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Articles on this Page
- 10/22/13--04:43: _Why Did The D.A. Wa...
- 10/22/13--16:46: _Owners Brawl Over Inky
- 10/28/13--16:41: _Inky Owners Square ...
- 10/29/13--18:26: _Inky Fires Brian Ti...
- 10/30/13--13:27: _At The Inky, The Si...
- 10/31/13--07:00: _Joe Vito Mastronard...
- 11/05/13--14:31: _Tierney's Sales Wor...
- 11/06/13--07:56: _The Borgesis Rant O...
- 11/07/13--14:43: _Pete The Crumb Talk...
- 11/11/13--08:44: _The Saga Of Nicky S...
- 11/13/13--03:23: _The Reporter Who Hi...
- 11/13/13--19:08: _A Pledge And A Coup...
- 11/14/13--18:42: _Judge Reinstates In...
- 11/15/13--18:09: _Inky Ownership Figh...
- 11/16/13--13:46: _Nap Time At The Mob...
- 11/20/13--14:38: _A Mob Toast For "Al...
- 11/20/13--16:36: _Inky Owners Unable ...
- 11/21/13--14:51: _Mob Jury Gets A His...
- 11/22/13--15:39: _Bent Finger Lou Bac...
- 11/22/13--16:04: _Judge Reinstates In...
- 10/22/13--04:43: Why Did The D.A. Wait Eight Months To Arrest Father Brennan?
- 10/22/13--16:46: Owners Brawl Over Inky
- 10/28/13--16:41: Inky Owners Square Off Over Bringing Back Brian Tierney
- 10/29/13--18:26: Inky Fires Brian Tierney
- 10/30/13--13:27: At The Inky, The Sideshow Continues
- 10/31/13--07:00: Joe Vito Mastronardo, Gentleman Gambler, Heads To Court
- 11/05/13--14:31: Tierney's Sales Work "Considerably Below Expectations"
- 11/06/13--07:56: The Borgesis Rant On The Eve Of Trial Rerun
- 11/07/13--14:43: Pete The Crumb Talks Murder And Mob History
- 11/11/13--08:44: The Saga Of Nicky Skins Continues
- 11/13/13--03:23: The Reporter Who Hired Her Own Editor
- 11/13/13--19:08: A Pledge And A Couple Of Pulitzers
- 11/14/13--18:42: Judge Reinstates Inky Publisher, But Not Inky Editor
- 11/15/13--18:09: Inky Ownership Fight Tarnishing Brand
- 11/16/13--13:46: Nap Time At The Mob Trial
- 11/20/13--14:38: A Mob Toast For "All The Good Guys"
- 11/20/13--16:36: Inky Owners Unable To Strike A Deal
- 11/21/13--14:51: Mob Jury Gets A History Lesson
- 11/22/13--15:39: Bent Finger Lou Back On The Stand
- 11/22/13--16:04: Judge Reinstates Inquirer Editor
By Ralph Cipriano
There's an unexplained mystery in the arrest of Father Robert L. Brennan.
The alleged victim in the case came forward in January 2013 to charge that between 1998 and 2001, when he was 11 to 14 years old, he was an altar boy sexually assaulted by Father Brennan. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia immediately reported the allegation to the district attorney's office. Yet, District Attorney Seth Williams waited eight months to arrest Father Brennan on Sept. 25th.
Yesterday, Brennan's lawyer, Trevan Borum, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, asked why.
"If the allegation was credible, why does it take nine months?" said Borum, who likened the case to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. "I've had no explanation whatsoever. I don't know what on earth took them so long."
For the past nine months, District Attorney Seth Williams has stonewalled questions from this reporter. So sadly, someone else in the all-too compliant local media will have to ask the D.A. to explain the eight-month gap in the record on Father Brennan.
All I can do is post the question publicly. So here goes: If Father Brennan was such a menace to society, as the D.A. contends, why wasn't he taken off the streets immediately?
On Sept. 26th, when he announced the arrest of Father Brennan, D.A. Williams referred to a "lengthy subsequent investigation." He provided no further details.
Then last week, D.A. Willliams told reporters the victim in the case, now 26, had been found dead by detectives. The D.A. blamed Father Brennan for the tragedy.
"The decades-long demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend, when he was found dead by Philadelphia police detectives," Williams said. "This young man's courage should serve as an inspiration to us all."
The medical examiner's office told reporters the alleged victim had died from an accidental drug overdose. The victim's lawyer amplified on the spin emanating from the D.A.'s office.
"He was a wonderful young man doing everything he possibly could to pull himself out of the darkness," Marci Hamillton told reporters.
Borum had a different take.
"Now, we don't have a chance to vindicate Father Brennan in court," he said. It's like his client has a scarlet letter sewn on his chest.
Meanwhile, even in death, the alleged victim still wears a cloak of anonymity.
Anyone see a problem?
Borum said he had no idea what other evidence the D.A. had against Father Brennan, besides the allegations of the alleged victim, now dead.
"Without benefit of discovery, I don't know if they have any additional evidence," Borum said. "They know what the evidence is. I don't. I'm in the dark."
The alleged victim in the Father Brennan case came forward six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict.
Sorry, but Billy Doe just doesn't inspire me.
Father Brennan, a 75-year-old retired priest living in Maryland, was a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims. D.A. Williams charged Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.
Sounds like a rerun of the Billy Doe story. But was it true?
There may not be a valid law enforcement reason to wait 8 months to arrest a predator priest, but there may be a political reason.
While the arrest of Father Brennan was on the shelf, Msgr. Lynn's appeal was being mulled over in Superior Court. Nine days after a panel of justices questioned the validity of the prosecution of Msgr. Lynn, D.A. Williams held a press conference to announce the arrest of Father Brennan. Williams used that press conference as a platform to make a political hit on Msgr. Lynn.
The D.A. claimed that in the Father Brennan case, Lynn was responsible for endangering the welfare of a child. But the D.A. said he couldn't prosecute Lynn because the case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.
This was a bogus argument, as the D.A. in a similar case, had prosecuted Lynn for the exact same offense, endangering the welfare of a child, even though that case missed the statute of limitations by 9 years.
Lynn's defense lawyer then publicly rebuked Williams, and said he had filed an ethical complaint.
"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia received the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor that led to the recent arrest of Father Robert Brennan in January of 2013, and immediately provided this information to law enforcement in accordance with Archdiocesan policy," wrote Kenneth A. Gavin, archdiocese director of communications, in an email.
"While the Archdiocese does have a responsibility to inform an accused cleric of an accusation so that he may respond in the course of a canonical investigation, our policy is to allow law enforcement to complete its criminal investigation prior to commencing a canonical investigation," Gavin wrote. "Prior to the allegation that led to his arrest, a process was already in place aimed at Father Brennan's laicization. It is currently in progress with the Holy See."
So, in other words, although the archdiocese's policies say priests should be notified of an accusation, and have a chance to respond, that goes out the window if the local D.A. is investigating, or if the church is already attempting to dump the priest?
Spokesman Gavin had no further comment.
In other news involving accused priests named Father Brennan, the trial of Father James J. Brennan has been postponed again.
Father James J. Brennan, no relation to Father Robert L. Brennan, was supposed to be re-tried beginning Monday in Common Pleas Court. Brennan went free last year after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal on a charge of attempted rape of a 14-year old.
The case has been postponed until June 16 to give Father James J. Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan [no relation to either of the Father Brennans] more time to investigate.
The new owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer may put out a boring newspaper, but they sure know how to stage an entertaining brawl.
Maybe it's time to outfit the new Inky newsroom in the old Strawbridge building with TV cameras, and turn the battle over the city's comatose paper of record into a reality TV series.
Nancy Phillips and Lexie Norcross would look great on camera as the faces of the two rival ownership factions slugging it out every day in the newsroom. It would be far more interesting than having to read the paper of record.
George Norcross, the rival owner presumably behind the firing and alleged smearing of Marimow, let his lawyers do the talking, as he was nowhere in sight.
Who will win the slugfest? On one side, we have Katz, who made a fortune in parking, banking and billboards and used to own the New Jersey Nets, and his longtime companion, Nancy Phillips. She's a 40-something former investigative reporter who considers Marimow her mentor and is now the city editor of the Inquirer. The joke around the Inky newsroom was that after Katz bought the paper, it was Nancy who hired Marimow as editor.
On the other side, it's George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and his daughter, Lexie. She's the 25-year-old VP of digital operations and corporate services who runs philly.com., the free website that prefers trashy stories about Miley Cyrus and Jenna Jameson to dull Inky investigative stories and editorials. It's the Norcross faction that wants to put Marimow out to pasture. The former editor of the Inquirer may be a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, but to the Norcross faction, he's a print dinosaur stuck in a 1970s tarpit.
One veteran political handicapper who knows all the players says his money's on Norcross, because he's the better in-fighter. "This is not his kind of battle," the handicapper said of Katz. "This is over pussy and bullshit, not money."
Eleven reporters showed up to watch what was billed as a status conference in Courtroom 630 at City Hall. Katz and Lenfest have filed suit in Philadelphia, claiming that Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall, acting on behalf of Norcross, exceeded his own authority when he fired Marimow. In their suit, Katz and Lenfest want to reinstate Marimow and fire Hall.
In response, Norcross filed a countersuit in Delaware, saying that Katz has repeatedly broken a pledge not to meddle in the Inquirer newsroom. The countersuit opens up a territorial dispute over which jurisdiction takes precedence -- Delaware, where Interstate General Media [IGM], the ownership group that bought the papers for $55 million last year is incorporated, or Pennsylvania, where IGM does business.
A few minutes after everybody showed up for court, Judge Patricia A. McInerney summoned ten lawyers back to her chambers for a private confab. About 15 minutes in, the assembled mob of reporters got restless and protested to a court clerk that the meeting going on behind closed doors should be held in public.
"That's what happens in Philly," Katz was overheard telling spectators. They go in the back room and have it out. Then, "they come out and put it on the record and everybody goes home," Katz said.
Sure enough, after another 15 minutes of back room dealing, the judge reappeared and announced that on Monday morning, everyone would return for oral arguments over which court had jurisdiction over the ownership battle.
Some veteran Inky staffers and alumni showed up to watch the proceedings. People such as Murray Dubin, Sharon Wohlmuth, Steve Seplow, Dan Biddle, as well as myself. It was like an AARP meeting. Some 500 people, including many Inky alums, have signed a petition to bring Marimow back as editor.
Afterwards, Marimow's lawyer was the only legal combatant who spoke to the media.
Katz and Lenfest have "pure motives" in this venture, asserted lawyer Bill Chadwick. They invested their money to see that Philadelphia continues to have an independent newspaper like the Inquirer to serve as a government watchdog. It's Bill Marimow's "life mission" to edit that newspaper. End of story.
In the Marimow version, it's the Norcrosses and their corporate lackey, Bob Hall, who threaten the sanctity of independent journalism in Philadelphia by whacking Marimow. On the Norcross side,
In a lengthy Oct. 7 email to the other owners, Publisher Bob Hall outlines the enemies of progress.
"For many months now [associate publisher] Mike Lorenca and I have been working to improve our company in all areas including the quality of the product (meeting readers needs) that we publish, to make the business more profitable and to improve the working relationship among all departments," Hall wrote.
"We have attempted to accomplish these tasks through various means," Hall writes, "but have been frustrated by the direct interference of Lewis Katz (and by extension through his longtime companion Nancy Phillips) in the editorial process and management of the newsroom and preventing us from implementing what we believe are the appropriate changes. The Katz/Phillips interference, unfortunately, continues to this day."
