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

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    Reprinted with permission from Gang Land News.

    By George Anastasia


    The Tribeca Film Festival ended in April with a screening of Godfather I and Godfather II. The tribute was a way to mark the 45th anniversary of the release of Godfather I.

    Even before the film festival began, however, New Jersey mob figure Danny Provenzano was raising a toast to the movies. Provenzano, whose great uncle was the legendary Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, has turned his fascination with those films and some astute foresight into a significant payday.

    A movie buff who has acted, directed and written scripts, Provenzano, 53, has always been a fan of the Mario Puzo-Francis Ford Coppolla classics. Shortly before he went to prison on a New Jersey racketeering charge in 2003, Provenzano inquired about the availability of various business trademarks linked to the Godfather phenomenon. He was particularly interested in Genco Olive Oil. Genco, you may recall, was the company Don Corleone set up in New York to legitimize his business operations.

    Paramount had the trademark. But after Provenzano was released from prison in 2007, he learned that the trademark license had expired and was available. He bought it.

    “I think I paid $1,600,” Provenzano said with a laugh.  

    Last year, MJ Licensing, a company that is already marketing Don Corleone Vodka in a deal with Paramount, decided it wanted to get into the olive oil business and inquired about the availability of the Genco brand. That, apparently, is when Paramount learned that it no longer had the trademark.

    MJ Licensing negotiated a deal with Provenzano instead.

    “He was a nice guy and easy to deal with,” said Jeffrey Dash, the CEO of  Don Corleone Vodka and part of MJ Licensing team.

    Dash called the Godfather brand “iconic” and said his company hopes to roll out its Genco Olive Oil brand in the near future.  Look for it as a supermarket near you. But he politely declined to discuss specifics of the deal with Danny Pro, nor would he say how much his company had paid for the trademark.

    Provenzano isn’t saying much about that either, but he was smiling broadly over dinner recently at Angelo Lutz’s Kitchen Consigliere Café in Collingswood, NJ, where between courses he happily reported the deal has given him some financial breathing  room and a chance to pursue other projects.

    Provenzano has had his ups and downs since returning home nearly a decade ago from Northern State Prison, one of the toughest in New Jersey. He wrote directed and starred in a movie called “This Thing of Ours” that was release shortly before he went away. In a move that typified his bravado, part of that script came directly from the racketeering indictment the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office had brought against him.  

    James Caan, Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore had roles in the film, which won some local film festival awards but quickly went to video.

    Provenzano had a recurring role in one season of the Housewives of New Jersey after coming home from Northern State. He has also been actively involved in bare knuckles boxing, promoting that illicit fight game for an avid underground following. Matches, staged in obscure locations and touted by word of mouth, were often “sponsored” by Provenzano’s Genco Olive Oil company.

    (Full disclosure  - I’ve written pieces of three scripts for projects Provenzano has tried, thus far without success, to develop. These include a television comedy drama called “Manhattan Kansas” and a Simpsons-like cartoon called “Wiseguys and Whack Jobs.” )

    How lucrative was Provenzano’s deal with MJ Licensing for the Genco trademark?

    Danny Pro’s not saying. But the case of Don Corleone vodka that was thrown in to sweeten the package – retail value of $900 – didn’t begin to scratch the surface. The payout was a six-figure deal, Gangland has learned. It was somewhere south of $500,000 but still in a very nice neighborhood for a trademark that cost him less than two Gs.

    Provenzano will also have a small percentage interest in the sale of the olive oil and he says he has retained the right to use the Genco name in promoting several of his other ventures.

    “Everyone knows The Godfather,” he said of the movie. “People also know products associated with the movie. Nine out of ten people can tell you what Genco Olive Oil is. That’s what I was thinking when I asked about the trademark.  I never thought it would be available, but if you don’t ask…”

    George Anastasia can be reached at

     To read more from Jerry Capeci's Gang Land News click below:

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    By George Anastasia

    He's battled the feds in court and rival mobsters on the streets.

    Right now he appears to be ahead of the game. And if things continue to unravel in a massive but flawed federal racketeering case in New York, it looks like Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino will add another one to the win column.

    Read more here:

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    The Philadelphia Inquirer and Rolling Stone obviously aren't going to do anything to correct the fake news story they've promulgated about "Billy Doe."

    He's the lying, scheming altar boy who falsely claimed he was raped as a child by two priests and a schoolteacher, and has since been outed as a fraud.

    But today, syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin ripped Billy Doe as a "rape faker," and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of a yet-unretracted fraudulent 2011 story about Billy as a "lying liar with a laptop." Malkin also took Rubin's "progressive editors" at left-wing Rolling Stone to task for promoting "'rape culture' propaganda at any cost."

    The entire column tying the U.Va. scandal together with the Billy Doe scandal is worth a read here. Malkin calls for higher penalties against "rape fakers," but so far Billy Doe AKA Danny Gallagher has only been rewarded for his lies with a $5 million payout from the Catholic Church. While Bernie Shero, the schoolteacher who was one of the victims of Gallagher's false accusations, remains in jail doing 8 to 16 years for a crime that never happened.

    While we're slamming Rolling Stone, let's not give The Philadelphia Inquirer a pass. They've published 59 false Billy Doe got raped stories and editorials in the past seven years. But now that Billy's been outed as a fraud, the Inquirer betrays the mission of journalism by remaining purposely silent.

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    EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Pendergrast has once again allowed to publish an excerpt from his forthcoming book, THE MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA.  Here he writes about Aaron Fisher, “Victim 1,” whose allegations started the case against Jerry Sandusky.  As Pendergrast reveals, it took three years before Fisher’s psychotherapist, Mike Gillum, prepared him  sufficiently to testify to abuse claims. After a brief introduction, we pick up the story in November 2008, after Fisher’s mother, Dawn Daniels, concluded that Sandusky might have molested her 14-year-old son, and that such claims could be her ticket out of public housing and into a home in the country . . . 

    By Mark Pendergrast

    Jerry Sandusky would probably be a free man today if 15-year-old Aaron Fisher had not begun to have frequent counseling sessions with Pennsylvania psychotherapist Mike Gillum.

    Fisher was the son of Dawn (Fisher) Daniels, who was impregnated early in 1993 when she was 17 by her boyfriend Michael. Aaron was born on Nov. 9, 1993, and his biological father saw him only a couple of times, then disappeared completely by the time he was one year old.  His mother consequently gave him her maiden name, Fisher, as his last name.

    Dawn then met Cliff when she was 18 and lived with him, unmarried, until Aaron was nearly five.  Then she married Eric Daniels, a relationship that lasted five years. "He began to abuse me when Katie was a baby,” she later asserted. “Eric turned out to be very controlling and he was emotionally and physically abusive."Katie, Aaron’s younger sister, was later diagnosed as bipolar.

    Clearly, young Aaron Fisher had an unstable childhood.  His mother apparently enjoyed frequenting bars, getting drunk, and flirting with strangers.  In 2008, when Fisher was 14, the same year that the abuse claims arose, his mother posted photos of herself in a saloon, bragging of her extreme intoxication, on her My Space page.  

    She had a glazed, happy look on her face, with explanatory captions: “Drunk as hell…lol; me at the saloon…who knows who that guy is…lol,” and a photo of her posterior, showing the top of scanty underwear, explaining “my thong, tha thong, thong, thong…look at that ass."

    When Dawn Daniels began to think Jerry Sandusky might have abused her son, she alerted Aaron’s high school. Then, after her son made some extremely vague allegations, Daniels took Aaron Fisher to Children & Youth Services, where intake case worker Jessica Dershem interviewed the teenager.  Aaron did not reveal any overt sexual abuse. He only stated that Sandusky had cracked his back by hugging him with both of them fully clothed. Dershem then referred Fisher to Mike Gillum . . 

    Disappointed with the insufficient details, Dershem called her supervisor, Gerry Rosamilia and complained that she had an uncooperative fifteen-year-old in her office who was not disclosing sex abuse.  She later said that she “sensed he was holding back.”  Rosamilia told her to send him to Mike Gillum, a psychologist who had a contract with Clinton County, and who conveniently occupied an office upstairs in the same building.

    When Gillum came down to the CYS office to get Aaron Fisher, he got this first impression:

     “He had on a pair of raggedy jeans and some beat-up sneakers. His blond hair was scruffy and on the longer side, and he just looked disheveled, but it wasn’t the way he was dressed that stunned me.  He was so extremely anxious, and moving around a lot, pacing the floor, in a really tight area in the lobby outside Jessica’s office, but looking down at the floor.  His agitation was so high that he was wringing his hands.”

    That was how Gillum described Aaron Fisher in Silent No More, a 2012 book written by Aaron Fisher, Fisher's mother, and Gillum, although the book is mostly written in Gillum's voice.

    Fisher was obviously feeling pressured.  He later recalled in Silent No More:  “The truth is, I only agreed to go to his office because I wanted Jessica to stop asking me questions, and she said that Mike was the alternative, since I wasn’t answering her.”

    Mike Gillum escorted Fisher into his office, where he began to reassure and disarm his young client, building the foundation for a trusting relationship that might enable future disclosure of sex abuse.  Gillum rescheduled his other clients and spent the day focusing entirely on Aaron Fisher. Gillum wrote up a report for Jessica Dershem based on this initial confidential counseling session.

    Fisher never told his mother exactly what was supposed to have happened to him.  "Even now, these years later, he hasn't told me any details,” Daniels wrote in Silent No More.  “Knowing what little I know, I can only imagine.  And it makes me shudder."

    At first, Fisher was equally uncommunicative with Mike Gillum, but Gillum immediately assumed that he really had been sexually abused.  "I really think I know what you must be going through even though you won't tell me," he said.  "You know...if someone touched you in your private parts, well, that's really embarrassing and hard to talk about because you're probably very scared.... It's my job and purpose to protect you and help you."

    Gillum apparently believed that memories too painful to recall lay buried in the unconscious, causing mental illness of all kinds -- among them, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism.  His duty as a counselor was to entice clients whom he suspected had been subjected to abuse to reveal this abuse or to raise buried memories to the surface, where healing could begin. 

    Fisher’s agitated behavior during his first meeting was a red flag and a certain indicator of child sexual abuse in Gillum’s mind.  “He looked at me straight in the eye, and you could see the pain in his eyes, you could see how uncomfortable he was, he was physically shaking at times, his voice was cracking.”

    Later, in 2014, when I interviewed Mike Gillum in his office, he denied that Fisher had repressed memories, though Gillum admitted that he believed in the Freudian theory and had helped other adult clients recall previously “repressed” abuse memories. 

    The Courage to Heal, the "bible" of those who believe in repressed memories of sexual abuse, was prominently displayed on his bookshelf.  In Fisher’s case, however, he said that it was more a matter of “peeling back the onion,” and that “Aaron did what a lot of people do during abuse.  He would dissociate with his body.  Aaron would freeze up and stare into space so that he wasn’t even there.  Many rape victims report the same thing.  They kind of pretend it’s not happening.”

    I was impressed by Gillum’s sincerity during our interview.  He certainly had no intention of encouraging false allegations.  He truly wanted to help his clients, and he clearly had helped many of them who really had been abused.  Yet it was also clear that his presumptions and methods, especially in the case of Aaron Fisher and other alleged Sandusky victims, might lead to well-rehearsed but illusory memories. 

    Like many other repressed memory therapists I have interviewed, Gillum emphasized that he took care not to lead his clients, even though that was precisely what he was doing.  “You have to be careful not to put words in their mouth,” he said.  “You try to take your time to get through the layers of information.”

    Before he began seeing Mike Gillum, Fisher did not think of himself as a victim of sexual abuse.  In Silent No More, Gillum wrote, “It didn’t even hit him that he was a victim until he was fifteen.”

    Fisher verified this, writing, “It really wasn’t until I was fifteen and started seeing Mike that I realized the horror." Although Fisher showed signs of mental distress that got more serious over the course of his therapy, Gillum did not question himself or his therapeutic approach.  Instead, he blamed it all on the supposed abuse and the uncertainty over whether the allegations were going to result in an arrest.

    Gillum explained in Silent No More how he cued and prodded reluctant clients such as Aaron Fisher.  

    "If I'm lucky, they just acknowledge spontaneously without too much prodding," he wrote. But otherwise, he asked many Yes or No questions. "It's like that old kids' game of Hide the Button, where the kids say yes when you get closer and no when you're just on a cold trail."  

    This is classically bad technique for interviewing those suspected of being abused.  It is highly suggestive, and it is often clear from the inflection of voice or body language (leaning forward expectantly, etc.) what answer is appropriate.  And when No isn't acceptable, the interrogator just keeps asking until he or she gets a Yes. 

     "Although they give me information," Gillum said, "they don't feel held accountable because I'm guessing, but my guesses are educated." Gillum compared delving into the unconscious to “peeling back the layers of an onion,” and he knew what he would find at its rotten heart.

    To Gillum, Aaron Fisher seemed immature, scared, and not very bright.  "Aaron was beginning to open up, not in words, but his body language relaxed some.  Though I knew he was fifteen, I couldn't get over how young he looked -- and his mental function and maturity appeared to be that of a twelve-year-old as well." 

    Finally, Gillum got him to answer Yes to his more and more specific questions.  "He finally admitted that the man had touched his genitals and kissed him on the mouth, and he was painfully uncomfortable as he told me."

    Gillum kept at it for three hours that first day with Aaron Fisher.  "The whole time I was with him, I wasn't really taking notes, even during that first session.  I wrote my notes up afterward.  I did write down some trigger words, though."  

    After two hours, Gillum claimed that Fisher "told me that oral sex had occurred.  Even then he didn't tell me on his own; I asked him and he said it had.... I was very blunt with him when I asked questions but gave him the ability to answer with a yes or a no, that relieved him of a lot of burden."  In a later interview, however, Gillum said that it took him six months to get Fisher to say that he was subjected to oral sex.

    Fisher confirmed that he said very little.  "As long as I told him that something happened, I didn't need to go into any detail.  I just needed to tell him if something sexual happened, like touching or oral sex, and he would ask me so all I had to do was say yes or no…. Mike just kept saying that Jerry was the exact profile of a predator.  When it finally sank in, I felt angry," Fisher wrote in Silent No More.

    This was the beginning of the process of turning Jerry Sandusky into a monster in Aaron Fisher's mind, a process all too familiar to those who know about repressed memory therapy.  Indeed, one of the books about the process, by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters, is called Making Monsters.

    Three years later, Mike Gillum would join the board of an organization called “Let Go Let Peace Come In,” whose website is filled with repressed memory references and assumptions, and he would go on to counsel four other alleged Sandusky victims. But until then, Gillum spent the next three years reinforcing Fisher’s abuse narrative. 

     At that point, the theory of repression had been denounced as a fiction by memory scientists for nearly two decades.  Nevertheless, Michael Gillum was convinced that Fisher had buried memories that must be exhumed, like peeling back the layers of an onion, and he explained it all to him, though he apparently avoided using the term “repressed memories.”  Instead, he talked about “compartmentalizing” memories.

    After this tutelage, Fisher asserted that "I was good at pushing it [memories of abuse] all away... Once the weekends [with Jerry] were over, I managed to lock it all deep inside my mind somehow.  That was how I dealt with it until next time.  Mike has explained a lot to me since this all happened.  He said that what I was doing is called compartmentalizing…. I was in such denial about everything."

    And for once Aaron Fisher had someone who believed him no matter what.  Once Fisher entered therapy with Gillum, nothing he said would be doubted or scrutinized for its historical truth.  The chair in Gillum’s office would become Fisher’s sanctuary.  For an adolescent who had a widespread reputation among classmates, neighbors, and teachers for deceit, this was a welcome change. 

     “Aaron would consistently lie and scam,” his history teacher Scott Baker told an investigator.  Another teacher, Ryan Veltri, said that “Aaron was untruthful, conniving, and would blame other kids to save himself.” Next-door neighbor Joshua Fravel claimed that Aaron Fisher was “a conniver and always made up stories.  He lied about everything.  He would say just about anything if it got him what he wanted.”

    Even after Sandusky’s conviction for multiple counts of abuse, many people in his hometown continued to disbelieve Fisher.  “There are…people in my community [who] said I was a liar,” he complained in 2014.  “They never apologized and still say I’m a liar.”  Fisher said that the hardest thing for him was not the alleged abuse by Sandusky, but “the failure of almost everyone in his community to believe him,” as he told a reporter.

