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

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    Judge Robreno
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Damion Canalichio, described by a federal prosecutor as a mob "enforcer" who abused people, was sentenced this morning to 137 months in prison for his conviction on racketeering conspiracy charges.

    Judge Eduardo Robreno  rejected a government request for a 20-year sentence.

    But Robreno said nothing in Canalichio's criminal history, including two convictions for drug dealing and a series of arrests for assault, drug use and solicitation of a prostitute, "has shown the slightest respect for the law."

    Robreno had set a sentencing guideline range of 110 to 137 months and, following a two-hour hearing, sentenced the 43-year-old mobster to the top of that range.

    After Canalichio apologized to his wife, their three daughters and family members and friends for his actions, Robreno told him it appeared that "you are beginning to recognize that life is passing you by."

    But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, who argued repeatedly for a higher sentence, didn't see it that way.

    "His allegiance is not to family, his children, his wife," Han said, "but to La Cosa Nostra."

    The prosecutor said Canalichio was a "career criminal...who will keep his mouth shut and do his time."

    In fact, Canalichio will have to serve about eight more years before he is eligible for release.

    "He had a reputation on the street for being a very violent person," Han said. "He was an enforcer for the mob...He's the muscle behind all these operations."

    Pointing to tapes played as evidence during the racketeering trial that ended in February, Han said Canalichio in his own words had described his role in the organization headed by acting mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi.

    "I'm into collections," Canalichio said on a tape recorded by an undercover FBI agent posing as a gambler.

    On wiretaps and other tapes, Canalichio was heard threatening individuals who owed the mob money. On one he said,. "I'm gonna go crack his fuckin' head."

    Canalichio's court-appointed lawyer Margaret Grasso had argued for a sentence at the lower end of the guidelines set by Robreno, an argument the judge rejected. But Grasso did convince the judge not to designate Canalichio a career criminal for guideline purposes, a designation that would have increased the top range of his sentence.

    Canalichio, of Turnersville, is the third of four defendants convicted in the racketeering trial that ended in February to be sentenced. Anthony Staino, 55, is scheduled to go before Robreno tomorrow morning. Last week mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, was sentenced to nearly 16 years and mob associate Gary Battaglini, 52, was sentenced to eight years.

    Staino's sentence is expected to be similar to Canalichio's.

    Ligambi, 73, and his nephew, George Borgesi, 50, are to be retried on conspiracy charges in October after the jury hung on those counts against them. Ligambi also faces gambling and obstruction of justice charges.

    Joseph "Scoops" Licata, 72, the seventh defendant in the case, was acquitted.

    Canalichio, dressed in a green prison jump suit, showed little emotion when the sentence was finally imposed in a courtroom crowded with family and friends. The stocky, dark-haired wiseguy nodded to his wife and several others as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

    He was denied bail after his indictment in May 2011. Some of that time will go toward the current sentence. He was finishing a 58-month term for drug dealing, however, when the indictment came down and was required to complete that term first.

    Han said Canalichio had spent most of his adult life earning money illegally and, in most cases, for or with the mob. He said the defendant owned a $235,000 home in South Jersey despite the fact that he never claimed more than $5,000-a-year in legitimate income.

    "Where does that money come from?" the prosecutor asked of the finances used to buy the home.

    He then answered his own question: "Loansharking, bookmaking and threatening people with violence."

    In addition to about two dozens friends and family members of the defendant, there were nearly a dozen law enforcement officials in the courtroom for the sentencing. Several took note of Han's description of Canalichio as someone who would go to jail and "keep his mouth shut."

    "We'll see," said one investigator.

    While Canalichio's lawyer said he just wanted to complete his sentence and return to his family, leaving the life of crime behind, those who have tracked Canalichio's career predicted, like Han, that that was unlikely. They also noted that Canalichio remains a suspect in at least one unsolved gangland murder and that Anthony Nicodemo, a suspect in the same case, is currently in jail on a separate city homicide charge.

    "We'll see who gets on the bus first," a law enforcement source said of speculation that someone would cut a deal with the government to avoid a murder prosecution. 

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

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    Anthony Staino
    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Federal Judge Eduardo Robreno had to consider the two faces of Anthony Staino this morning before sentencing the convicted mobster to 97 months on racketeering and extortion charges.

    Friends and family members who crowded the 15th floor courtroom described him as a "loving" father and husband; a "funny, good-hearted, kind and outgoing" neighbor, and a "man of integrity."

    The testimonials came from friends and family members, including his wife, his son and his ex-wife, who appeared before Robreno during a three-hour sentencing hearing.

    Prosecutors offered a different view of the 56-year-old mob leader who was picked up on one FBI tape bragging that he was the "CFO" and a "member of the board of directors" of the Philadelphia organized crime family.

    That comment, along with others played during the racketeering trial that ended in February, helped Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor offer a decidedly different picture of Staino.

    Robreno ultimately came down somewhere in the middle, noting that the extortion charges for which Staino was found guilty and the conspiracy and gambling charges to which he later pleaded guilty warranted a substantial prison term.

    "The question is, who is Anthony Staino Jr.?" Robreno asked before imposing sentence. Was he, the judge asked rhetorically, the loyal family man and friend described by his supporters? Or was he "the violent mobster" that the government alleged?

    "Perhaps he's both," said Robreno in a remark that appeared to be supported by the defendant himself.

    In brief comments at the end of the lengthy hearing, Staino apologized to his family and friends; said he alone was responsible for his actions, and quoted Thomas Jefferson.

    "I was not the person I should have been," Staino said in describing how he had gotten involved with organized crime in the 1990s while going through a divorce and battling a drinking problem. After he met his current wife Terry in 2003, he said, he began to turn things around. And when their daughter was born five years ago, he added, he was back on the right path.

    "But my efforts (to change) could not escape my past," he said. "That's why I'm here today."

    Back then he had the "wrong mental attitude." Now, he said, his goals are to be a "productive citizen" and "loving husband and father."

    "Thomas Jefferson once said, `Nothing can stop the man with the right attitude from achieving his goals.'"

    Staino will have about seven more years to ponder those words of wisdom from a founding father who helped created America over two hundreds years ago in a building less than two blocks from the courthouse where Staino was sentenced.

    The South Jersey mob figure was described by prosecutors as the "right hand man" of mob boss Joseph Ligambi who quickly rose through the ranks of the organization, first as an associate and ultimately as a capo who was the confidante of the mob boss.

    "He rose through the ranks because he's a nasty, bruttish, effective mobster," said Labor in citing one of several tapes played for the jury in which Staino was recorded extorting an FBI undercover agent who had posed as a corrupt businessman and gambler.

    After lending the agent, posing as a man named Dino, $30,000, Staino was recorded saying, "Please. On my life, I like you. I don't want to have to fuckin' hurt you."

    The message, Labor said, was clear mob speak for you better pay me back.

    "He could have been a law abiding citizen," Labor said after Staino's lawyer, Gregory Pagano, had detailed a history that included a stellar high school career, one year of college and years of legitimate employment. "He chose to be a gangster."

    Pagano conceded as much, but argued with some success that his client was "not the person who personifies...the LCN member."

    "Unlike other people, he gets it," Pagano said, an apparent reference to other defendants who had been sentenced earlier, who had long arrest records and who showed little remorse.

    Staino has no prior arrests.

    "And he's not gonna be back," said Pagano who successfully argued for a slight departure from the sentencing guidelines Robreno has originally set. Pagano argued that his client deserved credit for pleading guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge and two gambling charges on which the jury had hung during the trial.

    Staino was convicted of two extortion counts tied to the secret FBI/Dino tapes.

    Robreno, who had set a guideline range of 87 to 108 months, agreed, lowering the range to 74 to 97 months. He then sentenced Staino to the top of the new range. Staino, who was jailed after his conviction in February, has about six months prison credit toward the sentence.

    Under standard federal prison procedure -- there is no longer any parole in the federal system -- Staino will have to serve about 85 percent of the sentence which means he has about seven more years of prison time.

    The mob capo was the fourth defendant convicted at trial to be sentenced. One other defendant was acquitted and Ligambi, 73, and his nephew, George Borgesi, 50, are to be retried in October after a jury hung on conspiracy charges against both of them. Ligambi also faces gambling and obstruction of justice counts.

    In addition to the extortion of Dino, Staino was linked to gambling and loansharking charges, but the jury acquitted him on 23 of the 28 counts he faced. He, Ligambi and mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, who was sentenced to 188 months last week, were accused of forcibly taking control of an illegal video poker machine operation and with running bookmaking and loansharking businesses.

    To date, 12 of the 16 defendants named in the case have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. One defendant, mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata, 72, was acquitted, and three others, Ligambi, Borgesi and mob associate Eric Esposito (who faces gambling charges) are awaiting trial.

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Ken Gumbert, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, chronicles the lives of people who have fought back against historic injustices.

    His 1990 documentary, Saving Grace, was about the survivors of a Communist social experiment to exterminate religion in Czechoslovakia, particularly the Catholic Church. His 1992 film, Between Two Worlds, was about a family of Ute Indians struggling to retain their native culture on a Utah reservation, amid rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. His 2003 documentary, Red Terror On The Amber Coast, was about the resistance movement in Lithuania, where people fought to the death against a Soviet campaign of mass arrests, property confiscations, and deportations to forced labor camps in Siberia.

    Gumbert was in Philadelphia this week to begin shooting his latest documentary about another group of people fighting historic injustice -- Catholic priests in America falsely accused of sex abuse.

    It's a subject that Gumbert is passionate about. He's a Catholic priest of 28 years, and a member of a Dominican order. He's also a film studies professor at Providence College in Rhode Island.

    The origin of Gumbert's latest film project dates back to 2002. Gumbert was in California, doing research on Saving Grace, when the Catholic sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston. The priest was getting ready to fly to Europe, to interview survivors of the Communist campaign in Czechoslovakia to eliminate religion.

    Saving Grace was built around interviews with people who took the church underground during the  Communist purges. A bishop Gumbert interviewed was imprisoned with Vaclav Havel, the playwright and dissident who became the first president of the Czech Republic. In jail, the bishop taught Havel, an agnostic, how to pray the rosary. Dissidents in Czechoslovakia employed the same Christian principles of passive resistance and non-violence used by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

    Saving Grace won the Gabriel Award in 2005 for the best documentary broadcast on national TV. Gumbert sees parallels between how the Communists behind the Iron Curtain treated Catholics in Czechoslovakia, and how America has treated Catholic priests accused of sex abuse.

    "I noticed some shocking similarities," Gumbert said. The media's treatment of the Boston sex abuse scandal did not seem like journalism, he said, but was more of a "witch hunt."

    "Catholic priests have lost their constitutional rights in America if accused of sex abuse," Gumbert flatly declares. When a Catholic priest is accused, "it is generally assumed that it's true."

    "There's a historical trail that reveals that the best way to discredit the Catholic Church by its political opponents is by accusing its clergy of sexual immorality," Gumbert said. "It's the oldest trick in the book when the objective is to discredit the institution."


    "That's what the Communists did" in  Czechoslovakia, Gumbert said. "They involved themselves in witch hunts with people that they thought disagreed with them. And they put them into show trials which I believe is what happened with Boston."

    And possibly Philadelphia as well?

    "I'm still studying it and I'm still gathering the facts," Gumbert said. "But I have this sense that what's happening in Philadelphia is the same thing that happened in Boston in 2002."

    In Boston, Gumbert is chronicling the lives of two priests accused of sex abuse. 

    "They were put on the shelf, their names were published as being accused, and they lost their reputations," Gumbert said.

    The two accused priests, however, decided to fight back. They hired their own detectives to investigate. The detectives proved that the priests had indeed been falsely accused, Gumbert said.

    But even though "it was determined that the accusations were false, and even though the archdiocese concluded that the priests were falsely accused, they're still on the shelf," Gumbert said. "Their reputations have been tarnished, their good names have been taken away from them. At the end of the day, that's all a priest has."

    "I just seen this huge injustice and that's what my films are all about," Gumbert said. "This is my ministry."

    Gumbert was in town to interview this reporter about the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Gumbert, who has done research nationally on the topic of Catholic priests falsely accused of sex abuse, says that BigTrial is doing something unique.

    "You're the only serious reporter that I know that is aware of the situation, and is honest enough and is interested in the issue of fairness and civil rights to report on it," Gumbert said.

                                        *                       *                         *

    Gumbert wasn't the only journalist visiting BigTrial recently. Also in town the week before were Jennie and Jacque Day. According to an email from Jennie Day, the two sisters are doing a research project "examining changing news environments in American cities" where newspapers suffer from "declining content."

    Jennie Day is a native Pennsylvanian, engineer and lecturer in urban planning at the University of Melbourne. Her sister, Jacque Day, is a reporter who has won 11 Associated Press awards for her work with NPR affiliate WKMS-FM in Kentucky. Jacque Day has also worked as a producer for the Discovery Health Channel, and as a staff reporter for Leader Newspapers.

    In Philadelphia, the Day sisters interviewed former Philadelphia Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney, former Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth, and former Inky columnist Tom Ferrick, among others.

    The Day sisters asked more than an hour's worth of questions about my former battles with Tierney during the early 1990s, when I was the religion reporter for the Inquirer, and Tierney was the public relations guru for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Day sisters also questioned Tierney about the subject.

    "He was really open with us," Jennie Day said. The sisters are doing similar research in San Francisco and Cincinnati.

    "I am beginning to suspect that every city has a journalist who is outspoken, independent and absolutely critical to know for our research," Jennie Day wrote in an email. "These are people who seem to know every corner of the city and who care deeply about it; people who are willing to say the unpopular thing and do the hard yards and back it up. In Philly, I think that's you."

    The Day sisters hope to turn their research project into a book.


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    Allison Fumo, Vincent J. Fumo, and Carolyn Zinni
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Lawyers for Allison Fumo filed a memorandum in Orphans' Court Monday, charging that a $2.5 million trust set up by her father, former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo, has been
    "mismanaged by cronies and acolytes."

    Because of that alleged mismanagement, Allison Fumo's lawyers are asking Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe to take $611,158 of that trust fund and deposit it in a separate bank account so that Vince Fumo's 23-year-old daughter can manage her own trust.

    In a 39-page memorandum, lawyers Don P. Foster and William S. Heyman also request that the judge nullify the appointment of Dr. Anthony Repici, Vince Fumo's personal physician, as trustee of the trust fund for Allison Fumo. 


    Allison Fumo "believes, for good reason, that her father's actions have been hostile to the trust and to her," the memorandum states. "Allison Fumo does not believe that Dr. Repici should serve as Trustee of her trust. In her view, he would not be independent, and would choose her father's wishes over hers."

    In response, Thomas A. Leonard and Zachary S. Davis, lawyers for Vince Fumo, argue in a 17-page brief that Judge O'Keefe should set aside a "sideshow of irrelevant evidence" and a smear campaign orchestrated by Allison Fumo's lawyers, to confirm Vince Fumo's choice of Dr. Repici as overseer of the trust fund.

    "Setting aside the sideshow of irrelevant evidence," the post-hearing brief filed by Vince Fumo's lawyers states, "three facts remain undisputed: (1) Dr. Anthony Repici was properly appointed ... (2) Dr. Anthony Repici is eminently qualified to serve as Trustee and (3) no other grounds exist for removing Dr. Repici as Trustee."

    In 2006, then Senator Fumo created two irrevocable trusts under the auspices of the Fumo Family Limited Partnership [FFLP]. One trust was to benefit Fumo's son, Vincent E. Fumo II; the other was to benefit Allison Fumo. When Vincent E. Fumo II turned 40, his trust was dissolved and during 2009 and 2010, the son received payments totaling $533,000.

    The original agreement called for Rosanne Pauciello, a longtime friend, ally and employee of Vince Fumo's, to serve as trustee of the fund to benefit Allison Fumo. On Sept. 8, 2011, Pauciello sent an email to the president of the FFLP, saying she was tending her resignation. The president at the time, however, asked her to stay on until the taxes were done. But according to Allison Fumo's lawyers, Pauciello did "nothing" as a trustee, either before or after Sept. 8, 2011, including contacting Allison Fumo even once.

    On Oct. 23, 2012, Pauciello formally "resigned and delivered to Samuel Bennett her formal resignation and designation of Mr. Bennett as her successor," according to the brief filed by Vince Fumo's lawyers.

    That's when the trouble started. Bennett is the brother-in-law of Vince Fumo's fiancee, Carolyn Zinni. He's also a maintenance worker with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission who doesn't have a college degree.

    Three days later, on Oct. 26, 2012, Allison Fumo sued in the Orphans' Court Division of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to have the court appoint a new trustee. That action was followed by "multiple amended pleadings, ultimately seeking to have Mr. Bennett removed due to his educational background and relationship to Mr. Fumo's fiancee," according to the lawyers representing Vince Fumo.

    The brief on behalf of Allison Fumo states, "Mr. Bennett is a personal friend and associate of [Vince Fumo], who was responsible for securing Mr. Bennett's job as a maintenance worker with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. His wife is the sister of [Vince Fumo's] fiancee, Carolyn Zinni."

    Allison Fumo's lawyers argued that Samuel Bennett was incompetent.

    "From the date of his appointment to the date of his testimony, Mr. Bennett has not communicated with Allison," her lawyers state, "although he (Bennett) did take the time to drive to Ashland, Kentucky, with his sister-in-law, Mr. Fumo's fiancee, to meet with Mr. Fumo."

    The former state senator is serving a 61-month sentence after he was convicted in 2009 on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and filing a false tax return. He is scheduled to be released in two weeks.

    "He (Bennett) knows nothing about Allison," her lawyers state. "He never read the Trust Agreement before he was served with the Petition that began this case ... and had no understanding of how the Trust was to function."

    In their memorandum, Allison Fumo's lawyers slam the "appointment of someone who was as overtly unqualified to serve as Trustee as Mr. Bennett, whose sole qualification ... appears to have been his loyalty to [Vince Fumo]. Allison Fumo's lawyers argue that the appointment of such an incompetent trustee "is probative of [Vince Fumo's] desire to control the operations of the Trust and the assets of the Trust ... regardless of the interests of the Trust beneficiary ..."

    After Allison Fumo's lawyers objected to Samuel Bennett serving as a trustee, Bennett resigned on June 22, 2013, and named Dr. Repici as his successor.