Next, Bob "Change Agent" Hall outlines his vision of progress. He wants to redesign the paper, put more local news on the front page, expand the local news section and eliminate police-blotter type of stories. He wants more coverage of the Pennsylvania suburbs (yawn) and of course improved business coverage "without additional resources."
Then Hall suggests whacking some "FOBs," or Friends of Bill.
He wants to eliminate Tom McNamara as Sunday editor, whack Dan Biddle as political editor, and replace him with two new suburban Pennsylvania reporters. He wants to whack another editor, Hai Do, and replace him with two more suburban reporters. He wants to bust Jersey editor Cindy Henry down to reporter and reduce her pay.
Hall, of course, had to know what Marimow's reaction was going to be.
"Bill followed through on most of the items and presented a plan to move forward which has been acted on, except for any personnel changes which Bill has refused to implement even after several discussions," Hall wrote.
Hall went into more detail about what he didn't like about certain FOBs and why they deserved to be whacked.
"First, I would have Tom McNamara retire and eliminate his position," Hall wrote. "I have had conversation with Bill about Tom for over a year. He (McNamara) is deputy managing editor for Sunday and Sports. The Sunday (edition) is our most important edition and needs the most change. Tom has a reputation for being a bit arrogant, shows favoritism, dismissive and [is] certainly not a change agent ... Bill does not like to make tough personnel decisions."
"Dan Biddle would also leave, who is a longtime friend of Bill's and a great journalist and Pulitzer prize winner," Hall wrote. "However, he is not a good editor and one who does not have the respect of the staff. Bill will defend this. Dan is very much status quo and operates at one speed and always is challenging change. Comes across as a loner and appears disorganized ... I would replace this position with two new suburban PA reporters. Dan is one of 10 editors for metro coverage and 51 reporters, which is my experience is a very high ratio."
In an Aug. 7 meeting with Marimow, Hall said, the editor once again held up the forces of progress.
"Despite our clear direction to Marimow, on Aug. 7, 2013, Lewis Katz again directly interjected himself in newsroom operations and editorial process by seeking to block the recommended firings of Tom McNamara and Dan Biddle," Hall wrote. "I responded to Lewis Katz that day advising that the hiring and firing of editorial staff was, historically and within the industry, the responsibility of the publisher."
"In short, what it comes down to is that Marimow does not want to make the changes and is relying on the interference by Lewis Katz to accomplish this goal," Hall wrote.
"In short, Marimow is exhibiting now the same traits that caused his termination from other editorial positions that he held," Hall wrote. "Empowered by the interference of Katz and Phillips in the newsroom and in the editorial process, Marimow has and continues to thwart changes and initiatives necessary for the success (and survival for that matter) of the newspapers."
Hall accused Marimow of leaking a story about an impending plan to cut the Inquirer's editorial pages by 50 percent.
"In fact, the recent leaking of the false story that the current ownership directed the consolidation of the Op-Ed pages from two to one is illustrative of the total loss of control and oversight that Marimow as editor is expected to exercise," Hall wrote.
Hall also accuses Marimow of leaking to the newsroom the new owners' decision to give Gov. Tom Corbett, a frequent target of Inky criticism, his own column on philly.com. Holy politically incorrect! This had to offend a room full of liberal Democrats.
"This demonstrates that Marmimow is quite actively using the newsroom, and the newspaper itself, to inappropriately advance his causes," Hall wrote. "Marimow has been both slow and piecemeal implementing local content changes, despite recent Scarborough reports that we lost 24 percent of our readers in the last year."
Hall claimed that Marimow didn't have the loyalty of the troops.
"Marimow does not have the support of most of the newsroom in spite of what Nancy Phillips says," Hall wrote. "The informal nickname (from the rank and file) for several staffers is FOB, Friends of Bill. The Guild constantly gets complaints about favoritisms and operations in the newsroom from their members."
Hall faulted Marimow for not being on board with philly.com and "our digital strategy."
"Marimow fought this initiative the entire way and constantly spends time challenging it," Hall wrote. "He has expressed to staff and others that he believes the strategy is wrong."
It sure doesn't make sense for the Inquirer. Right now, Inky and Daily News stories are given away for free on philly.com, while those same stories are buried behind paywalls on inquirer.com and phillydailynews.com.
Must have been a plan developed by the Norcrosses.
"Marimow is not and will never be the change that we need at the Inquirer to turn around the circulation decline and grow our company," Hall concluded. He quotes a 2009 Philly mag story about former Inky publisher Brian Tierney: 'In two years, Marimow has made no dramatic changes to the paper's coverage .... seems more interested in plumping the Inquirer's institutional grandiosity -- than fostering growth' ... With his staffing decisions, Marimow seems more interested in 'rebuilding the newspaper of 1978, rather than forging the news organization of 2015.' "
"The same could be said today after his 17 months tenure," Hall concludes. Hall then turned his attention to Nancy Phillips and Lewis Katz. Hall griped that Marimow frequently held meetings with Katz and Phillips, "the content of which was rarely, if ever, discussed with me."
Katz gave permission to Marimow to hire former Inky columnist Clark DeLeon as a free-lancer, Hall complained to the other owners. Katz also authorized Marimow to hire a consultant for computer-assisted reporting, as well as hire more staffers because Marimow told Katz he need them, Hall wrote.
"Nancy Phillips, with whom Lewis Katz has a personal relationship, was appointed assistant to publisher as Lewis Katz's point person and transferred from newsroom," Hall wrote. "However, she stayed very close to the newsroom and challenged decisions impacting it. Even recently, Nancy sent an email to some of her staffers which said in part, 'that even as city editor, I will keep a heavy hand in the business affairs of the company.' "
"There was always a strong implication that Nancy Phillips and Lewis Katz were and continue to be involved in the newsroom discussions and operations," Hall wrote. "Bill Marimow has implied many times that Lewis Katz will protect him."
Tune in again on Monday, when both sides, with Marimow still held hostage, square off again in Common Pleas Court.
Things are going so bad at The Philadelphia Inquirer that one side in the current ownership dispute wants to bring back Brian Tierney as publisher.
The other side says, no freaking way. So now they have something new to fight about. The two ownership factions were slugging it out in court this morning over the fate of recently fired Inky editor Bill Marimow. One side wants to bring Marimow back as editor; the other side wants the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner to rest on his laurels.
Tierney, who left the Inky in 2010, has been seen around the newspaper in recent months. When asked what he was up to, Tierney reportedly said the new owners needed his help. He's been hired, at $25,000 a month, to work on a national sales campaign. So far, according to a source, the campaign has turned out to be a flop.
The current Inky publisher, Bob Hall, is a part-timer who was supposed to step down in August. Rumors began circulating that Tierney would return as Hall's replacement. Against this backdrop one faction in the Inky ownership dispute, Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest were asked two weeks ago during a meeting with the leadership of the Newspaper Guild Of Greater Philadelphia if the Tierney rumors were true. According to Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, Lenfest responded, what would be so bad about that?
Plenty, according to Ross, who filled him in. Later that day, the Newspaper Guild also met with George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey who heads up the rival Inky ownership faction. When asked about the return of Tierney, Norcross's response, according to Ross, was, Over my dead body and the dead body of my daughter will Tierney ever come back as publisher.
Norcross's daughter, Lexie, 25, runs the philly.com website.
When Lenfest asked the Newspaper Guild what would be so bad about Tierney coming back as publisher, Ross, the Guild's executive director, asked, are you aware of our history?
Lenfest, who made his fortune in cable TV, said he was unaware. So Ross filled him in.
"Guild members see Brian Tierney as the face that bankrupted the company by overpaying for the newspapers," Ross explained.
In 2006, Tierney led a group of investors that purchased the Inky, Daily News and the philly.com website for the inflated price of $515 million. Tierney became CEO of the new ownership group, Philadelphia Media Holdings. By 2009, Philadelphia Media Holdings was bankrupt. In 2010, the two papers and the website was auctioned for $139 million to a bunch of the company's creditors. In 2012, Interstate General Media [IGM] bought the two papers and philly.com for $55 million, a fraction of what the Tierney group paid.
Ross said he told Lenfest how Tierney gave himself and two other managers Christmas bonuses that amounted to $600,000, at the same time he was asking all the unions, including the Guild, to give up $25-a-week raises. The Guild raises amounted to $600,000, Ross said.
Tierney also "pulled out of the Guild pension plan," Ross said. Tierney subsequently used the bankruptcy filing as the reason for not paying a $50 million liability due, leaving "a gaping hole" in the Guild pension plan, Ross said.
After Ross informed Lenfest of the history between the Newspaper Guild and Tierney, Lenfest responded, OK, Bill, I'll be the publisher part-time.
To Ross, this made no sense.
"I said, 'Gerry, you just said that you didn't want Bob Hall to be a part-time publisher, and now you want to be the part-time publisher?' "
"It was embarrassing," Ross said.
Katz then chimed in, according to Ross, saying wouldn't it be a great story that this guy [Tierney] gets a chance to come back?
Ross said he replied, "No, it wouldn't be a great story, it would be a terrible story."
Ross isn't only one who had doubts about the wisdom of bringing Tierney back.
On April 25, 2012, Greg Osberg, at the time publisher and CEO for Philadelphia Media Network Inc., a former owner of the two Philly dailies, wrote an email to Nancy Phillips.
Phillips is the longtime girlfriend of owner Lewis Katz, who was copied on the email, as was George Norcross. In an April 23, 2012 email, Phillips had said she was sending Tierney a "non-disclosure agreement" so he could "be available to help."
"I'm all for engaging anyone who can help drive more ad revenue into our company, but I think you should look closely at the performance during his tenure of owning the company," Osberg wrote.
"He [Tierney] bought the company in July of 2006 and was relieved of his duties as CEO in June of 2010," Osberg wrote. "During that time, overall ad sales rapidly declined and we were the only major media website in the U.S. that declined in ad revenue three years in a row. Just wanted to manage expectations of what we can expect from him."
The hiring of Tierney coincided with the return of Mark Frisby, former executive vice president for production, labor and purchasing for Philadelphia Media Holdings under Tierney.
On April 22, 2012, Phillips sent Osberg a note, saying she had also retained Frisby.
"Frisbee came back, and was put back in charge of production as a senior vice president,"Ross said. "Now, he's out due to health reasons."
"But in his time here he did what he usually did," Ross said. "He cut jobs, eliminated positions, and now they're having trouble manning the operation."
Tierney had previously offered some advice to the new owners on what they should be doing. On March 31, 2012, Tierney sent an email entitled, "Congratulations -- and immediate recommendations."
"What I would do if I were you," Tierney wrote Katz and Lenfest. "Priority one is to get a good strong start. 'Locally owned' resonated with employees, advertisers and the community. You don't have to be personally front in a way that's uncomfortable for you, but a quick interim marketing campaign should be designed to channel the excitement into a new story for your sales staff to take to advertisers, and a new reason to subscribe and renew for existing and potential subscribers."
Tierney advised the new owners to "interview top 15 to 20 sales people," and work quickly to "identify five to ten great sales hires. The story of new, local, committed ownership can be leveraged to attract talent."
Tierney suggested bringing "Mark Frisby in there to look at all cost and production areas." Tierney praised Frisby as "one of the best recruits I made." He said Frisby helped to find ways to "carve $123 million" out of the business while still finding ways to grow ... An additional bonus is that the labor leaders respect him. He's tough efficient, but fair."