    Gillum saw himself as Fisher's savior and protector.  "At the end of that day I promised Aaron that I would be with him throughout this whole ordeal.  I said I would see him through from beginning to end and meet with him every day if that's what it would take to make him whole again."  Indeed, as Fisher said, "I saw Mike every day for weeks, and I called his cell whenever I needed him.  I still see him every week, and he's still always at the other end of the phone."

    Again, this is classically bad therapy, encouraging an over-dependence on the therapist.  I have written about this kind of therapy at length in my books about memory, most recently in Memory Warp, to be published in October, 2017. The therapist becomes the most important person in the client's life, and the client will go to great lengths to please the therapist.  The relationship develops into an unhealthy pattern where, in order to continue to elicit sympathy and attention, the client must produce more and worse memories of abuse.

    From then on, Gillum was the main driver behind the abuse allegations.  When Aaron first spoke to the police, on Dec. 12, 2008, Gillum was upset because they wouldn't let him sit in on the interview.  At that point, he had been seeing Fisher every day for three weeks.  "I had prepared Aaron as best I could for this interview," he explained.  "Aaron was scared and didn't want to tell his story, but we had talked about it extensively and he knew this was something he had to do."

    Gillum was absolutely certain that Jerry Sandusky was a sexual predator who had abused his client, and that it was his job to pressure Fisher into giving a detailed account of the abuse.  Gillum never talked to Sandusky, but that probably would not have made any difference. 

     It clearly never occurred to Gillum that he might be pressuring a troubled, vulnerable young teenager into making false allegations.  Jessica Dershem, the CYS caseworker who was present during this first police interview, told Gillum that during the interview, "Aaron was reticent.”  Still, he was now talking about fondling and kissing on the mouth, which he had not alleged initially.  Fisher denied that oral sex had occurred.  "They could have asked him the proper questions in the right way to ascertain the extent of the abuse," Gillum complained.

    Fisher’s statements about what occurred between himself and Jerry Sandusky were to change dramatically from November of 2008 until June of 2011.  Indeed, his own conception of his experiences would be altered permanently as well.  When first interrogated, he told the authorities that Sandusky cracked his back.  His clothes were always on.  He denied that Sandusky ever went below his waistline, even though he was asked multiple times throughout the interview.  He told them that nothing else occurred.

    By December 12, 2008, Fisher had been questioned three times by authorities (the school, child protective services, and the police), yet he told them that nothing had happened that could be considered criminal.  He told the state troopers that Sandusky had never touched his genitals, and when asked if oral sex occurred, he denied it.  But he was never going to be questioned by the authorities alone again.  Michael Gillum would be constantly by his side. 

    Jerry Sandusky was first called in for questioning on Jan. 15, 2009.  As Gillum observed in these two paragraphs from Silent No More, Sandusky denied that he had sexually abused Aaron Fisher, though he admitted hugging and “horseplay:"

    [Sandusky] admitted that he cracked Aaron's back; he hugged him and kissed his forehead in the way that you would a son or grandson.  He said there was horseplay, for sure...but the notion that anything sexual occurred was ridiculous.  He not only denied the fondling and kissing Aaron on the mouth, but he dismissed it categorically.  [He] assume[d] a sympathetic bent to Aaron, saying that the charges were all trumped up and that Aaron was angry at him, although he didn't know why, since he'd done so much for the boy.  

    He was disheartened that Aaron was making these false claims since they had enjoyed such a great relationship.  Sandusky suggested that perhaps Aaron was angry and sullen because he, Sandusky, had started doing things and going places with other boys and maybe Aaron was jealous.  All in all, Sandusky acted as though he was totally mystified by the entire situation.... Basically, he just said that Aaron was a screwed-up kid, and rather than act angry the way other perpetrators do when faced with these kinds of allegations, he... seem[ed] almost sorry for Aaron and this fantasy he had evidently created.

    According to Jessica Dershem’s notes from that meeting, Sandusky admitted that Fisher would sometimes lie on top of him and that he would rub and crack his back, with his hands underneath his shirt.  When asked whether the back rubs extended to Fisher’s buttocks, Sandusky said, “I can’t honestly answer if my hands were below his pants.”  If Sandusky were a child molester who had cleverly hidden his guilt for years, this kind of painful attempt at honesty seems remarkably inept. “He admitted to everything except the sexual contact,” Dershem recalled later.  “To me, that meant it was all true.” Her logic is difficult to follow.

    Nonetheless, the wheels had been set in motion.  Gillum observed with satisfaction, "I was now permitted to sit in on all the interviews, though I still wasn't allowed to speak for Aaron."  He could, however, influence him.  "The more time we had, the better," Gillum thought.  "Maybe as time went by, Aaron would be more forthcoming.... They needed more details and information [and hopefully] Aaron would not only have revealed more details to me but would be more comfortable revealing them to someone else as well."

    Seven months went by.  After daily and weekly therapy sessions, Fisher had finally answered again with a “yes” to a suggestive question from Gillum about oral sex.  As Fisher explained it, “As long as I told him that something happened, I didn’t need to go into any detail.  I just needed to tell him if something sexual happened, like touching or oral sex, and he would ask me so all I had to do was say yes or no.  He was real straightforward.  When I said yes, that oral sex happened, Mike just said that I didn’t have to talk about it more right now, but at some point, when I was ready, I could talk to him more.”

    To review, then -- by the beginning of 2009, Aaron Fisher had made rather vague allegations that Jerry Sandusky had molested him, after his mother got the idea that the molestation must have happened and alerted the school principal, who took it from there.  Fisher's disclosures came in the form of answering "Yes" or "No" to leading questions.  He had supposedly told Gillum that he and Sandusky had engaged in oral sex, but then he denied it to the police.  Fisher was emotionally overwrought and was indeed the "screwed-up kid" that Sandusky perceived him to be.

    When Trooper Cavanaugh submitted a report to the Clinton County District Attorney Michael Salisbury, he noted that most of the allegations took place in Centre County, so (with probable relief) he sent it over to Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira. But Madeira was married to the sister of one of Sandusky’s adopted children, so he recused himself, asking the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to take the case.  There, it was assigned to Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach, who had considerable experience with child sex abuse cases, particularly during her time as an assistant district attorney in York County.

    With Eshbach’s direction, on March 19, 2009, police officer Timothy Lear interviewed Aaron for another hour with Gillum by his side. "He was nodding his head yes or no as Lear asked him pointed questions about the nature of the sexual abuse,” Gillum wrote.  “We needed verbal answers for the record, and it was hard to keep asking him to state his answers out loud.  Aaron gave one- or two-word answers about where he was touched and what happened to him, and when it got to the more graphic details of oral sex, Aaron was still reluctant to state any details.  He just kept nodding to indicate that abuse -- and particularly, that oral sex -- had happened."

    So apparently Fisher was now at least nodding affirmatively that oral sex had occurred. Still, Gillum was frustrated at "this extremely fragile fifteen-year-old boy whom I can barely get to talk to me about the details of the sexual abuse."  He assumed that Fisher was reticent because "he's not only traumatized but also scared to death that Sandusky is going to kill him, even by going so far as to hire a hit man."

    This assumption by Gillum, which he transmitted to Fisher, is part of the process of the demonization of Jerry Sandusky, turning him into a Monster, and is quite similar to the paranoia that therapists purveyed to clients about mythic satanic ritual abuse cults that were supposedly out to kill their clients.

    Nonetheless, something in Aaron Fisher still rebelled against the effort to incriminate his former friend.  Mike Gillum noted that Fisher was stunned when he realized that the stories he had told in therapy might harm Sandusky.  When Officer Lear boasted to Fisher that he “would put the cuffs on anybody,” Fisher’s “eyes got real wide and he became very quiet.”  He answered Officer Lear mostly by nods.  At last they prompted Fisher to give one- or two-word answers.  “He looked down at the floor as if he was ashamed.”

    Of course, his shame could have derived from revealing oral sex acts, but it could also have derived from his uncertainty about whether he was telling the truth.  Gillum reported that Fisher “asked me very detailed questions about if Sandusky went to prison, how long he would be there.  He worried that something bad would happen to Sandusky and said that all he wanted was to get away from him.  He wasn’t looking to punish him.”

    The prosecutor, Jonelle Eshbach, meanwhile was pressuring Gillum to get Fisher to come up with details.  "She hoped he would become more comfortable and discuss in greater depth the details that were relevant to the case.  She made it very clear that the standard of evidence required by the attorney general's office before they could even begin to prosecute the crimes inflicted on Aaron had to be far more comprehensive."  

     Gillum reassured her that Fisher was likely to comply.  "With most child victims of sexual abuse, their information comes in layers." This is in fact usually true of false allegations, not real ones.  A growing and malleable sex abuse narrative, influenced by therapy, is often a warning sign that false memories are being developed.

    The other thing that repressed memory therapy often does is to make subjects worse rather than better.  "Once I started therapy with Mike and began to tell him everything," Fisher said, "the nightmares actually got a lot worse.... They were nightmares about what happened to me all those times Jerry was doing things to me and making me do things to him."

     Instead, it is possible that these nightmares were fantasies induced by therapy and then the nightmares themselves were taken as "proof" that the abuse had taken place.  This is exactly what many repressed memory therapists did with clients -- warning them that they would have nightmares about abuse that would then prove that the abuse occurred, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

     "I went from nightmares about Jerry abusing me to nightmares about Jerry having people come after me and kill me and my family and take things from me," Fisher wrote in Silent No More. "They were so graphic in detail that even after I woke up I could recite everything that happened and everything that was said.... Those nightmares were my reality."

    Aaron Fisher was becoming a much more disturbed young man.  The counseling process, in which he vividly imagined how Jerry Sandusky might have abused him, was blurring his already weak boundaries between reality and fantasy.   Nightmares became more frequent and more vivid after therapy began.  He became suicidal. He was hospitalized three times for anxiety or “conversion disorder” under Gillum’s care, which Gillum described as “deep psychic pain from deep in your unconscious.”

    Mike Gillum thought that Fisher’s fears of being killed by a hit man hired by Jerry Sandusky were appropriate, and he validated them.  

    “In no way at all did I think he was paranoid,” Gillum recalled.  “I did not and would not discount or dismiss Aaron’s fears; I knew he was entitled to have them.” Fisher was generally so fearful that he made a report to his high school in October 2010 that a man from Second Mile wearing a dark suit and worn pants had approached him.  

    Asked about this report during the trial he said he had been “startled and confused,” and that throughout that entire school year “I did nothing but watch the entrances of the school to make sure somebody wasn’t going to come into the school and talk to me and throw me into an anxiety attack.”

    An investigation indicated that no such mysterious man had approached him.  In the same month, Fisher drove into a tree, fracturing his skull.  His mother wondered whether the evil Jerry Sandusky had somehow sabotaged the car.  Fisher later recounted how he unsuccessfully attempted suicide, slicing his forearms with a razor and trying to hang himself in his closet.

    Despite Fisher falling apart, the daily therapy began to pay off in other ways.  "Eventually," said Gillum, "Aaron told me in no uncertain words that it was after that second summer at camp, when he was twelve, that the intensity of the sexual acts escalated to oral sex, which Aaron was forced to perform as well as receive."

    Gillum was teaching Fisher that he had dissociated during his theoretical abuse, which was one of the reasons he hadn’t remembered it.  “With Sandusky’s help,” Gillum wrote, “Aaron managed to disassociate himself from the grim reality of abuse, as victims do.” Fisher parroted the same jargon about dissociation that Gillum had taught him:  “I spaced.  I took myself out of my body and away from him and out of that basement room.”This stereotypical language could have been taken verbatim from many classic repressed memory accounts.

    After Timothy Lear was suspended from the force for assaulting his ex-girl friend, Trooper Scott Rossman became the new interrogator, asking Fisher things such as, "Did he ever try to put his dick in your butt?  I mean his penis in your anus?"

     Rossman also began to search for other potential victims, with encouragement from Gillum, who was sure there must be others.  "He wanted details about my school and when Jerry was there and what were the names of other kids and where did they live and what did they look like," Fisher said.  

    "Later I found out that Trooper Rossman and some agents in the attorney general's office went out scouring neighborhoods, just like cops do in the movies.  They worked a fifty-mile perimeter."  Eventually, the police would also begin to question other Second Mile children, particularly those named in Sandusky's 2000 book, Touched.

    Two grand juries investigated charges of child abuse against Jerry Sandusky, at which Aaron Fisher was the star witness.  Grand juries are little-understood affairs.  They resemble trials in that they have jurors (23 of them in Pennsylvania, hence the name “grand jury,” versus the 12 jurors in a normal trial) who listen to sworn testimony.

      But unlike regular trials, grand juries are held in secret, for the purpose of determining whether there is enough evidence to pursue a criminal indictment.  In a grand jury, the prosecutor presents a case, but there is no defense lawyer present, and no cross-examination is allowed.  Nor are transcripts ever made public. 

     Grand juries meet for three or four days per month and can last up to two years.  Each panel of jurors can hear evidence in several different cases.  In Sandusky’s case, the 30th Pennsylvania grand jury met to consider the allegations from June 2009 until early 2011.  Then the 33rd Pennsylvania grand jury, with a different jury pool, took it up again in March 2011.

    At his first grand jury interrogation, which convened in June 2009, "Mike prepped me and told me what to expect," Fisher recalled.  "Mike had permission to sit in the courtroom with me."  But when asked about the alleged molestation, Fisher just started to cry.  He blurted out “No!” when Jonelle Eshbach, the Assistant Attorney General, asked whether oral sex had occurred.  He broke down weeping.  Due to his disturbed emotional state, a recess was called so that Fisher could receive medication and a pep talk from Gillum.   

    After the break, Fisher performed more satisfactorily, providing Eshbach with the anticipated answer of “Yes,” but continuing to weep.  It is certainly possible that Fisher was so emotional and conflicted that he initially denied that abuse had occurred because he actually knew, despite all the therapy, that abuse had not occurred.

    After the first grand jury session, "Aaron continued to come in for therapy at least once a week...and we held several phone calls in between sessions,” Gilllum recalled.  “I had an open arrangement with Aaron and Dawn to the effect that if either of them needed me for whatever reason, they could call at any time -- day or night."

    The grand jury refused to indict Sandusky.  "The first grand jury said that Aaron had trouble responding clearly and didn't elaborate as much as he could have or should have.... Jonelle would say something like, 'He then would touch you in a sexual way,' and Aaron would answer yes or no.  In the second [session of the] grand jury, the jurors wanted Aaron to narrate the story in his own words.  They wanted all the gory details."

    Gillum was frustrated, suggesting that he could testify instead of Aaron under the "Angel Act," also known as the "Tender Years Exception to the hearsay rule."  In that case, "I could have testified as though I was the child if I deemed that the child was too fragile and the court concurred."  Instead, "Jonelle and I gave him [Aaron] some more coaching and emphasized that he had to state exactly what happened.  Jonelle explained that she didn't want anyone on the jury to say that she had been leading the witness."

    Of course, leading the witness is exactly what they were already doing with the "coaching" sessions, with the months of therapy, with the assumption and insistence that he had been abused, and with Eshbach’s leading questions.  By the time he testified again to the grand jury, reconvened on Nov. 16, 2009, Aaron Fisher’s testimony and memory had been irrevocably contaminated. 

     "Once Aaron took the stand, Jonelle... pushed him a lot harder that second time." To Fisher’s credit, he managed through tears to be more of his own advocate and narrator, until he literally collapsed." He began to perspire, went pale and sank to the floor.  Then he vomited.

    "The second grand jury [actually the same pool of jurors in the 30thPennsylvania grand jury, meeting again] still did not feel that Aaron's testimony was strong enough to make a case for an arrest."  Time dragged on.  Fisher continued therapy and continued to get worse, becoming severely depressed and experiencing panic attacks and excruciating abdominal pain by August 2010.  He also began to talk about suicide. "He was truly beginning to come apart,” Gillum observed.

    All of this should be familiar to those who have studied the impact of repressed memory therapy.  As one woman told Bass and Davis in The Courage to Heal,“Breaking through my own denial, and trying to fit the new reality into the shattered framework of the old, was enough to catapult me into total crisis.  I felt my whole foundation had been stolen from me.  If this could have happened and I could have forgotten it, then every assumption I had about life and my place in it was thrown up for question.”  Another revealed, “I just lost it completely. I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping…. I had terrible nightmares about my father. I was having all kinds of fantasies ….  Physically, I was a mess.  I had crabs.  I hadn't bathed in a month.  I was afraid of the shower.”

