 homicides listed in the case. The fourth defendant, Savage's sister Kidada, 30, could be sentenced to life.

    The murders include the deaths of two women and four children killed in an October 2004 firebombing of a North Philadelphia rowhouse. The arson, authorities allege, was ordered by Kaboni Savage.

    The prosecution rested this afternoon after calling one rebuttal witness, FBI Agent Kevin Lewis. Lewis was called to the stand a half dozen times during the 12-week trial, usually to explain evidence gathered during the investigation or to introduce secretly recorded conversations that came from wiretaps or from listening devices.

    The anonymously chosen jury of nine women and three men (as well as six alternates) heard more than 300 conversations during the trial. Those were culled from nearly 20,000 recordings made during the decade-long investigation into the Savage drug organization.

    Lewis and Philadelphia Police Detective Thomas Zielinski spearheaded that probe. Savage was convicted of drug trafficking in 2005 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence. Authorities allege he ran a multi-million dollar cocaine distribution network that used fear, intimidation and murder to control a segment of the North Philadelphia drug underworld.

    Witness intimidation was a major tool used by Savage, prosecutors alleged during the trial.

    On one of the tapes he succinctly articulated his philosophy  -- "No witness. No crime."

    The firebombing was cited repeatedly during the trial at a prime example of Savage's heartless and cold-blooded approach to the business of drug dealing. The victims of that arson were family members of Eugene "Twin" Coleman, a Savage associate who had become a government witness.

    Authorities also allege that the murder of Tybius Flowers in March 2004 was part of that pattern of intimidation.

    Northington has been charged with that killing.

    Flowers, like Savage a boxer and drug dealer, was scheduled to testify for the District Attorney's Office in a homicide case against Savage when he was killed. Without its key witness, the DA's case collapsed. Savage was acquitted.

    Northington is charged with one other homicide, but not the firebombing.

    Kidada Savage is charged with arranging the arson by relaying messages from her imprisoned brother to Lamont Lewis, a drug dealer and underworld hitman who worked for the Savage organization. Merritt, Lewis's cousin, is charged with taking part in the firebombing.

    Lewis, 37, testified for the prosecution in the case under a plea deal in which he faces a sentence of 40 years to life. He said he recruited his cousin to help after Savage ordered the firebombing in a coded phone message from prison on Oct. 8, 2004.

    Lewis testified that Kidada Savage provided the specific details later that day and drove him past the Coleman rowhome on North Sixth Street. Lewis testified that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the home at the time they threw two gasoline cans into the house. The explosion set off the fire in which Coleman's mother, Marcella, his 15-month-old infant son and four others were killed.

    In an attempt to refute Lewis' testimony, Kidada Savage's lawyers called several witnesses who said they were in the home when the Oct. 8 phone call occurred. They testified that Kidada never spoke with Lewis and never left the home with him that day.

    Merritt, through his lawyer, has also denied involvement in the firebombing. In addition to Lewis' testimony, records of a police traffic stop in the early morning hours of Oct. 9 place Merritt and Lewis in a car together. The firebombing occur around 6 a.m., about two hours after that traffic stop.

    Testimony in the trial ended much as it had begun today with FBI Agent Kevin Lewis on the stand and the jury once again listening in on Kaboni Savage. Two of four tapes played -- like so many of the others played during the trial -- consisted of Savage ranting and railing against "rats," witnesses who were cooperating with the government.

    On one, recorded in the visitor's room of the Federal Detention Center in December 2004, two months after the firebombing, Kaboni Savage tells his sister Kidada (who had not been charged at that time and was free) to pass a message on to an associate about another cooperator.

    "Tell him to fuck him up," Savage said.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at 

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Since he became the district attorney's star witness, "Billy Doe" has had a remarkable run of good fortune in the criminal courts.

    The scene outside CJC after the Engelhardt-Shero Verdict

    The charges from two previous arrests in 2009 and 2010, both for retail theft, were dropped in 2010 after witnesses in both cases did not show up for court.

    On Jan. 7, 2011, a judge dismissed a charge of possession with intent to distribute narcotics, after ruling that police did not have probable cause on June 9, 2010 to stop Billy Doe on the street. When police searched Billy Doe, they found 56 bags of heroin in his shorts. However, the late Judge Adam Beloff ruled the heroin was inadmissible as evidence; the charges were dropped and the case dismissed.

    Billy Doe's most recent arrest, a simple drug possession case on Nov. 10, 2011, has been continued nine times in 18 months. During that time, Billy Doe appeared as a prosecution witness at two trials testifying against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    But now that the trials are over, and Billy Doe is done as a witness in the criminal courts, that last drug possession charge is about to disappear.

    On April 11, according to court records, Billy Doe pleaded no contest to the drug possession charge, and entered into an accelerated misdemeanor program [AMP]. If Billy Doe satisfactorily completes the requirements of AMP, possibly another drug rehab and/or fines, at a hearing set for May 23rd, that drug possession charge is scheduled to be expunged from Billy Doe's record.

    So while Billy Doe continues to be a lucky guy in the criminal courts, it's a bit of a mystery how he qualified for the AMP program.

    He's been arrested six times between 2008 and 2011, and he's previously bombed out of a similar program.

    Don't expect officials to shine any light on the mystery.

    As he has in the past, Brian McLaughlin, Billy Doe's criminal lawyer, did not return a request for comment.

    The district attorney's office, as they have for two months now, have continued to refuse to answer any questions from this reporter regarding Billy Doe.

    So we are left with what's said in the court records.

    Here's what we know about Billy Doe's previous enrollment in a program similar to AMP.

    Billy Doe's first arrest as an adult came on May 8, 2008, when he was 19. He was arrested in Northhampton Township, Bucks County, for possession of drug paraphernalia and an offensive weapon, namely brass knuckles. Billy Doe pleaded guilty on June 30, 2010 and was put on probation for a year under a program known as accelerated rehabilitative disposition [ARD].

    If Billy stayed clean for a year, under ARD, the charges from his 2008 arrest would have been expunged from Billy's record.

    But that's not what happened, because on Jan. 28, 2010, Billy Doe was in Graterford prison for a parole violation when Detective Andrew Snyder picked him up and drove to the district attorney's office to start the investigation into Billy Doe's charges that he was raped as an altar boy at St. Jerome's by three different predators.

    The court records do not say why Billy Doe was in Graterford. Maybe he got arrested again, or flunked a drug test. But instead of being expunged, those two charges from Billy Doe's 2008 arrest are still listed on his criminal record.

    Here's what the records have to say about Billy Doe's latest arrest, and it's convoluted passage through the court system.

    It began on Nov. 10, 2011, when Billy Doe was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with possession of a controlled substance. 

    On Nov. 30, 2011, Brian McLaughlin, Billy's lawyer, asked for a continuance because Billy was in a treatment center. At that time, Billy was listed as eligible for an accelerated misdemeanor program. The case was continued to Jan. 11, 2012, because Billy's lawyer said he was still in a treatment facility in Florida.

    The case was continued again to Feb. 8 , 2012, when, records show, Billy Doe's lawyer rejected the accelerated misdemeanor program [AMP]. The case was continued to a hearing on March 12, 2012, when a trial date was posted for April 23, 2012.

    But on April 23, 2012, Billy Doe's attorney got another continuance until June 22, 2012. On June 22, 2012, a judge granted another continuance because the defendant was in another drug rehab. On Sept. 12, 2012, the defense asked the court to continue the case because it supposedly needed further investigation.

    There was no objection from the Commonwealth.

    On Oct. 30, 2012, court was closed due to bad weather. On Dec. 7, 2012, Billy's lawyer asked for another continuance because now that Billy was living in Florida, he had changed his mind and wanted to get into that accelerated misdemeanor program.

    The case was rescheduled for Feb 12, 2013, after the judge granted another defense request for a continuance because the case needed -- you guessed it -- further investigation.

    On March 15, 2013, the judge granted another continuance until April 11, when Billy Doe pleaded no contest.

    Criminal lawyers familiar with AMP said they were surprised that anybody would get a second chance at the program after previously turning it down. 

    Billy Doe also got into a version of AMP that calls for the expunging of the charges against him, a program typically not available to somebody like Billy Doe who has a criminal record.

    So, in other words, the D.A. did Billy Doe a favor that he ordinarily would not be entitled to.

    If you're familiar with the details of this case, that's nothing new.

    There are several remaining questions from the D.A.'s latest example of favorable treatment for Billy Doe.

    Did the district attorney strike a deal with Billy Doe's lawyers prior to the two archdiocese trials where they would allow Billy's drug case to be continued time and time again until after the two archdiocese trials were over?

    It sure looks like it.

    That way Billy Doe would not have to answer any embarrassing questions on the witness stand about any deal he and his lawyers may have struck with the district attorney's office.

    Did Billy Doe's role as the D.A.'s star witness against the archdiocese have any effect on the D.A.'s decision to agree to the numerous continuances in Billy's drug case, as well as letting Billy Doe into AMP?

    We await answers from Silent Seth Williams.

    Sadly, no one else is pursuing him.

    In Philadelphia, with the exception of this blog, no other media outlet has shown any interest in either the shocking verdict in the Engelhardt-Shero case, or the lingering questions about the district attorney's prosecution of the church.

    The national media, to date, has also been absent from the discussion.

    So District Attorney Seth Williams has been able to escape answering any questions about a compromised investigation, a flawed grand jury report, and an unstable star witness whose allegations have been refuted by his own mother, his older brother, and the priests, nuns and teachers at St. Jerome's.
    Silent Seth

    But all of that, dear readers, is about to change.

    The National Catholic Reporter is about to publish a long story about the district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    You may know the author.

    All of which puts Silent Seth in a bit of a quandary.

    Stiffing a local blog is one thing; stiffing a respected national media outlet is another matter.

    Will the district attorney continue to stonewall, or will he finally have to answer some questions?

    Stay tuned.

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    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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    By Ralph Cipriano

    FCI-Ashland [Kentucky]

    While Vince Fumo continues to reside in a federal prison in Kentucky, his lawyers back home in Philadelphia are busy on two fronts.

    Tax lawyer Mark E. Cedrone has filed a challenge to the IRS's recent imposition of a "jeopardy assessment" against the former state senator for $2.9 million, a penalty that Cedrone describes in his challenge as "completely frivolous" and lacking "any reasonable basis whatsoever."

    Meanwhile, criminal appeals lawyer Peter Goldberger has filed a petition for a rehearing, asking all the judges on the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider a Feb. 4 opinion that vacated the restitution portion of a sentence previously imposed on Fumo by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

    At issue is whether Fumo should have to pay another $783,284 in restitution to the federal government.

    Fumo's lawyers maintain he's already paid back $3.8 million in restitution and fines to the feds; the prosecutors who put him away in 2009 on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice want Fumo to pony up another $783,284.

    A panel of three appeals court judges sided with the prosecutors, striking down Judge Buckwalter's previous order on restitution, and asking Buckwalter to take another crack at it.

    Goldberger wants all Third Circuit appeals court judges to reconsider the matter because, he argues, the panel of three judges who heard the case last December did not understand the facts of the case, in part because of a "misstatement of the facts" made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer. 

    Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Zauzmer
    Back on Nov. 14, 2011, when he re-sentenced Fumo, Judge Buckwalter decided that a total of $1.57 million owed in restitution to the Citizens Alliance For Better Neighborhoods [CABN] should be split equally between Fumo and Ruth Arnao, the former executive director of Citizens Alliance, at $783,284 each.

    The prosecutors in their appeal said that Buckwalter's 50-50 split on the CABN restitution amounted to an "abuse of discretion," and that Fumo should pay Arnao's share as well.

    In a 20-page petition filed April 19th, Goldberger singled out Assistant U.S. Attorney Zauzmer for making during oral arguments what Goldberger characterized as a "highly inaccurate expression" that is a "misstatement of the facts."

    Goldberger quotes Zauzmer as telling the appeals judges during oral arguments, "We're here to say that Mr. Fumo is the one who took all the money, received all the money ... The District Court [meaning Buckwalter] abused its discretion in letting him off from repaying to the victim half of what he personally took and put in his pocket."

    "To the contrary," Goldberger argues, "most of that benefit that accrued to him [Fumo] from the items that contribute to the CABN restitution amount ... was intangible and/or indirect. Very little went into his 'pocket' even metaphorically."

    Of that $1.57 million fraudulently stolen from the Citizens Alliance, Goldberger argues, the largest amount, $573,608, according to the government's own brief, went into capital improvements of an office building owned by CABN, plus the furnishing of Fumo's office.

    That $573,608 "cannot be fairly characterized as a gain that was pocketed in any sense," Goldberger wrote. The $573,608 includes $100,000 for a parking lot "that certainly went into no one's pocket,"Goldberger writes.

    The next largest amount of money taken from CABN was $364,825 spent on eight vehicles used by Fumo, Arnao, and other CABN staffers. Fumo may have driven one of the vehicles, Goldberger writes, but he did not pocket that money either.

    The next highest amount stolen from CABN was $250,000 spent on polling for Fumo's political campaigns. But that money was not a loss to Citizens Alliance because it was reimbursed by Fumo prior to his indictment, Goldberger writes.

    Goldberger argues that contrary to what Zauzmer argued, Arnao was a bigger beneficiary of CABN than Fumo was in at least in one category. As CABN's executive director, Arnao was paid an annual salary of $150,000, Goldberger writes, while Fumo wasn't paid a salary.

    When Arnao's salary was found to be part of the fraud committed by Fumo against the state senate, Goldberger writes, Arnao's salary was subsequently reimbursed to the state senate by Fumo, and not Arnao.

    It was the government's decision to assess Arnao's share of the $783,284 owed in restitution at the rate of $100 a month, Goldberger writes. Even though Arnao may be capable of paying more.

    The Appeals Court "seems to accept as true the practical fact that to the extent Mr. Fumo is finally ordered to make restitution, Ms. Arnao will not have to pay," Goldberger writes. "This is not because she cannot, but only because the government has chosen to exercise its power of collection against him and not her."

    In his petition, Goldberger defends Judge Buckwalter.

    "The panel should not suggest, through its opinion, that Judge Buckwalter acted in any way improperly in taking these factors into account," Goldberger writes. Judge Buckwalter had to look at "the big picture," Goldberger writes. Rather than an abuse of discretion, Goldberger says, Judge Buckwalter's decision on restitution amounted to a "painstaking exercise of discretion."

    The judge considered Arnao's salary, and Fumo's repayment of that salary, Goldberger writes.

    Furthermore, Goldberger writes, the appeals court chose to consider Fumo's net worth of $11 million back in 2009, "without acknowledging that his 'economic situation ... has materially deteriorated' since then." 

    On Nov. 14, 2011, when he re-sentenced Fumo, Judge Buckwalter increased the former state senator's jail term from 55 to 61 months. He also increased the restitution and fines levied against Fumo by $1.1 million, to $3.8 million.

    Striking down Judge Buckwalter's decision on restitution may be unconstitutional, Goldberger argues, because it would result in "a kind of increase in the maximum sentence that can only be based on a jury verdict."

    Regarding Fumo's problems with the IRS, the trouble started on March 21, when 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, amounted to a bill for a total of $2.9 million.

    In addition to the assessment, the IRS also served levies on several financial institutions, freezing Fumo's assets.
    Mark E. Cedrone

    In his challenge to the IRS delivered on April 17th to Ortiz, the acting area IRS director in Philadelphia, Cedrone refers to the jeopardy assessment as part of the IRS's "recent and  unjustified draconian actions taken against Senator Fumo."

    The IRS, according to Cedrone, "lacks any justification for the jeopardy assessment which, under the [IRS's] own policies, is to be employed sparingly and only in cases where the [IRS] possesses credible evidence suggesting that the taxpayer is 'designing' to place assets beyond the reach of the government."

    To justify the jeopardy assessment, the IRS relied upon a series of "alleged" cash transfers made by Fumo to his son, Vincent E. Fumo, II. The IRS "incorrectly states that Senator Fumo transferred $2.7 million to his son, a substantial portion of which represented cash gifts," Cedrone wrote. "This is simply not true. Although cash may have been transferred to joint accounts in which his son had an interest, or even possibly into an account titled only to his son, Senator Fumo never manifested donor intent."

    Instead, Fumo was going off to prison, so he gave his son power of attorney to manage his affairs. Of the money transferred from Fumo to his son, $1.7 million was paid to the federal government for fines and restitution levied against Fumo, Cedrone wrote.

    A jeopardy assessment is only supposed to be imposed when the taxpayer is planning "quickly to depart" from the U.S., or is "designing quickly to place his or her property beyond the reach of the government by removing it from the United States, by concealing it, by dissipating it, or by transferring it to other persons," Cedrone wrote.

    "None of the above conditions exist in this case," Cedrone writes. Fumo is in jail. He hasn't even been assessed yet at by the IRS as owing the government any additional monies. And Cedrone has argued in an interview that in his view, Fumo owes the IRS nothing.

    In Cedrone's view, the IRS shouldn't be going after Fumo before it's settled whether he owed the government anything or not.

    "This places the proverbial 'cart before the horse,'" Cedrone writes. "If a claim of prospective tax deficiency can justify invocation of a jeopardy assessment, the jeopardy process could then be employed in every case."

    Of eight properties owned by Fumo that were cited by the IRS as being sold or transferred between 2008 and 2012, on five of the properties Fumo is still listed among "joint tenants" along with either his son or his fiancee, along "with the right of survivorship."

    So if the IRS determines that Fumo owes them money, the agency can still go after the properties. "Senator Fumo did not put any asset beyond the reach of the Internal Revenue Service," Cedrone wrote. 

    When Fumo was hit with the jeopardy assessment, he was also handed a memo from the IRS that was supposed to be a "narrative" about Fumo's alleged evasive maneuvers involving the disposal of his properties and the supposed moves of substantial amounts of cash. 

    "The narrative suggests that Senator Fumo made the transfers," Cedrone writes. "This is an impossibility. Senator Fumo was incarcerated and did not have access to his bank accounts." 

    Cedrone said the IRS narrative relied on faulty information.

    "It is somewhat curious that the IRS would rely on information received from an unidentified and clearly incorrect source concerning the transfer of assets," Cedrone wrote. At the time, Fumo had plenty of reason to be moving assets because he was involved in paying the federal government $3.4 million in restitution.

    "In light of the above, it is not only unreasonable for the [IRS] to rely on the alleged transfers of cash detailed in the narrative in support of the jeopardy assessment, it is shameful," Cedrone wrote.

     In their narrative, the IRS said that Fumo transferred $920,000 in cash to his son's account, which the IRS said amounted to a taxable gift.

    But it wasn't a gift, Cedrone wrote, because, "What makes a transaction a gift is the intent of the donor."

    The transaction wasn't even made by Fumo. It was made by his son, Cedrone wrote, with the intention of paying his father's bills.

    In his challenge to the IRS, Cedrone includes a declaration from Fumo's son, which says:

    "To the extent that my father's funds made their way into an account in my name only, I would have received those funds only as his conduit and ultimately disbursed them on his behalf."

    "To the best of my knowledge and recollection, at no time during 2009 did I receive a gift from my father."

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    Judge M. Teresa Sarmina
    By Ralph Cipriano

    During the trial last year of Msgr. William J. Lynn, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington advised the jury to pay attention to the judge's instructions, and not be swayed by Lynn's "very skillful, very crafty, very well paid defense attorneys."

    Blessington's comments, as well as the judge's absence of admonishment, are among the more colorful issues being argued in more than 300 pages of appeals court documents filed in Superior Court.

    On April 12, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina filed a 235-page opinion, defending her handling of the 13-week trial that resulted in the June 22, 2012 conviction of Msgr. Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. The monsignor is now serving a three-to-six year prison term imposed by Judge Sarmina.

    In her opinion, Judge Sarmina defended the rhetorical excesses of the prosecutor, as well as her decision to let into the Lynn case 21 supplemental cases of previous sex abuse, dating back to 1948, two years before Lynn was born, to show a pattern of bad behavior in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    "The admissibility of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court," Judge Sarmina writes. "Evidence of 'other crimes, wrongs, or acts,' which is offered for a relavant purpose other than criminal character/propensity, is admissible so long as the probative value of such evidence outweighs its potential for prejudice."

    While defense lawyers had claimed the judge abused her powers of discretion, Judge Sarmina said she let in the 21 supplemental cases so that the jury could get inside Lynn's head.

    "In order for the jury to have returned a verdict on the EWOC [endangering the welfare of a child] and conspiracy charges against the defendant, the jury needed to gain insight into what the defendant knew and what he intended when he supervised Avery," the judge wrote. "This evidence, which was highly probative of the defendant's knowledge, motive and intent, outweighed its potential for prejudice."

    The judge used the outcome of the case to back her argument that she didn't get carried away.

    "Additionally, the fact that the jury acquitted the defendant on two of the three charges against him is an indication that the evidence did not stir such passion in the jury as to sweep them beyond a rational consideration of guilt or innocence," the judge wrote.

    Lynn's defense team had another viewpoint.

    On April 26th, defense lawyers Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis filed a 16-page supplemental brief, on top of their original 71-page appeal on April 16th, to refute what the judge had to say in her 235-page opinion.

    "The lower court devotes 160 pages of her opinion in an effort to justify the admission ... of criminal and immoral acts of 21 other priests, which the lower court claims shed light on [Lynn]'s knowledge, motive and intent when he supervised [Father Edward V.] Avery," the defense lawyers write.

    "Not only did the jury have to listen for 25 days to this parade of horribles, but this court is now faced with the same poison," the defense lawyers wrote. "It was not admissible or relevant then, and hopefully, will not distract this Court from the serious issues which need to be resolved."

    The defense lawyers say the 21 supplemental cases, which took up the vast majority of the trial, didn't have much to do with Msgr. Lynn, and shouldn't have been allowed in as evidence.

    "The jury was faced not with crimes or bad acts of [Lynn] but multiple acts of abuse by 21 other priests," the defense lawyers write. And the judge didn't share her overall plan to have the 21 cases provide telling insights about Lynn to the jury.