Tierney also had a recommendation for who should be the new editor of the Inquirer.
"I would strongly recommend trying to get Bill Marimow back," he wrote. "First, he's considered one of the top five editors in the country -- It's a wonderful added bonus that he grew up here and knows the region so well." There was one other big bonus to bringing back Marimow as editor, Tierney wrote.
"Bringing him on board will immediately and powerfully answer the concerns of editorial independence and integrity," Tierney wrote. "It makes the issue go away, and I think getting that out of the way early is all for the good."
"Again, just some preliminary ideas," Tierney wrote. "Let me know if I can help. Brian."
Katz, Lenfest and Norcross were all in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court this morning for an hour of oral arguments. Lawyers for the warring owners sparred over whether part-time publisher Hall had the authority to fire Marimow.
After Marimow was fired, Katz and Lenfest filed suit in Philadelphia, saying that Marimow should be rehired, and Hall should be fired.
Norcross promptly countersued in Delaware courts, where IGM was incorporated, saying that Delaware was the proper venue to determine whether Marimow should stay fired or not.
During the proceedings, Katz and Norcross spent at least a half-hour behind closed doors with the judge in the case. When they emerged, neither owner would say anything publicly. Watching the day's events were Marimow and Hall, both of whom had nothing to say as well.
One of the onlookers was Ross, the Newspaper Guild's executive director. After the hearings were over, Ross talked about how Guild officers reacted to opposing presentations made behind closed doors by the rival owners.
"It was a little embarrassing that one side was much more prepared than the other," Ross said. He recalled how Norcross told Guild executive board members that the company formerly losing nearly $50,000 a day was almost breaking even, thanks to $28 million in concessions from labor unions.
Ross said Norcross made the better impression.
"He [Norcross] is putting a lot of time into this business and trying to cut out a lot of waste," Ross said. "George seemed to be more hands on and he is here more often in the building."
What a difference a day makes. On Monday, this blog reported The Philadelphia Inquirer was paying former publisher Brian Tierney $25,000 a month to run a national advertising campaign that flopped. Today, according to two sources, the newspaper fired Tierney.
Tierney was the former Inky publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, the firm that bought the Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com for $515 million in 2006, and then went bankrupt three years later. After the two newspapers and the website were sold at an auction to creditors, Tierney stepped down in 2010 as publisher and CEO. He returned this year to direct a national sales campaign.
Tierney, who did not respond to Bigtrial's request for comment, had plenty to say about his departure to reporter Tom Fitzgerald of the Inquirer. Tierney called the loss of his consulting job "collateral damage of institutional fighting."
Tierney's salary of $25,000 a month was supposed to be offset by the advertising revenues he generated, but the campaign was not successful.
"He has underperformed," a source close to the situation said Monday.
Tierney, however, a legendary spinmeister, told a different story to Fitzgerald and the Inky.
"All of those we worked with at the Inquirer have not only been pleased but delighted by the results we have generated," Tierney told his former newspaper.
On April 23, 2012, Nancy Phillips said in an email to company executives that she was sending Tierney a "non-disclosure agreement" so he could "be available to help."
At the time, Phillips was a reporter in the newsroom and a member of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. But she was also the girlfriend of Lewis Katz, one of the new owners who bought the Inquirer.
There were delays, however, in Tierney coming aboard. He did not return to the newspaper until this year, according to a source close to the situation. He worked for six months and earned about $150,000 before being fired, the source said.
However, Mike Lorenca, the Inquirer's associate publisher, told Tom Fitzgerald that Tierney began work in April and would leave Nov. 30. Those estimates would mean Tierney was on the job for eight months and ostensibly earned $200,000.
The firing was in the works at least a week ago but the publicity over Tierney's new role accelerated his departure, a source close to the situation told Bigtrial.net. Lorenca told the Inquirer the decision to can Tierney had been made after "we just conducted a review."
Meanwhile, disgruntled Newspaper Guild members released a statement calling for an end to the infighting and lawsuits in the battle over the two daily newspapers and philly.com.
"What are the workers supposed to do when the infighting of their company's owners jeopardizes both their company and their careers?" said the statement from Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, and Howard Gensler, Guild president.
"That's what's happening at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, where a group of the region's wealthiest men have taken their disparate views of the company [Interstate General Media], its role in the community and their personal dislike of each other to a new level of wastefulness -- recently filing multiple lawsuits against each other in two jurisdictions."
"As both sides dig in, there's been name-calling, memo-leaking, email reading and more," the Guild statement complained. "There have been owner-on-owner accusations of meddling in the newsroom, killing worthy stories and playing up unworthy ones. This behavior has done only one thing, damaged the company's greatest asset, its credibility."
"It can't continue," the Guild statement said. Ross and Gensler said the Guild attempted to act as peace-makers in the dispute. "With pledges of investments from both the present owners and/or from outsiders we have solicited, the Guild has offered to buy out either or both of the warring ownership groups," the statement said. In response, "Each side has said the same thing: 'We're not selling.' "
"And so we are at a stalemate, unable to move forward and wasting potentially millions of dollars on legal fees, when the company's unions as recently as February gave back more than $20 million in wages and benefits to help turn around this company's finances," Ross and Gensler wrote. "It's a disgrace."
In response, Dan Fee, a spokesman for the majority owners of Interstate General Media, said in a statement, "The majority owners, who together hold 58 percent of the company, and represent four of six directors, applaud the Guild's statement."
Fee said the majority owners "stand ready to work with the [the Newspaper Guild] to resolve these issues. It is their commitment to the long term interests of the company, including the sacrifices they and other employees have made, that have helped put the company on the path to profitability."
"The majority owners neither wanted nor began this litigation," Fee wrote. "Their mission was and is to make this a successful company and provide the type of quality journalism that will make every employee proud and that our community deserves."
By Ralph Cipriano
It was just another day at the Inky.
The associate publisher jumped out the window.
A lawyer for one group of rival owners, at the cost of at least $400 an hour, was trying to figure out who was responsible for putting Brian Tierney out to pasture.
Meanwhile, the other group of owners was offering $29 million to buy the other side out.
Is this any way to run a company?
This morning, embattled Inky Publisher Bob Hall sent out a confidential email to the newspaper's owners, notifying them that Associate Publisher Michael Lorenca just quit.
In his letter of resignation to Hall, dated Oct. 29, Lorenca wrote, "For the last several months, I have struggled under the current governance and ownership structure which has made it impossible for me to complete my duties with traditional autonomy and independence. Further, as we discussed two weeks ago, for the same reasons I no longer feel that I could be an effective publisher in this environment."
In a confidential email to the Inky's owners today, Hall wrote that "specific challenges" to Lorenca's job duties included "the leaking of confidential internal executive level discussions and decisions, breach of the non-interference pledge by a member of the ownership group, and other points contained in our October 7th email which undermined the effective of both the publisher and associate publisher."
The Oct. 7th email from Hall and Lorenca outlined the problems Hall was having with recently fired editor Bill Marimow. It was promptly leaked. In the email quoted above, when Hall talked about a "breach of the non-interference pledge by a member of the ownership group," he was talking about owner Lewis Katz, according to a source close to the situation.
"This is a regrettable consequence and unfortunate casualty of the pending litigation, as I felt Mike was an extremely hardworking, dedicated and effective leader and a valuable partner as we were trying to move our company towards a successful future," Hall wrote.
Since the Inquirer's owners started feuding, their confidential emails have been leaked on a regular basis to happy reporters all over town. Following in that tradition, Hall's confidential email was leaked hours after he wrote it.
For faster service Mr. Hall, please send your confidential emails directly to email@example.com. Let's try and eliminate the middle men.
Also today, Robert C. Heim, a lawyer for the ownership group headed by George Norcross, received a letter from Richard A. Sprague, on behalf of rival owner Lewis Katz.
"My client, Lewis Katz, informed me that he read in today's Inquirer that the contract of Brian P. Tierney was terminated, presumably pursuant to Mr. Norcross's direction," Sprague wrote. "This was the first notice Mr. Katz received of this termination, and obviously, Mr. Katz was neither consulted before the termination was effectuated nor was his consent secured."
Tierney, a former Inky publisher, was fired Tuesday from a $25,000 a-month consulting gig after bean-counters at Interstate General Media determined that employing the chubby, bombastic spinmeister was a further waste of the company's limited resources.
If Lewis Katz read bigtrial.net, he would have found out a day earlier that Tierney got canned.
Wake up Lew, no wonder you're losing the PR battle to Norcross.
"I write to request an account by Mr. Norcross, or whoever made this decision, of the purported reasons for terminating the contract with Mr. Tierney, so that this account may be shared with my client," Sprague wrote. "Kindly ensure that I receive the requested information before the close of business on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013."
Hey Mr. Sprague, I hear it was Norcross who pulled the trigger. The same guy who told members of the Newspaper Guild that Tierney would be returning as publisher over his dead body.
Meanwhile, today, Norcross and another owner, William P. Hankowsky, announced via a press release that they were offering to pay $29 million in cash for the shares of Interstate General Media owned by Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest "in order to end the current dispute between the groups and provide stability to the company."
"We did not want or initiate the litigation that has created a sideshow that will ultimately waste hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in legal fees that could be used to further strengthen and build the company," Norcross and Hankowsky wrote.
"We are offering to purchase their shares for $29 million, which represents a nearly 12 percent profit over their investment in just 18 months, not a bad return [in] this economic environment," Norcross and Hankowsky wrote. "We will wire the funds to their accounts within 24 hours of an agreement."
"It is time to end this impasse and litigation and return our focus to continuing the remarkable turnaround of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com," the statement concludes. "It is the right thing to do for the company, our readers, our workers and the community."
Until then, let the sideshow continue.
The numbers are staggering.
More than $1.3 million in cash seized at his home in the Meadowbrook section of Huntingdon Valley, including $1.1 million stashed in PVC pipes buried in the back yard.
Another $1.7 million in bank accounts frozen by the feds, part of a seizure action that totals more than $6.3 million.
And a money trail of wire transfers in excess of $3.2 million to financial institutions in Sweden, Malta, Antiqua and Portugal.
That's the financial picture painted by federal prosecutors in the case against "Gentleman Gambler" Joe Vito Mastronardo Jr. and 15 co-defendants, including his wife, his son and his brother.
"At its peak, the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization had over 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars of betting activity in a year," an indictment now pending in U.S. District Court alleges.
But that's just part of the story.
|Seized Joe Vito cash|
Mastronardo is without question one of the premier bookmakers in the Philadelphia area, if not the country. His clientele includes businessmen and corporate executives who think nothing of placing a $10,000 bet on a football or basketball game and whose wins and losses during a season of betting are often measured in six figures. That's serious gambling action and one reason why law enforcement has been buzzing around Mastronardo, 63, for most of his adult life.
The other is this: Joe Vito is the son-in-law of the late Frank L. Rizzo, the former mayor and the former police commissioner of Philadelphia. His wife, Joanna, is Rizzo's only daughter. His son, Joseph F. Mastronardo, 31, is Rizzo's only grandchild.
Their arrests in August 2012 when the indictment was unsealed set tongues wagging. Rizzo, the no-holds-barred, law-and-order mayor and top cop must be rolling in his grave. That was the media message of the day.
|Joe Vito's Estate|
The Mastronardos, on the advice of their lawyers, are reluctant to discuss particulars of the case as it moves forward. All are currently free on bail. A hearing on a series of pre-trial motions is set for Nov. 18. The trial itself is scheduled to begin in February.