    Bennett resigned, according to Vince Fumo's lawyers, because he recognized that "prolonged litigation was not beneficial to the trust." Bennett then nominated Dr. Repici as his successor.

    Dr. Repici has been a doctor for 41 years, and a lawyer for 28 years. In addition, he has taken finance classes at Temple University. He has also been Vince Fumo's friend for 50 years, and his personal physician for 25.

    Vince Fumo's lawyers charge that rather than deal with Dr. Repici's impeccable credentials, Allison Fumo's lawyers resorted to a smear campaign against her father.

    "Instead, [Allison Fumo] proceeded at the Court's hearing on July 9, 2013 with the introduction of irrelevant evidence intended to smear and tarnish the reputation of her father -- who was not present to defend himself -- apparently forgetful of the generosity he exhibited in making his multimillion dollar gift," Vince Fumo's lawyers wrote.

    "Significantly, none of the evidence introduced by [Allison Fumo] even addressed the issue of Dr. Repici's qualifications or fitness, let alone suggested that Dr. Repici was not qualified or otherwise not fit to serve as Trustee of the Allison Fumo Trust."


    During the case, Vince Fumo's lawyers had asked the judge for a delay, so that Vince Fumo could testify, but the judge ruled against them. That's when Allison Fumo's lawyers stood up and protested. They said that Vince Fumo's lawyers had every opportunity to ask the court for permission to take Vince Fumo's deposition, as he was an unavailable witness, but they chose not to do so. So why were they complaining about it now?


    When he was questioned by Allison Fumo's lawyers, Dr. Repici claimed he could be impartial:

    Q. I want you to accept that if you are appointed the Trustee, you are going to be asked by the Beneficiary to take steps that are necessary to undo something that may be extremely important to your friend of 50 years.

    A. You're confusing an issue. My friendship with Vincent Fumo has nothing to do with my obligations to [Allision Fumo] as the Beneficiary. I understand what fiduciary means. And, yes, this would not be good and I would not allow it or try to make it better for Allison.

    Under Pennsylvania law, Vince Fumo's lawyers write, a court can only remove a trustee if he or she has committed a "serious breach of trust," or shown a "lack of cooperation ... that substantially impairs the administration of the trust." Or if there has been "a substantial change of circumstances" in the trust, such as a corporate reorganization, merger or consolidation.

    None of these circumstances exist in the Fumo case, lawyers Leonard and Davis argue. Allison Fumo only seeks to disqualify Dr. Repici because of a suggestion that his friendship with Vince Fumo would  compromise his fiduciary duties to Allie Fumo.

    "Were Dr. Repici's friendship with Mr. Fumo by itself sufficient to disqualify him from serving as Trustee," Vince Fumo's lawyers argue, "then most every non-corporate trustee would be disqualified from service due to his or her relationship with the settlor," or the person who set up the trust. Instead, Vince Fumo's lawyers argue, under Pennsylvania law, "the pole star in every trust ... is the settlor's ... intent and that intent must prevail."

    Vince Fumo's lawyers say there is no evidence that their client, or any of his cronies, have shown any hostility toward Allison Fumo.

    Allison Fumo "has sought in this litigation to color her father's actions as hostile, such has been done through one-sided testimony to which Mr. Fumo has not been permitted to respond or provide context," Leonard and Davis write in their brief.

    "If Mr. Fumo had been permitted to testify, he would have offered a much different version of events, which would reflect the generosity of a father who not only made this multi-million gift to his children, but also wrote a six-figure check on the eve of his incarceration as pre-payment for the remaining years of [Allison Fumo's] Ivy League education," Vince Fumo's lawyers write. "Given Mr. Fumo's history of generosity, [Allison Fumo's] suggestion that her father bears hostility toward her is laughable."

    The appointment of Dr. Repici as trustee is opposed by Allison Fumo, and her mother, Jane Saccetti.

    "Jane Saccetti does not believe that Dr. Repici is a suitable trustee for her daughter's trust," Allison Fumo's lawyers state. "According to her, Mr. Fumo chooses people that he thinks he can influence and/or control."

    "Allison Fumo does not trust Samuel Bennett's or her father's judgement in the selection of a Trustee," Foster and Heyman state in their belief. Allison Fumo "does not believe that her father's interests are consistent with what is in the best interests of the FFLP or the Trust."

    Allison Fumo "believes, for good reason, that her father's actions have been hostile to the trust and to her," Foster and Heyman write. "Allison Fumo does not believe that Dr. Repici should serve as Trustee of her Trust. In her view, he would not be independent, and would choose her father's wishes over hers."

    Allison Fumo's lawyers argue that under Pennsylvania law, the court can appoint an independent trustee if it is aware that good relations will not exist between a trustee and a beneficiary, or if the person appointing a trustee is hostile to the beneficiary. The court can also appoint an independent trustee if the beneficiary for legitimate reasons does not trust the trustee to act in her best interests.

    While Vincent E. Fumo II has collected $533,000 to date from the trust fund, "no distribution has ever been made to Alliosn's trust," her lawyers wrote.

    In October 2007, the trust fund had assets of $3.2 million. On Jan. 22, 2010, Vince Fumo borrowed $1.4 million from the trust. The loan was originally to be repaid by Jan. 31, 2013, at an interest rate of 5 percent. The loan was originally secured by a mortgage lien on Vince Fumo's 30-room mansion on Green Street in the Art Museum section of the city.

    In October 2010, the date the loan was to be repaid was extended by two years, to Jan. 1, 2015, and the interest rate was lowered to 4.5 percent, Allison Fumo's lawyers write. In November 2012, that loan repayment date was extended by Fumo's cronies to Jan. 1, 2020,  at 2.38 percent interest, Foster and Heyman write. From Jan. 22, 2020, until 2040, the loan would be repaid at prevailing interest rates not to exceed 4.5 percent interest.

    So that $1.4 million loan that originally was supposed to be repaid in 2013 will not come due until 2040, Foster and Heyman write, "when Allison Fumo will be 50 years of age and presumably long after the demise of [Vince Fumo] who is 70 years old and in ill health."

    The changes in the terms of the $1.4 million loan were implemented by Fumo's cronies, "contrary to the express wishes of Vincent and Allison, and contrary to their instructions to the general partner that the loan be declared in default," Foster and Heyman write.

    Emails between Fumo's cronies and lawyers showed the changes had to done ASAP, Allison Fumo's lawyers write. The emails show Vince Fumo's cronies and lawyers "were rushing to finalize the loan modification before a Court could hear the Emergency Petition" of Allison Fumo, and before a "truly independent trustee" could be appointed, according to Allison Fumo's lawyers.

    "This is further evidence of the willingness of [Vince Fumo] and his henchmen to ignore their fiduciary obligations to the limited partners and the Trust beneficiary, as well as the prerogatives of the Court, whenever those obligations and prerogatives interfered with the wishes of Mr. Fumo," Foster and Heyman write.

    Allison Fumo's lawyers cite an April 13 2013 meeting between Vince Fumo and his son in prison. "During that coversation [Vince Fumo] told Vincent that he intended to win at all costs, that he controlled what went on with the FFLP, and that before a Trustee that he did not control was appointed, he would see to it that legal fees depleted all assets of the FFLP," rendering it "worthless," the lawyers write.

    During the prison visit, Vince Fumo said it was "Vincent's and Allison's 'moral obligation' to give him everything in the Trust because he was broke," Foster and Heyman wrote. "He needed the money and they should give it to him."

    Allison's Fumo's lawyers assert that Vince Fumo suggested to Jane Saccetti that he would replace Roseanne Pauciello as a trustee with Carolyn Zinni. "He wished to install someone as Trustee over whom he had complete control," Allison Fumo's lawyers state.

    Allison Fumo is 23 years old, and a 2012 graduate of the Wharton School of Business, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics," her lawyers write. "She is responsible for managing her own affairs."

    If the judge grants Allison Fumo's request to set up her own trust fund, she would seek the assistance of "her mother, Jane Saccetti, and her godmother, Sylvia DiBona, as to how best manage the assets for long-term growth," her lawyers write. "She has no plans to spend the money."

    Sylvia DiBona is an accountant who owns her own insurance firm. She also runs Fred's Footsteps, a charity founded in her late husband's name.

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    Bennett Levin (Clem Murray for the Inquirer)
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin returned to City Hall Thursday to testify about the incompetence and corruption of local government, and how it was responsible for a series of catastrophes and a trail of dead bodies dating back more than 20 years.

    "I came here to speak for dead people," Levin told City Council members. He said the city can no longer allow L&I to be "a political backwater where money talks and people die."

    It was 90 minutes of straight talk in a place unaccustomed to hearing it. Levin, L&I commissioner from 1992 to 1995, named names, told inside stories, and settled some old scores. He also ripped the press, although you won't read about it in the Inquirer. 

    The reaction in Mayor Michael Nutter's button-down, bureaucratic City Hall was astonishment. One City Council member, Bobby Henon, gushed over Levin's "career of speaking truth to power." Another Council member, Curtis Jones Jr., appeared starstruck. "I don't know whether to call you Commissioner or Professor," Jones said. "We've been in school."

    When it was over, one municipal employee congratulated Levin on his ability to stick his foot so far up the posteriors of some former city officials that surgery might be required from a proctologist.

    City Council has appointed a "special investigating committee" to hold public hearings on the June 5th collapse of a building on Market Street that killed six people, injured 14, and prompted an L&I inspector to commit suicide. A grand jury is investigating; numerous civil lawsuits have been filed. A heavy-equipment operator who had marijuana in his blood is being held on $1.5 million bail, on manslaughter charges.

    Meanwhile, the City Council committee investigating the tragedy is getting stonewalled by Philadelphia's reform mayor. Last month, Mayor Nutter banned current city officials from testifying before the council committee. So frustrated council members called on two former L&I Commissioners at Thursday's hearing to shed some light on the demolition job that turned fatal.

    The two commissioners came from different planets.

    Fran Burns, former L&I commissioner under Nutter, from 2008 to 2012, had to be dragged into council chambers after she was hit with a subpoena. Burns was audibly and visibly nervous as she talked in sleep-inducing banalities for 90 minutes.

    Councilwoman Cindy Bass asked the most pointed questions. She wanted to know why the focus at L&I had shifted from public safety to economic development.

    "I don't know where that notion comes from," Burns replied. "It's not true." Then she gave a speech about safety being a top priority at L&I that meant nothing to anybody.

    Fran Burns CBS
    Bass took issue with Burns' view that L&I during her tenure had a 70 percent satisfaction rate. "If it's 70 percent, I must know the entire 30 percent that's not happy with L&I," the councilwoman cracked.

    Bass asked Burns what her thoughts were on the morning of the building collapse. Were you as a former L&I commissioner shocked and surprised that this tragedy happened, despite "all the controls you had left in place?"

    "I don't know," Burns stammered. "I had a lot of thoughts on what happened."

    But none she wanted to share.

    Bass persisted. "What is your reaction to what happened on Market Street?" she asked.

    "I don't know if that question matters," Burns replied. 

    "I think it does matter," Bass said. The council committee was studying, "How did we get here? How can we move forward?" Bass said. "That's why you're here."

    But Burns wasn't going to bite.

    "You're asking something I don't feel comfortable speculating on," she said.

    Next it was Levin's turn. 

    Levin, a retired 73-year-old engineer who lives in Bucks County, told the committee, "I thought I would fade off into the sunset." But he voluntarily agreed to testify "because someone has to speak for those who have died in this city as the result of building failures and the failure of the Department of Licenses and Inspections" as well as the agencies that oversee L&I.

     Levin described the Market Street collapse as "just the latest catastrophe in a tragic string of fatal events." Those catastrophes, he said, began with the fire at One Meridian Plaza in 1991 that killed three firefighters and continued with: an accident in 1997 where falling debris from a building previously cited by L&I as having a weakened facade killed a judge; the collapse of a Delaware River pier in 2000 that killed "three young women of achievement and great promise;" and a massive fire at an abandoned industrial building in Kensington last year that killed two firefighters.

    It all happened, Levin said, because City Hall is too tolerant of incompetence and corruption at L&I.

    "No right-thinking person would tolerate managing either the Police Department or the Fire Department in the manner in which L&I has been managed," Levin said. "Yet, L&I has equivalent public safety responsibilities to the Police Department and/or the Fire Department, but we tolerate and even accept sloth and unaccountability in the name of political expediency and 'economic development.'"

    Levin said the problem with L&I was "how the department is organized, how it is managed, and how its employees are trained."

    "What is expected from the Police Department and the Fire Department must be demanded from L&I," he said. "These fatal tragedies all point to the fact that L&I can no longer be a political backwater where money talks and people die. It must be recognized for its primary public safety responsiblities and nothing else must replace or supercede that focus."

    Prior to his stint as L&I commissioner, Levin served as a member of the Board of Building Standards for 20 years, finishing up as chairman. He described himself as an "often abused customer" of L&I who was an "eager candidate" when Rendell asked him to take over the department. So Levin gave up a $2 million a-year business for a job he didn't need because he wanted to join Rendell's campaign to reinvent city government. 

    Two days before Levin took office, the Inquirer ran a cover story in its now-defunct Sunday magazine, under the headline, "The Little Fix," about L&I's history of corruption.  The department had recently been the subject of two grand jury probes; one over the Meridian fire, the other over a sting operation resulting in multiple indictments of L&I inspectors.

    The department Levin took over had just gone through four commissioners in one year. Its employees were unprofessional, lacked self-esteem, and were "so paranoid they were dysfunctional," Levin said. The department's highest-paid employees treated the public with "disdain and arrogance."

    Levin said when he took over, the department's organizational chart had too many high-priced managers with "amorphous titles such as "code administrator III." The result was "a bloated bureaucracy" and a cadre of high-priced staff without defined functional skills," he said. L&I employed electrical inspectors who could pass a job placement exam but couldn't change a light bulb.

    During Levin's tenure as L&I commissioner, not only did morale and service improve, but so did revenues. Over a four-year period under Levin, annual revenues from the sale of permits and licenses doubled, from $16 million a year to $32 million a year. L&I under Levin also demolished 5,000 former crack houses and abandoned buildings. The biggest  demo job was a block-long former clothing factory at 25th and Reed demolished at a cost of $1.2 million.

    Levin traced the decline at L&I to the "second term of former Mayor Rendell," under former L&I Commissioner Edward J. McLaughlin. The downward spiral that began under McLaughlin continued through succeeding administrations, Levin said.

    Levin said after he left office, McLaughlin, a career Philly cop, took over the department. Under Mayors Rendell and Street, McLaughlin turned L&I into a "mini-enforcement agency." McLaughlin also ran a campaign to make the department more "business-friendly."

    In Levin's eyes, both efforts were disasters.

    "Some of my successors have not been qualified to be L&I commissioner," Levin told council members. He was plainly talking about Ed McLaughlin.

    "L&I is not an 'economic development entity," Levin said. "L&I is not a revenue entity." It may have some of those responsibilities, he said, but "its primary function" is to govern public safety.

    One benefactor of Commissioner McLaughlin's business-friendly campaign was Ronald Caplan, a prominent Center City developer who was also
    a regular Democratic party contributor.

    In 1999, Caplan, president of Philadelphia Management, was seeking to refinance 15 high-rises and apartment buildings that had more than 100 fire code violations. To refinance, Caplan needed a clean bill of health from the city. So officials at L&I under McLaughlin closed out those 100 fire code violations in the department's computer system, without explanation, in violation of usual procedures, and apparently without making any required on-site re-inspections. I wrote about it for the Philadelphia City Paper.

    The closed-out violations included a 13-story building at 235 S. 15th St. that did not have standpipes. Standpipes are the vertical piping that supply water to every floor in the event of a fire. The standpipes at One Merdian Plaza was one of the key emergency systems that failed the day the three firefighters died.

    The lack of standpipes at 235 S. 15th St. was signed off by Commissioner McLaughlin "in the name of economic development," Levin told City Council. "Is it any wonder that the department has spiraled out of control in the intervening period of time? He [McLaughlin] was the commissioner who tried to mold L&I into an enforcement agency and is basically responsible for the genesis of the current organization chart," which Levin characterized as a return to the days of bloated bureaucracy. 

    McLaughlin and Caplan had a chummy relationship. Caplan employed McLaughlin's son, who lived in a Caplan property. Ed McLaughlin also had previously lived in a Caplan property. McLaughlin was investigated by the city's inspector general, but he didn't do anything.

    While L&I under McLaughlin was doing favors for wealthy developers like Caplan, the department formed a nuisance task force. The task force, some of whom carried guns, were out storming homes and businesses in search of illegal activity and construction done without permits. The result was a bunch of civil rights lawsuits, including a 1999 decision in federal district court, Maffucci v. City of Philadelphia, that resulted in a $350,000 judgement against the city, plus $150,000 in legal fees.

    Levin read the first paragraph of the decision by U.S. District Court Judge J.M. Kelley that described the behavior of L&I employees under McLaughlin:

    "Undaunted by the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent and undeterred by the City's own code, defendants steadfastly maintained their absolute right to proceed unchecked into plaintiff's home. Along the way, defendants complicated the injuries their conduct visited through a general disregard for the law, punctuated by a false verification and repeated misrepresentations to the courts."

    "In any rational jurisdiction, this behavior and its result would have cried for the removal of the commissioner and his deputies," Levin said of McLaughlin's reign as L&I commissioner. "But in Philadelphia, the story went unreported in the 'newspaper of record.' And, to add insult to injury, the same commissioner was then reappointed to the position by the new mayor [John Street] six months after this order was issued, over the objections of [Mayor Street's] transition team," of which Levin was a member.

    [After I had finished writing about McLaughlin, he called me and said, "You almost got me." If the Inquirer or TV news had picked up those City Paper stories, McLaughlin confided, he'd have been a goner. Such is the brazenness of corruption in Philadelphia.]

    Levin said the Maffucci case was a waste of taxpayers' money. "At the time during which I served as Commissioner those funds would have been paid out of the department's demolition budget," Levin said. "$500,000 could have demolished 200 houses in 1999 dollars."

    Levin used to maintain a "Dirty Dozen" list of the most notorious buildings in town that needed to be demolished. If L&I had continued that demolition program, Levin said, the vacant building where the two firefighters died in Kensington last year would have been torn down. And two firefighters would be alive today.

    Long before the Market Street collapse, Levin said he asked his department's demolition unit to inspect all Center City properties owned by notorious slumlord Sam Rappaport. One of those properties owned by Rappaport was the building where the falling debris killed Judge Berel Caesar.