    Similarly, in her book Repressed Memories, Renee Fredrickson told the story of her client, Carolyn.  “Her anger and grief were enormous.  For months she suffered emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  She had crying jags, eating binges, suicidal feelings, and bouts of depression.” 

     Fred­rickson unquestioningly assumed that all of these were symptoms of abuse.  “I never felt like my problems were connected to my past,” Carolyn told her.  “To be honest, they still don't seem related.”  Another patient exclaimed during a session:  “But I feel like I'm just making this up!”  Fredrickson ignored her concern.  “I urged her to continue, explaining that truth or fantasy is not of concern at the beginning of memory retrieval work.” Thus, it was common for many who underwent repressed memory therapy to fall apart in the same way that Aaron Fisher did.  The repressed memory therapists always interpreted these symptoms as the result of the abuse, when in fact they were caused by the therapy itself.

    On April 11, 2011, a new Grand Jury met to hear Aaron Fisher’s testimony.  This time, as Fisher recalled in his book, "the new grand jury allowed me to read my testimony, since I had given it twice before.”  According to Mike Gillum, Fisher just read aloud his previous testimony, even though it had been deemed to be too vague and uncertain, one-word answers in response to leading questions.  Gillum denied that he helped Fisher write the testimony that he read aloud.

    At this point, "the nightmares were picking up speed again, but this time I was also sleep walking," Fisher wrote in Silent No More.  He would yell, "Get away!" and "Leave me alone!"  By this time, as he himself observed, "My monster was real."  Jerry Sandusky's transformation into a Monster was complete.

    Near the end of August 2011, however, Aaron Fisher got cold feet.  During a meeting with Gillum, the prosecutors, and the police, Fisher said, "I'm out.  That's it.  I'm not going to be your witness anymore."  Gillum interpreted this as Fisher expressing frustration that Sandusky had not yet been arrested, which may have been the case, but it also could have been Fisher’s frustration at having been pushed and pushed to create stories that he knew deep down were not true.  Even Gillum seemed to recognize this on some level.  "If not for my pushing him along, he [Aaron] might have backed out a long time before this, and to this day I still question myself about how much I pushed him," he wrote.

    But Gillum did convince Fisher to testify, and on Nov. 5, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was arrested.  "I never thought the arrest would happen," Fisher said, "and when it did, something didn't feel right about it." The arrest came just before Fisher's eighteenth birthday.  At this point, he had been under Gillum's influence for three years.

    By this time, the police had succeeded in locating five other Second Mile boys who were willing to say that Sandusky had molested them, along with the anonymous "boy in the shower" of the McQueary incident (they did not know that this boy was Allan Myers, who came forward soon thereafter to defend Sandusky), and a hypothetical hearsay victim based on testimony of a Penn State janitor (who said another janitor, Jim Calhoun, who was now suffering from dementia, had witnessed the abuse).  By the time of the trial, they had come up with two more alleged victims.

    When Aaron Fisher testified during the 2012 trial, the inconsistencies of his allegations were exposed.  He couldn’t remember what he had said about the abuse and couldn’t keep it straight.  “I don’t remember dates of when I told people anything.  All I know is that it happened to me.  I honest – I don’t even want to be here.”

    That could be explained easily if he had recovered memories that were unconnected to reality.  If a witness’s testimony is not based on real events, naturally he doesn’t have anything to connect it to.  For example, Fisher offered four guesses about when oral sex occurred. 

     One:  It stopped a month before or after his birthday on November 9, 2007. Two:  It started in the summer of 2007 and continued until September of 2008.  Three:  It started November of 2007 and continued until the summer of 2008.  Four:  It only started during 2008, going into 2009 [impossible, since he made his allegation in the fall of 2008].

    Indeed, Fisher’s testimony over the course of the investigation was erratic.  In June of 2009, Fisher told Scott Rossman that he had performed oral sex on Sandusky many times, and that Sandusky had ejaculated, keeping his eyes closed.  A week later he said it only happened once.  Yet in November 2009 he said he had never performed oral sex on Sandusky.

    When reminded of his previous testimony, he complied by then saying it did happen.  During the trial, when he was confronted with the fact that his testimony had changed frequently and asked why that was, Fisher told the jury that he had “white lied” to save himself embarrassment, because he was scared, because he was under stress and didn’t know what to do.

    In his testimony, Fisher also said that after he began to stay overnight at the Sandusky household, “I acted out.  I started wetting the bed.  I got into fights with people.” But in fact, according to one of Fisher’s childhood friends and his father, Fisher had wet the bed repeatedly on sleepovers before he ever met Sandusky.

    But none of these issues -- Fisher’s bed-wetting, his confusion regarding dates or places, or his changing story about oral sex – provided sufficient reason to disbelieve his story.  A reporter attending the trial described Fisher’s testimony:  “The sobs from the witness stand were loud and prolonged, the cracking voice of Victim No. 1 in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual molestation trial gasping for breath as he detailed repeated acts of oral sex with the former Penn State defensive coordinator.” 

     The testimony had a profound effect on the audience, including the jury.  “The sighs and sniffs echoed around a rapt Centre County Courtroom as jurors looked on, a couple noticeably disturbed.  A few grimaced at the retelling and shook their heads.”  The reporter’s dramatic story continued:

    The witness then breathed heavily. He followed with a deep sniff of his nose, then hung his head and openly wept. "He…" More sobs. "He put…" There was another prolonged sigh.  An attempt at a breath.  A loud cry.  "He put his mouth on my privates," the witness said through a broken voice, seemingly just trying to spit it out. "I spaced. I didn't know what to do with all the thoughts running through my head. I just blacked out. I didn't want it to happen. I was froze."

    In fact, in the trial transcript at that point, when Fisher talked about oral sex, he used tell-tale languge to indicate that these were recovered memories.  Gillum had probably explained that Fisher couldn’t really recall the oral sex clearly because he “spaced,” he “blacked out,” he was “frozen.”  Perhaps Gillum had explained that Fisher had dissociated, blanking it all from his memory.  Fisher continued:  “He blew on my stomach, and then it, it just happened.  I don’t – don’t even know.”  Indeed, it is possible that he truly didn’t know.

    Fisher said that he had stayed overnight in the Sandusky household about 100 times between 2005 and 2008.  His mother “kind of let me do my own thing.”  In fact, “in some ways she encouraged it.”

    He said that he had been repeatedly molested in the basement, yet he willingly continued to return for additional rounds of abuse for three years.  The only explanation he gave for not confiding in his mother was that he was afraid she might not believe him and that he was embarrassed and scared.  He frequently used the line, “I couldn’t.”  During his alleged abuse, he couldn’t move.  He was “froze.”  He couldn’t talk.  Understandably, the jury accepted this highly emotional testimony and found Jerry Sandusky guilty of all the charges concerning Aaron Fisher.

    Therapist Mike Gillum did not testify. 

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    The "Lions of Liberty" are a bunch of freedom-loving libertarians who sponsor a "Felony Friday" podcast.

    On today's podcast, Ralph Cipriano of Big Trial joins host John Odermatt to discuss the parallels between the sex scandals that rocked the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Penn State.

    The podcast can be heard here.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    He was supposed to be the designated "responsible person" charged with taking care of the finances for his elderly mother's nursing home care.

    But to hear nursing home administrator Kathleen Defriece tell it, Rufus Seth Williams, the district attorney of Philadelphia, was anything but responsible.

    Instead, Defriece said, Williams was irresponsibly spending Mom's money. Income that was supposed to go toward paying the costs of Mom's nursing home care. But Williams wouldn't admit that it was him who was spending the money; instead, he blamed it on Mom, Defriece said. And whenever Defriece called Williams to confront him, he blew her off.

    Defriece was the prosecution's leadoff witness today at the opening day of the history-making political corruption trial of Rufus Seth Williams, Philadelphia's sitting district attorney, who's refused to step down from office.

    Of all the charges against Williams in the 29-count federal indictment, the lowest blows involve Williams allegedly stealing $23,000 originally intended for his own mother's nursing home care. And so when the bell rang today, that's the soft spot the prosecutors began pounding away at, those nasty allegations about ripping off Mom.

    In February of 2012, Williams's 80 year-old mother Imelda checked into the St. Francis Country Home in Darby, where patient care runs about $10,000 a month.

    A few months later, Defriece was called in to check out the financial application on behalf of Imelda Williams.

    And what was missing, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer.

    "Everything," Defriece said.

    "We had nothing," she said. "I became somewhat alarmed."

    The problem was that Seth Williams had signed his mother Imelda up for medical assistance. And he was required to turn over all of her income -- minus $45 a month -- to the nursing home to pay for Mom's care.

    But when Defriece got a look at Mom's account, she saw a $500 withdraw here, and a $600 check written there.

    And when she called Williams up at the office to talk about it, "He was not helpful," she said. "He acted like this was our problem."

    The money in Mom's account, Defriece explained to Williams, "cannot be spent." Flowing into Mom's account was about $2,000 a month. The money included two pensions and Social Security benefits.

    When Defriece asked Williams for more financial information, "He told me to come get it," she said. But the D.A. didn't realize "I don't have time to go over there," she said.

    The St. Francis nursing home had 260 residents, Defriece said. In addition, she was responsible for five other nursing homes also owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    This was another problem. While Williams was dropping his mother off at an archdiocese nursing home, and dodging his financial responsibilities for putting her there, his office was crusading against that very same Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    That's right, from May 2, 2012 to June 23 of 2012, while the administrators of St. Francis were chasing Williams for not paying the bills for Mom's care at the archdiocese nursing home, Williams was trying Msgr. William J. Lynn and Father James J. Brennan for allegedly endangering the welfare of children.

    When she was examining Mom's account, Defriece saw bills for Old Navy, Lord & Taylor, and Sallie Mae.

    "I highly doubted his mother was shopping at Old Navy," Defriece told the jury. But that's what Williams told her, that his mother insisted on buying presents for his daughters, presents that came from Old Navy and Lord & Taylor.

    When Defriece called Williams up, he was "very nonchalant" about the missing money from the account, she said.

    "The charges are not acceptable," Defriece said she told Williams. He would "kind of schmooze up to me," she said. When he came to the phone, which wasn't often.

    "I was spending so much time hunting him down," she said. "He really didn't give a darn."

    While Defriece was offering up her not-very-flattering assessment of Seth, his lawyers were objecting. But Judge Diamond was overruling almost every objection, to the point where Seth's lawyers were shaking their heads.

    When Defriece brought up purchases on a Lord & Taylor charge card, Williams asked the nursing home administrator what he should do about it. She advised Williams to cut up Mom's credit card.

    Williams, Defriece said, never accepted responsibility for the purchases. He always blamed his mother for the spending. And then he would say "he had to talk to his mother" about it, Defriece said.

    There were a "lot of red flags" about the Imelda Williams' account, Defriece said. She began writing emails notifying higher ups at the archdiocese about those problems. The superiors included a nursing home administrator, a nursing home controller, and the CFO of the archdiocese.

    "He's basically ignoring  us," Defriece wrote her bosses about D.A. Williams. She complained about "a lack of cooperation" on the part of the D.A.

    In response, one administrator wrote in an email that his "evil side" was suggesting that Defriece "threaten to make his [the D.A.'s] behavior known to the media," but it never happened.

    Defriece suggested that perhaps one of her male superiors should talk to Williams because he wasn't taking her seriously. She was also worried about consequences of harassing Philadelphia's top law enforcement officer at a time when he was prosecuting Catholic priests.

    "I don't want to get arrested for harassment," Defriece wrote in one email complaining about Rufus Seth Williams. But she wasn't getting anywhere chasing Williams for money, and her nursing home was getting stiffed.

    "Clearly, he is not taking responsibility," Defriece wrote her bosses about Williams.

    Eventually, Imelda Williams ran up a tab of $28,000 at the nursing home, a tab that grew to $36,000. Meanwhile, Rufus Seth Williams, the alleged "responsible person" who was supposed to be taking care of Mom's account, "couldn't be bothered with it," Defriece told the jury.

    "The bleed was going to keep going," she said. "I knew it was a huge problem."

    Defriece finally solved her problem by going to Imelda Williams, and getting her to sign over her all her income to the nursing home, minus $45 a month. But the nursing home was left with a $8,800 tab for previous missing income that had never been turned over.

    "Did he [Williams] ever pay that bill," Zauzmer asked.

    "No, he did not," Defriece said.

    When Defriece sent bills to the D.A. for the money he owed the nursing home, Williams ignored them.

    "I do not anticipate that he [Williams] will even open the bill," Defriece wrote her superiors in frustration. She confided to her bosses that she "wasn't too comfortable" about chasing Williams.

    "I just wanted to do my job, and not go chasing after the district attorney for money," she testified. She worried that as the bills piled up, "the fact that he [Williams] spent her [Mom's] income will get lost," Defriece wrote her bosses.

    Defriece said she had little to show for her ten months of efforts to try and get Rufus Seth Williams to pay his mother's nursing home bills.

    By December, 2012, the unpaid tab at St. Francis stood at $12,000.

    Did the nursing home take the hit on that, the prosecutor asked.

    "Yes, we did," Defriece said.

    Sadly for Williams, monkeying with Mom's money was nothing new. Back in 2009 in Philadelphia Election Court, Williams got in trouble for using his mother's credit card to pay for his plane fare, rental car and hotel accommodations when he attended the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and failed to report it as income.

    Back in 2009, Williams' actions got him briefly kicked off the ballot as a candidate for D.A. He obviously never learned his lesson.

    On cross-examination today in federal court, Thomas Burke, Williams' defense lawyer, asked Defriece if the financial forms that Williams had to sign for his mother's care were "overwhelming."

    "It can be," she conceded. They were talking about 40 to 50 pages of forms that Williams had to fill out concerning Mom's care.

    Defriece was still on the witness stand when Judge Paul S. Diamond sent the jury home for the day.

    After the jury left the room, prosecutor Zauzmer complained that Juror No 11 was dozing.

    "Want to make your presentation more interesting," the judge suggested.

    Earlier, when it was time for opening statements Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri portrayed Williams, the city's chief law enforcement officer, as a guy who always had his hand out for money.

    "He's been asking for and taking bribes," Gauri said about Williams. In exchange, Williams would provide the "power and influence of his office."

    "Whenever Seth Williams had a chance to put his hand in someone's pocket, he did," Gauri said. His goal was always to "line his pockets."

    "He was living way beyond his means," the prosecutor said. "He never missed an opportunity to steal money."

    That's why Williams would accept checks, gifts, and airline tickets from a couple of wealthy businessmen who have become cooperating witnesses, the prosecutor said. When Williams wasn't stealing money from his political action committee, or driving around city-owned vehicles that he had no right to use, the prosecutor said.

    "Seth Williams was constantly on the take," the prosecutor said. "He committed those crimes so he could live beyond his means. He took bribes and stole money."

    With Seth, it's all about the money. Which is why he's refused to step down as D.A., even though he's under indictment, and no longer has a license to practice law. So he can still draw that $170,000 salary.

    When Thomas Burke stood up to defend Williams, he went on offense.

    During his seven and a half years in office, Burke said of Williams, the D.A. prosecuted 500,000 cases. And "not one single case was tainted" by the financial transactions described in the indictment, Burke told the jury.

    "No case was compromised under Seth Williams," he said.

    Obviously, Burke never heard about Billy Doe. But he was on a roll.

    What the feds wanted to find was evidence that Seth Williams fixed a case, Burke declared. Or a witness who could testify about a fixed case.

     But after a government investigation that produced some 200,000 documents, "I'm here to tell tell you that witness doesn't exist," Burke said. "This investigation, ladies and gentlemen, was a search for a crime," he said.

    That's why the government indictment includes five alleged schemes bundled together, Burke told the jury Because none of those cases "could stand on their own."

    But Seth Williams has his flaws, his lawyer conceded to the jury.

    "He made bad mistakes," his lawyer said. "He exercised poor judgment."

    "He can't keep his finances straight," Burke admitted. Williams also has a "messy personal life."

    But while he did accept gifts from a couple of wealthy friends, Burke said, the favors that Williams did for his friends did not constitute "official acts."