In a series of off-the-record conversations, however, they have emphasized that the media portrayal of Joe Vito as the "rogue" son-in-law of the legendary mayor and police commissioner is built on speculation and hype rather than reality. Joseph F. Mastronardo said his father and grandfather genuinely liked one another.
He also said the case now pending in federal court is nothing more than a "money grab" by federal authorities, noting that his father and uncle have been down this road before.
In 2006, Joe Vito and his brother John, 58, a former standout wide receiver for Villanova University, pleaded guilty to gambling charges in Montgomery County in a deal worked out with the District Attorney's Office there. In exchange, the DA agreed not to pursue charges against other members of the family. The brothers also had to give up claims to more than $2 million that had been seized in that case, including $500,000 in cash that authorities found in Joe Vito's car which was stopped while he was returning from a trip to Florida.
|Joe Vito's father-in-law|
Montgomery County authorities launched another probe, taping phones (the current case includes over 1,000 secretly recorded conversations) and placing a tracking device in Joe Vito's Cadillac. Investigators also used several informants who were allegedly part of the gambling operation and tracked weekly collections by operatives of the organization.
The Cedar Brook Country Club and the Century House Restaurant on Bethlehem Pike in Hatfield were two favored locations for money exchanges, according to court documents.
The results of the investigation were subsequently turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office. That upped the stakes considerably for the defendants who, with the exception of Joanna Rizzo, face racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges. She is accused of "structuring" -- allegedly making a series of bank deposits (each under $10,000) to aid the gambling operation in avoiding detection.
But at its heart, defense attorneys say, this is nothing more than a gambling case. Joe Vito Mastronardo's reputation and his marital ties have made it much more, they contend.
For now, the battle will be fought over legal issues and police procedures. The defense is trying to have most, if not all, of the evidence gathered in the investigation thrown out, arguing that Montgomery County detectives failed to follow proper procedures while building the case.
Tapes of the secretly recorded conversations were not sealed in a timely fashion as required by law, the defense contends. Detectives monitoring the wiretaps failed to "minimize," that is turn off the recording device when conversations focused on topics unrelated to the gambling probe. Examples cited in a defense motion include discussions about health issues, dinner plans, the salaries paid to professional athletes and an attempt to "secure tickets to the musical Jersey Boys."
Finally, the defense argues that Montgomery Count detectives played fast-and-loose with the rules, misstating facts in probable cause affidavits in order to win court approved wiretaps.
Authorities alleged that cooperating witnesses said they feared "harassment, retaliation and/or physical violence." In fact, the defense argues, there has never been any indication that the Mastronardos engaged in violence or intimidation.
"If you didn't pay your debt, your punishment was you weren't allow to place any more bets," Dennis Cogan, a long-time attorney for the brothers, said in the 2006 case. He and other lawyers have emphasized that there is no evidence of threats or violence in the Mastronardos' history.
Cogan is currently representing John Mastronardo. He has represented Joe Vito in the past.
Another example of police misstatements, the defense contends, is the identification of Enrique Carlos Molina Sobrino as part of the Florida-based Mastronardo bookmaking operation. In fact, the defense notes, Molina "made a fortune" through his ownership of bottling rights for Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi in Mexico. He is also a hotel owner. His properties include the Ritz Carlton in Cancun, the defense points out.
The defense will also provide financial documentation to support that contention and will offer tax returns that show that Joe Vito -- a gambler -- paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in income tax on his gambling earnings.
Joe Vito Mastronardo makes no bones about the fact that he is a gambler. He is considered a master at setting a sports betting line and for years others looked to the "Vito line" while setting up their own bookmaking operations.
For more than three decades in the gambling business, according to both underworld and law enforcement sources, Mastronardo avoided doing business with the mob, ducking attempted shakedowns and seeking out a clientele of gentlemen gamblers like himself.
Ironically, the Mastronardo case on the 12th floor of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia moves forward at the same time that mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi are being retried on the 15th floor in a racketeering conspiracy case centered around gambling and loansharking. Jury selection in that case began today.
What is even more ironic is that the charges in the mob case are built around video poker machines that might generate $200- or $300-a-week in profit and bookmaking disputes about debts of $5,000 and $10,000. Mastronardo's clients wagered that much and more on a game.
The indictment makes reference to one customer who bet $20,000 on a Syracuse University basketball game and $50,000 on a Kentucky University game. The gambler, identified only by his account number -- 1487 -- eventually "covered his betting loses," the indictment alleges, by sending the Mastronardos $250,000.
The 23-count, 73-page indictment includes dozens of other references to the high stakes action that authorities allege was the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization.
A close associate said earlier this week that Joe Vito defined his life by being a bookmaker. It was all he did and all he ever wanted to do.
He is now in poor health -- he is battling cancer, recently had a stroke and has a feeding tube in his stomach. But Joe Vito remains a one-of-a-kind, roguish entrepreneur who has always played by his own set of rules.
In a series of private conversations over the past year, it was clear that he doesn't draw a distinction between placing a bet and taking bet. It is all gambling. And for most of his life he has made a very good living at it. He just doesn't think it's a crime.
The indictment offers a hint into that mind set, citing a letter he wrote to the Montgomery County Probation Office in September 2007 seeking permission to travel to Costa Rica while still under office supervision in his 2006 case.
"The weather there is perfect for my health," he wrote, "82 degrees and HUMID every day. I traveled at least fourteen times to San Jose last year, 2006, from August to January, leaving on Friday and returning on Monday...Betting is an integral part of my income, and in order to maintain that, San Jose is a legal venue for all types of gambling...by restricting my gambling to Costa Rica and other offshore betting venues where betting is 100% legal, I will be allowed to make a living doing what I do best and love without being in violation of my probation."
But authorities say Joe Vito never restricted his action. In fact, the indictment alleges, he never stopped bookmaking from his suburban Philadelphia base. That allegation is at the heart of the racketeering and gambling indictment he now faces.
Over lunch at his home, a stylish Italianate mini-mansion in Meadowbrook this summer, Mastronardo talked about his life, his relationship with his late father-in-law -- they were friends and respected one another, he said -- and the future. But for the time being, the thin, silver-haired gambler said he wanted to keep those thoughts private.
He avoided any specific references to the charges, but with a sparkle in his eyes and a smile crossing his lips, he said he liked his chances in court. He talked about his uncle and the Pepsi Cola connection, about his legitimate gambling earnings and the taxes he has paid over the years.
|Joe Vito's Caddy|
Joe Vito didn't miss a beat. He and his family have been through a lot, he said. Every time the authorities come after him, he said, they seize or freeze his bank accounts, as they have done in the current case.
He buried cash in the PVC pipes, he said, so that his wife would have something to fall back on.
"I wanted her to have something in case they took everything else," he said.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
Brian Tierney's performance as a sales consultant was "considerably below expectations," according to a confidential management analysis that preceded his firing.
In February, former Inky publisher Tierney began negotiating a deal to launch a national advertising campaign on behalf of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and philly.com. He was to be paid a salary of $25,000 a month, or 10 percent of the revenues he generated, whichever was higher.
The contract took effect in April, when, according to confidential records, Tierney was paid a partial month's salary of $12,500, and brought in zero revenues.
In May, according to the records, Tierney was paid $25,000 in salary and brought in zero revenues.
In June, according to the records, he was paid $25,000 in salary and brought in in zero revenues.
In July, according to the records, he was paid $25,000, and brought in zero revenues.
Anyone see a problem?
"After four months of zeroes, somebody should have said, 'What's going on here,' " said Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia.
In response to an email seeking comment, Tierney issued a blanket denial and a threat. He said he was putting this reporter "on notice" that the confidential analysis dealing with his performance as a newspaper salesman was "replete with falsehoods." Publishing a story based on that information would "knowingly and recklessly defame me," Tierney wrote. "If that happens I will take appropriate actions against you and any co owners of your blog."
When asked to elaborate on what the falsehoods were, or explain his side of the story, Tierney did not respond over the past two days. He also did not respond to a repeated request for an interview.
Tierney is a former newspaper publisher whose name has been bandied about during a highly publicized court battle between rival groups of IGM owners. One group of owners has proposed bringing Tierney back as publisher. The other group has literally said, over our dead bodies. So Tierney's performance in his latest reincarnation as an IGM sales consultant is of public interest.
The plan to hire Tierney began with optimism and good feelings.
On Feb. 11, Tierney wrote George Loesch, IGM's senior vice president of sales and marketing, "I look forward to the possibility of working with you guys ... there's a lot we can help you accomplish fast on the revenue front. Best, Brian."
On Feb. 25, Loesch broached the proposed the idea of hiring Tierney to Inky publisher Bob Hall, associate publisher Mike Lorenca, and new owners George Norcross and Lewis Katz.
"He [Tierney] would be looking for a 4-month commitment for services, $25,000 per month," Loesch wrote. "He can help us to drive revenue and go after incremental opportunities."
On Feb. 23, 2013, Tierney wrote Loesch in an email, "It was great to meet with you today and I'm more convinced that ever that we can help you move that revenue needle. As we discussed, our initial focus will be on the top 25 national accounts as well as others where we agree the account is worth targeting."
"Sound good?" responded Tierney. "Let's go! Best, Brian."
A proposed agreement dated Feb. 22 called for paying Tierney $25,000 a month or 10 percent of gross ad revenue "for mutually agreed upon target accounts." The list of 25 initial targeted accounts included Kmart-Sears, Kohl's, AT&T, Target, Citizens Bank, T Mobile, JC Penny, Sleepy's Mattresses, and Dick's Sporting Goods.
But the list wasn't big enough for Tierney.
On March 13, Tierney emailed Loesch, saying, "You might want to add other accounts where I have a special relationship such as Verizon (my old ad agency was advertising agency of record, creating the James Earl Jones campaigns); Comcast (I was able to get them to more than double their ad buy when I was publisher. They went from about $3 million to $6+ million)."
"This is a proposal I think we should accept," Katz wrote Loesch, Lorenca and Hall on March 12. "George is in favor. I'm in favor. And I think Brian brings enormous value to our sales initiative."
It took a while to negotiate a contract between IGM and Tierney. On March 10, Tierney wrote Katz an email headlined "subject: next steps." "The fee is $25,000 per month or 10 percent of revenues, which ever is higher," Tierney wrote.
So with a deal in place, super salesman Tierney rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
But Tierney's promises didn't match his results. On October 29, Loesch wrote a grim analysis of the deal with Tierney's company, Brian Communications.
How many of those 80 targeted accounts did Tierney bring in?
According to the confidential records, none.
Tierney's scorecard was zero for 80.
In his analysis marked "confidential -- internal use only," under "recommendations," Loesch wrote, "Terminate our strategic marketing and sales consulting services contract with Brian Communications. Overall, Brian Communications ad revenue performance has been considerably below expectations. From the time when the relationship started in mid-April, (6 plus months) Brian Communications has under performed and failed to generate revenue on a targeted list of opportunity accounts provided to them."
"It should be noted that (same month) commission fees earned have failed to exceed monthly retainer fees throughout the term of the engagement YTD" (year to date), Loesch wrote. "While advertising revenue was generated during the engagement, it has been entirely from current accounts, and Brian Communications has been unsuccessful in producing any new accounts."
According to an attached summary, Tierney came up empty on landing any accounts, new or old, in April, May, June and July. In August, he landed Temple University as an account for $59,000 worth of ads. In September, he brought in $35,000 from Temple University and $9,000 from Widener University, for a total of $44,000.