    "At no point did the trial court supply a concrete instruction that provided the jury with guidance as how to properly use the information about each specific abusive priest," the defense lawyers write. "Instead, this jury was faced with a wholesale dump of disgusting conduct by other priests over the course of 50 years which had absolutely no connection or relevance to [Lynn's] invovlement in the assignment of a single priest, Father Edward Avery, to Nazareth Hospital, with residence at St. Jerome's rectory, in late 1993."

    "The jurors were left to their own devices in determininig how to make sense of this highly inflammatory and prejucidical information, guidied by only a general and uninformative instruction provided by the trial court," the defense writes.

    Regarding the prosecutor, the defense in their original appeal had criticized Blessington for making "vitriolic, highly inflammatory, unsupported, and unprofessional" statements that deprived the monsignor of a fair trial.

    The judge didn't agree.

    "This claim is without merit," Judge Sarmina writes. She cites a case, Commonwealth v. Chmiel, that said "prosecutorial misconduct will not be found where comments were based on the evidence or proper references ... or were only oratorical flair."

    In her opinion, Judge Sarmina addressed defense objections about Blessington's labeling of Lynn and his defense team as "liars," and Blessington's characterization about the behavior of Lynn's lawyers as being "shameful" and "ridiculous."

    Truth is a defense, the judge argues.

    "The Commonwealth presented evidence of a handful of instances in which [Lynn] lied in an effort to proetect the reputation of priests within the Archdiocese," the judge wrote. In addition, the "Commonwealth presented evidence that the defendant was willing to lie to protect himself."

    Blessington's comments about the defense lawyers were no big deal, Sarmina argues.

    "A careful review of the record reveals that Assistant District Attorney Blessington did not directly refer to the defendant's attorneys as 'liars,'" the judge wrote. 

    As proof, the judge quotes what Blessington actually said. At the time, the prosecutor was trying to refute a defense argument that the prosecution was unfairly holding Msgr. Lynn responsible for not getting rid of predator priests, when only Cardinal Bevilacqua had that kind of power:

    "The argument was just so short on evidence, but it was real long ... on deception," Blessington said. "Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you when you listen to Her Honor's instruction on law, you are going to find that it is a blatant attempt to deceive you and misrepresent what the law is."

    Judge Sarmina didn't see a problem.

    "A prosecutor's argument that defense counsel attempted to fool the jury is not the type of statement that rises to the level of prosecutorial misconduct," Judge Sarmina wrote. In addition, "a mere reference to the fact that an attorney is well paid for his dservices does not have the "unvavoidable effect" of prejudicing a jury.

    "Very well paid attorneys "is not the type of statement that would cloud the jury's ability to weigh the evidence and objectively return a verdict," Sarmina wrote. In her opinion, the judge declares that the defense claim that Blessington's rhetoric deprived Lynn of a fair trial was "without merit.

    In her opinion, Judge Sarmina cites as facts elements of Billy Doe's story that were refuted by evidence gathered by detectives working on behalf of the district attorney's office. Sadly, none of this evidence was introduced during the Lynn trial, because the defense decided not to cross-examine Billy Doe.

    On page 18 of Judge Sarminia's opinion, it says, "Just before the spring of 1999, [Billy Doe] encountered Avery inside the church on a Friday afternoon while [Billy Doe] was doing bell maintenance, part of his duties as an altar server. Avery pulled the boy aside and told him "that he heard about my 'sessions' with Father Engelhardt and that ours were going to begin soon."

    Detectives were told by the church's longtime music director and one of Billy Doe's former teachers that Billy Doe did not serve as a member of the bell maintenance crew in fifth grade. Only eighth grade boys were big and strong enough to lift the heavy bells and other equipment, the music director and the teacher told detectives.

    As to where Judge Sarmina got the idea that putting away the bells was part of an altar boy's duties, I have no clue.

    The judge and defense lawyers also spar over Judge Sarmina's decision to up the ante if the defense decided it was going to cross-examine Billy Doe.

    "The trial court erred and abused its discretion and denied [Lynn] his right" to confront his accuser, the defense argued, by compelling the defendant to forego the cross-examination of [Billy Doe]."

    The risk the defense was worried about was Judge Sarmina allowing the prosecution to drag Avery back into court after his guilty plea, presumably wearing a jumpsuit. The defense was worried about the effect that would have on a jury.

    On the eve of the Lynn trial last year, Avery, Lynn's codefendant, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor, and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child.

    "The defendant argues that this Court violated his right of confrontation ... by compelling him to forgo cross-examination of [Billy Doe] because of the possibility that Avery's guilty pela would be introduced in rebuttal," the judge wrote. "This claim is without merit."

    To prove her point, the judge quoted this portion of the trial transcript:

    Judge Sarmina: "And so it's very possible that, depending, on your cross-examination, that I may allow the [Avery guilty] plea. .. And it may very well be that I order the Commonweath to have defendant or now convicted felon Avery be brought in to be cross-examined. So that there's no cross-examination issue. So I don't know which way I'll go."

    Defense Attorney Bergstrom: "How will I know? Will like a light go on or something?"

    Judge: "I want you to represent your client zealously."

    Bergstrom: "If I'm getting too close out, look out?"

    Judge Sarmina: "I want you to represent your client zealously as you have done ... And it may very well be that, in light of all that, that I tell the Commonwealth that if they want to bring that into evidence, that then they'll have to actually bring Avery in and present his -- he might be asked two questions, you know. Did you enter a guilty plea to molesting [Billy Doe]? Yes or no?"

    The judge has been criticized for not asking Avery when he pleaded guilty whether he actually did the deed. At the second archdiocese sex abuse trial, where Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero were tried and found guilty of raping Billy Doe, the prosecution did bring Avery in as a witness.

    And Avery, of course, told the prosecutor he didn't touch Billy Doe, he only agreed to plead guilty to something he didn't do because he was 69 years old, and looking at a sentence of more than 20 years in jail. Instead, Avery pleaded guilty and is serving a prison term of 2 1/2 to 5 years.

    The defense lawyers in the Lynn case, to their everlasting regret, decided not to cross-examine Billy Doe.

    Don't blame me for your strategic decisions, says Judge Sarmina.

    "The fact that cross-examining [Billy Doe] in a fashion that insinuated that [Billy Doe] had fabricated his sexual assault by Avery might have 'opened the door' to evidence that Avery had admitted to sexually abusing [Billy Doe] does not convert counsel's strategic decision into something that was compelled by this court," the judge wrote. "The defendant's lawyers chose not to cross-examine [Billy Doe], and therefore, this court never had to rule on this issue."

    In their supplemental brief, the defense lawyers take Judge Sarmina to task for not addressing their argument that Lynn was unfairly charged with endangering the welfare of a child [EWOC] under an old state law that did not apply to him.

    Lynn actually has a compelling argument here.

    In 2005, then District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a previous grand jury looked at the old EWOC law and declared that it didn't apply to Msgr. Lynn or Cardinal Bevilacqua, or any other member of the archdiocese hierarchy. Instead, the law applied to those who had direct contact with children, such as parents, guardians and teachers, the grand jury said.

    The district attorney then campaigned for a new EWOC law that included people who oversaw those in direct contact with children. During their campaign to pass the new law, the district attorney's office  admitted that if the law was changed, nothing could be done retroactively to indict archdiocese officials such as Lynn.

    And then a new district attorney, Seth Williams took office. The new D.A. and a new grand jury looked at the same old EWOC law and decided it did apply to Msgr. Lynn.

    Allison Khaskelis
    Lynn "was not a supervisor of children in general and [Billy Doe] specifically," the defense argues, so it was "far from clear whether [Lynn] had a legal duty to [Billy Doe], whom he did not know, that can be criminally punished by the EWOC statute."

    The defense was also upset that in her brief, Judge Sarmina stated as a fact that Lynn had "petitioned Cardinal Bevilacqua to allow [Father Ed] Avery to live at St. Jerome's."

    Lynn "merely indicated to the cardinal in a memorandum that Avery had expressed a preference for living at a rectory," the defense lawyers wrote. Lynn "simply served as a conduit of information between Avery and Cardinal Bevilacqua. The record is devoid of any indication that [Lynn] expressed any personal preference or plea to the cardinal on this matter."

    The defense lawyers in their supplemental brief, also say that Judge Sarmina misleadingly argued that Lynn was knowledgeable about "grooming" behavior of predator priests such as Avery.

    "The trial court misleadingly devotes much attention to [Lynn's] knowledge of the tendency of abusive priests in general and Avery in particular to 'groom' their victims," the defense lawyers write. "In fact, the trial court argues that [Billy Doe] and other unnamed minors were forseeable victims of Avery's, because of Avery's propensity to 'groom.'"

    "Signficiantly, the trial court fails to clarify that [Billy Doe] was not 'groomed,' the defense lawyers write. "During his April 25, 2012, trial tesimony, [Billy Doe] recounted a story of a violent and random attack by a priest [Avery] he barely knew. Avery certainly never befriended [Billy Doe]'s family or developed a connection to [Billy Doe] over a period of years as had been the case with" previous victims.

    "At no point did the Commonwealth provide any evidence, by way of an expert or otherwise, to meet its burden of proving that [Billy Doe]'s escalating attack was foreseeable," the defense lawyers write. "The trial court's description of this information is, most generously, an overeach from the evidence actually presented at trial."

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    By George Anastasia

    The question is at the heart of the prosecution's case against North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage.

    "How does he run from his own words,?" Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher asked a federal jury today as he detailed the case against Savage and three co-defendants in closing arguments at the 13-week old trial.

    Alternately methodical, articulate, impassioned and poignant, Gallagher laid out the case for more than five hours to a jury that could determine whether Savage and two of those co-defendants live or die. All three face potential death sentences in convicted of any of the 12 homicides that are part of the case.

    Savage, Gallagher argued, used a "scorched earth strategy" to control his drug empire and to silence witnesses who might cooperate against him.

    The trial included testimony from dozens of witnesses, including several former top associates of the drug lord. In addition, the anonymously chosen jury heard over 300 secretly recorded conversations in which Savage discussed his drug businesses and ranted about cooperators, threatening again and again to kill them and their families.

    Eight of the 12 murders listed in the case have been tied to witness intimidation, according to the prosecution. They include the October 2004 firebombing of a North Sixth Street row house in which two women and four children were killed. The victims were all family members of Eugene Coleman, a Savage associate who had begun cooperating.

    Those killed in that early morning blaze included Coleman's mother and his 15-month old son.

    The house, "a refuge from the drugs and violence of the neighborhood," Gallagher said in an impassioned opening to his lengthy argument, was "turned into an inferno" on Savage's orders.

    "He slaughtered the Coleman family to avenge the betrayal of one of his trusted associates," Gallagher told the jury. "Everything Eugene Coleman loved had to go."

    Gallagher, one of three prosecutors in the case, is expected to conclude his arguments when the trial resumes tomorrow. The jury will then hear from the four defense attorneys. A government rebuttal and the judge's charge on the law will complete the closing process. Jury deliberation could begin later this week.

    Gallagher effectively sprinkled snippets of Savage's own words into his detailed account of the case. The jury heard lengthier segments during the trial from conversations picked up on FBI wiretaps or from listening devices planted in Savage's prison cell.