    To prove its case against Williams, Burke said, the government has to prove "quid pro quos," a Latin phrase meaning "this for that." As in, you give me this, and I'll give you that.

    To convict Williams, Burke said, the government has to prove that the relationships Williams had with his wealthy friends were "transactional."

    But in reality, they were real friendships, Burke said. "These guys texted each other like a couple of school girls."

    Many times, Burke said, Williams offered to help his friends, but wasn't able to do anything.

    "If you're looking for back room deals and cases being dismissed," Burke told the jury, "You're going to be disappointed.

    "They can prove the this," Burke said about the alleged quid pro quos. "But they won't be able to prove the that."

    The case resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    The feds trotted out one of their star cooperating witnesses against Rufus Seth Williams today.

    Mohammad Ali is the Bucks County business man who was allegedly bribing the Philadelphia District Attorney with gifts that included a $205 Louis Vuitton tie, a $3,000  chocolate-colored sofa from Raymour and Flanagan, $4,000 vacations to Punta Cana, and a $7,000 "loan" that was never repaid.

    But after the soft-spoken and deferential Ali got through telling his story, he sounded more like the victim of a shakedown who was getting robbed blind. Anybody doing the math would have to wonder what Ali got in return for the money and gifts that he was showering Rufus with. To many courtroom observers, Ali looked like a chump who got played.

    It all added up to a puzzling day in court. Rufus Seth Williams, the district attorney of Philadelphia, is not on trial for being a sleaze ball or shakedown artist. If he was, he'd be convicted already. But in a case that hinges on quid pro quos, the feds appear to still be searching for one.

    Ali is a 40-year-old native of Jordan who became a U.S. citizen in 2008. He claims he's a proper law-abiding business man who made a fortune in prepaid phone cards. He drove a $200,000 Bentley, before he rented a Lamborghini for $3,000 a month. But the feds had him under surveillance for years because they suspected that Ali was a money launderer.

    Ali had millions of dollars moving in and out of his accounts. That's why the feds had him under surveillance every time he walked through an airport. But in the end, the feds clipped Ali on a tax rap for not paying $163,000 in back taxes. They also got him to plead guilty to bribing Seth Williams. But they never did nail him for money laundering.

    On the witness stand, Ali had to be told over and over again by the judge to speak up. During his testimony, Ali referred to the D.A. as "boss,""boss man," and "Mr. Seth."

    Ali's story was that he met Williams at one of the D.A.'s campaign events in 2010.  Ali said he wanted to cozy up to Rufus because for a simple reason: "status." He wanted to be "friends with the D.A.," he said.

    So Ali donated $2,500 to Williams' political action committee. That got the D.A.'s attention. What was Ali trying to do, the prosecutor asked again, to reiterate that talking point to the jury.

    He was trying to "get close to him," Ali said about the D.A. Because he figured that "someone in power" might be useful if "you ever needed anything."

    Ok, whatever. But Ali, by his own account, had several problems that he wanted Rufus Seth Williams to help him with. There were those annoying security searches at the airport, where the feds would detain Ali up for up to two hours. While they took his phone away for up to two weeks so they could search it.

    As far as Ali was concerned, he was the victim of "racial profiling," he told the jury.

    The immigration status of Ali's wife was another problem when she got turned down for citizenship. Ali was also angry about a former employee who had stolen $20,000 from him.

    So Ali began showering Rufus with gifts like a Burberry watch, and trips to Punta Cana.

    Why was he doing these things, the feds asked?

    "Part of it was to be friendly," Ali testified. "Part of it was to get close to the D.A."

    OK, we got it.

    In court, the judge could have rapped the knuckles of the prosecutors, like he often does the defense lawyers, every time they got repetitive.

    But Judge Paul S. Diamond is an unashamedly pro-prosecution judge. It's easy to tell by the objections from the defense, 90 percent of which are overruled by the judge.

    The judge has admonished lead defense lawyer Thomas Burke for standing up when he makes an objection.

    Today, when Burke got excited about cross-examining a homeland security officer, the judge told Burke, "don't fight with the witness" and "lower your voice."

    But for the prosecutors, with Judge Diamond, it's been clear sailing.

    Why, the prosecutor asked, was Ali testifying against Rufus?

    "To get a reduced sentence," Ali said. He's looking at up to eight years in jail.

    So what did the D.A. do to help Ali?

    Williams, Ali said, made a phone call to the Bucks County D.A. to get after that former employee who stole $20,000.

    Williams also arranged a meeting with Congressman Bob Brady's staff to help out Ali's wife with her citizenship problems.

    Certainly Rufus could argue that these were just constituent services he would have done for

    The prosecutor took pains to show how Ali went from being a complete stranger to Rufus in just eight months to becoming Rufus's new best friend while they took vacations together.

    Ali and Rufus always traveled first-class, staying at 5 1/2 star resorts in Punta Cana. Two royal ocean-front suites. Palm trees. Private beaches. Swiss massages.

    "Did you offer to pay," the prosecutor asked.

    "Yes," Ali said.

    Rufus was more than happy with the accommodations.

    "I am not picky," he texted Ali.

    "You are a good man Seth," Ali wrote back.

    Did Williams ever offer to pay, the prosecutor asked.

    "No," Ali said.

    When it came to Ali's airport problem, "It was Seth who was trying to help me,"Ali testified.

    That help, Ali told the jury, involved Williams making a call from the D.A.'s office to a high-ranking police official, Joseph Sullivan, to see if he could help Ali.

    So when Ali made his next overseas trip, thanks to Seth Williams, a "police officer was there waiting for me," when Ali arrived at the Philadelphia airport.

    But even with a police escort, Al was detained for a secondary screening. This time, however, it took only 10 minutes, instead of up to two hours.

    Were you happy with that, the prosecutor asked.

    "Of course," Ali replied.

    Ali said he also asked Williams to help him with the drug case of a friend who was facing prison time.

    "Boss man, sorry to bother you, remember a few months back, I asked you if you can help with a case for a friend of mine" who was a DJ at a night club, Ali texted Williams. "He has a court tomorrow and he is looking at 1.5-3 years in jail plus 6 years probation! Is there anything you can do for him?"

    "I will look into it," Williams wrote Ali. Then the D.A. asked if the DJ had already pleaded guilty to the drug charges filed by the Philly D.A.'s office.

    The answer was yes.

    "If he pleaded guilty, and from the sentence it seems that there is a mandatory sentence," Williams texted Ali, "There is very little I can do the day before without it looking extremely suspicious . . . "

    So Williams did nothing. While he continued to take the money and the free vacations and the sofa.

    So Rufus is great at shakedowns. But where's the quid pro quo?

    The day in court ended with Ali still on the stand. Tomorrow, when court resumes at 9:30 a.m., Ali will face cross-examination.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    When Thomas Burke stood up this morning to cross-examine Mohammad Ali, he wanted to make sure that the jury not only understood what the prosecution's star cooperating witness was charged with, but also what Ali wasn't charged with.

    Ali, a Bucks County businessman, pleaded guilty to tax evasion, to the tune of $163,000. He also pleaded guilty to bribing Rufus Seth Williams with gifts that included free vacations to Punta Cana, and a $3,000 chocolate-covered sofa from Raymour And Flanagan.

    But the feds had been investigating Ali for years for money laundering, as they tracked more than $200 million going in and out of his accounts while the jet setting Jordanian native flew around the world to China, South America and Iran. That's why Ali was subjected to secondary security screenings every time he walked through an airport.

    "Did you have to plead [guilty] to money laundering?" Burke, Seth Williams' lawyer, asked Ali.

    "No," Ali said.

    Burke went through Ali's cooperating deal with the government. Ali was looking at eight years in the slammer, but was eligible for a reduced sentence if the government was happy with his testimony against Seth Williams.

    Burke got Ali to agree that he was under a lot of pressure from the feds to finger Seth. But while Ali agreed he had to sing the government's tune, he kept repeating that the bottom line of his cooperating deal was that he must testify truthfully against Seth Williams.

    "Who determines the truth," Burke asked. "The government," he said, pointing toward the prosecution table.

    "Correct," Ali said.

    "This for that," Burke said. He was implying that the real quid pro quo of the case against Williams was Mohammad Ali agreeing to testify that he bribed Seth Williams in exchange for a reduced sentence.

    But Ali had his own version of his relationship with Williams.

    "Seth was my friend," he said. "I expected things from him." And, Ali said, Williams expected things from him.

    He did say it was a friendship.

    "I liked him," Ali said about Williams. "And I think he liked me."

    But the big question hanging over the D.A.'s federal corruption trial is whether the favors Williams did for Ali constituted official acts. While Williams was accepting free gifts and free vacations from Ali.

    The old quid pro quo, this for that.

    Burke elicited from Ali that the biggest problem he faced was the one and two hour delays he was subjected to every time he got caught in another secondary security screening at the airport. That's the thing he really wanted Seth to help him with. In Ali's view, he was being racially profiled. And that it had been going on since 2001.

    In March 2013, Williams allegedly convened a meeting between Ali and a high-ranking police official to assist Ali in avoiding secondary security screenings when he returned from an overseas trip to Philadelphia International Airport.

    To the feds, that constitutes an official act on behalf of Williams. Waiting in the wings to testify today was Deputy Police Chief Joseph Sullivan. He supposedly is the high-ranking police official who was asked by Williams to assist Ali in avoiding security screenings at the airport.

    If Sullivan sticks to the government's script, he will say that he felt pressured to help Rufus's pal, and that he was uncomfortable with doing it.

    But even with a police escort, Ali was still subjected to a secondary security screening at the airport. Only this time it lasted 10 minutes instead of two hours.

    But in subsequent trips, Ali wound up being detained again for longer screenings.

    Ali said he came to understand that nobody could help him when it came to getting through an airport.

    "I realized it's my name," he said.

    Did Seth Williams help you get through airports, Burke asked.

    "The problem still exists," Ali conceded.

    Burke asked Ali about the time he asked Williams for help on behalf of a friend who was facing a jail sentence on a drug charge.

    What happened with your friend, Burke asked. Williams couldn't help him, right?

    "He was sentenced to jail," Ali admitted.

    Burke asked Ali about a $7,000 loan he gave Williams, a loan that Williams never repaid.

    "Was that a bribe," Burke asked.

    "It was a loan," Ali said.

    So, Burke said, summing up, did Williams help you get through airports?

    "No," Ali said.

    Did he help your friend with his drug charge?

    "No," Ali said.

    Did Williams help your wife when she was turned down for citizenship?

    "No," Ali said.

    Over at the defense table, Rufus Seth Williams was looking like a bad investment. But he'll take that deal it if it keeps him out of jail.

    Meanwhile, the judge sent the jury home early for the weekend. So Deputy Chief Sullivan was sent home, but is expected to return Monday.

    Also waiting in the wings is the government's other top cooperating witness, Michael Weiss, the owner of Woody's, a Philadelphia gay bar. Weiss is expected to testify about free airplane tickets he provided for Williams between 2012 and 2015 to San Diego, Florida and Las Vegas.

    Among the other gifts Weiss gave Rufus is a 1997 XK8 Jaguar convertible.

    Those gifts were allegedly made in exchange for Williams appointing Weiss, a convicted felon, as a special advisor to the D.A.'s office in 2012. And also for Williams to write a letter in 2014 to California officials on Weiss's behalf. The letter was in favor of Weiss's application to continue as an officer and corporate stockholder of a business that held a California liquor license.

    Testimony is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday in the second week of a political corruption trial that's expected to last three weeks.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Sullivan testified in court today about an awkward lunch he had back in 2012 at the Union League with District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams and his Muslim buddy, Mohammad Ali.

    "It didn't feel right," Sullivan said about the district attorney's attempts to extract favorable treatment from the police department to benefit Ali whenever he was coming through the Philadelphia International Airport.

     "It made me uncomfortable," Sullivan testified about lunch with Seth and Mohammad.  So Sullivan went straight to the FBI.

    A high-ranking FBI official told Sullivan he would look into the case of Ali, the Jordanian native who was jet-setting all over the globe, had some $200 million stashed in his bank account, and was suspected of money laundering. The next day, the FBI official called Sullivan and told him, "Stay away from Mr. Ali," Sullivan recalled. "And he [the FBI official] advised the D.A. to do the same," Sullivan testified.

    But Rufus Seth Williams was too dumb to take the hint.

    Before he was promoted to deputy police commissioner in March, Sullivan, a 36-year veteran of the police department, was a chief inspector assigned to Homeland Security. In that capacity, Sullivan  supervised more than 100 city cops at the Philadelphia International Airport.

    Sullivan's relationship with Mohammad Ali got started in 2012 with a phone call from the district attorney. Williams called Sullivan to complain about an Islamic constituent who was getting hassled every time he went through the airport, Sullivan told the jury.

    "It's very important we have good relationships with the Islamic community," Sullivan testified. He took the complaint to his counterpart at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and asked him to look into it.

     "I made it clear this was an official request, not a favor," Sullivan said.

    Williams, Sullivan said, was willing to vouch for Ali's character. At first, Sullivan said, Ali's complaint of unfair treatment seemed founded. Ali had a common Islamic name, and Sullivan was told that an inquiry about Ali was "probably sitting on a desk waiting to be closed out."

    Sullivan suggested Ali apply for a global entry program that allows frequent fliers to bypass airport security screenings. Ali followed Sullivan's advice but his application was denied.

    On another occasion in February 2012, Sullivan testified, Williams called him to request that a police officer stand by when Ali came into the airport, to get past a secondary screening.

    It was an "uncommon" request, Sullivan said. But a police officer showed up, and Ali texted Sullivan that his trip through the airport was "very smooth."

    Ali did get stopped for a secondary security screening, but this time, it only took ten minutes instead of the usual two hours.

    "I thank you again," Ali texted Sullivan.

    But then a top official from Homeland Security "grabbed" Sullivan, the deputy police commissioner said, and told him "very seriously" that "there was an issue with Ali and he needs me to stay away from it."

    Sullivan said he called District Attorney Williams to let him know the police wouldn't be doing any more favors for Mohammad Ali.

    "I assured him [the D.A.] we would no longer be involved in that matter," Sullivan said. "And he shouldn't be either," Sullivan said he warned the D.A.

    But Seth Williams didn't take Sullivan's advice.

    Sullivan said he was subsequently invited by Williams to the Union League, to have lunch with him and Ali.

    "He wanted to discuss something with me," Sullivan said.

    Since the lunch was during business hours, Sullivan decided to go, but he made it a very public affair. Sullivan said he wore his dress uniform, and had his driver park conspicuously out in front of the Union League.

    "It was a public lunch not a private lunch," Sullivan told the jury.

    "It felt a little bit uncomfortable," he said. Asked by the prosecutor if he was a member of the Union League, Sullivan replied, "I don't make that kind of money."

    He was there 45 minutes.

    "I believe I had soup," Sullivan told the jury.

    At the luncheon, Sullivan said that Ali told him, "He loved this country. He didn't understand why he was treated this way and that there was nothing that could be done about it."

    But while he ate his soup, Sullivan didn't feel right about hobnobbing with the swells at the Union League.

    "I felt like it was some type of performance that I was a part of of," the deputy police commissioner told the jury.

    Sullivan was expecting some new information from Seth Williams, but lunch at the Union League turned out to be just a rehash.

    But it made Sullivan so uncomfortable he immediately told the FBI about it. When the FBI warned him about Ali, Sullivan said he figured he had to tell Seth Williams.

    So, Sullivan said, he called Williams and warned him a second time that "He needs to stay away from Mr. Ali."

    "I was angry at the time," Sullivan said, so he told Williams forcefully that he would have "nothing further to do with Mr. Ali." And he told Williams he should do the same.

    Sullivan said he did not appreciate being put into the "company of people who could call my character into question."

    What was the D.A.'s reaction to the warning, the prosecutor asked.

    "He thanked me," Sullivan said.

    But the D.A. didn't take Sullivan's advice.

    The prosecutor asked Sullivan if he knew that Williams was "accepting things of value."

    No, he didn't, Sullivan said.

    Had he known, "I would have gone to the FBI sooner," Sullivan said.

    On cross-examination,  Sullivan explained that he had a relationship with a person of another race and was "familiar with the problems they face" in terms of discrimination. That's why initially, he took Ali's complaint of discrimination seriously.

    But it turned out to be a mistake.