    "A voluminous file of violations were prepared and rather than submit them piecemeal through the enforcement process, a file was sent to the Law Department for an equity action as one single case because of the gravity of the matter," Levin told the City Council.

    Levin wanted the city to go after the slumlord.

    "Guess what?" he told the City Council committee. "To the best of my recollection, the case never came out of the Law Department. We often qupped that the Law Department was the 'dead letter office' of city government, and that the inspector general's office was the 'black hole' of government."

    One Meridian Plaza
    In Philadelphia, Levin said, the guilty parties usually get away. He explained how this happened during the investigation of the Meridian fire in a 2000 memo that Levn brought with him to City Council chambers.

    In the memo, Levin said about two years prior to the Meridian fire, the owner of the building, the Rubin organization, applied to the Board of Building Standards for relief from requirements for proper standpipes. At the time, Levin was chairman of the Board of Building Standards. A hearing was held, and a variance was immediately granted by L&I "with the proviso that the entire building be provided with an automatic sprinkler system" to be installed over five years at One Meridian Plaza, Levin wrote.

    Before the fire, Levin saw a copy of a letter addressed to then L&I Commissioner Donald Kligerman from the Rubin organization. In the letter, "the Rubin organization disavowed the conditions of the variance and disavowed any knowledge of asking for the variance, even though they received copies of the letter authorizing the variance when the original hearing was held."

    Levin said as far as he knew, nobody at L&I ever responded to the letter. Two days before the fire, Levin wrote in his memo, he had a "heated conversation" with Kligerman  about conditions at the Meridian building. And he warned Kligerman about a tragedy, Levin said.

    Two days after the fire, he got a call from Dave Wismer, then a deputy commissioner at L&I, "instructing me not to talk to the press," Levin wrote. A grand jury investigated, but Levin, to his own amazement, was never called as a witness.

    In other words, the city knew the Meridian building had inadequate safety measures in the event of a fire. That's why the city had required the owner to install sprinklers in the building on every floor. Then the owner backed out of the deal, nobody called him on it, and three firefighters died.

    And when a grand jury investigated, they missed it.

    In a June 30, 2000 letter to Mayor Street, which he also turned over to City Council, Levin wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Meridian Grand Jury as well as the Price Waterhouse report that was commissioned as the result of the Meridian Fire only reported what the political powers thought was comfortable and not controversial. Even those who were singled out for adverse findings were
    Memorial for the firefighters who died at Merdian
    soon promoted into positions of even greater responsibility, power and compensation."

    After Levin got through testifying, City Councilman Jim Kenney asked about Levin's former policy as L&I Commissioner of requiring every contractor who got a permit to have a valid business privilege license.

    "The things they stopped doing that you did," Kenney exclaimed. If that requirement had still been in place, Kenney said, the contractor who did the demolition work on Market Street would  not have gotten a permit, because the contractor owed back taxes. The building collapse "would have never happened," Kenney lamented.

    After Levin was through testifying, the media descended. The most persistent questioner was reporter Bob Warner of the Inquirer.

    "You're awfully tall for an Inquirer reporter in the City Hall bureau," Levin cracked. He said that during his tenure as L&I commissioner, the Inky's City Hall reporters never wrote anything bad about Ed Rendell. They were too busy delivering pizzas to David L. Cohen, the mayor's chief of staff. "Reporters in the Inky City Hall bureau used to walk around on their knees," Levin joked.

    TV reporters found it difficult to boil Levin's lecture down to sound bites. "I can't deal with this," one TV reporter complained. "I've only got 45 seconds." So when the TV reporters asked Levin to simplify for the benefit of their viewers what happened on Market Street, Levin said, "A building fell down."

    Levin's appearance as a witness at City Hall resulted in a spate of publicity for the City Council committee investigating the Market Street building collapse. That upset Philadelphia's reform mayor, who, when he's not out in bars at 2 a.m. spanking blondes, is busy trying to manage the news and keep a lid on scandal. A press aide to the mayor emailed Warner the following note:

    "The former Commissioner has a right to his opinion as a private citizen, but many things have changed in the Department of Licenses and Inspections in the almost two decades since he was in city government. I cannot imagine that he meant to slander the reputations of the many fine people who work at L&I. I cannot comment on what happened prior to this Administration, but the Department has made significant improvements in recent years while maintaining its mission of public safety."

    "L&I now approaches that mission with a more qualified staff, improved technology, and streamlined process, all while continuing to work with the pubic as their partner in building safety. There will always be work to do as we continue to improve our processes throughout City government, but I am proud of what has been accomplished. We remain committed to providing the best level of service to all Philadelphians. -- Mayor Michael A. Nutter."

    "He obviously didn't read my testimony to see that I didn't say anything bad about him or his administration," Levin responded. "There was nothing in my testimony that slandered anybody working in the department, or criticized the current commissioner. But apparently I hit a raw nerve."

    Actually, when he testified, Levin singled out several current members of the department for praise and said he wasn't there to say anything negative about the current L&I Commissioner. City employees in attendance loved what Levin had to say. One retired L&I building inspector emailed Levin a two-word message, "Thank You."

    "This guy is thin-skinned,"Levin said of Nutter. "This is a problem that started way before his watch."

    It sure did.

    As opposed to the outspoken Levin, who drove Mayor Rendell and David L. Cohen crazy, Mayor Nutter prefers an L&I Commissioner like Fran Burns. Somebody who knows nothing and says nothing. And when they're hauled before the public and finally asked to be accountable, they act like they're afraid of their own shadow.

    I'll take Levin any day. If we had more outspoken officials like Levin -- and fewer reform mayors like Nutter who want to button everything up -- maybe we wouldn't have as many dead bodies around to feel guilty about.


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    Judge Ellen Ceisler
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Lawyers for Bernard Shero and Father Charles Engelhardt have filed legal papers claiming their clients were wrongly convicted due to judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

    The lawyers made their claims in separate documents filed on Aug. 1 with Judge Ellen Ceisler, both entitled, "Defendant's Statement of Errors To Be Complained Of On Appeal."

    Michael J. McGovern, writing on behalf of Father Engelhardt, asserted that Judge Ceisler should have tossed a conspiracy charge against Father Engelhardt a lot sooner than she did. During the trial, the judge overruled defense objections to the charge that Father Engelhardt had conspired with Father Edward Avery to rape Billy Doe, the victim in the case, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

    After the jury delivered its verdict and convicted Engelhardt of conspiracy, the judge at sentencing granted a defense motion to toss the conspiracy charge as unproven. But that decision came after the judge had given "lengthy and repetitive jury instructions on conspiracy and accomplice liability thus unduly emphasizing" the conspiracy charge to the jury, McGovern wrote. The conspiracy charge took up 10 out of 44 pages of jury instructions, and one page of a two-page jury verdict sheet that listed "four separate charges of conspiracy and accomplice liability," McGovern wrote.

    Michael J. McGovern
    By letting the jury deliberate the conspiracy charge, McGovern wrote, it made it "impossible to determine whether the resulting verdicts against the defendant were based on the erroneous theories of conspiracy and accomplice liability."

    This was "an error which the court conceded post-trial," McGovern wrote, when the judge tossed the conspiracy charge. The judge's actions may have resulted in Engelhardt not receiving due process or a fair trial, McGovern wrote.

    On Jan. 30, a jury convicted Father Engelhardt of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old, and conspiring with Father Ed Avery to commit sexual assault on Billy Doe. On June 12, Judge Ceisler threw out the conspiracy charge, but sentenced the priest to 6 to 12 years in jail.

    McGovern also took the judge to task for allowing Dr. Gerald Margiotti, a pediatrician, to give "speculative hypothetical" testimony to the jury that Billy Doe's boyhood complaint of testicular pain was consistent with sexual abuse, even though the pediatrician had never examined Billy Doe, and was not qualified as an expert.

    McGovern said the judge also allowed Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti to "commit prosecutorial misconduct by making highly inflammatory, unsupported and prejudicial statements and misstatements before before the jury, including hypothesizing as to the existence of other victims of sexual assault by [Engelhardt] and suggesting there are countless others known or unknown."

    In his summation to the jury, Cipolletti was allowed to imply to the jury that "he had knowledge that there are other sexual assault cases to be brought against [Engelhardt] and implying that the defense counsel was lying, deceitful and manipulative," McGovern wrote.

    Here's what the prosecutor said that McGovern objected to: "What he [McGovern] didn't tell you was no child, no student has come forward yet." McGovern questioned whether the judge should have granted a mistrial, or given Cipolletti a cautionary instruction.

    McGovern also brought up the court crier's reading of an extra offense against Engelhardt, rape of a child, that the priest was not charged with. This error "falsely prejudiced" the defendant, McGovern wrote.

    The defense lawyer criticized the judge for not allowing Billy Doe's "medical, mental health, hospital and drug and alcohol treatment records" to be brought in as evidence during the trial, "thereby denying [Engelhardt] "due process and a fair trial."

    Since Judge Ceisler closed all pre-trial hearings and motions in the case to the press and public, this was the first mention that the defense had sought Billy Doe's medical records. You can bet the defense will go after these records in the civil case, where Billy Doe is suing the archdiocese for damages.

    McGovern also wrote Judge Ceisler that he will be asking on appeal "whether the trial court erred and abused its discretion in refusing to grant a continuance or issue a bench warrant for a subpoenaed witness," namely Billy Doe's older brother. According to McGovern, the witness "failed to appear at court ignoring his subpoena."

    During deliberations, the jury asked Judge Ceisler, "Do we know why" Billy Doe's older brother did not honor the subpoena?" The judge, according to McGovern, responded with "an erroneous and prejudicial answer over defense objection that there was no evidence" that the brother had "received a subpoena."

    Finally, McGovern plans to raise on appeal the judge's decision to allow the prosecutor to question Ed Avery "concerning four unrelated alleged accusations of abuse where there was no evidence presented at trial." These allegations were "totally irrelevant and unrelated to the charges against [Engelhardt], including conspiracy, and served only to inflame the jury," the defense lawyer wrote. McGovern faulted the judge for overruling defense objections and allowing the prosecutor to question Avery about the other four allegations, when the judge stated it was "proper impeachment" of a witness.

    On Jan. 30, a jury convicted former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault. On June 12, Judge Ceisler sentenced Shero to 8 to 16 years in jail.

    In his "statement of errors," defense lawyer Burton A. Rose, claimed that Judge Ceisler had abused her discretion by allowing the prosecution to present evidence about Shero's "alleged inappropriate behavior with other school children. Rose also objected to Ceisler's decision to allow the prosecution to present as evidence Shero's suicide note," which "did not contain any admission of guilt," the lawyer wrote.

    Burton A. Rose
    Rose, as did Shero, faulted the judge for allowing Dr. Margiotti to testify, as well as allowing the prosecutor to cross-examine Ed Avery regarding allegations of sexual abuse involving other boys.

    Rose also faulted the judge for allowing the prosecutor to misstate the evidence in his closing statement to the jury regarding the number of absences Billy Doe had on the final marking period of his sixth grade report card. Billy Doe testified that after he was raped by Shero in sixth grade, he became seriously ill and missed a lot of school. 

    Billy Doe's report card for the time period in question, however, showed zero absences. In his closing statement to the jury, according to Rose, prosecutor Cipolletti told the jury that Billy Doe was absent 3 1/2 days.

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    Bennett Levin
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin charges that Mayor Nutter is in the process of "tearing down" his former department. Along the way, Levin says, Nutter has de-emphasized public safety, as well as violated the city charter.

    "During your campaign for mayor, you often expressed your disdain for the department," Levin wrote in an open letter to the mayor today that was circulated to the media. "In my humble but experienced opinion, the problem is not solved by tearing down the department, by slashing its workforce by 25 percent, or by providing it with a commissioner who, from all appearances, knew absolutely nothing about its core and basic public safety responsibility ..."

    The City Council has been holding public hearings on the fatal Market Street building collapse June 5th that killed six people, injured 14, and prompted an L&I inspector to commit suicide. At an Aug. 1 hearing, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass asked Fran Burns, former L&I commissioner under Nutter, why the focus at L&I had switched from life safety to economic development. Burns, L&I commissioner from 2008 to 2012, claimed it wasn't true in testimony that underwhelmed council members and spectators.

    A spokesman for Nutter could not be reached.

    Mayor Nutter (right)

    Levin, L&I commissioner from 1992 to 1995, said that under the city charter, L&I is primarily responsible for building safety, not economic development. When the charter describes the duties of L&I, it doesn't say anything about economic development.

    Under the charter, Levin says, L&I reports to the managing director. That's the way it worked when Levin was L&I commissioner under Mayor Ed Rendell.

    But under Mayor Nutter, L&I reports to Alan Greenberger, who wears three hats, and is on the same level of the city's organizational chart as the managing director. Greenberger is executive director of the city planning commission, director of commerce, and deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

    The city charter backs up Levin. Section 5-1002 states the functions of L&I. The first thing listed is "building safety and sanitation, signs and zoning." The charter says L&I shall "administer and enforce all statutes, ordiances and regulations for the protection of persons and property from hazards in the use, condition, erection, alteration, maintenance, repair, sanitation ... removal and demolition of buildings and structures ..."

    Under the duties of the managing director, the charter spells out which departments report to the managing director, and L&I is listed as one of those departments.

    "The fact that the department of licenses and inspections apparently reports to the commerce director who is also the deputy mayor for economic development, rather than the managing director, in direct contradiction of the city charter, is all one has to know as to where the priorities lie with respect to protection of the public's safety," Levin wrote.

    Levin said when he has in office, L&I had 421 employees; now it has 308.

    "L&I needs leadership that has the technical knowledge and core experience to direct its public safety responsibilities," Levin wrote. "It is not something solely gained from being a good tester or having obtained a masters in public administration."

    Fran Burns is a former intramural director at Villanova University who holds a graduate degree in public administration. Before she was L&I commissioner, she worked for the city as an assistant managing director, and an assistant budget director.

    Levin is a licensed engineer and a former chairman of the city's Board of Building Standards. He spoke in frustration about what's going on today at City Hall.

    "They're violating the charter and nobody blows the whistle," Levin said in an interview. "Nobody says, what are we doing here? And then they bring in a Zumba teacher to run the department. That doesn't make you a commissioner."

    "He [Nutter] stripped away the department," Levin said in an interview. "You can't bring back all of these skills that have been let loose. If you didn't learn from the Meridian fire, and you didn't learn from the pier collapse, and you didn't learn from the judge getting conked on the head, when are you going to learn?"

    Levin was referring to a series of catastrophes that he has blamed on mismanagement at L&I, including the 1991 fire at One Meridian Plaza that killed three firefighters: a 1997 accident where falling debris from a building previously cited by L&I as having a weakened facade killed a judge; and the 2000 collapse of a Delaware River pier that killed three young women.

    A longtime L&I employee who worked under both L&I commissioners Burns and Levin said that "Burns was there to be a bureaucrat. She was all about cutting costs ... She wanted to show an increase in revenues and a cut in costs."

    Mayor Nutter's focus was on streamlining the permit process,  the L&I employee said. "I don't think he [Nutter] cared about the inspections," the employee said. "I don’t think Nutter understood the system and hired the managers who should have been there."

    Under Burns, the longtime L&I employee said, private demolitions such as the one that occurred on Market Street were viewed as the primary responsibility of the owner.

    That's not how it worked when he was commissioner, Levin said.

    Levin used to convene a meeting in his office every morning. "The first thing we talked about was dangerous buildings in the city," he said. "I had one inspector on call around the clock." If somebody made a complaint, the inspector on duty "got paid to go out at 2 o'clock in the morning" and check out a potentially dangerous building, Levin said.

    In the Market Street collapse, complaints were first made a month before the tragedy. If complaints about the ongoing demolition on Market Street had happened on his watch, Levin said, "Somebody would have gone out immediately."

     Regarding the L&I building inspector who committed suicide, the Market Street demolition was one of 700 jobs he had in his portfolio.

    "It's not the fault of the guy who committed suicide," Levin said, "its the fault of the process."

    In his open letter to Mayor Nutter, Levin asked, "who pays the price" for the incompetence of city government.

    "As usual, it is the poorest among us who pay the price," Levin wrote. "The price is not only paid by those who were killed or injured, but the price for poor and ineffective governance in our city is paid by those who can least afford it."

    "Mismanagement and ineffective leadership over the past years have burdened our citizens to the point where all Philadelphians, including the poor, are forced to pay a 33 percent surcharge on the state sales tax solely as the result of how the city has been managed," Levin wrote. "It is a self-inflicted burden and it is just one of the many burdens imposed as the result of poor political leadership."

    "L&I needs to be fixed," Levin wrote Mayor Nutter. "It needs to overcome 15 years of decay. It needs your support, not your disdain."

    The feud between Levin and Nutter was prompted by a statement released by a Nutter spokesman after Levin testified on Aug. 1 before City Council. The statement attributed to Nutter said that Levin was "out of touch," and charged that he had slandered current L&I employees, something that wasn't true.

    "Rather than curse the darkness and slander the messenger, I would respectfully suggest you light a few candles and give the city a department that they can respect and have confidence in," Levin wrote Nutter.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    What the hell is going on at City Hall?

    In the fifth and final City Council public hearing today on the June 5th building collapse on Market Street, the public finally got a chance to speak. Witnesses testified about a city where unscrupulous contractors run amok, and an administration where public safety has taken a back seat to politics and commerce, with deadly results.

    Jim Foster, editor of the Northwest Independent, talked about how the public hearings have only been the beginning "of the process that tells the truth about how a city unraveled its own codes, played politics with due diligence, let down the citizenry, and now we have seven dead and many maimed." Foster was speaking about the building collapse that killed six, injured 14, and prompted the suicide of a L&I building inspector.

    The editor said the responsibility for the building collapse rests at the top. "The cavalier attitude of the mayor and staff cannot be justified," Foster said. "No issue has brought more citizen outrage back to me as editor than this wall collapse and the deaths."

    It was another bad day for Mayor Nutter, who previously had tried to mute the City Council's public hearings on the building collapse by barring current city officials from testifying.

    The heaviest damage political damage to Nutter and his inept former L&I commissioner -- Fran Burns, now CEO of the city school district -- came from a trio of heavyweight plumbers who testified about the city's willful lack of oversight over their trade.