    "I'll kill what they love," Savage said on one tape in which he plotted to murder family members of cooperators.

    "Without no witness, you ain't got no case," he said in another conversation that Gallagher said underscored his philosophy of witness intimidation and murder. "Without no fuckin' witness, there ain't no crime."

    Gallagher also pointed to a tape in which Savage, discussing two small children of another associate who became a witness, said he wanted to "kill both them little bastards...Hit them with a 12-gauge Mossberg."

    A Mossberg is a particularly lethal shotgun. 

    The tapes were gathered during a decade-long federal investigation into the Savage drug ring, an organization that authorities allege dumped hundreds of pounds of cocaine onto the streets of North Philadelphia between 1998 and 2005. Savage was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced in 30 years in prison in 2005.

    Savage, 38, is being tried along with his sister, Kidada, 30, Robert Merritt, 31, and Steven Northington, 41.

    Kidada Savage faces life in prison. She is charged with helping set up on the firebombing of the Coleman home on orders from her then imprisoned brother. Merritt is charged with throwing a gas can into the home. He could receive the death penalty.

    His cousin Lamont Lewis, 37, another top Savage associate, testified for the prosecution. Lewis said he recruited Merritt to take part in the arson. Lewis said he was acting on Kaboni Savage's orders relayed through Kidada Savage. But he insisted that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the home.

    Northington is charged with two other murders, including the killing of Tibius Flowers. Flowers, like Savage, was both a drug dealer and a professional boxer. He was killed the day before he was to testify for the District Attorney's Office in a homicide case against Savage in 2004.

    Without Flower's testimony, the case fell apart. Savage was acquitted.

    Savage, Gallagher told the jury, orchestrated crimes of vengeance and of hate. He controlled his drug operations by creating a "climate of fear" in which he and his associates thrived.

    And he talked about all of those things again and again on tapes recorded by the FBI and played at the trial.

    "It was Kaboni Savage in his own words, " Gallagher said. And it is, he prosecutor argued, proof behind a reasonable doubt of Savage's guilt.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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    NCR story can be read here

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Here are the questions from National Catholic Reporter that District Attorney Seth Williams declined to answer:

    1. At the plea bargain hearing of Edward V. Avery, why didn't the district attorney ask the former priest if he had raped Billy Doe?

    2. What is the district attorney's explanation for why he was able to charge Msgr. Lynn with endangering the welfare of a child [EWOC] when a previous district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and a previous grand jury, looked at the same state law and declared that Msgr. Lynn couldn't be charged with EWOC?

    "Stonewall" Williams
    3. Why did the district attorney deem Billy Doe a credible victim when he gave wildly varying accounts of the alleged rapes, and told a fantastic story about being raped by three different predators, without any corroborating witnesses or physical evidence? A story contradicted by Billy Doe's mother, his older brother, and priests, nuns and teachers from St. Jerome's?

    4. On Jan. 28, 2010, in the district attorney's office, the district attorney interviewed Billy Doe in the presence of his parents. Why were they permitted to sit in when it is the usual practice of both the district attorney's office and the Philadelphia Police Department to interview an adult complainant separately?

    5. Billy Doe said on the witness stand that it was the district attorney's office that referred  him to a civil attorney so that Billy Doe could sue the archdiocese for damages. Is he telling the truth? Did a member of the district attorney's office have a monetary interest in the outcome of the Engelhardt-Shero criminal trial?

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    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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    By George Anastasia

    Jurors deliberating the fate of cocaine kingpin Kaboni Savage heard 13 weeks of testimony that was full of murder and mayhem. The case featured 12 homicides, including a firebombing in which two women and four children were "cooked" alive, according to the prosecution.

    But what the panel of nine women and three men (in addition to six alternates) also got during the trial was an insider's view of the drug underworld, a seldom heard, first-person account delivered in bits and pieces by a series of government witnesses who did business on some of the meanest streets in the toughest neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia.

    "We were like the Black Mafia," said Eugene Coleman, one of several former Savage drug associates who testified against him.

    "He would supply the drugs and if there was any problems, he would have my back," said Lamont Lewis, a Savage hitman-turned-witness.

    "You need protection in the drug game," added Paul Daniels, another Savage associate who took the stand.

    The jury, which began deliberations today, heard from nearly a dozen former drug dealers who had cut deals with the government.

     While some of the particulars varied, they all told parts of the same story, a cold and brutal saga of death and destruction played out against the backdrop of what authorities say was a multi-million dollar cocaine distribution network. Prosecutors said Savage, 38, headed a drug ring that dumped hundreds of kilos of the deadly powder on the city during an eight-year period beginning in 1995.

    Christian Hoey, Savage's own court-appointed lawyer, conceded that his client was a drug dealer. (Savage was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 30 years in 2005 based on some of the same evidence introduced in the current case.) But in his closing arguments to the jury last week, Hoey argued that there was no criminal enterprise or Kaboni Savage Organization, as prosecutors alleged.

    Rather, he said, Savage and the witnesses who testified against him were all swimming in the same "shark tank" where one wrong move could result in your execution, where today's ally was tomorrow's enemy and where loyalty was a commodity like drugs that could be bought and sold, a product that usually went to the highest bidder.

    Savage (could there be a more appropriate surname for a man prosecutors have portrayed as a heatless and ruthless killer?) and two of his three co-defendants face potential death sentences if convicted of the murder charges that are part of the case.

    Eight of the 12 murders were tied to what the prosecution said was witness intimidation, Savage's "scorched earth" strategy of using violence to keep witnesses off the stand. On one of the hundreds to tapes played for the jury, Savage succinctly captured that philosophy: "No fuckin' witness, no case."

    Savage's words, picked up on wiretaps and on listening devices planted in his prison cell, helped paint the picture -- a self-portrait prosecutors would argue --- of a major player in the violent Philadelphia drug underworld.

    Whether on the streets or in prison, authorities argued, Savage was able to order hitman to carry out his wishes. Lewis and the late Kareem Bluntly were two of the deadliest.

    The prosecutors also argued that Savage used murder as a business tool, pointing to the almost inexplicable murder of Kenneth Lassiter in March 1998 as a prime example. Lassister died of a gunshot to the stomach at the corner of 8th and Butler in North Philadelphia.

    Minutes before he died, he had had the misfortune of bumping Savage's car with his own. "Less than a fender bender," a prosecutor said. But after a brief argument over "payment" for the damages, Savage pulled a gun and shot Lassister, a man he had never met, at point blank range.

    Cold blooded, to be sure, prosecutors argued. But also calculated. Authorities contend that the shooting had less to do with the fender bender than it did with life on the corner. Eighth and Butler was a notorious drug corner "owned" by Tybius Flower, a drug rival who, witnesses said, Savage "hated."

    By committing a murder on Flowers' corner, authorities said, Savage was able to shut down Flowers' drug dealing. A murder brought police and a police presence made drug dealing impossible. Eventually Flowers got his business back up and running, but he never forgot and that may have been one of the reasons he agreed to testify for the District Attorney's Office against Savage who was indicted for the Lassiter murder.

    "Kaboni hated Tibby," several witnesses testified.

    Both men were from North Philadelphia. Both had been professional boxers. Flowers' decision to cooperate, while in theory a violation of the code of the street, was viewed by many as an act of revenge for what Savage had done on his corner.

    Flowers declined a District Attorney's Office offer for protection. He stayed on the streets. And on March 1, 2004, on the same 8th and Butler corner, he was shot 17 times. The shooting occurred just two days before Savage was to go on trial for murder.

    He was never worried. From his prison cell, he had taken care of business, witnesses said.

    "He told me he ain't sweating it (the trial for the Lassiter murder)," Lewis testified. "He said Tibby would never make it to court."

    Wtihout Flowers, the Lassiter case fell apart. Savage was acquitted of that murder in a two-day trial.

    Lewis, a hulking, tattooed assassin who is facing 40 years to life in prison under his cooperating agreement, admitted to eight murders that he said he carried out on Savage's orders.

    "I never questioned it," he said. "That's what I did for our team."

    By taking the stand, he violated the code that was captured on a tattoo scrawled across his abdomen: "Ride Or Die." Savage expected his associates to "ride" out any investigation. The alternative was death.

    Other tattoos that were part of the North Philadelphia drug underworld includes "MOB," which Lewis and others said stood for "Money Over Bitches." Several witnesses also sported "EAM" across their hand or arm. That was for "Erie Avenue Mob."

    Women and sex were also part of the life. When Lewis was questioned on cross-examination about a murder he had committed, it was suggested that the motive might have been a dispute over a woman that both he and the victim were "dating."

    He scoffed at the idea that he was dating the woman, acknowledged that both he and his victim had had sexual relations with her, but then added, that so had "about five other people in the neighborhood."

    Lewis also testified about how he and the victim had stopped at Condom Nation on South Street to pick up "products." The hapless victim, he said, thought Lewis was giving him a ride to his girlfriend's house. Minutes later, on a dark street in Southwest Philadelphia, Lewis said he shot the victim in the head.

    Coleman also told a skin-crawling sexual tale to the jury -- an underworld version of the "who's ben sleeping in my bed" fairy tale. While working for Savage, Coleman was living in an apartment Savage owned of Palmetto Street. But, he said, others also had access to the place.

    When asked to explain how he knew that, he cited an incident involving co-defendant Steven Northington. One day when he returned to the apartment, Coleman testified, "the bed sheets were full of crabs."

    Norhington, he said, admitted he had brought a woman to the apartment for sex.

    "That's that dirty broad I had brought to the apartment," he said Northington told him, adding that Northington "helped me buy another bed."

    Lewis also told of another murder that he carried for a paraplegic drug dealer who had been assaulted by his girlfriend.  The girlfriend, Lewis said, was trying to extort the drug dealer. At one point, he cut him "a hundred times" with a razor and then threw bleach on the cuts. The dealer wanted her dead and paid Lewis to kill her.

    He wanted her shot in the face. Lewis said that's what he did.

    Lewis' victims included the family of Eugene Coleman, killed in the 2004 firebombing and drug dealers Carlton Brown and Barry Parker. The firebombing was an attempt to silence Coleman and/or a back pay for his disloyalty.

    Brown had killed a friend of Savage's and his murder was revenge. Parker was dealing drugs on a corner that Steven Northington controlled. Parker's murder was business.

    "This is what we do, we handle our business," Savage told associates after Parker was killed.

    The business of drug dealing was a big part of the trial testimony. Jurors heard how dealers would "pump" a corner by giving away free drugs for a day or two. This was a way to attract business and establish a reputation.

    They also heard how Savage routinely diluted his cocaine, using high-pressure compression machines to pack and seal kilogram bricks of powder for sale after they had been diluted.

    The math was simple. Savage was buying cocaine in bulk, authorities said, 10 or 20 kilograms at a time. A kilogram usually sold for about $24,000 and, depending on the market, Savage could resell it on the streets for a profit of from $500 to $3,000 per kilogram.