    "I was misinformed," Sullivan said.

    On cross, Thomas Burke, the D.A.'s defense lawyer, handled the deputy police commissioner like he was a live grenade. So Sullivan got a chance to reiterate his talking points.

    "I was trying to let him [Williams] know that it was a bad idea" to try and help Ali, Sullivan said. "I told him to stay away from Mr. Ali. I told him that very forcefully, and that it was coming from the FBI. We should not be involved in anything to benefit Mr. Ali."

    When he was done testifying, Sullivan went outside the courthouse and held an impromptu press conference on the sidewalk, for the benefit of TV reporters.

    Once again, Sullivan stuck to his talking points as he continued to do his best to bury Rufus.

    "I just felt that something wasn't right and I felt that the best course of action was to run it through my counterparts at the FBI," Sullivan told the reporters.

    Meanwhile, inside the courthouse, the next star government witness was Michael Weiss, owner of Woody's, a Center City gay bar. Weiss, the government charged, was bribing Seth Williams for years with free vacations and a free Jaguar convertible.

    Weiss, however, was not a chatty witness. In fact, the judge described Weiss as almost a hostile witness, so he allowed the prosecutor to ask Weiss leading questions.

    "I've seen reluctant witnesses," Judge Paul S. Diamond said. "If he [Weiss] could be anywhere else in the world," the judge said, before Weiss came back into the courtroom again after a break.

    "Ah, there he is," the judge said.

    So the prosecutor was reduced to dragging Weiss through numerous text messages left on his cell phone. The text messages showed that while Weiss was asking Seth for favors, Weiss was happily arranging free plane trips for Williams.

    There were three trips to Florida, a trip to Las Vegas, and another flight to San Diego. Weiss also provided Williams' girlfriend with a 1997 Jaguar XKE convertible.

    "Dude, I never want to be a drag on your wallet," Williams texted after Weiss offered to fly Williams and his girlfriend to Key West. "But we are always up for an adventure."

    Meanwhile, Seth Williams was appointing Michael Weiss, a convicted felon, as his special advisor. And writing letters of recommendation on behalf of Weiss to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Where Weiss had an application pending to continue as an officer and shareholder of a bar, even though he had been convicted on a felony rap.

    When a member of Weiss's condo board didn't believe Weiss was a special advisor to the D.A., Weiss got Williams to write a letter stating that Weiss was a special advisor. On Weiss's request, Williams agreed to backdate the letter to make it look like it was an announcement when Williams first gave Weiss the honorary position.

    When Weiss's liquor license was pending out in California, Weiss wrote out a letter for Seth Williams to send to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. In the letter Weiss wrote for Williams to sign, Williams praised Weiss as an "honorable and trustworthy" community leader who was a "model citizen."

    The prosecutor had Weiss read the proposed letter out loud that Weiss wrote out for Williams to send to California authorities. The point seemed to be that Williams sent out the exact letter that Weiss wrote for him to sign.

    But before the prosecutor could ask Weiss to read the final letter that Williams sent, the judge, who was glancing at his watch, and clearly bored by the testimony, decided it was a good time to break for the day.

    Weiss will face cross-examination when the case resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 14A at the federal courthouse.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    In a text he sent to his car mechanic, District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams revealed the real reason why he was putting his beloved 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible up for sale.

    "I love that car," Williams texted his car mechanic, Armond Salloum. "But my girlfriend wants me to sell it because I had another chick in it."

    So Salloum, a high school classmate of the D.A.'s -- Central High Class of 1985 -- put the Jag up for sale. But Williams, who already owed Salloum money for a used battery and spark plugs, defaulted on a promise to bring the title to the car over to Salloum's car lot, plus a picture of the D.A.'s ex-girlfriend's driver's license.

    The car, of course, didn't really belong to Williams or his ex-girlfriend, Stacey Cummings. It was borrowed from Michael Weiss, another buddy of Rufus's who owned a Center City gay bar. So the sale never happened.

    "The car is still parked at the garage," Salloum testified. Rufus not only left Salloum hanging, but also Weiss. Not to mention whatever he did to piss off his ex-girlfriend.

    The subject of Rufus Seth Williams the deadbeat D.A. was the theme of today's testimony during the second week of Williams's political corruption trial. Besides defaulting on a deal to sell the Jaguar, another prosecution witness described how Williams was spending his mother's money while she was in a Catholic rest home, but blaming all that spending on Mom. Cummings is also on the witness list. Maybe she will testify about why she slashed her former boyfriend's tires, and what was the deal with that other chick in the Jaguar.

    Armond Salloum was the last witness of the day. He described how his old high school buddy Rufus Seth Williams was so hard up for cash that he was ready to dump the Jag on

    "It was a quick dump site," Salloum explained. Williams was offered $3,000 by the website for the Jag that he borrowed from Weiss, but never returned.

    Salloum thought that Williams could get more for the Jag, possibly as  much as $4,995, the price that the D.A. was hoping to sell for.

    "It's a fair price," Armond testified. But Salloum said that Williams was willing to take as little as $3,500.

    "He was taking a beating on that," Salloum told the jury.

    But on cross-examination from defense lawyer Trevan Borum, Salloum agreed with another witness's characterization of the Jag, which frequently needed repairs, as "a piece of junk."

    "That's typical of Jaguars," Salloum said.

    Salloum told the jury how he was questioned about the Jag by the FBI. Salloum said he didn't understand the significance of the Jag to the feds.

    "That's two of us," Borum cracked, as he ended his cross-examination.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer was offended by Borum's joke, telling Judge Paul S. Diamond that he thought Borum's remark was inappropriate.

    Judge Diamond, however, told Zauzmer to strap on his big boy pants.

    "This is a trial," the judge lectured the thin-skinned prosecutor. "Stuff happens."

    Earlier in the day, a lot of stuff was happening with Michael Weiss, the owner of Woody's.

    Weiss, who had a grant of immunity, previously had testified for several tedious hours about his friendship with Williams. Only Weiss was so reluctant a witness that the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran, was reduced to poring over a thick stack of print-outs of numerous text messages exchanged over the years between Williams and Weiss.

    But getting answers out of Weiss was like extracting molars. On cross-examination, however, from defense lawyer Thomas Burke, Weiss seemed to loosen up.

    "Very good friends," was how Weiss explained his relationship with Seth Williams. Asked if was plying Williams with cash and free airplane tickets, Weiss replied, "I don't believe I bribed anybody."

    So why did he donate 16 free roundtrip airplane tickets to Seth Williams, Burke wanted to know.

    "Because he asked," Weiss said.

    Did he donate those tickets because he was such a generous guy, Burke asked.

    "That's not for me to day," was Weiss's humble answer.

    On the witness stand, Weiss described how his birthday and Seth Williams's birthday were only a week apart. On a text message to his old pal, Weiss had written, "What does Little Sethie want for his birthday?"

    That got some laughs from the jury.

    On cross-examination, Burke pointed to several text messages to show how close the two pals were.

    "Love you guys," Weiss had written to Williams and his girlfriend. "We love you guys also," was the D.A.'s response.

    Love was in the air as Burke asked Weiss about Christmas parties where Weiss and his brother donated gifts to disadvantaged children.

    "Who did you get to play Santa," Burke wanted to know.

    "Seth," Weiss replied.

    Burke entered into evidence several photos of Williams's daughters playing with Weiss's niece.

    On redirect, the prosecutor asked Weiss to explain how his felony conviction on a tax rap changed his life.

    Weiss began a long speech where he talked about how, for the first 45 years of his life, he had always tried to do the right thing.

    "Can you just answer the question," the exasperated judge told the witness.

    "It had a very severe mental effect on me," Weiss told the jury.

    The storyline the prosecutor seemed to want to present to the jury was that Weiss was so upset about his conviction and status as a felon that he was willing to do all kinds of favors for Rufus Seth Williams, after Williams made Weiss a special advisor to the D.A.'s office.

    So you gave Williams 16 free round-trip airplane tickets, the prosecutor said. Plus a Jaguar and cash. In exchange for official favors from Williams that included letters sent on the D.A.'s official stationery to Weiss's condo board, to prove Weiss was a special advisor. And another official letter the D.A. sent to the California Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control, to help Weiss hang on to his ownership of a bar, despite his status as a convicted felon.

    Earlier, Weiss had defended the free tickets he gave the D.A. by saying he always did favors like that for his friends, who included several elected officials.

    The prosecutor asked Weiss to name how many other elected officials he had bought round-trip airline tickets for.

    After a long pause, Weiss could only come up with one name -- state Senator Larry Farnese, who will probably be subjected to another federal investigation.

    "I believe that's it," Weiss told the jury.

    The prosecutor asked if the gift to Farnese came with any strings attached.

    Weiss replied that he told Farnese the same thing he told Williams when he was giving him one free ticket after another -- "I asked Mr. Williams that he report it," Weiss said.

    But did he, the prosecutor asked.

    "I did not check up on him," Weiss said.

    The prosecutor pounced.

    Would you have given the D.A. all those free round-trip airplane tickets, the prosecutor asked, "If you knew he [Williams] wasn't going to report it?"

    "No," Weiss admitted.

    The next witness was John Chapman, a former nursing home administrator for the St. Francis Country House, where the D.A.'s 80-year-old mom, Imelda Williams, was admitted as a patient in 2012.

    Chapman told the jury that he remembered Imelda Williams as a "very sweet lady."

    Prosecutor Zauzmer reviewed emails where the administrators at St. Francis were discussing what to do about Rufus Seth Williams, who was designated the "responsible person" for his mother's finances, but wasn't paying her nursing home bills.

    It was Chapman who wrote that "his evil side" told him that the nursing home administrators should make the D.A.'s behavior "known to the media."

    "It was a joke," Chapman told the humorless prosecutor.

    "Unbelievable," Chapman wrote in a subsequent email exchange when another nursing home administrator explained how Williams blew her off when she called to alert the D.A. about an unpaid tab at the nursing home.

    "I felt that he's putting it all on his mom, instead of acting like a responsible party," Chapman told the jury.

    Chapman explained how he left a message for Williams to call him about an unpaid bill at the nursing home that was up to $11,886. The bill got so high because rather than turn over money from his mother's two pensions and her Social Security benefits, as he was required to, Williams was spending Mom's money.

    Chapman told the jury how he was very firm on the phone with Williams when the D.A. called him back, using what Chapman described as "my dad voice."

    Chapman said he subsequently wrote to Williams, asking for permission to speak to Imelda Williams directly, to get her to sign over her pension and benefits to the nursing home. But Williams didn't respond.

    "No, he never gave me permission to speak to his mom," Chapman said.

    On cross-examination, Burke tried to get Chapman to agree that his nursing home was at fault for not taking the time to explain all the financial rules of elderly care to Rufus Seth Williams.

    But the judge interrupted Burke's questioning.

    "Please," the judge said, "You're asking the same questions multiple times with multiple witnesses."

    Chapman wasn't buying it, and he kept bringing up the money the D.A. owed the nursing home.

    "That's because you guys screwed up the whole admissions process," Burke said.

    "No we did not," Chapman said. "I wouldn't say that."

    The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. Prosecutors told the judge that they expect to wind up their case by Friday.

    Then the big question will be whether Rufus Seth Williams will take the stand in his own defense.

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  • 06/28/17--16:47: What Was Rufus Thinking?
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    As he sat at the defense table watching the evidence pile up against him, District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams couldn't be blamed for thinking about what might have been.

    Today in court, the feds brought in a former campaign official from the D.A.'s political action committee to testify against him, along with an official from the city Board of Ethics.

    The testimony was about as exciting as watching an audit in progress. But the feds were effective as they continued to pile up points on the scoreboard. And, over at the defense table, Rufus Seth Williams was left to ponder why he didn't take the deal the feds offered him before trial, which multiple sources described as 20 months to two years in jail, for just a violation of the Travel Act.

    Instead, Philadelphia's sitting district attorney is looking at up to 20 years in the slammer, for multiple counts of bribery, extortion, honest services fraud and wire fraud. As he faces a pro-prosecution judge who, the minute after the jury announces a conviction, will not blink an eye before he orders the marshals to take the defendant out in handcuffs.

    The first witness of the day was Francis Cassidy, the general manager of the Sporting Club at the Bellevue.

    Cassidy told the jury about executive members of the Sporting Club such as Rufus Seth Williams paid an initiation fee of $550, plus monthly dues of $184.

    This matters in the political corruption case against Williams because the D.A.'s bills at the Sporting Club were being paid by his political action committee, the Friends of Seth Williams. And at the beginning of court today, Judge Paul S. Diamond instructed the jury that the state's campaign finance laws prohibit spending PAC money on purely personal expenses.

    Uh oh.

    On the witness stand, Cassidy described how Rufus's PAC paid for a deep tissue massage and a deep pore cleansing facial for the D.A. plus gratuity at $209. A "revitalizing deep tissue massage for Rufus cost the D.A.'s PAC $141.50.

    And the D.A.'s "fitness insanity program" with a personal trainer for Rufus cost $180.

    The D.A.'s fitness kick shed 60 pounds off his frame. A trim, muscular D.A. proudly adorned the cover of the Sporting Club's "Belong" magazine, published quarterly in 5,000 copies that were on display at the club for up to 6 months, Cassidy said.

    The next witness was Lisette Gonzalez, the former executive director of the D.A.'s PAC.

    Gonzalez told the jury how she signed up to raise money for the D.A., provided she could keep 20 percent. Gonzalez explained how she was on unemployment at the time, so she went to work for the D.A.'s PAC at just $1,000 a month, plus a cut of what she raised.

    So she could continue to collect her unemployment benefits.

    Gonzalez told the jury how she questioned the biggest monthly expenses the PAC had, namely the D.A.'s monthly tab at the Union League, and Sporting Club. And a $2,674 birthday party that Williams threw at the Union League for his girlfriend.

    Gonzalez told the jury how she didn't attend the birthday bash because she thought it was a "personal expenditure."

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Thomas Burke tried to suggest that a trimmer district attorney was more electable. But Gonzalez wasn't buying it.

    There were many bigger candidates who run and win, she told the jury.

    "I can't agree with that at all."

    The last witness of the day was Michael Cooke, from the city's board of ethics.

    The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran, asked Cooke exciting questions such as, "What is a campaign finance report?" And, "What is a contribution?"

    Cooke described how the D.A.'s lawyer, Samuel Stretton, tried to explain why Rufus Seth Williams didn't report some $160,000 in gifts.

    "There's not really a good answer, it was a mistake, and we're trying to fix it now," Cooke quoted Stretton as saying.

    Cooke also testified how the city ethics board asked Williams and his lawyer if they had been soliciting things of value from people who were seeking official action from the D.A., and that the answer was no.

    Would it have been important for you to know whether those gifts were solicited or not, the prosecutor asked Cooke.

    "Yes," he said.

    Court resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Then, thanks to the July 4th holiday, the Seth Williams trial will take a five-day hiatus, beginning with no court on Friday, and continuing through until Wednesday, when the prosecution is expected to wind up its case.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    Rufus Seth Williams glanced nervously over his shoulder at the two U.S. Marshals suddenly lurking behind his chair at the defense table.

    Judge Paul S. Diamond held up a 14-page guilty plea agreement.

    "I have a guilty plea from the highest law enforcement officer in the city who betrayed and sold his office," the judge said. "I am appalled by  the evidence I heard yesterday."

    The judge talked about that evidence. How the district attorney of Philadelphia, under penalty of perjury, had handed in six amended financial statements that the judge said were "riddled with falsehoods." Then, the judge announced he was revoking bail because he didn't believe the defendant had any credibility left. The marshals put the cuffs on Williams and led him out of the courtroom in disgrace as his ex-wife began crying.

    For Rufus Seth Williams, it was all over. No more chauffeured rides around the city with his big, burly bodyguards in brand new black SUVs. No more deep-tissue massages and deep-pore facials at the Sporting Club. No more cigars at the Union League.

    Williams, who waited until today to resign as D.A., was off to jail. Specifically, an 8 x 10 cell in the Special Housing Unit on the top floor of the federal prison at 7th and Market. It's a place where, for nearly the next four months, Williams will wear an orange jumpsuit, and be in solitary confinement in  his cell for 23 hours a day on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends. Until he is sentenced by Judge Diamond on Oct. 24th.