So, over six months from April to September, he brought in $103,000 in ad revenues, according to the confidential records, including $94,000 from Temple, and $9,000 from Widener. During that same six-month period, the records show, he was paid $137,500, for a total net loss of $34,500.
"He apparently set up a lucrative deal for himself," Ross said. "Just looking at the first four months, the fact that he generated zero business and received $87,000, it looks to me like the company was paying him to breathe."
The company would have done much better letting its regular sales force take care of existing ad accounts with Temple and Widener, Ross said.
If a Guild sales rep on salary had brought in those $103,000 in revenues, the sales reps wouldn't have gotten an extra cent in salary, which is, on average, $1,300 a week, Ross said. If the sales reps were working strictly on commission, they earn a forgivable draw of $2,500 a month [10 percent of what Tierney cost the company] and would have been paid no more than 10 percent in commissions, or $10,300, Ross said.
A subsequent study of the Tierney contract projects revenues of $90,676 from Temple and Widener in October, and $63,463 from Temple and Widener in November. From April through November, Tierney would have been paid an additional $50,000 in salary, at $25,000 a month, for a total of $187,500. IGM decided to terminate Tierney effective Nov. 30.
Over an eight-month period from April to November, Tierney was projected to bring in a total of $257,139 in commissions, while drawing $187,500 in salary, for a net gain to the company of $69,639.
Tierney, however, has claimed to one of IGM's owners that he was responsible for generating some $400,000 in ad revenue that he wasn't given credit for.
In response to claim, Loesch wrote in a Nov. 2 email, "A little overstated as Brian was taking credit for some additional revenue sold by us. But close. If we assume the 10 percent commission on $400k, that would be $40k. Unfortunately, at 25K per month retainer, we will be paying Brian Communications $187k. It was time to end it."
To the Inquirer, Tierney insisted that his sales performance had been satisfactory, if not stellar.
So while Tierney's work as an ad salesman may have been considerably below expectations, when it comes to PR, he still knows how to spin a story.
It could be a packed house for what basically amounts to a rerun.
Friends and family members of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi, are expected to fill the small, 15th floor courtroom tomorrow for opening statements in the retrial of the two South Philadelphia wiseguys.
Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, are facing a racketeering conspiracy charge, a leftover from a broader racketeering case that ended in February with both defendants acquitted of most of the charges they faced. Borgesi beat 13 of the 14 counts and Ligambi was acquitted of five of nine.
The turnout in U.S. District Court at 6th and Market is expected to be a public showing of support for the two gangsters who have been held without bail since an indictment was handed down in May 2011. It also comes on the heels of a blistering attack by Borgesi's family in the Philadelphia Daily News last week in which they charged that George Borgesi was the victim of a government vendetta.
|Manny and Anthony Borgesi|
How any of that plays to the anonymously chosen jury of ten women and two men (there are also six alternates) that will decide the fate of Borgesi and Ligambi is a question that can't be answered. No one knows whether any of those jurors even read the article or what they may have thought about if they had.
One reader who clearly wasn't happy with the Borgesi family rant was Joey Merlino. The erstwhile Philadelphia mob boss who was tried and convicted with Borgesi and five others back in 2001 is now living in Boca Raton, finishing his final year of federal supervised release (formerly known as parole) and continuing to vow that he will not be returning to South Philadelphia.
In the Daily News article published last Friday, Anthony Borgesi decried the fact that his brother has been denied bail in the pending case and pointed out that he has (like Merlino) finished his 14-year sentence for the 2001 conviction.
Merlino said in a telephone interview this week that he read the article and was surprised by Anthony Borgesi's comments.
"What's he saying, that I should still be in jail? " he asked. "Do they want me back in jail?"
Merlino also said he thought Anthony Borgesi was off base in portraying his brother as a victim of discrimination. According to the Daily News piece, Anthony Borgesi argued that his brother's constitutional rights were being denied, that the government was "playing dirty." And he added that if his brother were Black, the country wouldn't stand for it.
"Where's our Al Sharpton?" Anthony Borgesi is quoted as saying.
That kind of talk, Merlino said, does not play well with jurors, especially jurors who are African-American. (There are three African-Americans on the current panel.)
For an historic perspective, Anthony Borgesi ought to research Joe Colombo and the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League Colombo founded back in the 1970s. Like Borgesi, Colombo launched a campaign against the federal government alleging that Italian-Americans were being targeted. He picketed the FBI Office in New York and held rallies that attracted large crowds. Frank Sinatra performed a benefit concert for the organization which morphed into the Italian American Civil Rights League.
Colombo became the Al Sharpton of his day. But his fellow gangsters decided that kind of publicity was not good for business. Things ended badly for Colombo.
How it ends for Borgesi and Ligambi will depend on the jury and the evidence, two issues that often get lost in the rhetoric. Clearly, and this has been written here before, the conspiracy law is stacked in the government's favor.
Borgesi was acquitted of gambling and loansharking charges in the first trial. But those charges, built largely around the testimony of discredited mob informant Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, can legally to used again to support the conspiracy charge.
In fact, this jury will hear much of the same testimony that the first jury rejected.
Fair? It doesn't seem so, but that's the law.
Ligambi faces the same hardship but the mob boss has opted to keep his feelings to himself.
"You can pick your friends," he said. "You can't pick your family."
There are those in both law enforcement and underworld circles who believe the mob boss might have been granted bail were it not for his co-defendant who among other things called Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, one of the prosecutors in the case, "a fuckin' punk" after one court session earlier this year.
While the defense will present a united front at trial, Ligambi's relationship with his nephew has been strained at times. Monacello testified about this in the last trial and is likely to revisit it again when he takes the stand in the current case.
Anthony Aponick, a jailhouse snitch and cooperator with ties to the Bonanno crime family in New York, is scheduled to testify as well. Aponick was not called in the first case, in part because of his criminal history and questions about his credibility. He has said Borgesi and his uncle didn't always get along and that Borgesi, from his prison cell, frequently criticized Ligambi, claiming his uncle was pocketing Borgesi's underworld earnings while he was in jail.
Aponick was a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Virginia, planted there, the Borgesi family alleges, to lure George Borgesi into criminal acts. The family said that was just one example of the feds "vendetta." It failed, they contend, but it will not stop Aponick from taking the stand for the government and lying to the jury.
"They are the real criminals," Manny Borgesi was quoted in the Daily News article, commenting about witnesses like Monacello and Aponick.
|Bent Finger Lou|
Monacello's involvement in the mob stems from a relationship with George Borgesi. It was Borgesi who tapped Monacello as an associate in the 1990s and later used him to handle his underworld affairs. If Monacello is a liar, a cheat, a bullshit artist, if "Fag Finger Lou" or "Rat Finger Lou" as George Borgesi now refers to his former associate, is a heartless punk out to save himself, did he become those things only after he agreed to cooperate?
Or was that who he always was? If so, why did Borgesi have someone like that in his inner circle?
The same question could be asked about several other Borgesi associates, including Aponick (who came to Philadelphia with an introduction from Borgesi in 2003 after he was released from prison); Robert Luisi, a Boston gangster who was close to Borgesi before turning informant (and then finding Jesus and being drummed out of the federal fold) and the elusive Roger Vella, a drug dealer and admitted murderer who Borgesi referred to as a "bed bug" even as he maintained a relationship with him on the streets in the 1990s.
Those are the kinds of questions that don't get asked during a trial or in a newspaper article where the Borgesi family gets to rant and rave. But those are the questions that many who have followed the soap opera like saga of the Philadelphia mob find intriguing because they say as much about Borgesi as they do about the witnesses against him.
George Anastasia can be contacted atGeorge@bigtrial.net.
He was described by the defense as an 84-year-old Mafia hitman with a faulty memory, a mobster who had murdered so often "he couldn't remember how many people he had killed."
But when he took the stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy trial of crime boss Joe Ligambi and wiseguy George Borgesi, Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio rattled off the how, when and why of a series of hits that are part of his organized crime resume.
Thin, balding and hard of hearing, Caprio was the leadoff witness for the prosecution in the retrial of the two Philadelphia mob leaders. Dressed in a blue V-neck sweater over a shirt and tie, Caprio spent 90 minutes on the stand at the end of the trial day. He is due back when the trial resumes next Tuesday.
"Shoot him again to make sure he's dead," Caprio said matter-of-factly as he recounted the instructions he gave to an associate during the 1975 slaying of a mob associate known as Butchie whose remains were dropped in a shallow grave in the basement of a Newark social club and then covered with cement.
Caprio said he was a member of the North Jersey branch of the Philadelphia crime family and identified both Ligambi and Borgesi as leaders of the organization. He said he was elevated to the rank of capo or captain after orchestrating the 1996 murder of Joe Sodano, a long-time capo who had failed to fall in line under the leadership of Ralph Natale and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in the mid 1990s.
Caprio's trip down memory lane was a reprise of testimony he had given on at least two other occasions in federal courtrooms in Philadelphia. He testified at a racketeering trial in 2001 in which both Merlino and Borgesi were convicted.
And he was a witness last year in the racketeering trial of Ligambi, Borgesi and five others. A split verdict and a hung jury on conspiracy charges against Ligambi and Borgesi led to the retrial that opened this morning. Ligambi also faces gambling and obstruction of justice counts.
Many of those in the courtroom, including prosecutors, FBI agents, members of the media and the defendants and their friends and family members had heard Caprio's stories before. But for the twelve jurors and six alternates the testimony was new and, the prosecution hoped, would provide the foundation for the rest of its case.
"This case is about how the mob makes money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor told the jury in his opening statement at the start of the trial day.
Labor spent a little over an hour laying out the allegations against Ligambi and Borgesi and offering the jury what amounted to a legal primer on the nature of a conspiracy charge. The simple fact that Ligambi and Borgesi agreed that a crime should be committed by someone else was enough to support a guilty verdict, he argued.
Both defendants, as leaders of the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra, benefitted from the gambling, loansharking and extortion carried out by others, he said. And the government's case, based on secretly recorded conversations and the testimony of cooperating witnesses -- including two undercover FBI agents and several admitted mobsters like Caprio -- would support those charges.
Defense attorneys offered a decidedly different take on the same set of circumstances.
Edwin Jacobs Jr., the lawyer for Ligambi, said the government's allegations were built around implausible theories and unsubstantiated testimony from less than credible witnesses.
Jacobs used a quote from Abraham Lincoln in a legal argument offered in a case 150 years ago.
"My adversary's case is as thin as the broth made from a starving chicken," he said.
He described the government's witnesses as liars and thugs who had cut deals to get out from under criminal charges they faced. Ticking off a list of witnesses who are scheduled to take the stand during the six week trial, Jacobs described one as a hitman who committed so many murders "he can't even remember how many people he killed." Another, he said, was a violent thug and a "convicted perjurer."And a third was a serial bank robber who cut a cooperating agreement with the government, was freed from prison and then went out and robbed some more banks.
Those witnesses, in order, were Caprio, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick.
Christopher Warren, Borgesi's lawyer, spent most of his opening blistering Monacello and Apronick, the two key witnesses in the case against Borgesi.
Like Caprio, Monacello testified at the trial last year. Aponick, a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Virginia between 2001 and 2003, will be making his debut in the current case.
Warren said Aponick, an associate of the Bonanno crime family in New York, viewed Borgesi as his "get out of jail free card" and fabricated information to work a deal with the FBI. And even after he committed the second set of bank robberies and violated the terms of his cooperating agreement, the government took him back as a witness because they were desperate to make a case against Borgesi.