    But he discovered a way to enhance his profit margin by diluting the kilograms and recompressing the bricks. According to testimony, Savage and his associates would take 125 grams out of a kilogram (1,000 grams) and replace it with a powdery substance known as "cut."  By doing this, seven kilograms could be cut and repackaged as eight kilograms. That eighth kilogram, sold at a market price of from $25,000 to $28,000, was pure profit.

    Savage balked and threatened to kill suppliers who were cutting the product they were selling to him, but he had no problems making the recompression process part of his network, prosecutors allege.

    "It's only cheating if you get caught," he told an associate.

    Mansur Abdullah, 22, another associate, was killed because he had learned of the recompression process and was trying to do it on his own. Coleman, in detailed testimony, told the jury how Abdullah had been paid $25,000 for a kilogram of cocaine that he delivered to Savage's home on North Darien Street.

    The money was in a red box that had once contained a new pair of sneakers, Coleman said. Abduillah left the house with Kareem Bluntly. A short time later, Savage got a phone called and directed Coleman to drive to a location and pick Bluntly up. When he arrived, Coleman said, Bluntly was carrying the red sneaker box full of cash.

    At that point, Coleman said, he knew Abdullah was dead.

    Coleman said Bluntly also killed Tyrone Tolliver in an apartment where Coleman was living and compressing drugs for Savage. Tolliver was killed, Coleman said, because Savage suspected he was cooperating.

    Coleman described Tolliver as one of his best friends and said he had no idea he was going to be killed. Nevertheless, he said, he helped dispose of the body and clean up the apartment after the shooting.

    "That was my friend and they killed him right in front of me," Coleman said quietly from the witness stand while admitting that he lied to Tolliver's family and kept silent about the murder when the FBI first questioned him. Even after he began cooperating, he said, he hesitated in linking Savage to the murder, telling authorities it was Bluntly who killed Tolliver.

    "Kaboni could do more damage than Bree," Coleman said in a comment that was even more disturbing to a jury that had already heard about the firebombing..

    Those who testified against Savage risked not only their lives, but the lives of their loved ones, prosecutors argued throughout the trial.

    Tolliver lost his life. Coleman survived, but paid a staggering price for cooperating. His mother, his 15-month old son, his step-sister, two nephews, aged 15 and 12, and a niece, aged 10, were killed in the firebombing.

    "Everything Eugene Coleman loved had to go," Assistant U.S. Attorney John  Gallagher told the jury in a seven-hour summation that outlined the case.

    Hoey, in his closing arguments, tried to separate his client from the violence, arguing that the witnesses had blamed Savage for many of their own criminal acts.

    The prosecution's case, Hoey said, came from "corrupt and polluted sources." The government's witnesses, he argued, "put their hand on that Bible, looked you in the eye and lied to your face."
    They all operated in a "shark tank," he said, "diving in, getting what they could and getting out."

    If the jury returns with guilty verdicts, there will be a death penalty phase in the trial, setting up the possibility that the case will continue for the rest of the month. And also setting up the possibility that even more details about life in the drug underworld will be made public.

    George Anastasia can be contacted as

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  • 05/07/13--06:16: Bigtrial On The Big Talker
  • Listen to the May 6 radio interview between Ralph Cipriano and Rich Zeoli here:

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Judge Buckwalter
    For a third time in the past five years, the case of the United States of America v. Vincent J. Fumo may be headed back to the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

    Buckwalter is the judge who back in 2009 originally sentenced Fumo to 55 months in jail and ordered him to pay $2.7 million in fines and restitution after a federal jury convicted the former state senator on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

    But then the government filed two successful appeals with the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

    First, the government successfully appealed Judge Buckwalter's original jail sentence of 55 months, and the Third Circuit sent Fumo back to Judge Buckwalter for re-sentencing. On Nov. 14, 2011, Judge Buckwalter added 6 months to Fumo's jail sentence, and boosted the amount of restitution Fumo had to pay by $1.1 million.

    All told, Fumo was sent to jail for 61 months, and ordered to pay the government $3.8 million.

    Next, the feds appealed Judge Buckwalter's restitution order, seeking to extract from Fumo an additional $783,284. In February, that second appeal to a three-judge panel of Third Circuit Court of Appeals judges was also successful.

    This time it was Fumo's chance to protest, and he lost.

    In a decision reached this week, the Third Circuit judges dealt Fumo yet another defeat, denying a request from the defendant's lawyers to grant a rehearing before all 15 Third Circuit appeals judges on the matter of restitution.

    So unless Fumo's defense lawyers petition the state Supreme Court for a hearing, and have a sudden reversal of fortune, the issue of how much more Fumo should pay in restitution will probably be decided at a future hearing presided over by Judge Buckwalter.

    In a May 6 decision, Senior Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote that Fumo's request for a rehearing on restitution had been submitted to all 15 judges on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and that a majority of the judges had voted against the request.

    The exact vote was not divulged. Instead, Cowen, writing on behalf of all 15 appeals court judges, wrote that the defense request for a rehearing "is hereby denied."

    Fumo turned 70 on Wednesday at the federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, where he has been held since 2009. Fumo's appeals lawyer, Peter Goldberger, declined comment on what his client's next move would be.

    In their original decision on restitution, the Third Circuit appeals court judges made it clear that they wanted Judge Buckwalter to raise the amount of restitution imposed on Fumo, and to decrease the amount of restitution imposed on Ruth Arnao, Fumo's co-defendant.

    At issue is $1.5 million stolen from the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods [CABN], and how much Fumo and Arnao should each have to pay back to the government.

    The appeals court judges wrote that that Judge Buckwalter would be abusing his discretion "yet again" if he failed to "order Fumo to pay all of the Citizens Alliance restitution" or "at the very least ... apportion Fumo's share of the restitution in such a way as to reflect the clearly disproportionate culpability and economic circumstances of the two co-defendants."

    According to pre-senence reports, Fumo was worth $11.3 million, and Arnao, the former executive director of CABN, $1.5 million.

    "Although clearly not destitute," Cowen said at the time, "Arnao was obviously much less well off than her multimillionaire co-defendant. He [Fumo] clearly possesses the means to pay the remaining share of the Citizens Alliance apportioned to Arnao by the district court" and could "do so immediately."

    Fumo's lawyers, however, say Fumo is no longer worth $11.3 million, after paying $3.8 million in restitution, and nearly $4 million in legal fees. In addition, the IRS had served Fumo in prison with a bill for $2.9 million.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Bill Donohue
    The Catholic League has asked a state disciplinary board to investigate whether any member of the district attorney's office has a financial interest in Billy Doe's civil suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, sent a May 9th letter seeking an investigation to Anthony P. Sodroski, Disciplinary Counsel-in-Charge of the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court.

    In the letter, which he released to the press, Donohue stated, "What needs to be settled is whether someone from the office of D.A. Seth Williams will be receiving a referral fee for his work in connection with the 'Billy Doe' civil suit" against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia."

    "You should know that we are pursuing other avenues of redress in this case," Donohue wrote Sodroski. "Never in my 20 years as president of the Catholic League have I seen a more egregious series of legal misconduct stemming from one case. All I am asking from you is cooperation in this particular matter."

    A spokesman for the Disciplinary Board said it's office policy not to confirm or deny whether a complaint has been received.

    The issue of whether someone in the district attorney's office may be receiving a referral fee for Billy Doe's civil suit against the archdiocese was first raised on Jan. 16th during the trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.

    On cross-examination, Michael J. McGovern, attorney for Father Engelhardt, asked Billy Doe about who had lined him up with the civil attorney who filed the suit against the archdiocese.

    "His name was given to us," Billy Doe replied.

    "By another attorney?" McGovern asked.

    "By the D.A.'s office," Billy Doe said.

    "Who in the D.A.'s office gave you the name of a civil lawyer?" McGovern asked.

    "I don't know," Doe replied. "It wasn't given to me."

    "Who was it given to, your mom?"

    "My parents," Doe said.

    "Is it one of the prosecutors here?" McGovern asked.

    "I cannot tell you," Doe replied. "It was not handed to me."

    The D.A.'s office has repeatedly declined comment on the matter.

    In a voice mail, Doe's civil lawyer said, "The D.A. had nothing to do" with the referral, and that it came from another lawyer who did not respond to a request for comment.

    Samuel C. Stretton is a lawyer with offices in West Chester and Philadelphia who, over the past 30 years, has represented hundreds of lawyers in disciplinary proceedings; he also writes regularly on the subject of legal ethics.

    "It's not wrong [for a district attorney] to suggest going to see a civil attorney," Stretton said. "It's not wrong to even suggest the names of multiple attorneys, Stretton said, although the best thing to do would have been for the district attorney to refer the victim to the local bar association.

    "But if the district attorney got a referral fee that would be totally wrong," Stretton said. "Then you've got a vested interest in getting a conviction and you can no longer be the minister of justice that you're supposed to be."

    The Catholic League, which bills itself as the "world's largest Catholic civil rights organization," has expressed an interest in the Engelhardt-Shero case, as well as the previous conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, and the plea bargain of former priest Edward V. Avery.

    All four men are in jail as the result of District Attorney Seth Williams's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

    Avery is serving 2 1/2 to 5 years after pleading guilty on March 22, 2012 to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child. The victim of both crimes was Billy Doe.

    Avery's guilty plea preceded the June 22, 2012 conviction of Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Doe. Lynn is now serving a 3 to 6 year sentence.

    Engelhardt and Shero are in jail pending sentencing June 12. Engelhardt is facing a maximum sentence of 37 years; Shero, 57. Both men were convicted of sexually abusing Billy Doe.

    "The Catholic League is not walking away from this issue," Donohue said in a statement released today. Donohue praised the "crackerjack reporting" on this blog, and said "the public has been kept in the dark on many aspects of what really happened to three Catholic priests and one Catholic layman. That is about to change. Stay tuned."

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    By George Anastasia

    Kaboni Savage, the cocaine kingpin who authorities said launched a reign of terror in the Philadelphia drug underworld, was convicted of 12 counts of murder in aid of racketeering today, including the 2004 firebombing arson in which two women and four children were killed.

    Savage, 38, showed no emotion as the jury forewoman read the verdicts late this afternoon. The jury reading was interrupted briefly when Savage's older sister, Concetta, screamed out in dismay.

    "Bullshit," she said after the guilty verdicts, one after another, began to mount. "Bullshit ... You're killing me ... That's my family." After resisting attempts to subdue her by other family members and federal marshals, she was led out of the courtroom.

    "I love you, man," she said as she finally agreed to leave.

    Savage, a former professional boxer, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a 2005 drug trafficking conviction. He could be sentenced to death in the current case. A penalty phase of the trial, before the same jury, is set to begin on May 20.

    Savage, his sister Kidada, 30, and co-defendant Steven Northington, 41, were convicted of murder in aid of racketeering. Robert Merritt, 31, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, but acquitted of six murder counts.

    Savage and Northington face potential death sentences and will be the defendants in the penalty phase trial. Kidada could be sentenced to life.

    The verdicts were announced to a packed courtroom that included dozens of federal officials. U.S. marshals lined the courtroom and stood behind each defendant. During the reading of the verdicts, which took about 20 minutes, Kidada Savage periodically put her head down on the table or had her hands clasped in front of her as she rested her forehead on them.