    The day began with a palpable buzz on the 14th floor of the federal courthouse. The phones of reporters lit up with text messages. The rumor was that the political corruption trial of Rufus Seth Williams, about to start its eighth day, was going to end abruptly.

    Because early this morning, around 1:30 a.m., Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer got a phone call from Thomas Burke, the D.A.'s lawyer.

    The D.A., who had been talking with his lawyers all night as the evidence piled up against him, was ready to cut a deal.

    When court began at 9:30 a.m., the prosecutors and FBI agents were seen smiling and chatting. Over at the defense table, lawyers Burke and Trevan Borum were looking grim. And Rufus Seth Williams was nowhere to be found.

    Nearly 90 minutes later, court finally began. The judge announced a guilty plea had been agreed to by the lawyers in the case. The judge asked Williams a set of embarrassing questions to make sure the defendant was in his right mind.

    In answer to the judge's questions, Williams said the only drugs he was talking was a prescription for high blood pressure and a baby aspirin.

    He did say he was under the care of a psychologist "to deal with the stress of everything going on with my trial. Williams told the judge he was "very satisfied" with Burke's representation.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Zauzmer stood up and read the deal in court. Williams was pleading guilty to count one of the indictment, a violation of the U.S. Travel Act where Williams traveled to a Punta Cana resort with businessman Mohammad Ali, with the intent of taking a bribe.

    Ali, a suspected money launderer, was bribing Williams with two free vacations in Punta Cana, and a free $3,000 sofa, in exchange for an official act. The act: Williams agreed to "look into" the guilty plea of a friend of Ali's on a drug arrest, but wound up doing nothing to keep the friend out of jail.

    But Williams did get the two free vacations and the chocolate-colored sofa.

    "I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking," Williams had texted Ali, when he accepted the offer of a second free trip to Punta Cana, "but we will gladly go."

    In exchange, the government agreed to drop counts 2 through 29 of the 29-count federal indictment, although the catch was Williams had to admit that all the allegations against him that were contained in those counts were true.

    Williams admitted to taking more bribes in the form of $9,000 in cash and a check from Ali. And Williams admitted to taking more bribes from Michael Weiss, the owner of Woody's, a Center city gay bar. The bribes came in the form of 16 round-trip airplane tickets to San Diego, Las Vegas, and Florida, along with other gifts that included a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible.

    In exchange for the bribes, Williams admitted he did officials acts on Weiss's behalf. Such as naming Weiss, a convicted felon, as a special advisor to the D.A.'s office, and giving him a badge. And writing a letter on the D.A.'s official stationery to the California Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control, in support of Weiss' application to hang onto the ownership of a San Diego bar, despite his felony tax conviction.

    Williams also admitted he stole $13,000 in income from his mother that was supposed to go to a Catholic nursing home where his mother was a patient. And Williams admitted to pocketing a $10,000 check that friends of his mother donated, to pay for his mother's nursing home expenses.

    So Williams was looking at a sentence of 5 years, followed by probation for three years, along with a fine of $250,000 and $64,840 in forfeitures.

    As part of the plea bargain, Williams agreed finally to resign as district attorney.

    Is that effect immediately, the judge asked.

    "Humbly, sincerely, and effective immediately," Williams replied.

    The judge gave Williams a chance to speak.

    "I'm just very sorry for all this trouble," Williams said.

    It was time to argue over bail.

    Burke claimed that Williams was no flight risk because he was "deeply in debt," and "he doesn't even have a car."

    Williams talked about his close attachments to his three daughters, aged 29, 17 and 13. He also told the judge he was close to his ex-wife, and shared joint custody of his two youngest daughters.

    Williams told the judge he had no more than $150 to $200 in his bank account, despite an annual salary of $170,000.

    Williams owned no credit cards. The only car at his house, he told the judge, was a 1991 Ford Crown Victoria formerly owned by his father that hadn't been driven in eight years.

    Asked by the prosecutor how he was going to get around, Williams replied, "I have about four bicycles at my home." And his house, which is up for sale, the defendant said, was located three blocks from a SEPTA station.

    Asked by the prosecutor how he was going to survive without an income, Williams said, "I'm gonna try and figure that out."

    But the judge had a different idea, namely sending Williams off to jail in handcuffs.

    And that was just the start of it.

    Over at the holding tank at the SHU, Williams will be strip-searched, subjected to a body cavity search, and then fingerprinted.

    A doctor will check him out. Williams will be handed a "roll," prison talk for a blanket, sheet, towel and a bottle of shampoo.

    For at least the first 10 days, Williams will be allowed no phone calls. Then, he will be allowed one 15-minute phone call a month. And one visit a week, where he will have to talk through a glass.

    His 8 by 10 cell at the SHU features a shower, desk, frosted window. And a combination toilet and sink. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, Williams will be handed a razor, and allowed to shave.

    His weekly snacks are limited to three Snickers bars. Three small packets of cubed chicken breasts. Two honey buns and one box of Ritz crackers.

    Once a day, the correctional officers will knock on Williams cell and ask him if he wants an hour of recreation. If he accepts, Williams will spend an hour in a 6 x 12 steel cage where he can walk in circles, do pushups and sit-ups.

    "You're like a fucking dog in a kennel," was how one former SHU inmate described it.

    "What you saw today," said one longtime friend of Williams who witnessed the spectacle of the former D.A. being led away in handcuffs, "was a man hitting rock bottom."

    It was not a pretty sight.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    When you cover a trial, you run into everybody in the men's room.

    The prosecutors, the defense lawyers. Even the defendant, Rufus Seth Williams.

    Talk about an uncomfortable situation. There I was face to face at the sink with the guy I've been ripping for the past six years.

    I've called the D.A. out for publishing an irresponsible grand jury report about the Catholic Church that was riddled with more than 20 factual errors; a grand jury report that passed off as gospel the fraudulent fables told by "Billy Doe."

    I've blasted the D.A. for trashing the reputations of six narcotics officers without a shred of proof. And for turning loose more than 800 drug dealers arrested by those same cops, similarly without any evidence of police misconduct.

    I've castigated the D.A. for not prosecuting perpetrators of domestic abuse, because it might lower his conviction rate at election time.

    And his response for six straight years has been to stonewall me.

    So. while covering his political corruption trial, the day after I called him a sleaze ball and a shakedown artist in print, when I ran into him in the men's room, I did not expect Rufus Seth Williams to thank me for my work.

    But he did. What he was happy about was that I had publicly expressed skepticism about the relatively paltry official acts that the feds had accused him of selling his office for. In exchange for the free gifts he was taking as a "thankful beggar," such as free airplane tickets, a chocolate-colored sofa and a beat-up old Jaguar convertible.

    Imagine meeting you here, he said with a big smile. To my surprise, he actually wanted to talk. He told me that his defense lawyers, Tom Burke and Trevan Borum, were old friends who had stood by him. Two guys he had met back in 1992, on the first day they all reported to the D.A.'s office as brand new assistant district attorneys.

    The next day of the trial, I wrote about Mohammed Ali, the shady businessman who was allegedly bribing the D.A. Ali had more than $200 million in his bank account, and the feds had him under surveillance as a suspected money launderer. But the feds never charged Ali with money-laundering after he agreed to become a cooperating witness against the D.A. That was the real quid pro quo in the case, Tom Burke told the jury.

    Seth liked what I wrote so much this time that he actually came over in the courtroom, addressed me by name [for the first time in six years], and shook my hand.

    On trial for his life, Rufus Seth Williams figured he still he had the touch. One on one, with somebody who'd been ripping him for six years, he thought he was still such a charmer that he could play me.

    Amazing. I wound up thinking to myself, and not for the first time, that this wasn't a mature individual I was dealing with. This was a man child, a flimflam artist, the worst kind of con man who actually believes his own B.S.

    Someone who never accepts responsibility for his actions. Someone who always blames others. Someone who doesn't even consider, let alone understand, the consequences of his actions when it comes to hurting other people.

    Even when he sends an innocent priest off to jail, where he dies, as in the case of Father Charles Engelhardt.

    Rufus Seth Williams is somebody who thinks he can always con anybody, no matter what.

    From that angle, the trial of Seth Williams was an immensely satisfying public spectacle. Because for perhaps the first time in his life, the man child was held responsible for his actions. Even though in his last moments on the public stage he was still playing everybody, doing his crying act about not having any money left, and no car, only a bicycle to peddle around with.

     But this time he didn't get away with it; this time, a judge refused to buy it.

    "I don't believe you," Judge Paul S. Diamond told the man child. You have no credibility, the judge said. That's when the judge ordered the marshals to take Williams into custody.

    And the man child, who had had been coddled all his life, now has almost four months to sit alone in his 8 x 10 cell at the SHU. Where, without any cell phones or computers to distract him, and only a few visitors, he can ponder the consequences of his actions.

    So on one end, it was satisfying to see the man-child not get away with it. Keep in mind that eight years ago, Rufus Seth Williams, then a candidate for D.A., was hauled into the city's Election Court and kicked off the ballot, after he got in trouble for playing with his mother's credit cards and screwing up his campaign finances.

    He learned nothing. Instead, over the next eight years, he kept doing the same things. And taking money and freebies from lowlife friends like Mohammad Ali and Michael Weiss. And thinking he would get away with it forever.

    My overriding thought is how on earth did this irresponsible man-child get to be the highest law enforcement officer in Philadelphia? How many people knew he was a fraud, but said nothing?

    That's when this trial becomes a nauseating spectacle. Because the media and the government can now pretend that the corruption of Rufus Seth Williams has been hermetically sealed; confined to a few sordid relationships with a couple of sleaze ball business guys.

    And that when it came to justice, somehow this completely corrupt individual who would sell his office and steal from his own mother always did the right thing.

    The real story is that he probably contaminated everything he came into contact with. And that the damage he did to the district attorney's office, and to justice in this city, may be incalculable.

    And now, thanks to a chain of events set in motion by the corruption of Rufus Seth Williams, Larry Krasner, a Black Lives Matter ideologue, is about to take over as our new D.A.

    And plunge the city further into lawlessness.

    It's not enough that Rufus Seth Williams staged a with hunt of the Catholic Church, and used a fraudulent victim to send four innocent men to jail.

    It's not enough that Williams smeared six narcotics officers and irresponsibly freed more than 800 drug dealers, so they could collect millions of dollars in cash from the taxpayers, and commit more crimes.

    It's not enough that Williams wouldn't prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, even though the cops had suspects in custody, because he was worried about lowering his conviction rate.

    Now, the city of Philadelphia is prepared to sink even lower with Larry Krasner as our D.A.

    We're replacing a criminal with a lawyer who has dedicated his life to setting as many criminals free as possible.

    And the media and the government get to pretend that the only thing Seth Williams did wrong was help himself to a few free vacations, a free sofa, and a beat-up old Jaguar.

    Everybody's off the hook. While we're getting ready to sink even lower into the abyss.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    For years, Penn State alumni have clamored for a federal investigation of The Second Mile charity founded by convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

    It turns out that the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI have already conducted a federal investigation of The Second Mile. It's an investigation that's apparently been closed since at least 2014, with the result that no charges were ever filed.

    In response to FOI requests filed by Ryan Bagwell, a former newspaper reporter and unsuccessful candidate for Penn State trustee, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. released some 1,000 pages of documents from the closed files of The Second Mile probe.

    What's the bottom line?

    "It's a big nothing burger," said John Snedden, a former NCIS and FIS special agent who just got through reviewing the documents. "There was an investigation and there was nothing to pursue, and no charges were filed."

    Most of the notes in the released files appear to be FBI interviews conducted in 2012 with Second Mile board members in both the State College office and other regional offices. The interviews described how Second Mile board members reacted to the Sandusky revelations dating back to as early as 2010 and 2011.

    "Not a single person admitted to knowing about Sandusky's crimes prior to the presentment," Snedden said. Two people claim to know about "missing donor money," but nothing else is said about that subject in the rest of the released files.

    The documents released by the feds are heavily redacted, but there are many references to Second Mile board members circling the wagons. References were made in the documents to false allegations being made by a "disgruntled mother" and a "disgruntled kid."

    The documents are more noticeable for what they don't say. Such as in the issue of jurisdiction involving the Sandusky investigation. If, for example, in their investigation of The Second Mile, if the feds any found any evidence of a federal crime, such as Sandusky crossing state lines with sex abuse victims, "They would have taken it [the investigation] away from the state for prosecution," Snedden said.

    "But they [the feds] didn't do any of that," Snedden said after reviewing the documents. "There's no indication they did that."

    Instead, the attorney general pursued the Sandusky investigation, and the feds pursued The Second File.

    "Sadly, neither focused on political vindictiveness and corruption, which is exactly what happened here," Snedden said.

    Snedden has his own experience with a previous secret federal investigation into the Penn State scandal. In 2012, working as a special agent for the Federal Investigative Services, Snedden did a background investigation of former Penn State President Graham Spanier, to see if Spanier's high level security clearance should be renewed by the government.

    As part of that investigation, Snedden investigated whether Spanier had orchestrated a coverup of Sandusky's crimes. Snedden's investigation concluded that there was no cover up at Penn State, because there was no sex crime to cover up. As far as Snedden was concerned, Mike McQueary, the guy who witnessed a naked Sandusky allegedly abusing a boy in the Penn State showers, was not a credible witness.

    Spanier's clearance was renewed as the result of an 110-page report that Snedden wrote back in 2012, a report that was declassified earlier this year.

    In the investigation of The Second Mile, the released files include copies of FBI interviews with eight witnesses whose identities are redacted. The interviews are recorded on FBI "302s," the number of the form that interview summaries were typed on by FBI agents.

    "I see a lot of interviews with a lot of different people, a wide range of positions in the Second Mile hierarchy," Snedden said. "And I don't see any people admitting to knowing anything concrete about Sandusky."

    In the interviews, there are quotes from woman who "had always heard positive things about the organization. She had never heard anything bad about TSM founder Jerry Sandusky."

    Another woman interviewed by the FBI described Sandusky's "nondescript entrance and presence" at a March 25, 2011 "Celebration of Excellence" event in Hershey.

    "Sandusky was not acknowledged during the event formally by TSM," the woman told the FBI.

    "On March 31, 2011, the Patriot News published an article about the grand jury investigation" of Sandusky," the woman told the FBI. "The article was everywhere and everyone was talking about it."

    "She didn't recall seeing any evidence of financial improprieties or anything otherwise questionable," the FBI 302 stated. "She did not personally observe any misuse of donations."

    "The general mood of the room was that of denial," the woman told the FBI. "Everyone appeared to be in support of Sandusky and TSM."

    In another 302, an unidentified witness said, "He did not observe any inappropriate behavior." On the same form, someone, possibly Sandusky himself stated  the complainant "was a disgruntled kid, not associated with TSM. He was not aware at the time that the allegation was sexual in nature"

    Another 302 notes that one board member was "shocked after reading the indictment." In addition, "four or five board members in particular were upset that they were never notified. The exchange was heated."

    In the 302s, there was discussion of an earlier 1998 allegation that Sandusky had abused another youth in the shower, but "the allegations were considered 'unfounded.'"

    There is also discussion in the 302s about an alleged allegation involving the Clinton County Children and Youth Services[CYS].

    "CYS did have a safety plan in the event a child was a victim of sexual abuse," the 302 stated. "They did not need to enact their safety plan for SANDUSKY's case because the allegation was not founded and all actions taken by CYS were 'by the book.'"

    Bagwell said he has filed multiple FOI requests as part of his Penn State Sunshine Fund. Bagwell, a former newspaper reporter who is now a web developer, said he filed his requests because he was seeking primary source documents from the Sandusky investigation.

    "What frustrated me about everything since the very beginning was a complete and utter lack of transparency," Bagwell said.

    In his court battle with the U.S. Attorney's office, Bagwell said, the feds indicated that there were some 300,000 pages of documents related to The Second Mile investigation. The feds only released 1,000 pages and "withheld tends of thousands more for reasons not apparent at this time," Bagwell said.

    Bagwell, himself a former journalist, said the press coverage of the scandal has been "abysmal, reactionary and sensationalistic," as well as "factually incorrect." Bagwell said he hopes the newly released documents will have a calming effect on Penn State Nation.

    "Penn Staters are still screaming for an investigation for years of The Second Mile," Bagwell said. "Well, it turns out there was an investigation."