    Two months after he took office in January 2008, Mayor Nutter dissolved the city's 50-year-old Plumbing Advisory Board, according to Walt Krzyzanowski, a master plumber who is president of  Plumbing Contractors Local 690 of Philadelphia.

    It didn't seem to matter that the plumbing board was mandated by the city charter.

    L&I also got rid of all its plumbing inspectors, Krzyzanowski said, and transferred those duties to overworked building inspectors.

    "The city, as explained to us by then Commissioners Burns and Deputy Commissioner [Michael] Fink, terminated the position of plumbing inspector and certified the building inspectors to inspect plumbing in efforts to cut costs to the city," Krzyzanowski said. "We ask at what cost to consumer protection and the protection of the health and safety of all Philadelphians and to the general public."

    At one time, Krzyzanowski said, the city employed a dozen plumbing inspectors. But now the city allows plumbers to "self-certify," Krzyzanowski said, which basically amounted to allowing plumbers to inspect their own work.

    The honor system ain't working, Krzyzanowski said. Last Friday, a "so-called plumber" working in the 2000 block of West Boston Street in North Philadelphia accidentally poked a hole in a gas line, said Michael McGraw, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors. Fifty homes had to be evacuated, McGraw said.

    The building inspector who committed suicide was assigned to 700 open jobs. McGraw told council members he wondered how many of those jobs were plumbing inspections.

    Historically, L&I's plumbing inspectors had to be master plumbers, Krzyzanowski said. "The current building inspectors do not possess this credential." The plumbing industry offered to bear the cost of having each building inspector take the master plumbers examination, Krzyzanowski said. "Commissioner Burns and Deputy Commissioner Fink declined these offers."

    L&I under Commissioner Burns was indifferent to shoddy plumbing work, Krzyzanowski said.

    In July 2009, city plumbers notified L&I Commissioner Burns and Deputy Commissioner Fink that substandard plumbing was being installed at a work site on Southampton Road in Philadelphia, in violation of the city's plumbing code, Krzyzanowski said. But Fink and Burns refused to do anything about it.

    The plumbers concluded "that special procedures were being permitted for a political friend to the administration," Krzyzanowski said. The plumbers filed a lawsuit against the city in October 2009 in an effort to get the Nutter administration to enforce the city's plumbing code.

    Another substandard job that the plumbers notified the city about was at Planet Fitness at Aramingo Avenue and York Street. On Dec. 1, 2010, Krzyzanowski said he notified L&I Commissioner Burns that roof drains at Planet Fitness were leaking through the side of the building on to a pedestrian walkway and a parking lot. The plumbers were worried about the winter hazards of a walkway and a parking lot turning into a couple of skating rinks.

    "Much to the amazement of the plumbing industry, this facility was allowed by the city to open and operate without the condition being rectified," Krzyzanowski said. "To this day," Krzyzanowski said, one storm outlet at Planet Fitness "continues to spill directly onto a pedestrian walkway. After two and a half years, the industry is still attempting to get the administration to enforce the code."

    City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said the hearings have been a revelation.

    "Knowing how we operate, I don't feel too safe," he said.

    The solution, the council members said, was to reverse the city's disastrous switch in emphasis at L&I from economic development back to life safety. If that means appropriating more money to hire more building inspectors, that's what we'll do, council members said.

    Councilman Jim Kenney seemed disgusted. Every day, he said, his office receives complaints about "insane, illegal and dangerous conditions that exist" at construction sites around the city. He talked about the Nutter administration's reaction to the complaints: "arrogance beyond anything I've ever seen."

    Plumber Krzyzanowski testified about how stunned he and his fellow plumbers were when the city turned down their offer to pay for plumbing training for building inspectors. "We couldn't figure out why they wouldn't take us up on the offer," Krzyzanowski said.

    "Join the club," Kenney said.

    Kenney said the city should consider hiring retired plumbers as plumbing inspectors at L&I. "They know what they're looking for," he said. Anything would be preferable to what's going on now, the councilman said.

    "It's almost an underground, wild-west crazy situation out there," Kenney said. He said plumbing permits generated $18 million annually, so he did not understand why a plumbing permit unit at L&I wouldn't be "self-sustaining."

    Council members agreed it was time to get back to having public safety be the top priority at L&I, instead of cost-cutting or economic development. To make matters worse, while Mayor Nutter and his hand-picked boob of a commissioner, Fran Burns, were dismantling L&I, the "reform mayor" was creating "31 new boards and commissions in his five years in office," Kryzanowski said.

    Things like the mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics; the Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity; and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.

    Hey Mix Master Mike, how about creating a new agency to make sure that buildings don't fall down on our citizens and kill them? We could call it the mayor's Office of New Life Safety and Creative Death Prevention. Or a new agency that will regulate rogue plumbers and electricians. From the testimony at today's public hearing, it sounds like it's needed.

    Rachel Shapiro, a resident of the 700 block of Manton Street in South Philadelphia, told council members about her horrific five-year ordeal in City Hall and the courts after she found out that the electrician she hired to rewire her house did not have an electrical license to work in the city.

    The contractor, Brad Koenig, president of Koenig Contracting, did work on her house without permits in 2008, before quitting the job halfway through, Shapiro told council members.

    There's "illegal work going on right under L&I's nose and they don't do anything about it," said Shapiro, a lawyer. When her contractor stopped working on re-wiring her house, "my house was a mess, she said. "There were wires sticking out everywhere."

    When she repeatedly sought help from L&I, an L&I official told her, "It's buyer beware in this city, lady. What do you want me to do about it?"

    Shapiro had to hire three more electricians to finish the job of wiring her house, at a total cost of $50,000. She filed a breach of contract and unfair trade practices claim against Koenig Contracting, and made the mistake of representing herself in court.

    In the lawsuit,  Shapiro sought $30,000 in damages. The judge, however, ruled against her, saying the contractor hadn't been paid for all the work he did, even though the job was unfinished, and the work was done without permits by an unlicensed contractor. The judge wound up awarding the contractor another $7,199 of Shapiro's money.

    Justice in Philadelphia.

    In February 2011, a fire broke out at Shapiro's house, and none of her fire alarms went off.

    "If my house burns down tomorrow, would there be an investigation?" she asked. The contractor that victimized her has done lots of work at other homes throughout the city, Shapiro said.  She told multiple city officials about it and they did nothing.

    Her case was already lost, she told City Council members. But what about future victims who don't know they're hiring this unlicensed contractor who does substandard work. "Shouldn't this contractor be stopped?" Shapiro asked.

    All she's gotten from the city in five years, Shapiro said, was the run around. Time and time again, she brought her complaints to city boards and agencies, as well as the courts, and they either blew her off, or ruled against her.

    "I've waited five years for this moment," she told city council members.

    "That's scary," Councilman Jones replied. "We have an honor system that isn't being honored. It's just incredible to me."


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    It's an open demolition site that features the rusting skeleton of a former giant furniture store. The walls are collapsing; so is the roof.

    Neighbors say the site is an attractive  public nuisance for local kids, who like to party there and paint graffiti. It sits directly across the street from the ballfields behind George Washington High School on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.

    For months, L&I has allowed the 11.7-acre site to operate as an illegal landfill. Dump trucks have been seen going in and out of the property on a daily basis, say neighbors and a former L&I employee who visited the site. The dump trucks left behind in the rear of the property a pile of concrete rubble, brick and old tires. Dumpsters formerly kept on the site also attracted plenty of old refrigerators, mattresses and lots of trash.

    "It's an eyesore," said a woman who lives across the street but did not want to be identified. At 7:20 a.m. on Monday Aug. 19th, neighbors saw a worker at the site frantically waving down police, who had just pulled up in cop cars with lights flashing.

    "Bet you they found a body," the woman recalled saying to a neighbor. "It was just a matter of time."

    Daquan Crump, 19, was found shot "anywhere from 10 to 12 times, all in the face and head area,"  Philadelphia Police Captain James Clark told reporters. "It was a very, very brutal murder."

    Crump had been forced to kneel in the dirt before he was shot, police said. Ten casings were recovered from the demolition site. The victim, a 2012 graduate of George Washington High, had worked at a neighboring Wendy's on Red Lion Road. He was last seen leaving his job at 11 p.m. the previous Saturday. Police found a Wendy's uniform in his backpack.

    On Thursday, a worker shooed this reporter off the site while a bulldozer was rumbling. "We're tearing it down," the worker said. Better late than never.

     L&I officials did not respond to a request for comment on why the department has allowed the property to continue operating as an illegal dumping ground. It's not a legitimate question, said an indignant Rebecca Swanson, a spokesperson for L&I. To show her shaky grip on reality, Swanson also denied that her agency has become a public relations nightmare.

    Honestly, who hires these people?

    L&I has been the subject of five recent City Council public hearings for its lack of oversight of a June 5th building collapse on Market Street that killed 6, injured 14, and prompted the suicide of an overworked L&I building inspector.

    On April 8, 2013, Artifex Design & Construction of Bala Cynwyd received a demolition permit from L&I calling for "complete demolition of all structures on the site" at the old Black Red White Furniture store at 10169 Northeast Boulevard, according to L&I records posted online. The job remains an "active" site, according to the records.

    Artifex may no longer be active; the company's phone number is not in service.

    The demolition should have been completed in a few weeks, said a longtime former L&I employee who visited the site before the murder. The former L&I employee said he witnessed dump trucks rumbling in and out of the property. Neighbors said they saw the same thing.

    "They were running an illegal business on a demolition site," the former L&I employee said. "I said, something's going to happen here."

    L&I, however, was not looking at the big picture. L&I records show inspectors visited Northeast Boulevard on April 29, 2013, and cited the illegal dump for a clip violation and high weeds throughout the property, violations "not complied" with. On June 3, 2013, L&I inspectors again visited the illegal dump site and issued a violation for rubbish and garbage in the front of the property. Once again, the violation was not complied with.

    "How could an inspector walk away from that," the former L&I employee said. "I saw the weeds and the dumping and it was a red flag. The property should have been secured with a fence. That place was a disaster waiting to happen. They're only demolishing it because a guy got killed or else it would still be going on."

    "Nobody cares," he said. "I think it's a disgrace. I would ask what the fuck is going on?"

    Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin, who testified at the recent City Council hearings, said if that site was operating when he was commissioner, he would have gone out to personally inspect it. And then, "I would have shut it down in ten minutes," he said. "Especially if the owner was a contributor to the mayor."

    L&I was certainly aware of the property and its many problems. According to L&I records, the property has been cited for 152 code violations during a seven-year-period between March 6, 2007 until June 3, 2013. The violations issued were for various building code, fire code and hazmat problems, as well as overgrown weeds.

    The site has been in the process of demolition for at least four years.

    L&I records posted online show that on Dec. 16, 2009, M&M Reality Partners LP of Willow Grove took out a permit for "interior demolition of non-load bearing partitions to include two boilers."

    On April 13, 2010, L&I issued violations for problems with the boiler room, and for "an area surrounding boiler room demolition (that) needs temporary fence to secure unsafe site." Both violations are listed as having been complied with.

    On Aug. 2, 2010, the property was cited for a partially collapsed roof and a partially collapsed wall. The records record the status as "not complied." On Sept. 13, 2010, L&I issued another violation because a building permit was required for "partial demolition at rear of building." This violation was also listed as "not complied."

    On March 6, 2012, Associated Paving Contractors of Huntingdon Valley got a permit from L&I to remove "three underground storage tanks," two 10,000-gallon tanks, and one 1,000-gallon tank.

    Meanwhile, over the years,  L&I repeatedly cited the property for violations.

    On June 17, 2009, L&I issued 23 violations for offenses that included electrical violations, fire protection, standpipes, combustible waste accumulating, and hazmat offenses. All the violations are listed as having been complied with.

    On Oct. 12, 2012, L&I issued violations for "clip violation" and "high weeds cut." The status was listed as "complied," meaning taxpayers probably paid for the work.

    The property has also been the subject of several L&I review board meetings. Between Nov. 3, 2010 and Jan 27, 2012, the property was the subject of six meetings. In the end, the review board decided L&I screwed up. "The wrong entities were cited," the records say. "The violations cannot be addressed until asbestos is removed and demolition permit is issued."

    The property is owned by M&M Realty Partners LP of Willow Grove, according to city property records, and is assessed at $1.6 million. The owner is a dead beat, according to the city, owing $194,915 in back taxes.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Vince Fumo may have already been convicted and done his time, but that hasn't stopped the former state senator from taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    On Tuesday, Peter Goldberger, an appeals lawyer representing Fumo, filed a 42-page petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, requesting that it review lower court rulings involving Fumo.

    The petition has three goals. First, Goldberger seeks to overturn Fumo's 2009 conviction on 137 counts because the trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, refused to hold a hearing to determine whether the jurors who convicted Fumo had been exposed to prejudicial information.

    Second, Goldberger asks the Supreme Court to return $3 million in restitution to Fumo, contending that the restitution award by Judge Buckwalter violated Fumo's constitutional rights. Finally, Goldberger contends that Judge Buckwalter didn't have the authority to make Fumo pay $366,279 in interest, as part of that restitution award of $3.8 million.

    The petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary. The nation's highest court gets about 8,000 such petitions every year for writs of certiorari, and every year, the court agrees to hear about 80 of these cases.

    The 70-year-old Fumo was released last month after serving four years in a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky. His petition to the Supreme Court is the latest legal challenge to Judge Buckwalter, widely criticized for leniency when he re-sentenced Fumo in 2011 to 61 months in jail and ordered him to pay $3.8 million in fines and restitution. (Prosecutors in the case have already successfully challenged Judge Buckwalter's original sentence, as well as his amended order for restitution).

    The petition to the Supreme Court also comes at a time when Fumo is expected to return to Judge Buckwalter's courtroom in the near future for two ongoing federal cases. In the first case, the prosecutors who put Fumo away are seeking to extract an additional $800,000 in restitution from him. In the second case, Fumo is suing the IRS, which recently hit him with a bill for $3 million. In his lawsuit against the IRS, Fumo alleges that the prosecutors who put him away have conspired with the IRS to seek revenge on him.

     The tainted jury issue was raised unsuccessfully on appeal; it directly involves this reporter. Back in August 2009, I wrote a story for Philadelphia magazine, "Power: Fumo, After The Fall," that interviewed the jurors who convicted the former state senator on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and filing a false tax return.

    In the story, Juror No. 1 revealed that her co-workers at Verizon had told her two prejudicial things that Judge Buckwalter didn't want the jury to know. Prejudicial item No. 1: Fumo had previously been convicted in 1980 for placing "ghost" employees on the state payroll, a conviction subsequently tossed by a judge. Prejudicial item No. 2: John Carter, former president of the Independence Seaport Museum, and the guy who gave Fumo permission to take free yacht trips, was doing time for fraud.

    Based on those disclosures, Fumo's defense lawyers petitioned Judge Buckwalter to hold an evidentiary hearing. The defense wanted to determine "whether jury deliberations were tainted by the jury's exposure during trial to pervasive media reports of excluded evidence," as Goldberger recounts in his petition.

    Judge Buckwalter refused to hold the hearing; he also turned down a defense request for a new trial. Fumo's lawyers appealed, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Fumo was not entitled to the evidentiary hearing.

    In the petition to the Supreme Court, Goldberger recounts how the defense in the Fumo case was beset by an onslaught of negative publicity.

    "In addition to coverage in traditional print and broadcast media, there was widespread coverage by new media, including 'live blogging' direct from the courtroom on the evidence and proceedings, which then appeared on various websites in real time," Goldberger wrote. "The defense repeatedly voiced concerns that given the extensive coverage, the jury might be exposed" to prejudicial information about the Fumo case that the judge didn't want the jury to know.

    "The district court, however, infrequently instructed the jury regarding exposure to extraneous influences, and refused to question the jury about potential exposure to such influences," the Supreme Court petition states. That included one juror who, on March 15, 2009, after eight days of deliberation, posted comments about the status of jury deliberations on his Facebook page and Twitter feed.

    Fumo's lawyers filed motions that sought to interview the juror and disqualify him. In response, Judge Buckwalter interviewed the juror in chambers. Buckwalter ruled that although the juror had been exposed to media coverage, "there was no prejudice to Fumo."

    In the Philadelphia magazine story, the jury foreman told me that on the day the Facebook juror was to be questioned, she and every other juror learned about the defense challenge from radio and TV news reports. Even though the judge had explicitly warned the jurors not to pay attention to media reports on the trial. The judge, however, allowed the tweeting juror to stay on the panel. The jury came back later that day and convicted Fumo on all 137 counts.

    Fumo "was denied a hearing into substantial suggestions of jury misconduct and taint," Goldberger writes. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in upholding Judge Buckwalter's decision, relied on prior case law that said that "a post-trial motion alleging jury exposure to extraneous and potentially prejudicial information" -- if nothing more could be proven -- "would be insufficient to grant relief."

    "That (Third Circuit) rule is insufficient to protect the rights of federal criminal defendants to a fair trial by an impartial jury," Goldberger argues. The ruling of the Third Circuit "disregards clear precedent" of the Supreme Court and "conflicts with similar (and even with less egregious) cases in many of the other circuits," Goldberger writes.

    In the Second Circuit, which governs cases in the New York area, based on United States v. Vitale, "A trial court is required to hold a post-trial jury hearing when reasonable grounds for investigation exist" of evidence of "impropriety ... which could have prejudiced the trial of a defendant."

    "The 'better part of valor,' " Goldberger writes, quoting from the Vitale decision, "would have been to hold an evidentiary hearing. While it is likely that nothing would have come of such a hearing," the Second Circuit wrote about Vitale's case, "the lack of one leaves too much room for more surprises to occur."

    In the Seventh District, which sets precedent in Chicago and surrounding states, the court held in United States v. Bishawi that "a hearing in which all interested parties are permitted to participate is not only proper but necessary," Goldberger writes. "A court faced with a post-verdict question of jury prejudice is obligated to ascertain and examine these basic facts ... To hold otherwise would undermine the integrity of the jury process."

    The Supreme Court also held in Wellons v. Hall that "the remedy for allegations of juror partiality is a hearing" so the defendant would have the opportunity and burden "to prove actual bias," Goldberger writes.