"They took somebody they had kicked out of their bed and put him back under the covers," Warren argued, "because they didn't have anything better."
Monacello, a South Philadelphia mob associate, used Borgesi's name and reputation to advance his own gambling and loansharking operations, which Warren argued, Borgesi knew nothing about. He called Monacello "an egomaniacal blowhard" and a "petty bully" who enjoyed beating up and assaulting others.
Both witnesses are "frauds," Warren said. Aponick, he told the jury, "will try to sell you a bill of goods. Don't buy it."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial,.net.
By George Anastasia
Pete the Crumb Caprio was a no-show this morning at the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi.
The 84-year-old mobster-turned-informant reportedly tripped, fell and broke his knee while on his way to a safe house after testifying Thursday. Caprio, who was offering the jury a history lesson on the Philadelphia mob, is expected to be recalled as a witness once he recovers.
Prosecutors hoped the testimony of the admitted murderer would establish the fact that Ligambi and Borgesi were leaders of the Philadelphia crime family, a key element in the racketeering conspiracy charge they are facing.
Caprio was a longtime member of the organization and a member of a crew based in Newark. He was a soldier and later a capo. In testimony at previous trials, he has admitted that he plotted to kill Ligambi, Borgesi and another Philadelphia mob leader in the late 1990s with the idea of taking over the family.
Before that could happen, Caprio was indicted on unrelated murder and racketeering charges. He then cut a deal with the government to cooperate.
Changing gears with Caprio on the shelf, the prosecution today began setting the stage for the jury to hear from another North Jersey mob figure although he won't be on the witness stand. Just as they did in the first trial that ended in February, prosecutors plan to play a tape made by Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli, the Gambino crime family soldier who wore a wire for the FBI for two years. Stefanelli, 69, committed suicide in March 2012, but tapes that he made for the feds live on.
The jury will hear an hour-long composite of a five-hour lunch meeting Stefanelli taped in May 2010 at LaGriglia, a posh restaurant just off the Garden State Parkway in Kenilworth, NJ. Assistant U.S.
Attorney Frank Labor has called the session a meeting of the "board of directors" of organized crime.
Ten mobsters, including Ligambi, Anthony Staino and Joe Licata from the Philadelphia crime family and the brothers Joe and John Gambino from New York's Gambino organization broke bread and drank wine that day.
Stefanelli was a made member of the Gambino organization and, with Licata, helped set up the meeting. The defense, as it did in the first trial, argued in opening statements that the lunch was merely a get-together for aging friends (most of those at the meeting were in their 60s and 70s) who talked about the old days.
But on the tape, Licata can be heard introducing Ligambi to the Gambino crime family members as "our acting boss." At another point, Licata and the others discuss a dispute with the Luchese crime family over territorial rights and poaching in New Jersey. The Lucheses, authorities allege, were horning in on Philadelphia's territory and Ligambi and Licata were trying to get the Gambino organization to support them in the dispute.
Talk also focused on a "making ceremony" -- a mob initiation rite -- that Ligambi presided over. Again, authorities hope that will solidify in the jury's mind Ligambi's role as the boss of the local crime family.
Whether it supports the conspiracy charge he faces, however, is another question.
The jury in the trial that ended in February couldn't decide. While it acquitted Ligambi of five charges tied to gambling and extortion, it hung on the conspiracy charge (along with two other gambling charges and an obstruction of justice count), leading to the retrial.
That same jury, however, found Licata not guilty of conspiracy when the only substantial evidence against him as the LaGriglia tape. (Licata's lawyer in that case, Christopher Warren, is now representing Borgesi who also faces a conspiracy charge. But Borgesi was in prison in May 2010 and had nothing to do with the LaGriglia meeting.)
The LaGriglia tape was the first Stefanelli tape played publicly. A second meeting at the American Bistro in Belleville attended by Stefanelli, Licata and mobster Louis "Big Lou" Fazzini, was also used in the first trial.
There are dozens of other tapes that have yet to surface, part of ongoing investigations that may or may not lead to indictments in New York and North Jersey. Stefanelli moved up and down the East Coast for the Gambino crime family. He met with Joey Merlino in Florida and he taped meetings with Anthony DiNunzio, a Rhode Island mob boss.
Merlino, the relocated Philadelphia mob leader, said he was leery of the smooth-talking wiseguy, avoided any discussion about organized crime and dismissed Stefanelli's business propositions.
"He was trying to set me up," said Merlino in an interview in May after learning that Stefanelli had been wearing a wire when they met.
DiNunzio, the New England mob leader, wasn't as cautious. He pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge last year built in part around tape recordings made by Stefanelli.
Those tapes are Nicky Skins' legacy. The fact that there have not been any other indictments raises questions in some circles about how good the rest of the Stefanelli tapes really are. And it also has led to speculation about the relationship between the FBI and the wiseguy.
Who was playing whom?
"My opinion, Skins did as much to sanitize his recordings as possible," said Steven Lenehan, a former North Jersey mobster who has been there.
Lenehan was the FBI's guy on the streets in the early 1990s, a mob associate-turned-informant who wore a wire as he interacted with dozens of gangsters, including Stefanelli. In fact, Lenehan recorded a heroin deal with Stefanelli in 1994 that led to Nicky Skins arrest and first federal prison sentence.
Everyone is different, Lenehan said in a series of phone conversations and emails over the past six months, but there are ways to "protect" your friends even when you're wearing a wire. Lenehan's work as an informant resulted in about 30 arrests. He said he could have helped make even more cases.
He's not expecting anyone still out on the streets to thank him, but as he looks from afar at the Stefanelli case he wonders."I think Skins might have protected a lot of guys," he said, offering an explanation of why there have not been any more indictments.
That Skins was a player in the underworld for decades is not in dispute. That he corporated was, according to several individuals who knew him, out of character.
"He was raised in organized crime," said Bob Carroll, a former prosecutor with the New Jersey Attorney General's Division of Criminal Justice. "He moved freely among the (crime) families."
Low-key, intelligent but also a suspected killer, Stefanelli came from the old school, Carroll said. The former prosecutor said he was "surprised" to learn Nicky Skins had become a cooperator.
"His temperament wasn't conducive to that kind of behavior," said Carroll who described Stefanelli as a guy who would do his time rather than turn government informant. "He was a longtime player, a career guy."
Stefanelli began cooperating in 2009 after he was again facing drug trafficking charges. Why he killed himself is open to speculation.The conventional wisdom is that as the investigations he was involved with were winding down and as the prospect of taking the witness stand publicly against his former associates grew nearer, Stefanelli decided he couldn't do it.
Instead, he went out with a bang.
Authorities say two days before committing suicide, Stefanelli walked into a video poker machine distribution office in Bloomfield, NJ, and shot and killed Joseph Rossi, the owner of the business. Sources say Rossi was the FBI informant who got Stefanelli and Stefanelli's son jammed up in a drug case in 2009.
In order to get out from under that charge -- and keep his son from being arrested -- Stefanelli cut a deal with the government and agreed to wear a wire, according to that theory. Once Stefanelli decided that he couldn't testify, he chose to end it all. First, in an act of revenge, he shot and killed Rossi. Then he checked into a hotel near the Meadowlands in North Jersey. Two days later his body was found in a hotel room. Cause of death was a drug overdose.
That's the theory of what happened, but no one in authority has provided specific details.
Anthony Rossi, who is the executor of his brother's will, says his family has been less than satisfied with what they've been told so far. And what they've been told, he adds, is very little.
The family has retained an attorney who is trying to get to the bottom of the FBI's relationship with both Stefanelli and Joe Rossi. The questions the family has, said Anthony Rossi, have to do with whether the feds were providing the kind of protection his brother deserved if he was cooperating.
The irony that his brother was killed by another FBI cooperator only adds to the uncertainty surrounding the case.
"We'd like some answers," Anthony Rossi said recently, adding that the family was prepared to file a civil suit against the federal government. "We've just heard so many stories and right now all we have are questions."
Anthony Rossi said he knew Stefanelli from the neighborhood. They were all from the Newark-Belleville-Bloomfield area. The "type of guy he was," doesn't fit with the stories that are being told, he added.
Lenehan also has his doubts. His take is that Stefanelli went to Rossi to shake him down, to grab some ready cash before he was taken off the streets and whisked into federal custody. Lenehan, who has been down that road, knows how the game is played.
"My opinion of Skins is that he was a tough guy, a gentleman and always reasonable," said Lenehan. "I'm sure if I hadn't been with Team America, he and I would have remained good friends. His defection shocked me.
"As to his suicide, I think he realized he blew his deal with the feds after the video poker guy was clipped. Skins was capable. It was a shakedown gone bad. Forget the nonsense he was paying the guy back for ratting on his kid. He was probably ready to be relocated and he knew (after Rossi was killed) instead of Iowa or Kansas, he was headed to prison forever. That's why he offed himself."
The jury in the Ligambi case, of course, won't get all the details and the speculation. They will hear that Stefanelli was a cooperator, that he made a tape of a meeting at LaGriglia and that he later killed himself.
Lenehan says it's more complicated than that. It always is. He makes no excuse for himself, for Stefanelli or for anyone else who has become a cooperator. He said he toyed with the idea of suicide at one point and still wrestles with his own decision to become an informant.
"The world is so enamored with this (mob) life," he said. "(But) it's a business of greed and murder....My advice, if you're in the life, get out before you get pinched...You are not going to beat the federal government....You have more rats on the street than in the (witness protection) program. I took a shortcut at everyone's expense. Not an easy look back in the rear view mirror. I think that Steve Lenehan was Steve Lenehan's worst enemy, not the guys on the street and not the feds...I might be the only guy like me who thinks he deserves to get clipped for what he did. White washing your decision to turn by blaming others -- I read Phil Leonetti's book -- is hypocritical. I'm a guy who told on his friends. That's my legacy.
"But I'm not a hypocrite...I know what I did and I'm not trying to sugarcoat it."
Neither, apparently, was Stefanelli. He just chose a different way to deal with it.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
By Ralph Cipriano
On April 1, 2012, ace reporter Nancy Phillips was writing about what it would take to bring Bill Marimow back as editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"His proposed terms," Phillips wrote, are "a salary comparable to what he was being paid when he left: $257,000. He says he is prepared to immediately announce that he was volunteering to cut his pay by 20 percent as a gesture to set the tone for concessions and cutbacks from others in management as well as the unions ..."
Phillips, however, wasn't writing for the news columns of Philadelphia's paper of record. On this assignment, she was reporting directly by email to Lewis Katz and George Norcross, the new owners of the Inquirer, on her negotiations to bring back Marimow.
When Phillips got through arranging the rehiring of Marimow, she went to work on bringing back Brian Tierney, the Inky's former publisher, as a sales consultant, and Mark Frisby, a former Tierney lieutenant, as a senior vice president in charge of production. She did all this while she was just a reporter in the Inky newsroom, and a member of the Newspaper Guild, rather than management.
Last year, however, all of these folks were playing on the same team. Now, Katz and Norcross are in court fighting each other over the firing of Marimow. Tierney has been fired; Frisby is no longer around. And Phillips's extraordinary role as a head hunter may be recast by Norcross's lawyers as meddling on behalf of her longtime companion, Lewis Katz.
Meddling is what the lawsuits in the dispute over the Inky are all about.
Inky Publisher Bob Hall fired Bill Marimow for not making changes Hall wanted to make, namely canning some old "Friends of Bill" who were high-paid editors, and using that money to hire young reporters to cover local news.