    "My overall view is that everything here [in the documents] seems to support the idea that The Second Mile didn't knowingly do anything wrong," Bagwell said. "The Penn Staters who are clamoring for heads at The Second Mile to roll, I don't think that's an outcome that's appropriate at this point in time."

    0 0

    By Ralph Cipriano

    Fifteen minutes.

    That's how much advance notice Jerry Sandusky got from his lawyer, Joseph Amendola, before he engaged in a disastrous nationally televised interview with Bob Costas.

    Amendola also did nothing to prep Sandusky for talking with Costas, Sandusky's appeal lawyer say. That disastrous 2011 interview was replayed in court by the prosecutors, who proceeded to rip Sandusky for talking to Costas, but not the jury. Sandusky was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

    The idiocy of the Costas interview was described in a 257-page post-hearing brief filed Thursday in Centre County Common Pleas Court by Sandusky's appeal lawyers, Alexander H. Lindsay Jr. and J. Andrew Salemme, of Butler, PA.

    Lindsay and Salemme argue that Sandusky deserves a new trial because Amendola foolishly chose to go on national TV and give up his client's right to remain silent and not convict himself. Amendola went on Costas's TV show in a misguided campaign to cultivate "friends" in the media, Sandusky's appeal lawyers write.  Amendola told a judge he embarked on his campaign because at the time the media was saying that his client was "worse than Adolph Hitler."

    Even with the language barrier, however, it's doubtful that Hitler would have been as flat on his feet as Sandusky was during the Costas interview.

    In the interview, Costas asked Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to young boys.

    Sandusky repeated the question a couple of times, before saying, "I -- I love to be around them . .  I -- I -- but no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

    In their appeal brief, Sandusky's lawyers argue that the Costas debacle wasn't all Jerry's fault. It was editing by NBC that made it appear "that there was repetition of the infamous question and answer regarding Mr. Sandusky being sexually attracted to young boys," the lawyers write.

    Amendola admitted that the Costas interview presented at trial had the "same effect as a police interview," except that Amendola was powerless on TV to stop the questioning, Sandusky's lawyers write.

    In their brief, Sandusky's lawyers quote another criminal defense attorney, James Bryant, as saying he would have only agreed to the Costas interview if they put "a gun to my head."

    That interview "killed" Sandusky, Bryant said. Especially when it was played at trial.

    At trial, Sandusky's lawyers said, the prosecutors "sought to fix a bias and hostility against Mr. Sandusky in the jury's minds based on the fact that Mr. Sandusky was willing to talk to the media about his case, but he did not take the stand to talk to the jury directly."

    Sandusky's lawyers cited the Fifth Amendment that says no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

    Except if he voluntarily decides to waive that privilege, by going on national TV.

    Prior to the Costas interview, Sandusky's lawyers write, Amendola told Sandusky that only Amendola would be interviewed by Costas. And that if Sandusky was interviewed, the only thing he would have to say was that "he was innocent."

    The short notice to Sandusky was disclosed by the host of Rock Center, Sandusky's lawyers say.

    "Bob Costas, himself, provided an interview in which he recalled that Mr. Amendola only contacted Mr. Sandusky 15 minutes before the interview," Sandusky's lawyers write.

    Sandusky originally wasn't even supposed to appear on the show. At the time, in his campaign to win friends in the media, Amendola had promised to do his first interview with Costas. But then the lawyer gave an interview to CNN.

    An NBC producer "voiced strong displeasure" after the CNN interview, Sandusky's lawyers write.

    "In order to make up for this and ingratiate himself with the media again, Mr. Amendola convinced Mr. Sandusky to do the interview" with Costas, Sandusky's lawyers write. Aamendola told Sandusky the Costas interview would provide a "golden opportunity" to proclaim that he was innocent.

    In their appeal brief, Sandusky's lawyers also fault Amendola for failing to move to quash the grand jury charges against Sandusky because of illegal grand jury leaks.

    Amendola was aware that former Patriot News reporter Sara Ganim "had the name and phone number of an agent involved in the investigation and was providing it to potential witnesses," but did nothing to investigate, Sandusky's lawyers write.

    Ganim wrote the first story about the supposedly secret Sandusky grand jury investigation, on March 30, 2011, so somebody in the know was obviously leaking grand jury secrets to her. In that article, Ganim cited a prior 1998 investigation into another Sandusky shower incident. Somebody had obviously leaked to Ganim a police report from the prior 1998 case that had turned up no crime, and was supposed to be expunged.

    In their brief, Sandusky's lawyers write that Ganim "approached the mother of accuser 6," Deb McCord, according to the testimony of State Police Corporal Joseph Leiter, and gave the mother the name and phone number for an investigator assigned to the attorney general's office.

    Ganim, according to the brief, had a message for McCord:

    "Debra, it's Sara from the Patriot. I just want to pass along this agent's name and number. The Attorney General has expressed interest in helping you."

    Sandusky's lawyers say the trial judge was at fault of not allowing the defense to call Ganim as a witness, so they could ask about the grand jury leaks.

    After the initial Ganim article, Ronald Petrosky, a retired Penn State janitor, came forward to accuse
    Sandusky of another shower incident.

    At the Sandusky trial, prosecutors were allowed to present hearsay evidence via Ronald Petrosky that another retired janitor, James Calhoun, had allegedly "observed Jerry Sandusky molesting a child in the Lasch Building shower."

    Sandusky's appeal lawyers fault trial lawyer Amendola for not telling the jury that 13 months prior to the trial, Calhoun had given a taped interview to a state trooper where he denied that it was Sandusky he saw in the shower having sex with a boy.

    At trial, however, Sandusky was found guilty of abusing "victim 8," identity unknown. Sandusky's appeal lawyers also faulted Amendola for not objecting when prosecutor Joseph McGettigan told the jury that the identity of Victim No. 2 -- the boy Mike McQueary had allegedly witnessed being anally raped in the showers by Sandusky -- was "known only to God."

    At the time, the prosecutors knew that Allan Myers had claimed to be the boy in the showers with Sandusky, and had not denied it, Sandusky's lawyers write. Myers told state troopers that he and Sandusky were snapping towels in the shower, which could have accounted for the "slapping sounds" heard by McQueary.

    Myers told corporal Corporal Jospeh Leiter and Trooper James Ellis in 2011 that "The grand jury report says Coach McQuear=ry said he observed Jerry and I engaged in sexual activity. This is not the truth and McQueary is not telling the truth. Nothing occurred that night in the shower."

    But Amendola was so incompetent he never presented Myers's statements to the jury, Sandusky's appeal lawyers write.

    In their brief, Sandusky's lawyers also hit Amendola for not presenting any expert witness testimony "regarding repressed or false memories" of the alleged victims.

    Amendola knew about recordings "showing suggestive police questioning and learning that therapy was used to enhance the memories of the accusers," Sandusky's lawyers write. Yet, Amendola did not challenge "the reliability of the accusers or present expert testimony on suggestive questioning" by police and therapists.

    In their brief, Sandusky's lawyers quote the testimony of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a renowned expert on memory.

    In an appeal hearing, Loftus testified that Aaron Fisher, Victim No. 1 in the Sandusky case, "had a therapist who appeared to have convinced his patient that he had repressed memories of abuse."

    Aaron Fisher "did undergo a type of repressed memory therapy . . . designed to get people to remember things that somebody thinks they have repressed or forgotten," Loftus testified.

    There is "no credible scientific evidence" to support the theory of massive repression of traumatic memories, and subsequent recovery of those repressed memories, Sandusky's lawyers write.

    The theory of repressed memory "is so controversial that in many other jurisdictions, accusers who claim to have repressed meormies that have been recovered, the cases are even dismissed because of the controversial nature of that theory," Loftus testified.

    In their brief, Sandusky's lawyers quote Silent No More, the book written by Fisher with his therapist, Mike Gillum.

    Prior to therapy, Fisher "never acknowledged any sexual abuse" by Sandusky, his lawyers write. Fisher's book "suggests Gillum used suggestive questioning to ferret out Mr. Sandusky's alleged abuse," Sandusky's lawyers write.

    The lawyers quote Fisher from Silent No More: "Mike [Gillum] just kept saying that Jerry was the exact profile of a predator. When it finally sank in, I felt angry."

    The Sandusky brief also cites "pervasive and virulent" publicity during the Sandusky case. The trial attracted 240 reporters and 30 TV trucks.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    As a Penn State student, Mark Dambly wound up in jail for five days in 1979 after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Then he got mixed up in an infamous multimillion dollar cocaine ring, a retired investigator says, but beat the rap by wearing a wire and cooperating with the government.

    These days, Dambly is campaigning to become chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees, an election scheduled for Friday.

    But Dambly's most recent legal problems include getting hit with a subpoena last year in the federal probe of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawloski. Pawloski's being investigated for bribery and kickbacks; Dambly's connection is he's the Allentown mayor's top financial contributor.

    With all the problems at Penn State, the question is, do they really need a guy with as much baggage as Mark Dambly as board chairman?

    No, says Maribeth Roman Schmidt, executive director of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

    "I think it's common sense," she wrote in an email, to favor candidates "who haven't been associated with scandal or illegal activity."

    Blogger Ray Blehar agrees.

    "Mark Dambly, if elected chairman of the board, will do nothing but perpetuate the poor university governance that the Penn State community has experienced since November 2011," Blehar wrote in an email.

    Dambly, the president of Pennrose Management, could not be reached by email or telephone for comment on this story. A spokeswoman this afternoon said that Dambly had been in meetings all day and might be able to respond in a week.

    Presumably after the election on Friday.

    The Dambly file begins in 1979, on the weekend of a Penn State-Temple football game, with an incident where three students got beaten up during a fight in the Pugh Street parking garage.

    Dambly was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. If convicted, he faced a fine of $2,500 and a year in jail. That's when Dambly hired R. Bruce Manchester of Bellefonte, PA as his lawyer.

    On Nov. 17, 1979, Manchester sent Dambly a letter telling him that he had been offered a plea bargain by the Centre County District Attorney's Office that included pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, spending five days in jail, and paying a $200 fine.

    "By pleading guilty you will have a police record which may have to be disclosed on various occasions in the future," Manchester wrote Dambly. "You stated to me on Wednesday the 28th that your career goal is to be a real estate broker."

    Manchester informed Dambly that he would have to disclose his criminal record in order to apply for a real estate license. But Dambly wasn't forthcoming about the arrest when confronted in recent years by a TV reporter.

    In 2012, Dambly was a Penn state trustee who had supported criminal background checks for university employees.  Reporter Gary Sinderson of WJAC Johnstown Channel 6 confronted Dambly in a video posted on and asked if Dambly had been arrested in 1979.

    "I'm not aware of that," Dambly responded twice on camera. As he was walking away, in unreleased video recorded by the TV station, Sinderson asked Dambly about his alleged association with members of the cocaine ring.

    "I don't recall that either," Dambly said.

    When asked by his fellow trustees during an executive session about the disorderly conduct arrest, Dambly replied that it was "undocumented."

    In 2013, Dambly filed an application in Centre County to have his 1979 guilty plea for disorderly conduct expunged.

    TV reporter Sinderson asked Dambly about the infamous "Dr. Snow" yuppie cocaine ring run by Larry Lavin, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania dental school. The ring operated between 1978 and 1984.

    In 1986, a judge sentenced three dentists to jail for their roles in the ring that the FBI said at the time was the largest known cocaine distribution enterprise in the history of the Philadelphia area, grossing up to $5 million a month.

    A retired investigator who worked the Lavin case and sought anonymity said that former FBI Agent Leo Pedrotty, who died last year, was Dambly's handler after he decided to wear a wire to get himself out of a legal jam.

    "Pedrotty was responsible for placing the recording equipment on Dambly and monitoring the results as Dambly secretly recorded conversations about the massive drug operation," the investigator wrote. "In exchange, Dambly would not be prosecuted and there would be no asset forfeiture action."

    In the Dr. Snow case, Lavin, convicted of not paying $545,000 in taxes, served nearly 20 years in prison before he was released in 2005.

    The judge also sentenced Brian Cassidy, like Dambly, a graduate of Conestoga High School and Penn State, to 12 years in prison. The other Conestoga/Penn State alum implicated in the cocaine ring was Kenneth J. Kasznel, who pleaded guilty and became a cooperator.

    One of Dambly's former customers wrote TV reporter Sinderson a letter, saying that Dambly "used to supply me and dozens of others with pot and cocaine."

    "Mark graduated from PSU a mid level pot and cocaine dealer, then went back home in the Phila burbs and got his masters degree in large quantity drug dealing," wrote the former customer, who was subsequently interviewed by the investigator.

    "If we needed a 1/4 or half pound of the white . . . Dambly was our guy," the former customer wrote.

    Dr. Snow himself did not remember Dambly.

    "I really do not recall a Mark Dambly," Lavin, the star of a recent National Geographic channel documentary about his Dr. Snow days, wrote in an email.

    But people keep asking him about Dambly, Lavin said.

    "This is the third time over the years that someone has asked this," Lavin wrote. "Obviously there is always the possibility he [Dambly] did things under someone involved with me, but I have no knowledge of him."

    Dambly rankles many Penn State loyalists because of the way he ripped Joe Paterno in a TV interview, after the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit, and Paterno was fired.

    "Although legally, I believe he [Paterno] did what he had to do," Dambly said, "Morally, I don't believe the standards he set for his own student athletes, he didn't live up to those standards for himself."

    As far as Dambly's critics are concerned, he doesn't live up to the standards for chairman of Penn State's board of trustees.

    "His apparent failure to recall a five-day period of incarceration in the Centre County prison for a violent crime casts great doubt on his credibility, and appears to be just the tip of the iceberg," wrote former NCIS Special Agent John Snedden, also a Penn State alum.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

    If you're a Penn State trustee, and you're going to talk to Mark Dambly about his impending election tomorrow as chairman of the board, should you pat him down first?

    Yes, say two former investigators.

    "My first question [for Dambly] would be, 'Hey, you still wearing a wire?'" said John Snedden, a former NCIS and FIS special agent who's a Penn State alum.

    "Once a snitch, always a snitch," said another former investigator who worked the infamous "Dr. Snow" cocaine ring of the 1980s and said that Dambly wore a wire to get himself out of trouble with the feds.

    With Dambly currently the subject of a federal subpoena in the Allentown pay-to-play corruption case, Snedden said, there are only two remaining possibilities left in the investigation where nine people have already copped pleas.

    "At this stage of the investigation it is very likely that he is either THE subject or he is cooperating with the investigation," as in wearing a wire, Snedden said.

    "Penn State needs to determine his specific involvement in all his alleged criminal endeavors so they can specifically identify the LOSS EXPOSURE he brings to Penn State," Snedden said.

    Dambly has not responded to requests for comment about his alleged involvement in the Dr. Snow cocaine ring, and the five days in jail he spend back in 1979 as a Penn State student after he got nailed for disorderly conduct.

    But Dambly is all ready for his impending coronation tomorrow as the new chairman of the Penn State board of trustees.

    Meanwhile, a new arrest involving Dambly has surfaced. Dambly was arrested on May 27, 1987 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving at an unsafe speed, failure to keep right, and possession of marijuana. He was released on $500 bail.

    The 1987 arrest, as well as his earlier 1979 arrest, have been expunged.

    The other mystery in this latest Penn State scandal -- besides the insanity of why Penn State would want somebody with as much baggage as Dambly as the face of the franchise -- would be why The Philadelphia Inquirer is sitting on this story.

    Every scrap of information your Big Trial correspondent published on Monday about Mark Dambly was in the possession of a couple of reporters at the Inquirer, but they haven't written a word. Maybe they're waiting for an editor to give them permission to write about Dambly.

    After he becomes chairman of the board.

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    He's Moved On To Pay-To-Play
    Scandal-plagued Penn State University has just elected scandal-plagued Mark Dambly as chairman of its board of trustees.

    Isn't that great? The July 19th radio interview about Dambly can be heard here. The July 20th radio interview can be heard here.

     “When I was young, I made some mistakes. I deeply regret those actions," Dambly said. "I’ve learned from those mistakes, and I’ve moved on to live a productive life, both personally and professionally."

    Read more here:

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    EDITOR’S NOTE:  Science writer Mark Pendergrast should be familiar by now to readers of  We have published several excerpts from The Most Hated Man in America, his forthcoming book about Jerry Sandusky.  This article on The Keepers is adapted from Memory Warp, his book about the repressed memory epidemic that will be published later this year. 