    In Marshall v. United States, information about a prior conviction reached the jury, despite the trial court's rulings to exclude it. This was "information of a character which the trial judge ruled was so prejudicial it could not be directly offered as evidence," Goldberger writes, quoting from that 1959 decision. "The prejudice to the defendant is almost certain to be as great when that evidence reaches the jury through news accounts." In Marshall, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial," Goldberger notes.

    In his petition to the Supreme Court, Goldberger also writes that the $3 million restitution award against Fumo "was not authorized by the convictions alone." The "amount of victim loss is a fact neither alleged in the indictment nor found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt." On that basis, Goldberger contends the penalty against Fumo violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury.

    "The indictment in this case did not charge that (Fumo) caused the financial losses he was ordered at sentencing to pay to the state Senate," the nonprofit Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, and the Independence Seaport Museum, Goldberger writes. The jury also didn't have to find any loss in funds to convict Fumo of fraud, Goldberger writes.

    But the decision in the Fumo case is inconsistent with Supreme Court case law in the past dozen years, Goldberger argues. The maximum sentence must be based on either a jury verdict or an admission by the defendant, Goldberger argues. In his petition, Goldberger quotes from another recent Supreme Court case concerning fines, Southern Union Co. v. United States: "Thus, while judges may exercise discretion in sentencing, they may not inflict punishment that the jury's verdict alone does not allow."

    Regarding the $300,000 in prejudgment interest, Goldberger writes that the crime "did not deprive a victim of an interest-bearing asset." So Goldberger argues that Judge Buckwalter did not have the authority to include the interest in the restitution award.

    The Supreme Court agrees, Goldberger writes. "As early as 1921, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Brandeis," the Supreme Court held "it was plain error to impose prejudgment interest on the amount of a criminal fine." In a 1947 case, Rodgers v. United States, the Supreme Court decided "a criminal penalty does not bear interest," Goldberger writes, unless explicitly required by a statute. No federal statute allows prejudgement interest to be added to restitution, the petition notes.

    In the Fumo case, no evidence was ever presented that any of the losses that Fumo was ordered to make restitution for "represented a taking of funds that were, or were intended to be, held by any victim for the production of income," Goldberger argues. The loss to the state Senate was for excessive salaries that Fumo approved for his official staff. Regarding the Citizens Alliance, the biggest expenditure involved capital improvements to a building owned by the alliance.

    "If prejudgment interest can ever be awarded as restitution," Goldberger writes, "It is only in an exceptional, defined sub-category of cases; it is not the rule. The present case does not fall into that class. The petition (for certiorari) should be granted."

    A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Patricia Hartman, replied via email, "Our response will be filed with the court."

    After the government has an opportunity to respond, the Supreme Court is expected to announce by the end of the year whether to accept Fumo's case for full review of any or all of the issues raised in the petition. It's still a long shot, but if the Supreme Court does take the case, a decision would be expected in the spring.

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Same case.

    Different jury.

    And, the government hopes, a different result.

    The ground work for the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi, will be laid out tomorrow afternoon at a pre-trial hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno. The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 15 and last from six to eight weeks.

    Tomorrow, Robreno will hear oral arguments on a series of pre-trial motions that will set the parameters for what literally will amount to a life or death struggle for Ligambi. The 73-year-old mob leader could face from 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of the racketeering conspiracy charge that is at the heart of the case that remains against him.

    For Borgesi, 50, the stakes are not quite as high, but nonetheless very substantial. The volatile South Philadelphia wiseguy has already spent 13 years in prison following his conviction in 2001 in another racketeering case.

    He was about to be released in March 2011 when he, Ligambi and a dozen others were indicted on new racketeering charges. Denied bail,  he has lingered in prison ever since, first awaiting the trial that ended in February and now awaiting the retrial set for next month.

    A conviction could result in another decade or more in jail.

    A key issue in the pre-trial motions to be heard at tomorrow's 2 p.m. hearing is how much of the evidence in the first case, which ended in February, can be recycled and used again.

    Lawyers for Ligambi and Borgesi want the prosecution to be limited in what it can present the second time around. In fact, Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, argues that his client shouldn't even face retrial, contending that the conspiracy charge against him has no foundation since the jury in the first trial rejected every other count Borgesi was facing.

    Prosecutors contend the conspiracy law gives them substantial leeway. In effect, they are asking Robreno to allow them to present the same case.

    It's the legal version of that classic Yogi Berra line: "deja vu all over again."

    "The government’s witnesses, recordings, and trial exhibits will consist largely of the same witnesses, recordings and exhibits introduced at the first trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor wrote in one pre-trial motion.

    Hardly seems fair, but it may be legal.

    Robreno is not expected to rule on the arguments immediately. Most observers believe it is unlikely he would throw out the case. But any ruling limiting the prosecution would be a small victory for the defense on the road to what both Warren and Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., believe will be total exoneration by the jury selected to hear testimony and weigh evidence the second time around.

    Borgesi was acquitted of 13 of the 14 counts he faced in the jury trial that ended earlier this year. Ligambi was found not guilty of five of the nine charges he faced. The jury hung on four others.

    Overall, the jury came back with not guilty verdicts on 46 of the 62 counts in the case. It hung on 11 others and issued just five guilty verdicts. Yet four of the seven defendants in that case are now serving substantial prison sentences.

    The retrial will focus on the racketeering conspiracy charge against both defendants. Ligambi also faces two gambling charges and a charge of tampering with a witness. A third defendant, Eric Esposito, faces a gambling charge. Esposito was not part of the first trial and his lawyer filed a motion this week asking that he be severed from the pending case.

    "The sheer volume and magnitude of the evidence to be presented against the co-defendants, and the lack of connection of that evidence to Mr. Esposito, would result in substantial prejudice to Mr. Esposito," wrote Kenneth Edelin, Esposito's attorney.

    Esposito, charged in connection with an illegal video poker machine operation, figures to be a minor player at best during the trial that will focus on Ligambi and Borgesi, two key figures in the Philadelphia mob, according to law enforcement.

    The two represent two different generations of a crime family that authorities say used fear and intimidation -- including murder and assaults -- to control illegal gambling and loansharking. But the defense at the first trial argued that the reputation of the organization was not reflected in the facts of the case which one defense attorney called  nothing more than a "glorified gambling investigation."

    The conspiracy, authorities allege, began in 1999 and extended through 2011.
     Warren, who represented mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata in the first trial, hopes to come back with another winner the second time around. Licata, 71, was the only defendant acquitted in February. Four others, mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, mob capo Anthony Staino, 55, mob soldier Damion Canalichio, 44, and mob associate Gary Battaglini, 52, were found guilty of conspiracy or loansharking charges.

    Each has been sentenced to substantial prison terms with Massimino receiving the stiffest sentence, 188 months. That would likely be close to what Ligambi and Borgesi would face if convicted by the new jury in the new trial.

    Borgesi opted to hire Warren to represent him at the retrial in place of  his court-appointed attorney Paul Hetznecker. The move could be ripe for legalistic second guessing if the case doesn't go the defendant's way.

    Hetznecker, who beat back virtually every government charge in the first case, would not have been available for a retrial -- due to scheduling problems -- until early next year. That apparently was one of the reasons Borgesi decided to change horses.

    Warren has argued vociferously and repeatedly that his client just wants to be treated fairly. The bulk of the case against Borgesi was built around the testimony of Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, 46, who said he ran a bookmaking and loansharking operation for Borgesi after Borgesi was jailed in 2000.

    The fact that the jury found Borgesi not guilty of 13 gambling and loansharking charges tied to Monacello not only discredited the government's chief witness but also undermined the overarching conspiracy charge, in effect gutting the government's case against his client, Warren contends.

    Why the jury hung on that count is one of the many inexplicable developments that came out of the three-month trial and 21 days of jury deliberations.

    Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, had likened the jury's rambling deliberations to "wandering in the dessert." The panel submitted 30 different questions to Robrero and at times, based on those questions, appeared to be lost.

    In another pre-trial motion filed this month, Labor has asked Robreno to allow the new jury to have a copy of the indictment with them during deliberations. An indictment was not provided in the last case.

    Labor argued that the document would be a "guide" and that racketeering conspiracy was "by its very nature a complex charge."

    Warren, in a defense response, said the jury should be permitted a copy of the indictment provided the multiple counts (46) for which not guilty verdicts were delivered in the first trial were redacted. That, as he has contended in a series of pre-trial motions, would leave very little, if anything, to support the racketeering conspiracy charge against his client.

    Both Warren and Jacobs contend that their clients are being retried unfairly and in effect have to "run the gauntlet a second time" on charges for which they have already been acquitted.

    "The government apparently assumes that the Court intends to give it free and unfettered reign to re-litigate to its heart’s content each and every factual issue that was decided against it in the first
    trial," Warren wrote in arguing that the prosecution should be limited in what evidence and testimony it could use this time out.

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




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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Nine years later, Joe Finley still remembered.

    Testifying at the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage back in April, Finley told a jury what he was thinking as he entered a burning row house in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street around 5 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2004.

    "This is what hell looks like," the 28-year Philadelphia Fire Department veteran said.

    "The whole room was like glowing...in a way that I hope I never get to know. But it seemed like it was ... hell. That's what it would remind you of. It was like being in hell. The whole room had this eerie glow to it."

    Finley was wearing protective, fire retardant bunker gear, an air pack and a mask and camera that allowed him to see images through the smoke and fire. A ladderman working out of the fire house at Front and Luzerne Streets, he was the first one through the door of the two-story house. His job was to look for people and hopefully bring them out alive.

    When the first trucks arrived, he said, the house was fully involved.

    "You rarely see them this bad," he told the jury. 

    "A ladderman is basically rescue," he explained. His primary duties were "rescue and ventilation."

    "You got to get the place opened up," Finley said. "You got to get the hot gases out of there and the smoke which allows the engine men to come and put the fire out. The heat has to have somewhere to go. So you have to break windows, open up the roof. But primarily it's search and rescue."

    But in this fire, there would be no rescue. In this fire, there were only murder victims.

    Six people, two women and four children, died in the blaze along with the family pit bull. The fire, an arson set by drug underworld hitmen, has been described by law enforcement authorities as one of the most brutal and senseless examples of witness intimidation in Philadelphia history.

    Kaboni Savage, 38, was convicted of those six homicides and six others by the jury that heard testimony from Finley and dozens of others during a three-month trial that ended in June.

    Savage, according to testimony and evidence, ordered the arson from prison where he was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges. The row house was the home of the mother of a former associate who had begun cooperating. The jury sentenced Savage to death, the first federal death sentence ever imposed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He is appealing.

    On Monday his sister Kidada, 31, will appear before Judge R. Barclay Surrick for sentencing. Known as "Da" or "Li'l Sis" in the drug underworld her brother dominated, she faces a life sentence. The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m.

    Kidada Savage was convicted of plotting the firebombing with her brother, relaying messages from him to a hitman, showing the hitman where the house was located and promising to pay him $5,000 for the job.

    The hitman, Lamont Lewis, testified for the government in the case in a plea deal that could result in a 40-year prison sentence. He said he recruited his cousin, Robert Merritt, to help with the arson. Merritt, convicted of conspiracy, is to be sentenced at a later day.

    Lewis, an admitted drug dealer and user and confessed murderer, told the jury that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the house when they broke down the front door and used two cans of gasoline to set the house ablaze.

    A burly, tattooed enforcer for the Savage organization, Lewis told the jury that he confronted Kidada Savage after he heard news reports that four children, ranging in age from 15 month to 15 years, and two women had died in the blaze.

    Lewis said he was "upset" and angrily asked Kidada why "she didn't tell me there were gonna be kids in that house."

    Her response, prosecutors alleged, was as cold and heartless as the words of her brother.

    "Fuck'em," Lewis said she told him.

    The victims were all members of Eugene "Twin" Coleman's family. Coleman, who also testified for the prosecution, began cooperating with the FBI after he, Savage and a dozen others were indicted in a 2004 drug trafficking case.

    Savage, a former professional boxer, used fear, intimidation and murder to operate a multi-million dollar North Philadelphia cocaine distribution network, authorities said. Witness intimidation was one of the ways he maintained order and thwarted investigators.

    It was, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher said, "a scorched earth" approach.

    Eight of the 12 homicides in the case were tied to witness intimidation. One victim, Tybius "Tib" Flowers, like Savage a boxer, was killed days before he was to testified against Savage in a Common Pleas Court murder trial.

    Savage was acquitted after Flowers, the District Attorney's key witness, was killed.

    In the trial earlier this year, the jury heard dozens of secretly recorded conversation in which Savage ranted about those who cooperated with authorities (see Bigtrial.net for audio of several Savage tapes).

    The jury also heard a cryptic phone call on Oct. 8 in which Savage, then imprisoned at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, first spoke with Kidada and then with Lewis. The phone call, authorities said, set the firebombing in motion.

    "Li'l Sis tell you?" Savage asked Lewis after he picked up the phone in the home on Darien Street where Kidada and her mother, Barbara, were living. Kaboni called the home frequently from the FDC. Kidada had told Lewis to come by that afternoon to talk with her brother.

    When Lewis told Kaboni Savage that he had not spoken with Kidada yet, Savage told him. "She gonna tell you when you get off the phone ... You gonna feel it when she say it."

    Savage then encouraged Lewis, telling him, "You're the only motherfucker that's gonna go hard."

    Lewis said he knew that meant committing murder and he said he was ready.

    "That's right, all the way dog," he said on the tape played for the jury. Later, adding, "I'll be the last man standing. Whatever it takes."

    After the phone call, Lewis said, Kidada Savage told him what her brother wanted him to do and drove him a few blocks to North 6th and pointed out the home of Marcella Coleman, Eugene Coleman's mother.

    Lewis said Kidada told him that Marcella, a prison guard, and another of her grown son might be in the house. But he said she never mentioned any children.

    Joe Finley said he didn't know what to expect when he made his way up the stairs of the row house as other firefighters poured water on the blaze. It was dark and smokey, but the infra-red camera allowed him to see images.

    He went into the first bedroom and didn't see anyone.

    Maybe everyone got out, he thought.

    Then he moved down the hallway to the next bedroom. It was another level of hell.

    "First bedroom was clear," he told the jury, "and I then proceeded down the hallway to the next bedroom and again, using the TIC, thermal imaging camera, I went inside...and that is when through the camera I could see a body of a woman. I didn't know it was a woman, actually. I saw a person that was kneeling basically ... and had her or his -- this person's body over the bed like such."

    With that Finley demonstrated how the person had his or her arms and upper torso over the bed, "Like she was kneeling down to pray," he said.

    Or, as prosecutors would note, shielding someone from the fire.

    Sometimes the camera plays tricks on you in the smoke and dark, Finley said as he continued his story. Sometimes you need to take a different look, so Finley reached for his flashlight which was hanging from a hook on his chest. He wanted to get a closer look.

    That's when he saw the second victim in the room.

    "I saw the leg of -- a little baby leg sticking out from under the body of ... what I found out later was a woman," Finley said. "I had to make a choice then. It just looked like the woman was dead. I didn't know, but it looked like she was dead. And I thought that is a baby, that is a baby leg. I scooped up the baby in my arms and then headed back down the -- out the hallway and then down the steps and ... out of the dwelling, the fire dwelling, with the baby in my arms."

    Finley looked frantically up and down the street for an ambulance or emergency rescue team. He finally spotted the first one arriving and handed the baby off. Then he headed back into the house .... back into hell.

    There would be no rescue that morning. The baby who Finley carried out was dead. The child was Damir Jenkins, the 15-month old son of Eugene Coleman. The woman who had thrown her body over the baby was Tameka Nash, 34, Coleman's cousin; but, he said from the witness stand, he considered her his sister.

    In the third bedroom, firefighters found the bodies of Marcella Coleman, the 54-year-old family matriarch; Khadijah Nash, 10, Tameka's daughter; and two cousins, Sean Rodriguez, 15, and Tajh Porchea, 12.

    Prosecutors, in their opening statements and closing arguments, told the jury that those living in that house never had a chance. In seconds, they said, the firebombing had turned their home into an inferno with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees.

    Finley, the first one in, told the same story.

    "If there is ever a hell," he said, "this is what it looks like."

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


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Nine years later, Joe Finley still remembered.

    Testifying at the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage back in April, Finley told a jury what he was thinking as he entered a burning row house in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street around 5 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2004.

    "This is what hell looks like," the 28-year Philadelphia Fire Department veteran said.

    "The whole room was like glowing...in a way that I hope I never get to know. But it seemed like it was ... hell. That's what it would remind you of. It was like being in hell. The whole room had this eerie glow to it."

    Finley was wearing protective, fire retardant bunker gear, an air pack and a mask and camera that allowed him to see images through the smoke and fire. A ladderman working out of the fire house at Front and Luzerne Streets, he was the first one through the door of the two-story house. His job was to look for people and hopefully bring them out alive.

    When the first trucks arrived, he said, the house was fully involved.

    "You rarely see them this bad," he told the jury. 

    "A ladderman is basically rescue," he explained. His primary duties were "rescue and ventilation."

    "You got to get the place opened up," Finley said. "You got to get the hot gases out of there and the smoke which allows the engine men to come and put the fire out. The heat has to have somewhere to go. So you have to break windows, open up the roof. But primarily it's search and rescue."

    But in this fire, there would be no rescue. In this fire, there were only murder victims.

    Six people, two women and four children, died in the blaze along with the family pit bull. The fire, an arson set by drug underworld hitmen, has been described by law enforcement authorities as one of the most brutal and senseless examples of witness intimidation in Philadelphia history.

    Kaboni Savage, 38, was convicted of those six homicides and six others by the jury that heard testimony from Finley and dozens of others during a three-month trial that ended in June.

    Savage, according to testimony and evidence, ordered the arson from prison where he was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges. The row house was the home of the mother of a former associate who had begun cooperating. The jury sentenced Savage to death, the first federal death sentence ever imposed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He is appealing.

    His sister, Kidada, 31, was scheduled to be sentenced today before Judge R. Barclay Surrick, but her sentencing is now on hold while she arranges to hire a new defense attorney. Known as "Da" or "Li'l Sis" in the drug underworld her brother dominated, Kidada Savage was convicted of six counts of murder in aid of racketeering and related charges for helping set up the arson. She faces a mandatory life sentence.

    While Surrick denied her motion for a mistrial, he did approve a continuance of the sentencing hearing late last week after she informed the judge that she wanted to retain a new lawyer.  