Katz and another Inky owner, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, sued in Philadelphia's Common Pleas Court, claiming that Hall didn't have the right to fire Marimow, and that Norcross was using Hall to meddle in the affairs of the newsroom. The Katz and Lenfest lawsuit seeks to fire Hall and reinstate Marimow.
All six new owners at Interstate General Media [IGM] have taken a no-meddling pledge. They signed a promise not to "influence or interfere with editorial policies or news decisions." When it comes to the editorial operations of the Inky, Daily News and philly.com, the new owners were supposed to be as pure as Caesar's wife.
But what about Caesar's girlfriend?
Norcross countersued in the Delaware Courts, where IGM was incorporated, claiming that it was Katz and Lenfest who were meddling in the affairs of the newsroom. In his emails, publisher Bob Hall repeatedly accused Katz and Phillips of newsroom meddling, as well as encouraging Marimow to oppose changes Hall wanted to make.
In an Oct. 7 email, Hall wrote that his plans for progress "have been frustrated by the direct interference of Lewis Katz (and by extension through his longtime companion Nancy Phillips) in the editorial process and management of the newsroom and preventing us from implementing what we believe are the appropriate changes. The Katz/Phillips interference, unfortunately, continues to this day."
For this morning's hearing, Nancy Phillips is on the witness list for both the Norcross and Katz legal teams.
In recent days, a public relations consultant for Katz, Lenfest and Marimow has charged that Norcross was meddling in the newsroom when he supposedly "pressured" Marimow for months to follow the recommendations of a readership study, and whack the Inky's editorial pages from two to one. The reasoning was, the readers just didn't care.
But team Norcross claims Katz was employing Phillips to meddle in the newsroom from day one. She could not be reached for comment.
Neither could Norcross. A source close to the situation, however, said that when Norcross got involved in the purchase of the Inquirer, he didn't know anything about the newspaper business, so he deferred to Katz and Phillips.
"Unfortunately, it only became clear later that Nancy's involvement was a way for Lewis to try and influence the newsroom," the source said. "Everyone sort of thought that all the owners would abide by the non-interference pledge. Hindsight is 20-20, but this will be part of any hearing."
When did the alleged Katz/Phillips meddling begin?
"The very first day," the source said, "when they [Katz and Phillips] both felt it was OK to try to change the content of a story."
That story at issue concerned a profile of the new IGM owners, and an outing of the Katz-Phillips relationship.
Documents leaked to Big Trial show that Phillips's stint as IGM's top head hunter was fully in operation on March 27, 2012, when Marimow sent her his list of terms for returning to the Inquirer.
Marimow told Phillips he wanted the "autonomy" to "play a significant role in improving our web site in terms of both content and news judgment."
"Ideally, the editor of The Inquirer would have the authority to be the decision-maker on how to display major stories on philly.com," Marimow wrote.
Marimow requested "a guarantee of job security for a reasonable number of years," moving expenses, a payment for "temporary housing for up to six months," and an agreement that he could hire "two or three key editors like Vernon Loeb to accelerate the expected improvements in content and the web site."
Loeb, a former Inky reporter, became a top editor under Marimow during his first stint as Inky editor from 2006 to 2010. Then, Marimow got fired for the first time and Loeb left for the Washington Post.
Marimow told Phillips he was available to start his second stint as Inky editor on May 21, 2012. "Thanks very much, Nancy, for everything, and please tell Lewis that I say thank you very much to him," Marimow wrote.
Phillips said the decision on whether to accept Marimow's offer to take an immediate 20 percent salary cut was up to Katz and Norcross, "if you think that would be helpful," she wrote in an April 1, 2012 email to the new owners. "You should talk about whether that makes sense."
Marimow was also seeking "the ability to put in place two or three excellent editors who are trusted lieutenants and share his vision and his demands of journalistic excellence," Phillips wrote Katz and Norcross on April 1. She suggested there might be "considerable savings that could be achieved from dispensing with managers who do not have union protection who are mediocre at best."
Phillips told Katz and Norcross that bringing back Marimow would be "so exciting for the staff."
"He would attract the best people and immediately improve morale in the newsroom," Phillips wrote.
Hall, however, disagreed in an Oct. 7 email about the popularity of Marimow.
"Marimow does not have the support of most of the newsroom in spite of what Nancy Phillips says," Hall wrote IGM owners. "The informal nickname (from the rank and file) for several staffers is FOB, Friends of Bill. The Guild constantly gets complaints about favoritisms and operations in the newsroom from their members."
"I'm tremendously excited about returning, once again, to my home town and to The Inquirer," Marimow said in the statement. "My goal is to make sure that we're producing indispensable content -- in print and online -- that our audience in Philadelphia, South Jersey and the Pennsylvania suburbs will have to read. We have to be excellent in every nook and cranny of our coverage -- whether it's scrutinizing our schools, the quality of the Eagles draft choices, or the Van Gogh exhibition at The Philadelphia Art Museum."
The rollout of the new owners and the old editor went off without a hitch.
"Everybody' a suck-up," Phillips emailed Norcross on April 2, 2012. "Response in the newsroom has been mostly positive, so I would say you guys did a good job."
But there was one glitch.
Stan Wischnowski, who was being replaced as the top editor by Marimow, insisted that the Inquirer had to disclose the Katz-Phillips relationship in its news columns.
In a series of emails to Norcross, Phillips talked about her efforts to lobby editor Wischnowski to keep her relationship with Katz out of the Inquirer. Meanwhile, she simultaneously discussed the non-interference pledge regarding editorial.
Her relationship with Katz is "wholly irrelevant," she told Norcross on March 30, 2012. "We should talk about the pledge at some point and decide. And we need to be sure that some time between now and Monday, Lenfest is up to speed on the plans and is reading out of the same playbook in case reporters call him on Monday."
"Lewis, meanwhile, is really troubled, as am I, about the paper's looming decision to include our relationship in its biography of him," Phillips wrote Norcross on March 31, 2012. "Stan told me he thought it was newsworthy because he considers me one of the "top reporters" at the paper and because my stories 'have attracted national attention.' "
Phillips is the reporter who coaxed a tearful confession out of the guy who had arranged the murder of Carol Neulander, at the request of her husband, Cherry Hill Rabbi Fred Neulander. Phillips is also the reporter who outed former Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin as a child molester.
"She's the antithesis of a rough-hewn, monomaniacal investigative reporter," Bill Marimow told American Journalism Review about Nancy Phillips in 2001. "She's a very civilized, very cultured, very decent person."
"Although Phillips has an almost Victorian demeanor, she goes after the grittier stories,"Alicia C. Shephard wrote for AJR. Stories about a mayor who was linked to a drug-related murder, Camden's drug network and questionable patronage deals at the Delaware River Port Authority.
But Phillips was so upset about her paper's plans to disclose her relationship with Katz that she talked about resigning.
"I can't tell you how much I worry about the potential consequences of such a story," Phillips wrote Norcross, because of concern over "hurting a frail and profoundly ill woman," namely Katz's wife. "I have tried to dissuade Stan from this, and I might yet succeed," Phillips wrote. "But maybe not. If not, that may be too high a cost. Part of me wants to kill the whole deal over this."
"The relationship poses no conflict for the newspaper," Phillips wrote Norcross on March 31, 2012. "I have always stayed out of stories involving Lewis. Also argued that there was really no relevance to this, beyond gossip appeal."
Wischnowski "has not replied to my message, but in fairness, he is at a newspaper editors convention," Phillips wrote Norcross. "And it's also possible that he doesn't want an email trail. Still, I think he's scared and might come down on the side of disclosure lest he or anyone else there be accused of holding back 'the news.' So upsetting."
On April 2, 2012, Phillips wrote Norcross that her lobbying attempts had been unsuccessful.
"I offered to resign, she wrote. "It changed nothing. They're printing it ... Am thinking current position untenable under circumstances, which is sad because -- forgive me for saying so myself -- I am really good at what I do."
The Inquirer made no mention of the Katz-Phillips relationship in the main story on April 3, 2012, announcing the new ownership group's purchase of the two newspapers and philly.com website. But in a sidebar about Katz, near the bottom of the story, the paper wrote, "Katz and his wife, Marjorie, have two children. The couple have lived apart for many years. Katz is in a long-term relationship with Nancy Phillips, an award-winning Inquirer investigative reporter."
Talk about burying a story.
On May 24, 2012, Steve Volk of Philadelphia magazine wrote an online blog post headlined "Philly Journalism's New Power Couple."
"On one level, this passage is remarkably French --- identifying both Katz's wife and his mistress without so much as the literary equivalent of a raised eyebrow,"Volk wrote. "On another, it raises a host of questions, from exactly how these relationships work to what the heck will be going on at the Inquirer when one of its reporters is also a de facto owner."
But Phillips stayed on in her position as corporate head hunter. In an April 23, 2012 email, Phillips told then-CEO and Inky publisher Greg Osberg she was sending Tierney a "non-disclosure agreement" so he could "be available to help."
Tierney eventually negotiated a $25,000 a-month gig as a sales consultant that started in April 2013. He was fired earlier this month for sales results that were "considerably below expectations," according to a confidential IGM management analysis.
Phillips is now city editor of the Inquirer, but she hasn't been seen at the office this week.
Norcross and Hall aren't her only critics. On Nov. 6, Bill Ross, the executive director of the Newspaper Guild, took a swipe at Phillips, as well as Katz and Marimow, in an open letter to Lenfest.
"Through conversations with Lewis, it has become clear that his only plan for the company was to waste money on legal fees to bring his friend Bill Marimow back to a position in which many of my members, as well as industry observers, feel he is not equipped for," Ross told Lenfest.
Katz was also working "to bring back Brian Tierney who drove the company into bankruptcy and has nothing but distrust from my members," Ross wrote. Katz's other goal, Ross wrote, was to "make sure that his [Katz's] companion returns to a Guild job in the Inquirer newsroom."
This was amusing, Ross said, because Phillips "once conducted a byline count of her colleagues, breaking down how much each earned per story written and told the owners that her fellow journalists were paid too much."
Katz, in an interview with the Inquirer, called Ross's statement "a significant lapse of judgment riddled with inaccuracies." He accused the union official of "carrying George Norcross's water."
Today, the combatants will face off against each other in open court.
If Team Norcross is going after Nancy Phillips for alleged meddling, will Team Katz retaliate by going after Lexie Norcross?
If Phillips was meddling in the Inky newsroom on behalf of Katz, couldn't Katz's lawyers contend that George Norcross was meddling when he installed his daughter as a corporate executive overseeing philly.com?
Lexie Norcross, according to a source close to the situation, is not named on either witness list for today's hearing.
The way Lewis Katz explained it on the witness stand, the men who wanted to buy the Inquirer had a credibility problem.
At the time, the proposed new ownership group included former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, South Jersey political boss George Norcross, and Katz, himself a former Democratic party chairman from Cherry Hill.
The news media was raising lots of questions about the "strong political leanings" of the group, and whether those leanings would dictate editorial policy, Katz said. The reporters at the Inquirer were also uneasy over the prospect of becoming more of a house organ for the Democratic party than they already were. So what to do?
Katz divulged the winning formula, which he borrowed from the playbook of former Inky publisher Brian Tierney. First, Katz said, they had to go get "the best editor they could find," somebody whose mere name [or trophy case] would "remove the stigma" that a bunch of political hacks had just bought the Inky. The goal was "to bring in somebody who was beyond repute," Katz said.