    By Mark Pendergrast

    The Keepers, a wildly popular seven-part documentary series aired by Netflix in May 2017, promotes the theory of repressed memories by resurrecting and validating a previously dismissed Baltimore case from the early 1990s. 

    The show relies heavily on recovered memories of abuse to convince viewers that a now-deceased Catholic priest, Joseph Maskell, or another priest known only as “Brother Bob,” murdered a young nun named Cathy Cesnik in 1969, in order to prevent the nun, an English teacher, from reporting sexual abuse of high school students at Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland.  

    The series is dramatic, artfully constructed, and based on real events, but it is extremely misleading, especially in accepting without question the validity of repressed memories.

    The Keepers purveys all the old stereotypes, including a psychologist who explains confidently:  "Some things we experience are so unbearable and so painful that we shut them out.”  This popular series could undo years of good memory science in the public arena.

    The star of The Keeper series is Jean Hargadon Wehner, known as “Jane Doe” in the dismissed lawsuit, who was a student at Keough High School, a private Catholic school, from 1967 to 1971.  She had no abuse memories until she reach adulthood, but beginning in 1981, the year after the publication of Michelle Remembers (the first blockbuster book about repressed memories and satanic ritual abuse), Wehner began to see a series of counselors and therapists, including massage and movement therapists.

    She also learned to put herself into a prayerful trance, which she called “dialoguing with the inner child,” a kind of pseudo-multiple-personality state in which she identified various internal child personalities named Jeannie, Beth, Gloria, Ethel, and Martha, each of whom apparently held different abuse memories. 

    During the 1980s, she recovered memories of how her uncle and an array of strangers abused her from age three to twelve – typical of false “massive repression” memories with a ritual abuse flavor. She also recalled that this uncle abused her ten siblings, though none of them remember it.

    During the 1990s, Wehner read an array of popular books about repressed memories, no doubt including The Courage to Heal. In 1992, Wehner began therapy with Ph.D. psychologist Norman Bradford (currently in practice and a professor at Goucher College in Baltimore), who had her keep a dream journal. 

    Shortly afterwards, she began to retrieve her first memories of priest abuse, starting with Father Neil Magnus, whom she envisioned masturbating while he took her confession. When she discovered that Magnus was dead, Wehner switched to retrieving memories of abuse by another priest, Joseph Maskell, who had been her high school counselor. She eventually recalled vaginal and anal rape (sometimes with a vibrator), oral sex, enemas, him putting a gun in her mouth, and forced prostitution. 

    But Wehner’s sex abuse memories expanded dramatically beyond Maskell to include two policemen, three high school teachers, a local politician who practiced a political speech while she performed oral sex on him, three more priests (Father Schmidt, Father John, and Father Daniels), four religious brothers (Brother Tim, Brother Bob, Brother Frank, and Brother Ed), two religious sisters (Nancy and Russell), and another religious brother known only as Mr. Teeth, who read from the Book of Psalms as he had sex with her. Wehner also remembered that she herself killed an unidentified nun at her school.

    Yet the millions of people who have viewed The Keepers did not learn many of these background facts. (Netflix is notorious for keeping viewer numbers secret, but Newsweek revealed that it had the top two streaming shows in 2016, both with over 20 million viewers.) What viewers see is that Jean Hargadon Wehner seems to be an attractive, sensitive, self-assured woman with a supportive, wholesome family, and that she claims to have recovered memories of abuse by Father Maskell and a few others. 

    And director Ryan White – whose aunt was Wehner’s high school classmate -- goes out of his way to portray her memories as real. After listening to her tell her story for hours, White told his producer, “This woman is telling the truth and we need to be part of this.”

    It is true that Sister Cathy Cesnik, 26, an attractive, popular English teacher, was murdered and probably raped on November 7, 1969.  Only three days later, another young woman, 20, was killed two miles away in a very similar fashion.  It is quite likely that the same unknown person killed both of them, but the murderer probably didn’t know that Cesnik was a nun, because she had just begun working at a public high school and had permission not to wear her habit.

    As part of her prayerful memory process, Wehner visualized how Father Maskell had taken her to see Cathy Cesnik’s body, and that her face had been crawling with maggots.  Maskell must have known that she would immediately repress the memory, just as she allegedly forgot her rapes every time the door clicked shut as she was leaving his office.  When Maskell’s body was exhumed in 2017 (he died in 2001), his DNA did not match the DNA at the murder scene.

    As background, readers should know that the late 1980s and 1990s featured the height of an epidemic of false memories of childhood sexual abuse, fomented by this misguided, pseudoscientific form of psychotherapy. The theory behind this fad stemmed from Sigmund Freud’s work a century beforehand, in the 1890s. 

    Freud called it his “seduction theory,” which he himself soon abandoned. But the idea – that people can “repress” or “dissociate” years of traumatic childhood memories and then recall them as adults -- refused to die, in part because it provides an appealing plot device for novels, movies, and sensational media coverage, and because many psychologists have imbibed the theory somewhat like mother’s milk.  

    It has become an underlying professional assumption that people really can and do banish traumatic memories from their consciousness.  And Freud himself promulgated his modified theory as “the return of the repressed” – the pseudoscientific notion that buried desires or fears return in symbolic dreams or actions.

    Freud’s theory was resurrected in the 1980s by a group of therapists who were concerned about sexual abuse and who believed that women in particular (but men, too) with “symptoms” such as depression, eating disorders, or sexual issues must have been molested as children and repressed the memories so that they had no current knowledge of a horrific childhood.  

    Only by remembering the abuse would they be healed.  These therapists believed that they could help their clients unearth these repressed memories through methods such as hypnosis, dream analysis, interpretation of bodily pangs, induced panic attacks, or group experiences. 

     In 1988, with the publication of The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, this movement exploded into a full-fledged epidemic in which women in therapy became convinced that they should accuse their fathers or other family members or caregivers of having raped them for years during their childhood and, with the encouragement of their therapists, they cut off all contact with their families.

    Many hundreds of lawsuits were filed by therapy patients with brand new abuse “memories.” Thousands of stunned parents and other relatives became the first innocent people targeted by the repressed memory epidemic. In the 1990s, over 500 reported cases were filed in which the only evidence stemmed from recovered memories – 15 percent were criminal, 85 percent civil cases.  Hundreds of additional cases were quietly settled without formal filings, as many parents or other accused relatives or caretakers were embarrassed, devastated, and terrified.

    As Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally observed in 2005, “The notion that traumatic events can be repressed and later recovered is the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry. It has provided the theoretical basis for ‘recovered memory therapy’ — the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.” 

    McNally came to similar conclusions in his book, Remembering Trauma, and most reputable memory scientists agree with that assessment. “There is no good scientific evidence that these unconscious forces exist,” wrote psychologist Charles Fernybough in Pieces of Light, his 2012 book on memory. “Traumas are remembered, and they are remembered only too painfully. They may not be thought about for a long time…but they are not forgotten.”

    Nonetheless, despite the furor over false memories produced by pseudoscientific theories, those who believed in recovered-memory therapy did not give up their dogma or belief system.  Thus, repressed memories did not disappear.  Indeed, the idea that people could completely forget years of childhood sexual abuse and then remember the abuse later has become enshrined in the popular imagination, despite its widespread scientific debunking.  Unfortunately, the repressed memory epidemic has not really subsided.  While it was slowed by scientific analysis and retractor lawsuits, the epidemic continues to this day.

    Since the height of the repressed memory epidemic, media coverage has swung wildly between solid scientific reports on the malleability of memory to uncritical regurgitation of recovered memory claims. Most young journalists don’t know what happened during the “Memory Wars” decade that followed the 1988 publication of The Courage to Heal and similar books.

     Add to that the impact of the Internet and acceptance of fake news (really fake, such as the 2016 “news” that a pizza parlor harbored a pedophile ring) and conspiracy theory as reality, and you have a recipe for disaster, which is why I have written Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die, to be published by Upper Access Books in October 2017, and The Repressed Memory Epidemic: How It Happened and What We Need to Learn from It, to be published in September 2017 by Springer.

    Once an idea enters the cultural mainstream, it has a way of resurfacing like a bloated corpse every few years. The corpse has risen again, if it ever truly sank, and The Keepers is one of the most pernicious examples.

    The second star of The Keepers is Teresa Lancaster, “Jane Roe” in the 1994 lawsuit, who was a year behind Wehner at Keough High School.  She claimed to have always remembered that Father Maskell forced her to disrobe, sit on his lap, endure his fondling, andtake enemas and douches while he watched, and that he was present during a gynecological exam.  But it was only after she learned about “Jane Doe’s” claims and met repeatedly with Wehner’s lawyer (who also represented her) that she recovered memories of rape by Maskell, the gynecologist, and a policeman. Those recovered memories were confused and inconsistent. 

    Lancaster has recently changed her story (and memory), alleging that she always remembered the rapes, but that is not what she said when she made the allegations in the early 1990s.


    In 1993, Wehner and her siblings sent letters to other former Keough High School students, asking about possible abuse, and they received many responses. The Keepers makes it appear that a hundred or more people claimed that Maskell sexually abused them, but since none of them appeared as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, it is unlikely that any recalled severe abuse.

    It is more likely that Maskell was inappropriate in many ways, and he may have been a voyeur who hugged and fondled girls and watched as they took douches. He may have also acted badly with boys.  In The Keepers final, seventh episode, Charles Franz, now a dentist, alleges that Maskell abused him in some unspecified way prior to his counseling position at Keough High School. 

    In a 1995 article, in which he was called “Bill,” Franz revealed that there was no severe molestation, but he claimed that Maskell, then an associate pastor at St. Clement in Landsdowne, PA, had grabbed his crotch and said “Hold onto your balls” as he drove over a bump in a car, when Franz was 13.

    Other former Keough students also recovered memories or tried to. One classmate thought Maskell must have drugged her Coca-Cola. “I've never been certain of what happened. There's so many gaps in my memory of being with him, and I only have fragments,” she said in The Keepers. In a recent interview, Teresa Lancaster said that she was “focusing on victims that are coming forward. There are a lot of people who can’t remember a lot.”

    Donna Vondenbosch is another alleged victim of Father Maskell.  In The Keepers, she says, “He would hypnotize me sometimes; sometimes it was with a pocket watch he had. There are blocks of time when I have no idea what happened.  In a long article on the Maskell case by Paul Mandelbaum, published in Baltimore Magazine in 1995, a woman identified in the article as “Eva Nelson Cruz” makes very similar claims; it is likely that “Cruz” is in fact Vondenbosch. 

    In the article, Cruz admitted that she had recovered memories of the abuse with the help of therapist Kenneth Ellis.  As a child, the journalist wrote, “She was certain that God didn’t love her, and sometimes, at random moments, she would hear a little voice in her head, her own voice, imploring Jesus to have sex with her.” In incrementally recovered memories, she eventually came to believe that Father Maskell had raped her aboard a boat, in the presence of another man whom she had kicked, and that Maskell had also stuck a wooden crucifix into her vagina. 

    “In her [Cruz’s] mind’s eye, she saw him [Maskell] wearing the black clerical cape that he often favored during the winter, and she claims that he asked her to look deeply into his eyes and told her: ‘You won’t remember. You won’t remember. If you remember you’ll die.’ She could picture him twirling fiercely—the cape flapping around his head.”  Kenneth Ellis, the therapist, had helped her interpret her dreams to retrieve these memories.

     “It’s not unreasonable to interpret Eva’s dreams as tapping into repressed memories of her experiences with Maskell,” Ellis told Mandelbaum, the reporter.  (Ellis is still practicing in Maryland, and he still promotes dream interpretation, writing: “Dreams can be viewed as the dreamer’s attempt to ‘work through’ or resolve some conflict that they are experiencing in reality.”)

    Some Keough alums may have reinterpreted always-remembered incidents to make them more sinister in retrospect. As one of them says in the series, “Something that may have seemed insignificant at the time has relevance now.”

    Unforgivably, The Keepers puts two true believers in repressed memories on screen as “experts.” Psychologist L. M. Lothstein asserts: "Some things we experience are so unbearable and so painful that we shut them out. The major systems for protection of the self, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal, fight-flight response, the vagal response to play dead, to dissociate, to be unaware of something, they'll come right into play in order to protect the self from harm." 

    This is pseudoscientific claptrap. He goes on to say, “We now know so much more about memory. It's scientifically accepted that memories can be compartmentalized and not known to the conscious ego." 

    This is absolutely untrue.  Reputable memory scientists know that repeated traumatic events tend to be recalled all too well. As Lothstein pontificates in The Keepers, the filmmakers flash sensational headlines about a 2004 study,claiming: “Psychologists Offer Proof of Brain’s Ability to Suppress Memories,”and “A Freudian Theory Proven,” even though this was a study of word pairs that demonstrated nothing whatsoever about repressed trauma memories.

    The documentary also features psychiatrist Richard Sipe of Johns Hopkins, who served as a witness for Wehner and believed her recovered memories. “There are things that have the ring of truth, even if they are hard to believe,” he explains in The Keepers. Sipe diagnosed Wehner with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which he compares to that of war veterans.  

    “Naturally we know so much more about this because of men and women coming home from war and being traumatized.  We have all sorts of knowledge now about how the brain handles those.”  But the brain does not handle war experiences by repressing them, but by being unable to forget them.  That is what causes PTSD. 

    Sipe criticizes his colleague Paul McHugh, the head of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, as having a “blind spot” about repressed memories because McHugh testified that they had no scientific validity. McHugh, the author of  the book Try to Remember, a critique of repressed memory therapy, apparently convinced the Baltimore judge in the case, who dismissed it before trial, a decision upheld on appeal.

    In The Keepers, Jean Wehner tells viewers, “There’s an awful lot I still don’t remember,” so stay tuned for more horrific abuse memories yet to come.  In the series, she demonstrates how she recalls her memories, lighting a candle and lying down to go into her prayerful state.  As she does so, the camera zooms in on an angel figure beside her, which says “Believe Believe Believe Believe Believe.”

    Critical response to The Keepers has been overwhelmingly positive and credulous. In a review, Baltimore Sun reporter asked rhetorically why Wehner had not come forward earlier. “Because that’s how ritualized long-term abuse works in children,” she wrote. “The abuser is able to control the victim through threats and intimidation…. Jean says that to survive the horror, she in effect dissociated herself — severed herself from the experience, put the entire ordeal into a box, sealed it up, and buried it. It would stay buried for over 20 years.”

    New York Times reviewer Mike Hale called The Keepers “a fascinating and devastating experience” and identified Jean Wehner as “a steely heroine.”  He wrote that “trying to obtain justice based on recovered memories has the outlines of a classic tragedy,” without expressing any skepticism about the validity of such memories.  The Guardian called the series“a breathtakingly brave true crime documentary."

    Prompted by The Keepers series, Vice magazine’s Kaleigh Rogers published an article reviewing the alleged scientific validity of repressed memories, asserting that since the 1990s “we've built a much stronger understanding of how and why childhood trauma could lead to repressed memories.”

    On the contrary, reputable memory scientistshave found that years of traumatic events are impossible to forget and that false memories of abuse are frequently produced through suggestion and influence. Rogers erroneously concluded: “The science is firm that traumatic events can cause memory loss, and that these memories may resurface years or decades later.”  I am sure that she sincerely meant well, but from her photo, Rogers is a young Millennial who was swayed by the series and accepted the myth of repressed memory hook, line, and sinker.  I fear that she is representative of a new generation who will be vulnerable to these dangerous theories.

    --Mark Pendergrast is a science writer and independent scholar and the author of many books ( He discusses The Keepers in his forthcoming book, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (October 2017).

    The author notes that he submitted a shorter version of this investigative expose of the popular Netflix series to SlateVice, Discover, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street JournalPsychology Today, and other publications, to no avail. 

    “I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said, “that the mainstream media have no interest in debunking sex abuse allegations, even if they are based on psychological myths.”

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    The Mob Talk Boys Are Back
    By George Anastasia

    He's beaten the feds in court more often than they've beaten him.

    Still he's spent close to half his adult life either in jail or on supervised release.

    Today Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, 55, is prepping for another battle. Mob Talk, the one-time weekly feature on Fox 29 in Philadelphia, has a new life as Mob Talk Sitdown. Our first video report takes a look at how the case against Skinny Joey is shaping up.

    Click below for the full report:

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