    Authorities said the firebombing could not have been carried out without Kidada Savage's involvement. The case alleged that she plotted the arson attack with her brother, relaying messages from him to a hitman; that she showed the hitman where the house was located, and that she promised to pay him $5,000 for the job.

    The hitman, Lamont Lewis, testified for the government in the case in a plea deal that could result in a 40-year prison sentence. He said he recruited his cousin, Robert Merritt, to help with the arson. Merritt, convicted of conspiracy, is to be sentenced at a later day.

    Lewis, an admitted drug dealer and user and confessed murderer, told the jury that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the house when they broke down the front door and used two cans of gasoline to set the house ablaze.

    A burly, tattooed enforcer for the Savage organization, Lewis told the jury that he confronted Kidada Savage after he heard news reports that four children, ranging in age from 15 month to 15 years, and two women had died in the blaze.

    Lewis said he was "upset" and angrily asked Kidada why "she didn't tell me there were gonna be kids in that house."

    Her response, prosecutors alleged, was as cold and heartless as the words of her brother.

    "Fuck'em," Lewis said she told him.

    The victims were all members of Eugene "Twin" Coleman's family. Coleman, who also testified for the prosecution, began cooperating with the FBI after he, Savage and a dozen others were indicted in a 2004 drug trafficking case.

    Savage, a former professional boxer, used fear, intimidation and murder to operate a multi-million dollar North Philadelphia cocaine distribution network, authorities said. Witness intimidation was one of the ways he maintained order and thwarted investigators.

    It was, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher said, "a scorched earth" approach.

    Eight of the 12 homicides in the case were tied to witness intimidation. One victim, Tybius "Tib" Flowers, like Savage a boxer, was killed days before he was to testified against Savage in a Common Pleas Court murder trial.

    Savage was acquitted after Flowers, the District Attorney's key witness, was killed.

    In the trial earlier this year, the jury heard dozens of secretly recorded conversation in which Savage ranted about those who cooperated with authorities (see Bigtrial.net for audio of several Savage tapes).

    The jury also heard a cryptic phone call on Oct. 8 in which Savage, then imprisoned at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, first spoke with Kidada and then with Lewis. The phone call, authorities said, set the firebombing in motion.

    "Li'l Sis tell you?" Savage asked Lewis after he picked up the phone in the home on Darien Street where Kidada and her mother, Barbara, were living. Kaboni called the home frequently from the FDC. Kidada had told Lewis to come by that afternoon to talk with her brother.

    When Lewis told Kaboni Savage that he had not spoken with Kidada yet, Savage told him. "She gonna tell you when you get off the phone ... You gonna feel it when she say it."

    Savage then encouraged Lewis, telling him, "You're the only motherfucker that's gonna go hard."

    Lewis said he knew that meant committing murder and he said he was ready.

    "That's right, all the way dog," he said on the tape played for the jury. Later, adding, "I'll be the last man standing. Whatever it takes."

    After the phone call, Lewis said, Kidada Savage told him what her brother wanted him to do and drove him a few blocks to North 6th and pointed out the home of Marcella Coleman, Eugene Coleman's mother.

    Lewis said Kidada told him that Marcella, a prison guard, and another of her grown son might be in the house. But he said she never mentioned any children.

    Joe Finley said he didn't know what to expect when he made his way up the stairs of the row house as other firefighters poured water on the blaze. It was dark and smokey, but the infra-red camera allowed him to see images.

    He went into the first bedroom and didn't see anyone.

    Maybe everyone got out, he thought.

    Then he moved down the hallway to the next bedroom. It was another level of hell.

    "First bedroom was clear," he told the jury, "and I then proceeded down the hallway to the next bedroom and again, using the TIC, thermal imaging camera, I went inside...and that is when through the camera I could see a body of a woman. I didn't know it was a woman, actually. I saw a person that was kneeling basically ... and had her or his -- this person's body over the bed like such."

    With that Finley demonstrated how the person had his or her arms and upper torso over the bed, "Like she was kneeling down to pray," he said.

    Or, as prosecutors would note, shielding someone from the fire.

    Sometimes the camera plays tricks on you in the smoke and dark, Finley said as he continued his story. Sometimes you need to take a different look, so Finley reached for his flashlight which was hanging from a hook on his chest. He wanted to get a closer look.

    That's when he saw the second victim in the room.

    "I saw the leg of -- a little baby leg sticking out from under the body of ... what I found out later was a woman," Finley said. "I had to make a choice then. It just looked like the woman was dead. I didn't know, but it looked like she was dead. And I thought that is a baby, that is a baby leg. I scooped up the baby in my arms and then headed back down the -- out the hallway and then down the steps and ... out of the dwelling, the fire dwelling, with the baby in my arms."

    Finley looked frantically up and down the street for an ambulance or emergency rescue team. He finally spotted the first one arriving and handed the baby off. Then he headed back into the house .... back into hell.

    There would be no rescue that morning. The baby who Finley carried out was dead. The child was Damir Jenkins, the 15-month old son of Eugene Coleman. The woman who had thrown her body over the baby was Tameka Nash, 34, Coleman's cousin; but, he said from the witness stand, he considered her his sister.

    In the third bedroom, firefighters found the bodies of Marcella Coleman, the 54-year-old family matriarch; Khadijah Nash, 10, Tameka's daughter; and two cousins, Sean Rodriguez, 15, and Tajh Porchea, 12.

    Prosecutors, in their opening statements and closing arguments, told the jury that those living in that house never had a chance. In seconds, they said, the firebombing had turned their home into an inferno with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees.

    Finley, the first one in, told the same story.

    "If there is ever a hell," he said, "this is what it looks like."

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


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    Monsignor William J. Lynn
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    In a sunlight-drenched courtroom this morning, a couple of state appellate judges asked the Philadelphia district attorney's office to explain the pretzel logic of its suspect prosecution of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

    After four years of hiding behind secret grand juries and gag orders, the D.A. finally had to answer some tough questions. Seth Williams wasn't there, but his top appellate lawyer was. He responded with a litany of legal citations. But when the judges attempted to pin him down, the bottom line was, the D.A.'s office has no real answers. It's hard to explain the illogical.

    Msgr. Lynn is now serving a 3 to 6 year prison term for his June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Could the appellate judges be contemplating a ruling that might free the defendant? There was a moment today during the intense 40-minute hearing that quickened the pulse of every defense lawyer in the packed courtroom.

    It came when John T. Bender, the president judge of the 15-member appellate court, asked defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom how long his client had been in jail. It was a question that seemingly came out of nowhere. The answer was 15 months. But it left defense lawyers wondering whether the appellate court was sending a signal that it would entertain a new bail motion to be filed on behalf of Msgr. Lynn.

    "I don't know what to do; I don't want to be precipitous," a smiling Bergstrom told reporters after the hearing. Bergstrom said he would wait until the court issues a ruling on the Lynn appeal. And if that ruling favors his client, Bergstrom said, he'll be filing that bail motion about "five minutes later."

    Today's hearing took place on the 17th floor of 530 Walnut Street, in an ornate courtroom featuring candle chandeliers and sconces, and tall windows overflowing with blinding sunlight.

    The questions that the appellate judges asked that the D.A. couldn't answer concerned two subjects. The first was the D.A.'s flip-flop on the state's 1972 endangering the welfare of a child law, known as EWOC. The second was Judge M. Teresa Sarmina's decision to allow prosecutors in the Lynn trial to present 21 supplemental cases of past sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, to show a pattern of bad behavior in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Let's start with the 1972 EWOC law. It says: "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

    In 2005, then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a grand jury concluded that the 1972 EWOC law did not apply to Msgr. Lynn, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, or any other high-ranking official of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A grand jury issued a report that said although it would like to, it could not legally indict Lynn or Bevilacqua for the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

    In 2011, District Attorney Seth Williams and a new grand jury looked at the same 1972 EWOC law and concluded that it did apply, not only to Msgr. Lynn, but also to Fathers Edward V. Avery, William J. Brennan and Charles Engelhardt, as well as a lay teacher, Bernard Shero. The grand jury indicted the four priests and the teacher, and charged them with endangering the welfare of a child.

    The 1972 state EWOC law refers to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child." The way the law has traditionally been applied usually involves an adult who has a relationship with a child, such as a parent, guardian or teacher; a person who "knowingly endangers the welfare of a child." But in Msgr. Lynn's case, he was prosecuted for endangering the welfare of "a child he never met, he never knew existed at all," Bergstrom told the appellate judges.

    Thomas A. Bergstrom (center)
    Instead, Bergstrom said, Lynn was charged ex post facto," or after the fact, under the standards of an EWOC law amended in 2007 to include supervisors.

    The 1972 EWOC law that makes it a crime to endanger the welfare of a child [EWOC] applies to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age."

    The amended EWOC law, which took effect in 2007, applies not only to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age," but also to "a person that employs or supervises such a person." The law was amended after the 2005 grand jury report to specifically target supervisors such as Lynn.

    "Lynn never supervised the child," Bergstrom told the appellate judges. Instead, Lynn supervised  Father Avery, who pleaded guilty to raping a 10-year-old altar identified by the 2011 grand jury report as Billy Doe.

    Judge John L. Musmanno asked Bergstrom if Lynn was guilty of "facilitating the crime." In other words, did Lynn "aid or abet" the rape of Billy Doe?

    Bergstrom returned to the language of the 1972 EWOC law. It required that the parent, guardian or person supervising the welfare of a child to "knowingly" endanger the welfare of that child, he said.

    In Lynn's case, the alleged rape of Billy Doe, which took place during the 1998-99 school year, was not reported to the archdiocese until 2009. To find that Lynn was guilty of EWOC under the old law, you'd have to conclude that Avery "was some kind of virus," Bergstrom said.

    Bergstrom argued that whatever bad acts were perpetrated by Avery were "not bad acts of Lynn."

    "He had no knowledge of it," Bergstrom said.

    Bergstrom then addressed the 21 supplemental cases of prior sex abuse allowed into trial by Judge Sarmina. Bergstrom said by his count, 26 of 32 trial days were taken up with hearing evidence from the supplemental cases. Only six days were spent on the alleged crimes behind the actual charges against Lynn. Bergstrom's position was that Judge Sarmina should have never allowed the 21 supplemental cases into evidence, as it prejudiced the jury, and had little or nothing to do with the alleged rape of Billy Doe by Avery.
    Hugh J. Burns Jr.

    Next up was Hugh J. Burns Jr. chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit. 

    Burns said the 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse were "probative and relevant" to Lynn's "knowledge and intent." Lynn had a history of transferring abusive priests in the archdiocese from parish to parish, without warning parishioners or parents, Burns said. He argued that under the old EWOC law, it was Lynn's responsibility to supervise the welfare of a child.

    "That's your position?" asked Judge Bender.

    It was.

    "He [Lynn] didn't simply put Avery out there, he was systematically putting others out there," Burns said, referring to other abusive priests.

    But Judge Bender cut Burns off, and asked the $64,000 question.

    "Why did they amend the statute?" he asked.

    Burns said there was no evidence that "a change in language means a change in intent." His position was the 1972 law, as well as the 2007 amended law, were both about protecting the welfare of children.

    Judge Christine L. Donohue interrupted Burns to ask how many times had the 1972 EWOC law been interpreted to apply to the supervisor of a supervisor of children, as it had in Lynn's case.

    This is an issue that Lynn's lawyers have researched. Since 1972, the old EWOC law has been applied in nearly 300 cases. Not once had it been applied to a supervisor of a supervisor of children until Lynn came along.

    Were there any other cases besides Lynn's that support your position, Judge Donohue asked Burns?

    In other words, did any other supervisor like Lynn ever get charged with EWOC under the 1972 EWOC law?

    "No," Burns said.

    Judge Bender brought up Father Avery's prior behavior. The more he read, he told Burns, "it strikes me" that Avery's behavior was "not so bad."

    What the judge appeared to be referring to was that Avery had been accused of fondling boys, not raping them. The judge wondered if under those circumstances, whether the judge's decision to admit the 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse was warranted.

    Based on the priest's prior behavior, "it wasn't so clear what Avery would do," Judge Bender said.

    Those words had to a real downer for the folks from the district attorney's office who sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom.

    Burns did his best to portray Lynn as a bad actor. Indeed, Lynn went "out of his way to see to it that [Avery] had access to children," Burns argued, by allowing Avery to work as a hospital chaplain, but also live at St. Jerome's rectory, where he would be near school children.

    According to secret archdiocese reports, Avery was a "time bomb" who could go off at any time, Burns said.

    Judge Donohue asked about Avery's prior bad acts. They should have been used to establish "knowledge of what, the judge wanted to know.

    "Knowledge of risk," Burns replied. "Knowledge of potential harm to children."

    Once again, Judge Bender chimed in. "Avery wasn't so clear," he told Burns. "The more I read, his past was not so bad."

    Burns didn't think so. He also wasn't excusing Lynn. "He [Lynn] was ignoring the welfare of children," Burns said.

    He sat down, and Bergstrom got a two-minute rebuttal.

    Lynn, he said, was not responsible for protecting all the children in the archdiocese. In the trial of Lynn, the prosecution's burden was to prove that Lynn was guilty of knowingly endangering the welfare of a single child, namely Billy Doe. The prosecution did not prove that, Bergstrom said. They couldn't because Lynn didn't even know Billy Doe.

    "What have they done?" Bergstrom said of the prosecution. "They were walking away from that position." Instead, they charged that Lynn had a duty to supervise Avery.

    Bergstrom then read what the defense has described as a "single breathtaking admission"that emanated from the district attorney's office. It came in a 63-page brief filed June 25 in Superior Court. In the brief, the D.A. stated that Lynn had "endangered the welfare of" Billy Doe by "breaching his duty to prevent priests under his supervision, such as [Father Edward V.] Avery, from sexually molesting children. The evidence is sufficient because [Lynn] was Avery's supervisor, with a specific duty to prevent Avery from doing exactly what [Lynn] instead facilitated."

    This is the exact language of the amended EWOC law of 2007, Bergstrom declared. It could not be applied after the fact to Lynn.

    Bergstrom sat down. Judge Bender told the lawyers on both sides that the case was "very well argued." Judge Donohue added that the case was "very well briefed."

    Grim-faced staffers from the D.A.'s office left without saying anything to reporters, as is their usual custom. If the appellate court rules against them, it's a case of pick your poison.

    If the appellate court rules that Lynn shouldn't have been charged under the 1972 EWOC law, the legal remedy would be a reversal of the conviction. If the appellate court rules that Judge Sarmina shouldn't have allowed into evidence the 21 supplemental sex abuse cases, the remedy would be a new trial.

    After the hearing, Bergstrom told reporters about how well his client was holding up behind bars.

    "He's lost 70 pounds," Bergstrom said. "He feels good. He's doing a lot of reading in the prison library."

    The defense lawyer left the courthouse a happy man. "I feel like I finally got somebody to listen," he said.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrest this morning of another Roman Catholic priest, charging Father Robert L. Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.

    Father Brennan, 75, a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims, was charged with sexually assaulting an altar boy between 1998 and 2001, when the latest victim was between 11 and 14 years old. The altar boy was allegedly assaulted at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Father Brennan  served as assistant pastor. The crimes, according to the D.A., supposedly took place in the church sacristy, the priest's bedroom in the church rectory, a storage area on parish property, and in a movie theater.

    The victim in this case, now 26, came forward in January 2013, six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the latest victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict. Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. The allegations in the new arrest are eerily similar to the Billy Doe case.

    Meanwhile, D.A. Williams used the press conference to again attack Msgr. Lynn for not reigning in abusive priests. But when push came to shove, Williams said his office had declined to indict Lynn on another child endangerment charge, because the crime in this latest case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.

    With that statement, the district attorney abruptly reversed the course of his self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the original indictment of Msgr. Lynn, the D.A. missed the statute of limitations by 9 years in the case of one alleged 14-year-old victim, Mark Bukwowski, but that didn't stop Williams from prosecuting Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child. So why did the D.A. decline to indict Lynn this time?

    If you listen to the lawyers on the other side of the Lynn case, the district attorney chickened out because he fears his conviction of the monsignor is about to be reversed by an appeals court.

    "This is an excuse; that's all it is," said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer, when told of the district attorney's comments. The district attorney, Bergstrom said, didn't indict Lynn for child endangerment because he knows he can't legally do it.

    The D.A.'s decision to prosecute Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child was a prime topic during oral arguments last week in the appeal of Msgr. Lynn in Superior Court. Bergstrom argued that the district attorney could not legally prosecute Lynn under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law because the law requires the perpetrator to knowingly endanger the welfare of a child. Lynn didn't even know Billy Doe.

    Also, the 1972 child endangerment law was typically applied in nearly 300 cases to parents, guardians and teachers. The D.A. prosecuted Lynn after the fact under the terms of a 2007 amended child endangerment law changed to specifically include supervisors such as Lynn, Bergstrom argued. Besides Lynn, no other supervisor in Pennsylvania has ever been charged with child endangerment.

    "If that's not a bugle call of retreat, I don't know what is," said another defense lawyer in the case who asked to remain anonymous.

    In 2010, Msgr. Lynn was charged with endangering the welfare of children [EWOC] because of Father James J. Brennan's alleged attempted rape in 1996 of 14-year-old Mark Bukowski. [Fathers James J. Brennan and Robert L. Brennan are not related.]

    The law in effect at the time said that Pennsylvania residents had until two years after their 18th birthday to file EWOC charges. Bukowski turned 18 on Sept. 23, 1999, meaning that the Commonwealth had until September 2001  to file the EWOC charges. By filing the charges in 2010, the Commonwealth missed the statute of limitations by 9 years.

    The district attorney, however, argued at the time that Father James J. Brennan had been engaged in a "continuing course of conduct" that began when the priest was "grooming" Bukowski and went on for 10 years, ending in 2006, when Father James J. Brennan was removed from ministry.

    The "continuing course of conduct" argument flowed from two conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children charges that supposedly linked Msgr. Lynn to Father James J. Brennan. The allegation of the district attorney at the Lynn trial was that Lynn and Brennan had somehow conspired to keep Brennan in ministry so that Brennan could harm more children. No evidence of the alleged conspiracy, however,  was presented at trial. Even pro-prosecution Judge M. Teresa Sarmina figured out there was no "there" there, and so after the prosecution rested its case, she tossed the two conspiracy charges as unproven.