    She and her brother exchanged glances and nods, but appeared resigned to the outcome once the forewoman had read guilty verdicts to the initial racketeering conspiracy charge. The jury of nine women and three men, selected anonymously, had spent five days deliberating. They got the case late last Monday afternoon.

    Word that a verdict had been reached spread through the eighth floor of the federal courthouse shortly after 3 p.m. U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick took the verdict at 3:45. The jury sat solemnly at the forewoman announced the verdicts to each count. The jurors and most of the spectators sat transfixed during Concetta Savage's outburst, but the process of reading the verdicts continued once she was removed from the courtroom.

    Christian Hoey, Savage's court-appointed lawyer, declined to comment because of the pending death penalty hearing. The verdicts were announced at 3:45 p.m., capping a week of deliberations by the jury which had heard testimony for 13 weeks in the high profile case.

    Federal prosecutors also declined to comment.

    Savage was described by prosecutors as a drug kingpin who used murder to silence witnesses and to retaliate against associates who were cooperating against him. Eight of the 12 murders in the case were tied to witness intimidation.

    All four defendants were convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges, but the jury found Merritt not guilty of six separate murder charges tied to the firebombing. Merritt is already serving a 15-year sentence for an unrelated drug conviction.

    "It would seem like an inconsistent verdict," Will Spade, one of  Merritt's two court-appointed lawyers, said of the jury verdict. Merritt was only linked to the firebombing in the indictment and the jury found him not guilty of each of the six homicides that resulted from that arson.

    But it nevertheless found him guilty to racketeering conspiracy tied to the firebombing as part of the Savage drug organization.

    There was little question about any of the other verdicts.

    Kaboni Savage faced 16 criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, 12 counts of murder in aid of racketeering and related arson and witness retaliation counts. He was found guilty of all 16.

    Kidada Savage, who authorities said set the firebombing in motion, as charged with nine counts and was found guilty of all nine. Northington, described as a drug dealer and enforcer for the Savage organization,  was charged with racketeering conspiracy and two murder in aid of racketeering counts. He was convicted of all three.

    Northington was the only defendant not charged in the firebombing. He was convicted of participating in the murders of Tybius Flowers and  Barry Parker, two rival drug dealers killed on Kaboni Savage's orders.

    Flowers was killed just days before he was to testify against Savage in a murder case in Common Pleas Court. The Flowers murder in 2004 was ordered by Savage from prison as he awaited trial, authorities said, and was carried out by Northington.

    Targeted in a 10-year FBI investigation, Savage was described as "pure evil" by one high ranking Philadelphia Police official and as head of one of the most violent drug gangs in the Philadelphia underworld by a top federal prosecutor.

    The case was built around the testimony of nearly a dozen former associates and on nearly 300 secretly recorded conversations in which Savage discussed murdering witnesses and their families. (Several of those tapes can be listened to on

    The most egregious example of witness intimidation/retaliation, authorities said, was the firebombing of the North Sixth Street row house of Marcella Coleman, the mother of Eugene Coleman. Eugene Coleman was a Savage associate who had began cooperating with authorities.

    Coleman testified for the government in the 2005 drug trafficking trial and in the current case. The jury also heard from Lamont Lewis,, 37, a hitman and drug dealer who said he carried out the firebombing of the Coleman home on orders from Savage who was in prison at the time.

    Those orders were relayed through Kidada Savage, he said.

    Lewis said he recruited his cousin, Merritt, to help and that both he and Merritt threw gas cans into the house in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004. Marcella Coleman, her step-daughter and four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, died in the blaze. The children included Eugene Coleman's infant son.

    Members of both Coleman's family and Merritt's family -- many of whom had attended every day of the trial -- were present for the verdicts. None wished to comment. The Merritt family routinely joined hands in prayer in the eighth floor hallway during the trial.

    Lewis testified that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the home. He said when he confronted Kidada Savage, her response was "fuck'em."

    Among the tapes played for the jury were conversations, secretly picked up in Kaboni Savage's prison cell, in which he is heard cackling and laughing about the arson and telling another inmate that Coleman, who attended the funerals, should have been given some "barbecue sauce" to pour on those "burnt bitches."

    More tapes and more witness testimony are expected during the penalty phase when prosecutors argue that there are enough aggravating circumstances to justify the death penalty in the case. The jury must decide whether to sentence Savage and Northington to death or to life in prison.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has called for an investigation of the local district attorney's office. He wants to know if any prosecutor had a financial stake in the criminal convictions of three priests and a former Catholic school teacher.

    In response, the disciplinary board of the state Supreme Court has assigned disciplinary counsel Donna M. Snyder to investigate.

    Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter, the paper that led the way in exposing the national scandal of clerical sex abuse, has run an editorial questioning the credibility of the district attorney's star witness.

    Here's what NCR had to say about the witness responsible for putting three priests and a former teacher in jail: "The discrepancies between Billy Doe's accounts to the archdiocese and later to the grand jury are not minor, they are utterly different versions of reality."

    The bottom line of the NCR editorial: "Years of elaborate deceptions by Catholic leaders are hardly avenged if the response is more cunning deception by civil society." That's why NCR labeled the D.A.'s convictions, which may have relied on a phony plea bargain, "a shallow victory." The newspaper called on Seth Williams to answer the questions originally posed by this blog months ago, questions that the D.A. continues to stonewall.

    So we know where a couple of national institutions stand on the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    That leaves a puzzling question about two other local institutions.

    There's a prominent leader of a local Catholic organization who continues to publicly remain silent about the convictions of the three priests and the school teacher: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

    We're also wondering why The Philadelphia Inquirer, the city's paper of record, is snoozing through yet another news cycle involving the district attorney's flawed investigation, suspect star witness, and error-filled grand jury report.

    Thanks to another ploy by the Catholic League, the slumber should end on Monday.

    Chaput, as he has in the past, declined to talk to

    "While we appreciate the opportunity, the Archbishop will not be commenting on those convictions," Kenneth A. Gavin, the archdiocese's director of communications, wrote in an May 14 email.

    Back on March 23, I sent the archbishop an email outlining the case that the credibility of Billy Doe might be lacking. The next day, Francis X. Maier, special assistant to the archbishop, responded in an email by saying that Chaput was "grateful for the information. As was the case in Denver, the archbishop is committed to respecting and cooperating fully with law enforcement and the courts."

    "Nonetheless, the archdiocese does have concerns about what happened in these trials," Maier wrote. "The archdiocese is doing everything appropriate within the criminal and civil legal systems to seek a just resolution for all involved, with the guidance of good legal counsel ... I hope this helps. Have a blessed Holy Week."

    I'll say this about the archdiocese; they may stiff you, but they sure are polite. When you're getting stonewalled by the district attorney's office, his spokesperson doesn't even bother to respond. The end result, however, remains the same -- you wind up with no answers.

    Donohue, the outspoken president of the Catholic League, said Chaput knew the Catholic League was going to get involved in the controversy over the local D.A.'s prosecution of the archdiocese.

    "I didn't confer with him," Donohue said of Chaput, "I just told him, after we got together. I have been corresponding with him for years on all sorts of things -- he gets back faster than any bishop I've ever dealt with -- and his terseness on this issue speaks volumes. I'm sure he would love to talk, but simply can't."

    Archbishop Chaput has visited Msgr. Lynn in jail at least twice. Last July, Chaput stopped by the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia, to see Lynn, who at the time, was in protective custody. The archbishop met with Lynn for 90 minutes, but what they talked about was not divulged.

    "Their conversation was private," Gavin, a spokesman for the archbishop, said at the time.

    Chaput is not known to have any contact with Father Charles Engelhardt, one of the convicted priests. That makes sense because Engelhardt is a member of an independent order, the oblates of St. Francis, and reports to a different boss.

    Chaput, however, has met with Father James J. Brennan, the only defendant in the archdiocese prosecution to beat the rap. A jury hung on two charges last year against Father Brennan, including an 11-1 split for acquittal on the main charge against the priest, of attempted rape. Father Brennan is scheduled to be retried Oct. 21.

    Brennan's lawyer, however, William J. Brennan, no relation, was not happy with how the archbishop has treated his client.

    The archdiocese shelled out at least $75,000 a week for four lawyers to defend Msgr. Lynn during a trial that lasted 13 weeks, which would amount to $975,000 in legal fees. But the archdiocese refused to contribute a nickel toward Father Brennan's defense, his lawyer said.

    On the eve of trial, William Brennan says, he asked a lawyer who represents the archdiocese to get the archbishop to simply call Father Brennan on the eve of trial and "wish him well."

    Even though Father Brennan is "a fully ordained Roman Catholic priest who looks to the bishop as his spiritual father," William Brennan said, "that request was denied."

    William Brennan says he also doesn't understand why anyone from the archdiocese never inquired about either Brennan's perspective on last year's trial. If not out of compassion, how about from a "pragmatic standpoint," William Brennan said, because the archdiocese remains liable in a civil suit filed by Father Brennan's accuser, Mark Bukowski.

    The archdiocese is treating another one of his clients the same way, William Brennan said. He was speaking of Father Andrew McCormack, a suspended priest accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in 1997.

    William Brennan says he remains puzzled "why the archdiocese freezes out ordained priests in cases with sole accusers, where the accusers have a lot of bad baggage and shaky stories."

    The lawyer said he would continue to aggressively represent both clients, whom, he said, are both still presumed innocent.

    Meanwhile, the Inquirer, which has refrained from reporting on the controversy over the D.A.'s prosecution of the church, is about to be drawn into it anyway.

    This week, the Catholic League tried to get a two-page ad published in the Inquirer that would have run Monday, May 20th, an ad that would have drawn public attention to the D.A.'s flawed prosecution of the Philadelphia archdiocese. That ad would have cost $58,000, but the newspaper refused to publish it.

    William K. Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, did not respond to a request for comment.

    Donohue says he will have plenty to say about the subject of censorship on Monday, when he talks to reporters.

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  • 05/20/13--06:49: Banned By The Inky

  • Here's the full text of the two-page $58,000 ad submitted by the Catholic League last week that was turned down for publication by the Inquirer:


    One of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice ever witnessed has been taking place right before us in Philadelphia. Three Catholic priests, and one Catholic layman, have been railroaded by an ambitious D.A. That the media have failed to report fully and accurately on this story is also a disgrace. But it is not too late to set the record straight. It may even provoke a second look at what really happened.

    On March 22, 2012, Edward Avery, a former priest who had a record of sexual abuse, pleaded guilty to abusing “Billy Doe” and was sent to prison. On January 17, 2013, he appeared in court as a witness and was asked, “Did you do it?” He said he never touched “Doe.” So why did he plead guilty? Because he and his lawyers were convinced that if he was found guilty, he was facing more than 20 years in prison; he was offered a plea bargain on the eve of his trial, and he took it. Thus, his sentence was reduced to a maximum of five years, and at age 69, that matters.

    This was the first time Avery was asked by the District Attorney’s prosecutors whether he committed the crime. Why wasn’t he asked prior to this time? No one has offered an explanation.