    A jury was left to decide two charges against Father James J. Brennan; EWOC and an attempted rape of Bukowski. The jury announced they were deadlocked on both charges on June 22, 2012, after 13 days of deliberation. The case against Father James J. Brennan is scheduled to be retried on Oct. 21.

    At his press conference today, D.A. Williams began by warning that some of what he had to say would not be G-rated.

    Father Robert L. Brennan "is accused of digitally penetrating the boy's anus, beginning when the victim was in the sixth grade. He [Brennan] later began forcing the boy to perform oral sex on him," Williams said. 

    Brennan, who now lives in Maryland, was arrested by Perryville, Maryland, police on Sept. 25th. He was expected to go before a judge today for an extradition hearing, the district attorney said.

    "A serial abuser is now behind bars thanks to the brave actions of this young man," Williams said of the alleged victim. "It takes tremendous courage for any sexual assault victim to come forward and report the horrors he or she endured."

    Williams then turned his attention to Msgr. Lynn.

    "The case of Robert Brennan presents another instance of abuse under the watch of Msgr. Lynn, secretary of clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua," Williams said. "The actions Lynn took to shield predator priests from exposure and prosecution led to the victimization of untold numbers of Philadelphia area children."

    Father Robert L. Brennan's duties have been restricted since the 2005 grand jury report that said that "Brennan had sexually or inappropriately touched more than 20 boys," Williams said. "Most of the complaints were based on the observation of archdiocese employees, fellow priests, principals and rectory workers. But the priest's archdiocese supervisors ignored these reports for over a decade."

    "Evidence of misconduct by Brennan dates back to at least 1990 and 1991," Williams said, "when the principal of St. Pius X High School and the principal of the parish school at St. Mary's in Schwenksville raised concerns about Brennan's improper behavior with numerous students."

    Archdiocese officials removed Father Brennan from St. Mary's in 1992, "only after the mother of a seventh grade altar boy complained that Brennan had touched her son inappropriately and forced him to sit on the priest's lap," the district attorney said.

    After the complaint, however, Lynn recommended that Father Brennan be recycled to Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, Williams said. Even though doctors had warned that Brennan had exhibited evidence of pedophilia, and had a recurring behavior pattern that "presents future risk," Williams said.

    When he appeared before the grand jury, Bishop Edward Cullen "acknowledged that assigning Brennan to Resurrection without restrictions "endangered the parish's children," Williams said.

    "According to the grand jury's findings, Brennan continued to exhibit at Resurrection of Our Lord the same sexually abusive behavior toward adolescent boys that principals at St. Mary's and St. Pius X had previously reported," Williams said.

    "Two years before the incidents with which Brennan is now charged, the pastor at Resurrection reported to Secretary for Clergy Lynn that the rectory staff had observed Brennan inappropriately touching and wrestling with several adolescent boys in the sacristy and the rectory," Williams said. "Still, Lynn did nothing. He did not recommend removing the priest from his position, and Brennan continued as assistant pastor ... In that capacity he met, supervised and abused the victim who has now come forward."

    "Lynn never reported to law enforcement any, any of the many allegations he heard about Brennan," the district attorney said. "Some of Brennan's victims testified before the grand jury; others have come forward since to describe how he [Brennan] molested and sexually assaulted them."

    "Yet these victims were unable to press charges because the crimes fell outside the statute of limitations," Williams said. "Thus, with the assistance of Lynn and others in the archdiocese, Brennan until today escaped prosecution for his decades-long sexual abuse of boys whom he encountered as a priest."

    "Despite the applicability of the endangerment statute to Lynn and other archdiocese managers for this current victim, they are not being charged today," Williams said, "because this victim's age puts his allegations three months beyond criminal statute of limitations for endangering the welfare of a child. Only the sexual assault crimes by Brennan himself, which carry a longer statute of limitations, can be prosecuted."

    After he gave his prepared remarks, Williams refused to answer any questions from this reporter, saying only, "Have a nice day."


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  • 09/28/13--08:34: Defense Lawyer Rips D.A.
  • By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn has publicly accused District Attorney Seth Williams of professional misconduct.

    In a letter hand-delivered on Friday, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom ripped the D.A. for teeing off on his client during a Thursday press conference about the arrest of another priest, Father Robert L. Brennan. The defense lawyer said he intends to report the D.A. to the state disciplinary board. A spokesperson for Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

    At the press conference, D.A. Williams took the occasion to lambaste the monsignor, now in jail serving a 3 to 6 year sentence after his conviction last year on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child. But according to the district attorney, Lynn was also guilty of conspiring to keep abusive priests in active duty, so they could harm more children.

    "The case of Robert Brennan presents another instance of abuse under the watch of Msgr. Lynn, secretary of clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua," Williams said. "The actions Lynn took to shield predator priests from exposure and prosecution led to the victimization of untold numbers of Philadelphia area children."


    After Brennan was removed from one church after a complaint of abuse, Lynn recommended that Father Brennan be recycled to Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, Williams said at the press conference. Even though doctors had warned that Brennan had exhibited evidence of pedophilia, and had a recurring behavior pattern that "presents future risk," Williams said.

    "Two years before the incidents with which Brennan is now charged, the pastor at Resurrection reported to Secretary for Clergy Lynn that the rectory staff had observed Brennan inappropriately touching and wrestling with several adolescent boys in the sacristy and the rectory," Williams said. "Still, Lynn did nothing. He did not recommend removing the priest from his position, and Brennan continued as assistant pastor ... In that capacity he met, supervised and abused the victim who has now come forward."

    "Lynn never reported to law enforcement any, any of the many allegations he heard about Brennan," the district attorney said at the press conference. "Some of Brennan's victims testified before the grand jury; others have come forward since to describe how he [Brennan] molested and sexually assaulted them."

    "Yet these victims were unable to press charges because the crimes fell outside the statute of limitations," Williams said. "Thus, with the assistance of Lynn and others in the archdiocese, Brennan until today escaped prosecution for his decades-long sexual abuse of boys whom he encountered as a priest."

    Father Brennan, 75, was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault. According to the D.A., Brennan abused the altar boy between 1998 and 2001, when he was between 11 and 14 years old at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

    In his letter to D.A. Williams, Bergstrom wrote:

    Dear District Attorney Williams:

    Your recent statements to the press concerning Monsignor William Lynn in connection with the arrest of Father Robert Brennan display a total disregard for the facts of records and reveals conduct on your part that is very troubling and violative of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules 3.8 and 8.4) As you well know, Monsignor Lynn was never charged with those offenses you so blithely lay at his door step; and apparently, you have forgotten completely that a jury acquitted him of conspiracy. His lone conviction involves a single count of Endangering the Welfare of a Child he never knew or harmed.

    Finally, your posturing that Monsignor Lynn would have been charged with Endangering, along with Father Brennan, but for the statute of limitations, ignores the reality that your right to have charged Monsignor Lynn at all is presently before the Superior Court. I find it unprofessional and appalling that while this appeal is pending you would embark on a campaign to continue to vilify Monsignor Lynn without benefit of factual or legal support.

    Very truly yours,

    Thomas A. Bergstrom


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    A Star Is Born
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    The City Council should have hired Johnny Doc to turn its special report on demolition practices into another "Johnny Doc-umentary."

    After holding five public hearings on the fatal Market Street building collapse, the City Council on Sept. 26th released a 69-page report on how to reform the city's demolition practices to prevent future tragedies.

    If you didn't read it, I'll save you the trouble. It's a real snore that only bureaucrats and government wonks would appreciate; dense and filled with jargon. Worse, the report fails to hold accountable Mayor Nutter and the Department of Licenses and Inspections for their lax approach to public safety that was amply exposed during the public hearings.

    Fortunately, the Philadelphia Building Trades Union has released a 19-minute documentary, "Deconstructing Post Brothers: Exposing the Truth Behind the Cheap Facade." The film, which stars "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, had its world premiere Oct. 1 at the electricians headquarters on Spring Garden Street.

    The union film targets the Post Brothers non-union construction job at the Goldtex Apartments on 12th Street with predictable venom. But along the way, it's everything the City Council report isn't -- fast-paced, easy to understand, and hard-hitting. Best of all, it features a cast of characters blasting our incompetent mayor and the drones at L&I for failing to protect us.

    The report of the City Council's "Special Investigating Committee on Demolition Practices" was ordered after the June 5th building collapse on Market Street that killed 6 and injured 13. The report began by recalling the fatal building collapse, as well as three subsequent building collapses during the next three months that fortunately didn't kill anybody.

    All the collapses, however, happened after contractors were permitted and inspected by the Inspector Clouseaus over at L&I.

    Here, the City Council report really goes out on a limb by stating, "The unavoidable conclusion was that the city's permitting and inspection process fell short of what was necessary to protect the public."

    The report shows the city does know how to supervise demolition work.

    Under former Mayor Street, the city beginning in 2001 oversaw demolitions of 5,000 abandoned and derelict structures under the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative [NTI]. The demolition work was done by 66 contractors previously approved by the city after they had to submit proof of insurance, as well as pass a criminal background check, and show they were paid up on taxes.

    "Despite the inherently dangerous work of demolition, no significant physical injuires to workers or civilians were reported during NTI's period of extensive citywide demolition," the report said.

    NTI, sadly, was confined to demolition jobs on public property. "The requirements for private demolitions are vague and the provisions are located in multiple sections of the code," the report said.

    During the recent public hearings on the fatal building collapse, L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams explained, "We are the actual job holder" on public demolition jobs. "The contractor is the job holder of a private demolition site."

    It's a distinction the relatives of people killed and injured on Market Street probably wouldn't appreciate.

    "The rules applicable to the demolition of public-owned property and the information required on demolition contractors are much more stringent than the nebulous rules applicable to private property demolition," the report said. "For example, both the former NTI program and the Master Demolition Plan require contractors to submit a criminal background check and to provide evidence of their competency and experience performing demolition."

    "This is not required of private property demolition contractors who merely complete a building permit application which requests information pertaining to the erection of buildings and requires little, if any information related to demolition," the report said. "The permit requests no information whatsoever about the contractor's level of competency or experience in performing demolition ..."

    To remedy the situation, the City Council committee proposes creating a separate demolition permit. The City Council wants to require contractors to show they're paid up on taxes. The Council also wants to require an engineering survey for the demolition of any structure greater than three stories.

    "I'm a firm believer if somebody is not paying their taxes, they don't get their license," Councilman Bobby Henon said during the hearings. "If somebody is cheating on their taxes, I guarantee you they're cheating on other things."

    The only public criticism of L&I during the 69-page report is uttered by former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin.

    "The current organization of the department is dysfunctional," Levin said during the public hearings. "It is not based upon the department's basic core fuctions as defined by the City Charter. L&I is not an ecnomic development entity. L&I is not a revenue entity. Its first and primary responsibillity is dealing with the safety of the general public."

    The City Charter specifies that L&Is's primary duty is public safety, and that the department should report to the city's managing director. Under Mayor Nutter, however, and Fran Burns, Nutter's hand-picked L&I Commissioner during his first term, the focus at L&I shifted from public safety to economic development. Nutter also issued an executive order that required L&I to report to the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, who is also director of commerce.

    That might have been a mistake, former L&I Commissioner Fran Burns conceded during the public hearings. "I do think it reinforces the mission of L&I to have it in a structure of public safety," Burns testified after she was hit with a subpoena. "Sometimes that gets lost if it's not there."

    The City Council report proposes splitting L&I. The committee recommends that all functions at L&I relating to revenue should report to the finance department. And all functions relating to public safety should report to the department of public safety.

    Wake me up when it's over.

    In the building trades movie, Pat Gillespie is the leadoff hitter. Gillespie, the business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said of the Post Brothers, "They've come to Philadelphia with New York money to exploit the advantages that have been created in our marketplace here."

    The film features a couple of construction workers in shadows who say of the Post Brothers job site, "There's no safety standards, there's no quality standards."

    The film accuses the Post Brothers of using a trash chute at Goldtex as a temporary diesel fuel line. The film shows trash piles at building entrances and exits, as well as mold on walls, and bottles and buckets of workers' urine stashed everywhere. Some urine bottles are shown partially sealed in walls.

    The job site has no fire extinguishers or fire alarms, the film charges. It also has elevators that have failed inspections. A crane is shown with safety mechanisms removed so that it could hoist cargo above recommended levels. "A major accident waiting to happen, one of the workers said.

    Meanwhile, L&I's oversight of public safety is faulted.

    "It's chaos and you can't have safety when there's chaos," former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin said.

    "This is the wild west," Gillespie said. "This is nuts; serious things can happen."

    "Twenty-Second and Market is a building owner doing it on the cheap,"chimes in City Councilman Jim Kenney. "I want to maximize my profits. I want to make as much money as I can and I don't care whether I put those people shopping at the Salvation Army in jeopardy," Kenney said of the building owner. "Or the people walking along Market Street going to and from work every day in jeopardy, I'm gonna get the cheapest price and the cheapest labor I can get."

    "It all comes back to the city and the department they set up to have oversight," a worker in shadows said. "Where's the oversight? Where's the inspections?

    "It's all about revenue; when it comes to L&I, its all about money," said Jim Dollard, who's identified on camera as a national safety expert.

    The film then shifts its target to Mayor Nutter.

    "There's particular things that L&I can do but because of policy decisions made by the mayor, they say, well, this is our policy," said Councilman Mark Squilla, while the film shows Mayor Nutter at his desk. "We want people to build; we want businesses to stay open," Kenney said of the attitude at L&I. "We don't want to close them down. Let's just collect the fees. That's why L&I became so lax."

    At L&I, political pressures have trumped public safety concerns. "There really is no longer an effective inspection process," Bennett Levin said.

    "When you take a look at L&I, you know, it basically became permits are us," said Johnny Doc.

    While L&I is lax on public safety, developers know "how to game the system," Councilman Squilla said.

    Pat Gillespie is upset about the expedited permits L&I has granted Post Brothers. "Something's not right down there," he said.

    "They [the Post Brothers] think they're above the law or they have some sort of an arrangement with Mayor Nutter's administration," said Johnny Doc.

    "I don't understand, frankly, why this particular development, these particular developers have been given passes by the Nutter administration," said Councilman Jim Kenney. "Because they certainly have been given passes."

    Despite L&I citing the Post Brothers for 26 violations on 10 occasions, on July 12, L&I issued Goldtex a temporary certificate of occupancy.

    "They have proved to the world that you can come to Philadelphia, you can not pull permits, you can not use licensed contractors, you can do whatever you want," said safety expert Dollard. "You can create serious safety hazards and the present administration basically endorses this kind of activity."

    The Post Brothers have responded to the film by labeling it a "Johnny Doc-umentary" and saying it should have been called Labor Gone Wild. The Post Brothers described the unions' charges as "false and reckless."

    So far, the Nutter administration has not reviewed the film. I'd give it four stars.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    District Attorney Seth Williams is taking heat for supposedly being dumb enough to compare a murder victim to his dead dog.

    The incident allegedly happened at a Town Hall meeting Oct. 1 at the Lower Mayfair Recreation Center.

    Williams, running for reelection, was touting his high conviction rate when the grieving family of a murder victim, Shane Kelly, asked why the D.A.'s office had given the two men who killed Kelly a plea bargain.

    "In an attempt to display empathy, he [Williams] said, I just lost my dog this Sunday so I can only imagine what you're going through," said Brian Caputo, 20, a political science major at LaSalle University who witnessed the incident. "Those were the words that came out of his mouth."

    "That's when the family got angry," Caputo said. Caputo said he was shocked by the remark, saying it showed the district attorney's "incompetency, his arrogance and attitude, and the way he talked down to people."

    Williams's political opponent, Danny Alvarez, is calling on the D.A. to release a videotape of the event made by the D.A.'s staff. A spokesperson for Williams, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.

    There really is an election going on for district attorney.

    Philadelphia being the equivalent of Moscow, nobody knows and nobody cares.

    Williams's opponent is Danny Alvarez, a former assistant district attorney turned criminal defense lawyer. In a press release, Alvarez described the alleged incident as follows:

    District Attorney Williams started by touting his own record and passing off questions to assistant district attorneys. The crowd, however, turned hostile once the family of slain Fishtown resident Shane Kelly questioned Williams about his propensity for plea bargaining.

    In the case of their family member, Shane Kelly, the defendants pleaded out for as little as 13.5 years behind bars in the armed robbery case.

    Reeling from the question, District Attorney Seth Williams, in a derisive tone, likened the death of his dog this weekend to that of Shane Kelly in a vain attempt to show empathy. Naturally, this set the family of Shane Kelly into a state of shock and anger -- who also described the district attorney's office as unhelpful and rude throughout the process.

    As the crowd started to turn hostile against the district attorney and his lack of sensitivity toward the family of the victim, Seth Williams abruptly halted the town hall meeting.

    In his press release, Alvarez claimed multiple witnesses said the event was recorded by Theresa Marley, director of community action centers in the D.A.'s office. 

    Alvarez went on to rip the local media.

    "Multiple news outlets, fearing reprisal, have refused to run the story without video evidence," Alvarez asserted, "despite there being multiple eyewitnesses in attendance who are willing to give their account of the story and go on record as to what exactly happened."

    "I really hope this sees the light of day," Alvarez said of the alleged video. "The public deserves to know exactly what was said and what happened ... at a Town Hall meeting that was organized by the district attorney's office."

    "The truth may be that the video is far worse than the eyewitness accounts."

    Another witness was Dan Mulvenna, 21 of Mayfair, a student at Philadelphia Community College studying to be a history teacher.

    "I was a little shocked," Mulvenna said. At the beginning of the meeting, Mulvenna said, Williams trooped in with about 20 assistants, including his bodyguards. The family of Shane Kelly showed up wearing matching green T-shirts and began questioning Williams about the plea bargain. "They were all angry."

    In the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2011, Shane Kelly, 27, a pharmacy technician specialist at Jefferson University, was strolling on Berks Street with his girlfriend when he was accosted by two men who announced they were going to rob him.

    Kelly refused to give them money. Then he chased the two robbers, with the help of a passer-by. During the chase, one of the robbers fired a .25 calibert handgun eight times, striking Kelly in the chest, leg and abdomen, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Kelly died later that morning at Temple University Hospital.

    On Sept. 10, Ryan McManus, 21, the man who fired the gun, was sentenced to 32 1/2 to 70 years in jail, and fined $25,000. HIs accomplice, Richard Smith, 20, was sentenced to 13 1/2 to 27 years in prison, plus a $25,000 fine. Until the plea bargain, the two men were facing prison sentences of 100-plus years.

    At the Town Hall meeting, Kelly's mother and sister kept asking questions. The district attorney, "visibly shaking," came closer to the family and said, "I know this can never compare, but I just lost my dog recently."

    "I was like wow," Mulvenna said. The family was "just shocked. They were all angry."

    Another witness was Mikhail Chertov, 19, of Northeast Philadelphia a psychology major at Penn State-Abington.

    Chertov said the Kelly family "felt like the justice system cheated them."

    And then Williams "had the audacity to compare the death of his dog to the death of someone's son or brother," Chertov said. "He presented himself unprofessinally and poorly."

    "The family, it hit them hard," Chertov said. "You can't compare the two. He shouldn't have made that comparison at all."

    After the blunder, Chertov said, the district attorney "just bailed on us because he knew he looked like a fool."

    "I think he should release it [the video] and let the people judge him," Chertov said. "I'd like everyone to see the truth of this, and see who he really is."

    The three witnesses quoted in this story -- Caputo, Mulvenna, and Chertov -- support Alvarez for district attorney.

    If what they and Alvarez are saying is false, then the district attorney can prove it by releasing the video.

    But don't hold your breath. From my dealings with Seth Williams, the man has a consistent response to questions he doesn't want to answer.

    He stonewalls, and then runs out the door.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    When I used to work at The Philadelphia Inquirer, a couple of reporters there had a routine that always made me laugh.

    They were relatively new hires. Whenever they were around the  old-timers too long, and heard too many stories about Gene Roberts and the Golden Age of Journalism, they would hum a few bars of "Tara's Theme," from Gone With The Wind.

    The Inky had a lot in common with the movie that lamented the lost Confederacy. Staffers at the city's paper of record were always reminiscing about the glory days under legendary editor Gene Roberts; now they're pining for the return of Bill Marimow.

    Marimow is the Gene Roberts disciple who's done a couple stints as Inky editor. Last week, Inky Publisher Bob Hall fired Marimow for not being enough of a "change agent." That's funny because Hall's been the Inky publisher since I was there back in the 1990s. Two new owners of the paper, represented by Richard A. Sprague, a former Inky blood enemy, then filed suit in Common Pleas Court to bring Marimow back and fire Hall.

    Meanwhile, former Inquirer heavyweights such as Steve Lopez, Mark Bowden and Maxwell King are leading a petition drive to bring back Billy. Cue Tara's Theme.

    I used to work for Marimow. I like and respect him, but I won't be signing that petition.

    Sadly, it doesn't matter who runs that paper. Maybe the Inky under a succession of new owners is just too cowed or ethically compromised. Or the staff that remains there is just too beaten down or just plain spent. Whatever, it's been obvious for a long time that the city's paper of record is not up to doing what's needed in this town.

    I know from my own personal experiences. Even when the guy at at the top had the best intentions, the troops under him were too lame to deliver.

    Especially that City Hall bureau.

    A decade after an editor at the Inky showed me to the door, I ran into Bill Marimow on the street in 2009.

    He looked exactly like I remembered. Same mustache, same button-down blue dress shirts with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. And in his conversation, the same repeated and enthusiastic use of the word "excellent."

    Bill couldn't have been nicer. He invited me to lunch and asked me to send him some story ideas. My mistake was taking him seriously. So I sent him a detailed memo about DROP.

    DROP is the pension perk at City Hall that pays workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bonuses just for showing up during their last four years on the job. Taxpayers have already spent more than a billion dollars on this worthless program that does nothing more than line the pockets of already over-compensated municipal workers. A few City Council members really abused DROP by retiring for a day, banking their fat checks, and then going right back to work.

    I sent Marimow a road map on how to do the story. He was enthusiastic, but soon, he was getting push back from his City Hall bureau. You know, those insiders who think and write like they're deputy mayors.

    When the Inky story on DROP finally came out, it was the lamest piece of dog crap I've ever seen. It read like an incomplete book report. And it had zero effect.

    I was so angry, I took the road map I sent Bill, and wrote the story for the Philadelphia City Paper in 2010. To my surprise, DROP became a crusade, and in the end, it took out more City Council members than Abscam.

    The credit, however, doesn't belong to me, but to a former Inky editorial writer named Paul Davies. The normal posture at the Inquirer, was if they didn't write about it, it didn't happen. If Davies  hadn't gone against the grain and editorialized about my DROP story, and Kingsley Smith, the former news director at Fox 29, hadn't turned DROP into an evangelical crusade, nobody would have known or cared.

    That's what an aroused press corps can do. Sadly, Davies and Smith are gone, and DROP is still with us.

    Around the time of DROP, the Inky was on the auction block, and in and out of bankruptcy court. One of the Inky's many owners was the pension fund of the Carpenters Union. The Inky story back in 2006 announcing the sale of the paper said the Carpenters were "reportedly investing more than $20 million." Reportedly? The paper of record reporting on the sale of the paper of record, and they said "reportedly?"

    But when the Inky filed for bankruptcy in 2009, public documents revealed the Carpenters' investment was more than twice that size. The Carpenters actually invested $47 million in the Inky and Daily News, $45 million of which came from the union pension fund. None of the rank and file at the Carpenters Union knew about it. When the paper went bankrupt, the Carpenters lost every cent.

    It was all spelled out in public documents that had been lying around for 18 months. But the Inky wouldn't print it.

    I wrote about the Carpenters' bad investments for the City Paper. In the course of reporting that story, I called an Inky reporter who had covered the sale of the paper. I asked him if he had seen those documents outlining the Carpenters' true investments and losses. Yep, he said he had the same documents I did. But he wouldn't tell me why it never ran, except to say that he wasn't as crazy as I was.

    At the time, the Carpenters were part of a new group led by Brian Tierney that was trying to buy the papers back at auction. And the Carpenters were ready to blow another $10 million of pension money to keep the Inky and the Daily News.

    I found it interesting that during the time the Carpenters owned our two dailies, virtually all public criticism ceased about a union that too often acts like a bunch of goons, and still maintains a tyrannical hold on the city's failing new Convention Center. Maybe the Carpenters did get something back on their investment.

    Marimow got mad when I called to ask if the Inky was playing it straight with its coverage of the auction of the papers. "I take my reputation very seriously," Marimow told me. "The idea that I would try to tilt the local coverage to Brian Tierney is totally untrue."

    I never found out whether the Inky's failure to print the Carpenters true investments and losses was the failure of the reporter, or the editors he worked for. But in the end, it didn't really matter. The result was the same, an uninformed public.

    A couple of days after I called the Inquirer newsroom and raised a ruckus, the Inky finally ran a brief note on Dec. 26, 2010 about the Carpenters loss of $45 million in pension funds. It ran on page D-3 of the business section the day after Christmas. How's that for burying a story? It only took them 18 months.

    Then I heard that former Philadelphia Newspapers LLC CEO Brian Tierney was getting a $300,000 golden parachute. Once again, it was laid out in public documents and the Inky wouldn't write about it. I only knew about it because people at the paper were calling me. So I wrote the story for City Paper, which printed it, despite repeated threats of a libel suit from Tierney.

    Tierney's critics at the Inky then handed out the City Paper at Tierney's going away party.

    By that time, I'd concluded too many people at the Inky were too concerned about self-preservation to stick their necks out. And too tied to the Democratic party to upend any apple carts.

    We live in one of the most corrupt cities in North America. While we're going broke, our mayor has invented 31 new boards and commissions like the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. We have a financial oversight board, PICA, that slaps a rubber stamp on the city's irresponsible budgets. At L&I, they let contractors license themselves and watch while buildings fall down and kill people. Our city pension fund is so broke we're all going to have to bail it out. When our district attorney isn't sending innocent men to jail, he's comparing a murder victim to his dead dog.

    Meanwhile, the Inky is making sure that Vince Fumo doesn't throw another party at his mansion.

    Seymour Hersh, the legendary reporter who uncovered the My Lai massacre, gave an interview to the Guardian recently. He had an interesting prescription for what ails American newspapers. He said most editors were too cowardly and timid, and that 90 percent of them should be fired. He talked about how the media needed to promote more people who were outsiders, and didn't give a damn about what you told them.

    There's a reason why I'm a blogger.

    Bill Marimow, however is the opposite of timid and cowardly, but sadly, those two words apply to the paper he edits. It's hard to figure, especially if you know and admire Marimow.

    And so when the AVI story hit earlier this year, I found myself hoping against hope. Once again, I reached out to my old editor to try and goad the Inky into action.

    AVI, or the Actual Value Initiative was a story that had people riled up all over town. Under AVI, people in Fairmount and South Philly were getting new assessments that showed an increase of 300 to 500 percent. In my case, my new AVI assessment was five times what I paid for my old rowhouse in a fringe neighborhood.

    I started poking around with online property records, and noticed that while some people were getting clobbered by AVI, others in Chestnut Hill were getting tax breaks. I found three properties on St. Martin's Lane that sold for between $1 and $1.9 million. On Google Earth, those properties featured spectacular stone houses and majestic estates, with large shade trees and swimming pools. Under AVI, their assessments were only 40 to 60 percent of sale prices.

    Meanwhile, the Inky City Hall bureau was showing its usual lack of curiosity about reporting anything that wasn't handed to them by the mayor's PR guys.

    I sent Bill an email telling him what I knew. Then I took a few shots at his City Hall bureau.

    "Bill, where do you find these guys who cover City Hall for you?" I wrote. "Their copy reads like it came out of the mayor's press office. Your AVI coverage is an embarassment. Are your guys on the take?"

    As always, Bill was polite.

    "Good morning Ralph," he replied. "If you would ever like to talk about his subject or any others in person like the former colleagues that we are, you're welcome to stop by. I've always tried to treat you fairly, and I'll continue to do so. Period."

    "As to whether our reporters are 'on the take,' that -- as you well know -- is, to put it politely, untrue."

    "All the best,

    Bill."


    0 0
  • 10/18/13--08:17: New Witness In Mob Trial?
  • By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    It looks like there's going to be at least one new witness in the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi.

    New York mobster-turned-informant Anthony Aponick, an inmate with Borgesi in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2002 and 2003, is apparently going to be called to testify this time around.

    The alleged Bonanno crime family associate has been debriefed at length by the FBI. Among other things, he has said that he came to Philadelphia in 2003 and met with a top Borgesi associate at Borgesi's behest in order to establish himself in the local underworld. He did that, he has said, despite the fact that a New York mob leader cautioned him about the danger, referring to the Philadelphia mob that Borgesi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino once controlled as "kill crazy."

    "They're Mad Hatters," Aponick said he was warned. "Stick with the devil you know."

    Aponick opted to ignore that advice. Perhaps because he was cooperating with the government at the time?

    "We look forward to questioning Mr. Aponick at length during cross-examination" was all Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, would say when asked about the potential new witness who has prior convictions for armed robbery and bank robbery and who will also be painted as a drug abuser by the defense.

    Aponick's credibility is an issue.

    The fact that the government opted not to use him as a witness in the first trial raises questions about both his effectiveness and the prosecution's strategy. Is this the government trying to fine tune and narrowly focus the racketeering conspiracy charge at the heart of the retrial? Or is it a desperate attempt by prosecutors to throw everything -- even evidence from a witness they thought better of using at the first trial -- against the wall in a last ditch attempt to make something stick?

    Aponick appeared before a grand jury in 2010 and has given a number of statements to the FBI.

    In one he apparently boasted that he could help them get "Georgie boy."

    Aponick's twisted route to the witness stand began in 2003 when he showed up in South Philadelphia after his release from the federal prison in West Virginia where he had befriended Borgesi. 

    Evidence includes a video and photos of Aponick meeting in October 2003 with Borgesi's brother Anthony and the late Mauro Goffredo, then the owner of a trash company that employed Ligambi. Around that same time he had a dinner meeting at Ralph's, a restaurant on Ninth Street, with Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, a mob associate who authorities said was then overseeing Borgesi's gambling and loansharking operations.

    The government played a tape of a phone call Borgesi made to Monacello at the restaurant that night, a phone call that the prosecution said was set up in advance and that the government will argue helps support the allegation that Aponick and Monacello were working for Borgesi in an underworld enterprise.

    But the conversation from that call, played for the jury at the first trial, is vague and makes no specific references to criminal activity.

    Monacello, 46, was a key government witness in the first trial, but his credibility also was suspect. The fact that Borgesi was found not guilty of 13 gambling and loansharking counts tied to Monacello's admitted underworld activities was a major victory of the defense.

    The jury in that trial, however, hung on the racketeering conspiracy charge against Borgesi, forcing a retrial. Ligambi, who was acquitted of five counts, is facing a retrial on four counts -- racketeering conspiracy, two gambling charges related to the operation of an illegal video poker machine business and one charge of witness tampering.

    Whether the tandem of Monacello and Aponick enhances the government's position or further undermines it is a key unanswered question as the case moves forward. Jury selection begins on Oct. 31. Opening statements are likely early in November. The case is once again being presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno.

    While many of the details surrounding Aponick's deal with the government are contained in sealed documents that are not available to the public, it is clear the one-time New York mob figure has benefitted from a relationship with law enforcement.

    He was originally sentenced in 1998 to eight years in prison after his conviction for armed robbery and weapons offenses. Documents indicate that sentence was reduced to six years in 2003 after he  had begun cooperating against Borgesi, a fellow inmate at the federal prison in Beckley, West Virginia.

    Among other things, Aponick alleged that Borgesi discussed mob business with his uncle who visited him in prison. Authorities used that allegation to win court approval to bug the visiting room conversations between the mob boss and his nephew.

    The tapes, which were never played at trial, turned up no evidence of criminality, the defense contends.

    Aponick also provided federal authorities with information about a fractured relationship between Borgesi and his uncle. Rumors that there was friction inside the "family" were widespread in the Philadelphia underworld at the time.

    "Georgie felt his uncle was greedy and was taking away all his earnings," Aponick said. He also said that Borgesi described his uncle as merely the caretaker of the crime family while Borgesi, Merlino and others completed their sentences for racketeering convictions in 2001.

    "'We fought for this,'" he said Borgesi told him. "`This is our family My uncle is just keeping the seat warm.'"

    Monacello also testified about friction between uncle and nephew, but said he believed Borgesi, who was due to be released in the summer of 2011, would have killed him on his uncle's orders once he came out of prison.

    Bent Finger Lou said he was marked for death because he had clashed with Ligambi and mob capo Martin Angelina in a dispute over loansharking money. He said since Borgesi had brought him into the organization, he would have been assigned the task of taking him out.

    "I would have gone out one night and never come back," Monacello testified.

    He said he agreed to cooperate for that reason.

    Ligambi, Borgesi, Monacello and 10 others, including Angelina, were indicted in May 2011. Instead of being released to a halfway house to finish his 2001 sentence, Borgesi was detained on the new racketeering charges and has remained in prison. Both he and Ligambi have been denied bail repeatedly. (Angelina pleaded guilty prior to the start of the first trial.)

    Monacello's feelings for Borgesi and Ligambi were clearly on display when he testified. He mocked both defendants from the witness stand, at one point mimicking Ligambi's high-pitched voice. Borgesi, in turn, has referred to Monacello as "Rat Finger Lou" and "Fuck Finger Lou."

    Animosity toward Aponick will add another bit of tension to the pending courtroom face-off.

    A June 2005 posting on the Internet website "Who's A Rat" blistered Aponick. The post was written by someone identified only as "Philly22." Sources say the person who posted the message was a member of Borgesi's family. Aponick believes it was Borgesi's wife.

    "For anyone from NY that reads this," the post read in part, "Anthony Aponick from Brooklyn, NY, is a federal informant....He was doing his sentence in FBI-Beckley, WV, and was planted in a cell with an 'Alleged' high ranking Philadelphia mob figure. He had a wired FBI-Agent come to the prison to visit while this person was on a visit to try to set him up. He is a heavy heroin user and tried continuously to do illegal activity such as drugs with this person. This person wanted nothing to do with it, especially drugs...After he was released he robbed 5 banks in Brooklyn&Queens. He was a Serial Bank Robber."

    Aponick's background will figure prominently in his courtroom appearance, with each side trying to spin it in their favor. Aponick contends he was once a key associate of former Bonanno crime family boss Joseph "Big Joey" Massino. It was Massino, he has said, who warned him about the "Mad Hatters" in Philadelphia.

    Ironically Massino also cut a deal with the government, becoming a cooperator in 2004. Jailed for life on a murder charge, his cooperation earned him a sentence reduction to 10 years. He was released earlier this year.

    Aponick apparently struck his first deal with the government in order to win a sentence reduction in the armed robbery case from 1998. And while he clearly did make at least one stop -- and perhaps two -- in Philadelphia after winning his release in 2003, he made his way back to New York City where in February 2004 he was arrested for bank robbery.

    He was charged in connection with a half dozen bank robberies and prosecuted in New York state court. He also was cited by the federal government for violating the terms of his supervised release by robbing those banks.

    The defense contends that Aponick wormed his way back into the federal fold while facing those New York state charges. It was at that time, according to sources, that he wrote a letter to the FBI promising to help make the case against Borgesi, referring to him as "Georgie boy," if the government would help get him out from under the bank robbery charges.

    He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to less than three years in jail.

    The details of Aponick's current agreement with the government have not been made public. Two documents, one filed in September 2005 and another in May 2006, are under seal in federal court.

    But whatever deal he has with the government will be presented to the jury if he is called to the witness stand. Aponick brings a lot of baggage and his reasons for testifying -- past cash payments from the government and help in winning a reduced sentence in the bank robbery cases -- will further undermine his credibility.

    "In this life...it's all about making money," he once said.

    The defense will contend that he used that philosophy in his dealings with the government, fabricating stories and telling prosecutors and FBI agents what they wanted to hear in order to work his deals. 

    Prosecutors, however, hope to argue that whatever his background and his motivation, Anthony Aponick came to Philadelphia in 2003 and met with Louis Monacello. The meeting, they will argue, did not occur by chance. A New York mob associate does not just show up in South Philadelphia and meet with a local mob figure.

    Borgesi, prosecutors will contend, set that meeting in motion. And that, the prosecution will argue, supports the racketeering conspiracy charge at the heart of the case.

    George Anastasia can be reached a George@bigrtrial.net.

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