    Avery had reason not to mess with Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. After all, she showed her bias when she made a patently false statement against the Catholic Church, and then after I called her out, she walked it back; defense attorneys followed through, asking her to recuse herself. She said she misspoke.

    Sarmina didn’t misspeak when Msgr. William Lynn was on trial for conspiracy: to show a pattern of misconduct, she allowed into evidence 21 cases of sexual abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born. She misspoke again on June 14, 2012 when she instructed the jury that Lynn did not have to act with criminal intent in order to be found guilty of conspiring to endanger the welfare of a child; the next day she reversed herself, confusing the jury. The jury found Lynn innocent of conspiracy but guilty of endangering the welfare of a child.

    Lynn’s alleged guilt is tied to Avery’s alleged crime. If Avery is innocent, so is Lynn. Moreover, so are Fr. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, both convicted of raping "Billy Doe"; they are in jail and will be sentenced June 12. The priest faces 37 years in prison, and Shero is looking at 57.

    How did we get to this stage? In the grand jury report of September 26, 2001, the grand jury was charged “to investigate the sexual abuse of minors by individuals associated with religious organizations and denominations.” The D.A. at the time was Lynne Abraham. After the second grand jury was convened, I decided to challenge her on how she initially reacted. On March 31, 2011, I sent her a letter in the overnight mail asking her to identify which “religious organizations and denominations” she pursued, other than the Roman Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, she did not reply: in other words, she cherry-picked the Catholic Church.

    No matter, in 2005, Abraham came up empty. She knew she couldn’t prosecute old cases, and that is why not a single priest was prosecuted. The big losers were the taxpayers—they got ripped off by having to fund this wild goose chase.

    In 2011, the new D.A., Seth Williams, tried to outdo Abraham. He set his sights on the hierarchy, hoping to nail a bishop. He failed. The best he could do was to get Msgr. Lynn, a top aide to Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua. Williams was assisted by the grand jury: it never once asked anyone from the Philadelphia Archdiocese Review Board, which polices these matters, to testify. Ana Maria Catanzaro, who chaired the panel, said she was “shocked at the sweeping statements that were made.” Indeed, there are more than 20 factual errors in the grand jury report, misrepresentations that have yet to be corrected.

    No one has explained why Williams could exploit the very same law found wanting by Abraham. How could it be that in 2005 when Abraham looked at the state statute for endangering the welfare of children, she concluded that Bevilacqua and Lynn could not be charged under that law, but Williams found the identical statute perfectly applicable in 2011?

    The key witnesses for Williams in the four cases—Avery, Lynn, Engelhardt and Shero—were the alleged victims, “Billy Doe” and Mark Bukowski.

    Bukowski went AWOL shortly after joining the Marines and got a less than honorable discharge. Arrested three times, he is known for deceiving law enforcement. His own mother has accused him of stealing from her husband. He testified before the grand jury that Fr. James Brennan attacked him when he was fully clothed at the age of 14. But then someone rewrote the grand jury testimony to say he was raped 11 times!

    It is not easy to see how this might have happened since he testified that neither of them was naked when the alleged rape took place. He also told the grand jury that Brennan exposed himself to him, but at the trial he said he wasn’t sure this happened. Furthermore, Bukowski recanted this accusation during an archdiocese inquiry.

    The jury was deadlocked on two charges against Brennan. Bukowski has been in prison for drugs, theft, identify theft, filing a false report, running a stop sign, and driving without a license. There will be a retrial.

    The real star witness is “Billy Doe.” D.A. Williams had been looking for a case that fell within the statute of limitations so he could prosecute Lynn for child endangerment, and now he struck gold. The hunger to get Lynn led prosecutors to accuse him of “supplying” Avery “with an endless amount of victims.” This monstrous charge—that Lynn operated a conveyor belt of boys readied to be molested—has never been substantiated. It is an outrageous lie.

    “Billy Doe” says it was the D.A.’s office that secured a civil attorney for him to sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If so, it raises serious questions about an attorney referenced by the D.A.’s office who stands  to make millions if his client prevails. I have asked the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to launch an investigation.

    Avery took a lie detector test and passed. Engelhardt also took a polygraph and passed. Engelhardt and Shero have no prior arrests. Now compare them to “Billy Doe.”

    “Billy Doe” has a long record of drug abuse, ranging from marijuana to LSD and heroin. He has been kicked out of two high schools, and has been arrested time and again for drugs and theft. Indeed, his revolving door lifestyle has subjected him to drug rehabilitation 23 times. He never stops: even after he became the number-one witness, he was arrested twice for drugs, including intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin.

    Whether it was due to drugs, or is just a reflection of who he is, is unclear, but we know one thing for sure: this guy has a real problem keeping his stories straight.

    “Billy Doe” says he was raped by Fr. Engelhardt. If this were true, his story would at least be consistent. It is not. He told an archdiocese social worker that the priest forced him to engage in oral sex, and then anally raped him for five straight hours. He told the D.A.’s office he had two encounters with the priest, both involving masturbation. He told the grand jury he had one session, and it involved oral sex. So which is it?

    According to his own brother, the rape couldn’t have happened since it allegedly took place in the sacristy at a time when several other males were going in and out. Indeed, the doors were open.

    When "Billy Doe" was asked about these stories during the trial, he said he was high on heroin when he spoke to the social worker and therefore couldn’t remember what he said to her. However, he managed to remember everything else that happened that day.

    "Billy Doe" told the grand jury that when he was a fifth grader, Fr. Avery pulled him aside while he was putting away some choir bells; Avery supposedly told him he was going to do to him what Fr. Engelhardt allegedly did. But the bell story is not believable. At the trial of Engelhardt and Shero, three teachers, including the music director, testified that only eighth grade boys were allowed to help the maintenance crew. That's because the bell cases weighed more than 30 pounds; Billy weighed only 63.

    More important, "Billy Doe" told the social worker that he was assaulted, and then anally raped—twice—by Fr. Avery; he said he “bled for a week.” But when he spoke to the police, he reported no violence: there was no punching and  no anal sex. He told Detective Andrew Snyder he was abused four times, but was never raped.

    “Billy Doe” said he was also raped by Shero. Predictably, he shifted his story three times. He gave the social worker two different locations where it allegedly took place, and then he came up with an even different location when he spoke to the cops. The details of what supposedly happened also kept evolving.

    After he was allegedly raped by Engelhardt and Avery, “Billy Doe” said he avoided them by switching Masses. But that contradicts what his own mother said: she kept a calendar of his activities, and her son's story doesn’t jive. The priests at the parish also refute “Billy Doe's” account.  

    The alleged rapes supposedly traumatized “Billy Doe” to such a degree that he said he began smoking pot at age 11, and experienced massive personality changes after being raped twice when he was 10, and once when he was 11. But his mother, a registered nurse, disputes this: She testified to a grand jury that there weren’t any personality changes until he was booted from a Catholic high school at age 14. By the way, he was kicked out for drugs and carrying brass knuckles.

    “Billy Doe” also claimed that he missed a lot of school after he was raped during the fourth quarter of the 1999-2000 school year. But his report card shows he was never absent.

    Lynn, Avery, Engelhardt and Shero are sitting in jail because of charges made by “Billy Doe"; the latter two will soon be sentenced. Besides the accuser's testimony, which is riddled with inconsistencies, there were nocorroborating witnesses or physical evidence to back his story. Furthermore, his account was contradicted by at least eight witnesses interviewed by detectives: priests, nuns, teachers, the music director, his former drug counselor, and his older brother. His mother’s understanding of events, as evidenced by the calendar she kept, also differs from his testimony, as do church records.

    Is it any wonder that the D.A.’s office was stunned when the jury found Father Engelhardt and Mr. Shero guilty? Why did Williams deem “Billy Doe” a credible witness when he was never vetted? Everyone knew he was saddled by so much baggage that he wouldn’t qualify for a ten cent loan. So why was he accepted to finger these men?

    Four Catholic men have been framed. The media have definitely dropped the ball on this story. But it is not too late to ask some tough questions. This colossal injustice cannot stand.

    [Note: The most authoritative account of what happened can be found at Ralph Cipriano’s blog,]  

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Bill Donhoue, president of the Catholic League, ripped The Philadelphia Inquirer today for not printing a $58,000 ad that would have called attention to the local district attorney's prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Donohue also ripped the Inky's news coverage.

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

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

    In a press release posted on the league's site, Donohue said the Inky refused to tell him why they decided not to run the ad.

    "The statement that I wrote was submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 14, 2013; it was to run as a two-page ad on May 20," Donohue wrote. "On May 15, were were told that a decision was made by those 'at the top' not to run it; when we asked for an explanation, were told there would be none."

    "By turning down the ad, the newspaper forfeited $58,000, not an insignificant sub, especially for a paper that filed for bankruptcy in 2009," Donohue wrote. "It suggests that those 'at the top' would rather forego the money before every disseminating a defense about the way three priests, and one Catholic layman, were treated in court."

    A spokesperson for the newspaper could not be reached.

    "One of the reasons why these Catholic men were treated so unjustly is the failure of the Philadelphia media, led by the Inquirer, to raise serious questions about what happened," Donohue wrote.

    Last week, William K. Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, did not respond to a request for comment.

    Donohue said the Inky hadn't heard the last of the Catholic League, or the controversy over the district attorney's prosecution of the archdiocese.

     "The Inquirer can stop us from running this statement as an ad in its newspaper, but it cannot stop us from blanketing the print and electronic media in Philadelphia and Harrisburg," Donohue said. "Nor can it stop us from getting it into the hands of every parish in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. We are also going national with this story."

    The headline of the proposed ad was, "Four Catholic Men Framed." In the text of the two-page ad, Donohue called the district attorney's prosecution of the church "one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice ever witnessed."

    In the ad, Donohue wrote that "three Catholic priests, and one Catholic layman, have been railroaded by an ambitious D.A. That the media have failed to report fully and accurately on this story is also a disgrace."

    Donohue also says in the ad that he has called for a state investigation of the district attorney's office:

    “Billy Doe” says it was the D.A.’s office that secured a civil attorney for him to sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If so, it raises serious questions about an attorney referenced by the D.A.’s office who stands  to make millions if his client prevails. I have asked the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to launch an investigation.

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    By George Anastasia

    Death by lethal injection or life in a "concrete box."

    That's what the future holds for Kaboni Savage, his lawyer told a federal jury today at the start of the capital punishment phase of Savage's racketeering-murder trial.

    In a low-key, but pointed opening statement, the lawyer, William Purpura, asked the jury to choose the box -- the concrete prison cell where Savage will spend the rest of his life.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, on the other hand, asked the jury to sentence Savage, 38, to death for orchestrating a series of murders, including one of the "most heinous crimes" ever committed in the Philadelphia underworld, a firebombing in which six innocent people -- two women and four children -- were killed.

    Capital punishment in federal cases, Troyer told the jury, is reserved for the most heinous crimes and the worst offenders.

    "This is that case," the prosecutor said.

    The anonymously chosen jury, which convicted Savage and three co-defendants of racketeering conspiracy and related murder charges last week, began the process of determining whether Savage will live on die in the same 8th floor courtroom where they heard testimony for more than 13 weeks.

    The penalty phase of the trial is expected to last for about two more weeks. First the jury will hear evidence and testimony on the capital punishment issue as it  relates to Savage. Then, in a second hearing, the jury will be asked to determine life or death for Stephen Northington, 41, a Savage hit man convicted of two other murders during the trial.

    Savage's sister, Kidada, 30, faces life in prison after being convicted of conspiracy and murder-in-aid-of-racketeering charges tied to the firebombing. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in her case.

    Robert Merritt, 32, could also be sentenced to life on racketeering conspiracy charges. The jury found him not guilty, however, of six murder counts tied to the firebombing, thus negating the need for a penalty phase hearing for him.  

    Dressed in a green prison jump suit, Savage said little during the first day of his life or death hearing. He sat for most of the day with his elbow propped on the defense table, his head resting on his closed fist. Occasionally he took some notes or conferred with Purpura and Christian Hoey, the two court-appointed lawyers who represented him.

    The former professional boxer is already serving a 30-year sentence for a 2005 conviction for drug trafficking. The only two options the jury has in the current case is life without parole or the death sentence.

    "Kaboni Savage will never set foot out of a maximum security prison," Purpura told the jury, predicting that if sentenced to life he would be returned to the maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, where he was serving his 30-year term.

    There, Purpura said, he will be housed in solitary confinement in a concrete cell where he will take all his meals and where he will have no interaction with any other inmates. He will be allowed out briefly for exercise in an area Purpura described as a "dog run" and will be permitted one phone call a month.

    "It's a terrible life," Purpura said, but it's the best option Savage has.

    The only issue, Purpura said, is whether Savage lives out the rest of his life in that 8-by-10 foot concrete box "until his Maker calls," or whether he dies at the hands of a federal executioner.

    Purpura said there was no justification for the violence that the jury heard about during the trial, but he urged the panel to end the "circle of violence" and spare Savage's life. He said the defense will attempt to present "the whole picture" of who Savage was, offering mitigating factors that would justify rejection the death sentence that prosecutors were seeking.

    That picture, which will come from testimony offered by neighbors and family members, will include an account of how Savage had to assume responsibility for his mother and two sisters after his father died of lung cancer when Savage was just 13 years old.

    At that point, Purpura said, he left school and headed for the drug underworld that was so much a part of the North Philadelphia neighborhood where he lived.

    "It's not an excuse," Purpura said. "There's nothing to justify the actions you heard about ... But it will give you a better picture of Kaboni Savage."

    Troyer argued, however, that the 13-week trial presented the jury with all it needed to vote for the death sentence. Under federal law, a jury must unanimously decide that a death penalty if warranted and must then vote unanimously to impose it.

    The penalty phase hearing, the prosecutor said, will include some additional evidence and also testimony from the family members of Savage's victims.

    Of the 12 murders, eight were tied to witness intimidation, including the firebombing in which the family of Eugene Coleman, an associate who had begun cooperating with authorities, was killed. Those were all aggravating factors that support a death sentence, Troyer said.

    "They were killed," Troyer said. "Slaughtered by Kaboni Savage only because they were related to Eugene Coleman."

    As they had during the trial, the prosecution showed pictures of the arson victims: Coleman's mother, Marcella; his step-sister Tamika Nash, his 15-month old son, two nephews, age 12 and 15, and a niece, age 10.

    All six perished in an inferno that engulfed their North Sixth Street home in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004. Savage was convicted of ordering the firebombing from his prison cell, a point that Troyer underlined in his opening.

    A jail cell is not enough to keep Savage was wreaking havoc, he said. Only a death sentence will stop him. Troyer backed up that argument with references to several tapes played for the jury during the trial, secretly recorded conversations from Savage's prison cell.

    On those tapes he ranted about killing "rats" and their families; joked about the firebombing, and promised to kill even more children and family members of cooperators. (Several of those tapes can be heard on

    "I'm gonna kill everything you love," Troyer quoted Savage in a conversation in which he threatened another former associate he suspected had turned government witness.

    On others, he promised to continue to murder "til the day I day," telling an associate, "the fight don't stop til the casket drops."

    Troyer urged the jury to deliver a sentence that would put Savage in that casket sooner rather than later.

    It was a sentence, he said, "that Kaboni Savage has earned."

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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    By George Anastasia

    The words were spoken in a soft and loving voice.

    There was none of the arrogance or anger that the jury had heard in so many of his other conversations. This was Kaboni Savage, loving father, talking by phone to his four-year-old daughter Siani.

    "I love you," he said, a lilt in his voice. "I miss you. I can't wait to see you."

    The little girl, who had not seen her father in months, responded in kind. This was in September 2004. Savage had been arrested in April of that year.

     He's been in jail ever since.

    During the 13-week racketeering-murder trial that ended earlier this month with his conviction, prosecutors played dozens of tapes in which Savage, 38, ranted and raged against former associates who had begun cooperating with the government, promising to kill them and their families. After six people, including four children, died when the home of a witness was firebombed on his orders, Savage was heard cackling, laughing and boasting about the inferno that prosecutors said had "cooked" the victims alive. 

    In all, Savage was convicted of 12 murders. Eight have been linked to witness intimidation. Among the bloody and homicidal comments that have echoed around the courtroom, there was his succinct underworld philosophy: "No fuckin' witness, no crime."

    But that wasn't the side of Kaboni Savage that his lawyers wanted to present to the jury last week while trying to save his life. Through the testimony of a series of witnesses and the playing of selected tapes they offered what they hope will be mitigating factors that will convince at least one of the jurors that life without parole rather than death by lethal injection is a justifiable and warranted sentence for the convicted murderer.

    Kaboni Savage, loving father, laughing, joking and talking sweetly with his then four-year-old daughter, that's who the defense wanted the jury to hear.

    "We want you to see the whole picture of Kaboni Savage," defense attorney William Purpura had told the jury.

    The penalty phase hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow. Jury deliberations likely will begin Wednesday following closing arguments and a charge by Judge R. Barclay Surrick on the legal issues involved. Under federal law, the jury must unanimously decide that a death sentence is warranted and then must unanimously agree that it should be imposed.

    The other option is life with no parole. Savage is already serving a 30-year sentence following a conviction in 2005 for drug trafficking. He has been described as one of the biggest and most violent cocaine kingpins in North Philadelphia. "Pure evil," said a high ranking Philadelphia police official when Savage was charged in the current case.

    In what was clearly an uphill battle, his court-appointed attorneys, Purpura and Christian Hoey, called nearly a dozen witnesses last week, including prison experts and legal scholars. Their testimony was aimed at blunting some of the sharper edges presented by the prosecution.

    Savage, for example, would if sentenced to life probably spent the rest of his days in the maximum security unit of the super-max federal prison in Florence, Colorado, the so-called Alcatraz of the Rockies. The chances of him trying to direct revenge against witnesses and their families from that facility is highly unlikely, indeed, nearly impossible, according to that expert testimony.

    The defense also offered testimony on the "culture" of snitching in urban America, trying to point out that Savage was not a trail-blazer in his rants against cooperators, but was merely echoing the common perception of that snitches will say whatever the prosecution wants to hear in order to cut a better deal for themselves.

    Defense witnesses included Alexandra Natapoff, a lawyer and scholar and the author of "Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice."

    But it was Kaboni Savage's own words that the defense attorneys hoped would have the greatest impact on death penalty deliberations.

    Ironically, they used some of the same secretly recorded conversations that were part of the FBI's 10-year investigation to offer the jury a more humane defendant. Key elements were Savage's relationship with his daughter and with other young members of his extended family.

    "They have a bond with each other that is unbreakable," said Crystal Copeland, Siani's mother and Savage's girlfriend of nearly 18 years. The couple, she said from the witness stand, were living together, planning to get married and hoping for other children when he was arrested in 2004.

    Copeland, who has two masters degrees in education and works for the Philadelphia school district, testified as a defense witness during the trial and again last week during the penalty phase. She described Kaboni Savage as a "kind and caring" father and a loving companion who made her laugh.

    She said her daughter, now 13, misses her father.

    "He has been her hero," she said, her voice cracking. "It's been difficult for her not having him around."

    Copeland, who maintained her composure and exuded self-confidence during her first appearance on the stand during the trial, broke down as she testified about her daughter during the penalty phase of the case.

    "She doesn't want to function without him," she said, adding that Savage has always emphasized in his phone calls and letters the need for a good education. Her daughter, she said, is an A-student.

    "Her goal in life is to make him proud," she said between sobs.

    The last conversation with jury heard between Kaboni and Siani Savage was recorded on Sept. 30, 2004.

    Again, Savage's voice was soft, almost melodious, as he spoke to his daughter.

    "You can't paint your toe nails and then put your socks on," he said with a laugh as Siani could be heard giggling.

    "I love you," he said.

    "I love you too," the little voice replied.

    "I miss you."

    "I miss you, too."

    Savage has two daughters and a son by three different women, according to testimony. Siani is the youngest. She is friendly with her half-sister and half-brother, her mother said. Savage had another daughter, Ciara, who was killed in 2009 when she was caught in a cross-fire between drug gangs in York, Pa. She was nine years old at the time.

    The jury also heard from Yusef Kaboni Savage, the 19-year-old son of Conchetta Savage, the defendant's older sister. While Kaboni Savage is Yusef's uncle, the teenager said he was more like a father.

    In fact, the Penn State University student said he refers to Kaboni Savage as "dad." While he has been unable to visit him in prison because visits are restricted to biological children, Yusef Savage said he and his uncle have corresponded and that his uncle has always encouraged him to do well in school and to further his education.

    During his time of the witness stand the defense introduced a certificate that Yusef had obtained for his uncle while he was in grammar school. Yusef testified that when he was nine he wrote an essay about his uncle, describing him as the person who had had the greatest positive impact on his life. Among other things, he said, his uncle taught him to read the newspaper when he was just five years old and encouraged him in sports and in school.

    The certificate, with large letters declaring CONGRATULATIONS, was introduced as evidence and as another possible mitigating factor.

    Prosecutors, as expected, were low-key in their cross-examination of Crystal Copeland and Yusef Savage. But they did manage to make a potentially devastating point with the jury.

    Kaboni Savage's last phone call with his daughter came just nine days before the firebombing in which the family of Eugene Coleman was killed. The victims including Coleman's mother, his step-sister, his 15-month old son, two nephews, aged 15 and 12, and a niece, age 10.

    Coleman, a Savage associate who had begun cooperating, was in jail at the time. His family was targeted, prosecutors said, in retaliation. 

    A month after that arson, according to another tape played for the jury, Kaboni Savage joked about the fire and said authorities should have provided Coleman with "barbecue sauce" to pour on those "burnt bitches" when he attended their funerals.

    The certificate obtained by Yusef Savage was dated Dec. 8, 2004, two months after the arson.

    The next day, according to another tape recorded  conversations, Savage was in prison ranting about cooperators, vowing to kill more of their children.

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

    Whether Kaboni Savage is sentenced to death or life in prison may depend on whether any of the jurors believe the loving comments of a gentle father trump the rants and raves of a homicidal drug kingpin. Savage's own words were used to convict him and now those same words could determine whether he lives or dies.  

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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    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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