Next, they had to come up with a pledge for all the new owners to take, a solemn oath not to meddle with the sacred editorial operations of the Inky, Daily News and philly.com. The pledge and an editor with a couple of Pulitzers was just the ticket to "calm the storm in the news media," Katz said.
It all sounded very cynical from the witness stand today as the Inky's new owners sparred in court over a motion to grant a mandatory injunction that would reinstate fired Inky Editor Bill Marimow and terminate Inky Publisher Bob Hall.
Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, two of the Inky's new owners, have filed suit in Philadelphia's Common Pleas Court seeking the mandatory injunction. The suit names as defendants Publisher Hall, and Interstate General Media [IGM], the company which purchased the two newspapers and the website for $55 million last year.
In their suit, Katz and Lenfest say Hall didn't have the authority to fire Marimow. They cite an operating agreement that specifies IGM is run by a two-member management committee overseeing "the day-today business operations of the company." The management committee "shall have the right, power, and authority to make decisions with respect to all business and operational matters," the agreement states.
The two members of the management committee are Katz and Norcross. Norcross approved the firing of Marimow by Hall; Katz said he wasn't consulted. So Katz and Lenfest are asking Judge Patricia McInerney to remedy the situation by bringing back Marimow and booting Hall.
In Courtroom 630 at City Hall, Katz and Lenfest were represented by five lawyers led by Richard A. Sprague. The Norcross faction was represented by eight lawyers led by Robert C. Heim and Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, who strolled into the courtroom alongside Norcross.
Katz told Marimow he was thinking about buying the Inquirer and wanted to hire Marimow to return as editor. Marimow, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, had been editor of the Inky from 2006 to 2010.
Marimow visited Katz at his home for further discussions. Next, Marimow, Norcross, Katz and Nancy Phillips all had lunch at Rembrandt's in Fairmount on April 3, 2012. It was the first time he met Norcross, Marimow said.
In a subsequent telephone conference, Marimow said, he was hired after consulting with owners Katz and Norcross, as well as Phillips, an Inky reporter who was Katz's girlfriend.
Marimow said he was hired by the management committee, namely Katz and Norcross. "They were hiring me and they would be the ones to hire and fire me," Marimow testified.
Marimow went through the list of what he needed to take the job: his salary request, a two-year contract, and the authority to hire his own top editors.
The response on the phone was "done, done and done," Marimow said.
But there was one problem. The publisher and CEO of the Inky's parent company at the time was Greg Osberg, who had "demoted me from editor to reporter" in 2010, Marimow testified.
The new owners worked out a deal where Marimow would report to Osberg, at Osberg's insistence, even though the two didn't exactly get along.
Marimow's next problem was a phone call he received a few hours later from Bob Hall, then CEO of the Inky's parent company.
Hall told Marimow "he had strongly opposed my return" because only 60 to 70 percent of the staff supported him, Marimow testified. Hall claimed that Marimow had a "reputation for disliking women" and "a reputation for disliking minorities," Marimow said, his voice rising in anger. Finally, Hall told Marimow he would be keeping "watch over him."
"I'd wondered whether I'd made a mistake in taking the job," Marimow said.
On Oct. 7, Hall told Marimow to meet him in Hall's office at 11 a.m. The session was billed as "Catch up with Bob," Marimow said. At the meeting, after some small talk, Hall told Marimow he was fired.
"Have you talked with all the owners?" Marimow said he responded to Hall. "I don't think what you're doing is legal or proper."
Marimow said if he was reinstated as editor, "It would alleviate a lot of the tension" in the Inky newsroom. Marimow testified he wants to return.
"I care deeply about the newspaper and the community," he said. "I know I can be effective."
And one group of new owners says the staff needs Marimow.
The hiring of Marimow "by the Management Committee was meant to bolster the newspaper staff's confidence after it had been drastically shaken by cost-cutting measures, a bankruptcy filing in 2009, and constant changes in management," says the lawsuit filed by Katz and Lenfest.
The next witness was Greg Osberg, former publisher and CEO, who was summoned by a subpoena. Osberg said details of the offer to hire Marimow were "given to me by Nancy Phillips."
"It was not my decision to hire Bill," Osberg said. "They [Katz and Norcross] had asked me to talk to Nancy to get the specifics."
Osberg said he realized the new owners seemed intent on "diminishing the role of the publisher." He said he not only was opposed to the hiring of Marimow, but he also didn't agree with the hiring of Brian Tierney and Mark Frisby as consultants. So he quit less than six weeks after the new ownership group took over, and was replaced by Hall.
Nancy Phillips was the next witness. On cross-examination, she was asked about emails sent to Norcross, where Phillips described Marimow's uneasiness about having to report to Osberg, the guy who had busted Marimow from editor to reporter. Phillips said that Marimow was concerned about being "overruled on editorial decisions and hires by Osberg."
In an email to Norcross, Phillips said she thought Marimow and Osberg would be able to get along, work out their differences, and "play nice in the sandbox."
When it came time to announce the hiring of the new editor at a press conference, Marimow asked Phillips in an email, "who shall I say hired me?"
In an email response, Phillips wrote Marimow, "Here's the official story." According to emails read in court by one of Norcross's lawyers, the "official story" was that publisher Osberg had hired Marmow. The lawyer asked Phillips, who had negotiated the deal with Marimow, if the "official story" was just a way to "get around the non-interference clause."
The implication was Phillips and Katz were using Osberg as a cover to hide their starring roles in hiring Marimow.
Phillips denied it, saying the pledge didn't apply to the hiring of a new editor; that was a business decision, not an editorial decision. As such, according to the IGM operating agreement, it was under the purview of the management committee, namely Katz and Norcross.
"We had discussed the pledge in depth," Phillips testified. "The hiring and firing of an editor would not be affected by it."
She was more concerned about Osberg's feelings rather than breaking the non-interference pledge.
"We wanted to be certain that he was not embarrassed," she said of Osberg.
On cross-examination, Phillips denied a defense lawyer's suggestion that the "official story" was a "fabrication" she invented to get around the non-interference pledge.
"Selection of an editor is an important business decision," she said. She denied she was spinning a phony story for the benefit of the press.
At this point, the no-meddling pledge sounded like a public relations gimmick. If hiring and firing an editor isn't an editorial decision, what is? And what about the spectacle of an Inky reporter cooking up a phony story with the editor she had just hired to deliberately mislead other reporters?
On April 5, 2012, the Inquirer reported that IGM had rehired Marimow to return as editor.
"Bill Marimow is one of the most respected journalists in the nation, and his return reinforces the company's commitment to aggressive investigative reporting," Osberg, CEO of Philadelphia Media Network, was quoted as saying in the Inquirer.
"Marimow said he had been in discussions with Osberg and several members of the new ownership group in recent weeks," the story said. "I believe the local owners may have suggested it would be great if I could return," Marimow was quoted as saying. "Now, I'm coming back."
Back in court today, Gerry Lenfest testified that the Inky still needed Marimow.
"I know Bill," he said. "I know his value to the Inquirer."
Lenfest said he was the chairman of IGM's board of directors, but that the board never meets. "Everything's done under the direction of Mr. Norcross," Lenfest griped.
Lenfest agreed it was "a business decision to terminate an editor," not an editorial decision. "That's a business decision," he insisted.
When Lewis Katz took the stand, he testified that he had put up "the same amount of money as Mr. Norcross," $16 million, so he wanted to have "equal powers." That was the logic behind the management committee. In dealing with Norcross, Katz said he wanted "blocking rights."
The no-meddling pledge, Katz said, applied to "news decisions or news operations."
"We never said we were never gonna not hire the editor."
Katz disagreed with Hall over Marimow's support among the troops. Katz estimated that Marimow had the confidence of 90 percent of the newsroom. The other 10 percent was upset because "he works them so hard," Katz said.
Testimony in this sorry spectacle is expected to resume tomorrow and wind up before lunch time.
By Ralph Cipriano
|George Norcross (center)|
Judge Patricia McInerney today denied a motion for a mandatory injunction that would have fired Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall. She took under advisement a request for another mandatory injunction that would have reinstated Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow.
The judge's rulings left Hall, the guy who fired Marimow, still in office while Marimow remains in a state of suspended animation. It was a victory for George Norcross, the South Jersey political boss who heads up a majority slate of new Inky owners. And it was a defeat for Lewis Katz, former owner of the New York Nets, who heads up a minority group of owners.
A lawsuit filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court claimed there had never been a "mutual agreement to further renew" publisher Hall's contract past an expiration date of Aug. 31. The rehiring of Hall had to be approved by a two-member management committee consisting of Norcross and Katz, the Katz lawsuit said.
|Lewis Katz (center), with Nancy Phillips and son Drew|
Katz's case fell apart in court today after lawyers for Norcross entered into evidence a May 17th email exchange between Katz and Hall that stated Katz had agreed to retain Hall as publisher until Dec. 31.
The judge decided there was "no clear right to remove" Hall, said David H. Pittinsky of Ballard Spahr, a lawyer who represented Hall. The attempt "to oust [Hall] has now been rejected by the court," Pittinsky said. He declined comment on the status of Marimow.
Richard A. Sprague, the lead lawyer for Katz, left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Katz left early. Marimow declined comment, saying he didn't want to talk until the case was all over.
On the witness stand today, Katz testified that former Inky publisher and CEO Greg Osberg was not a fan of Bill Marimow's. "He was vehemently opposed" to bringing back Marimow as editor, Katz testified.
As for Bob Hall, who succeeded Osberg as publisher, "he was more vehemently opposed" to re-hiring Marimow, Katz said.
Did this kind of strident opposition give you any concern about bringing back Marimow as editor, Katz was asked.
"None sir," Katz replied.
Katz recalled a meeting with Hall where the publisher told him he had health problems.
"He got very emotional," Katz recalled. Hall said he had to "leave his job and he must quit by year's end."
Katz said he repeatedly told Hall he wanted to replace him with a full-time publisher. But then he found out that Hall had become a part-time publisher who had apparently worked out a deal with Norcross to stay on the job.
"He [Hall] was very evasive" about explaining that deal to him, Katz said. Katz said he never approved the decision to retain Hall a part-time publisher. He complained that Bob Hall spent the winter in Florida and frequently called into company board meetings from a cell phone on a golf course. Often, Hall's cell phone would run out of batteries during long meetings, Katz said.
|Gerry Lenfest and Bill Marimow|
"Mr. Norcross wanted Mr. Marimow out," Katz testified. Hall felt the same way, Katz said.
But Katz wanted Marimow to stay, and so he explained on the witness stand how he drew a line in the sand. Katz said he told Hall, "this is the rubicon. If you try to do something here, I'm gonna file a suit."
Katz said that Norcross was determined to fire Marimow. Katz said Norcross told him "it was the worst decision he made in the shortest period of time" to hire Marimow.
But Katz didn't agree.
"I felt Mr. Marimow was doing a wonderful job," Katz testified.
Katz said at a meeting in July, he had balked at Hall's plan to fire three of Marimow's top editors.
"I didn't really believe that it was Mr. Hall who wanted these things done," Katz testified. He said he believed that Norcross was behind the proposed firings. Katz said he suspected that the three editors targeted for firings had been singled out because they had clashed with a member "of my co-managing partner's family.
It appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to Norcross's daughter, Lexie. She's the 26-year-old VP of digital operations and corporate services for Interstate General Media [IGM], owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com. Several Inky sources say that Lexie Norcross was in charge of the philly.com website and frequently crossed swords with Inky editors.
Katz testified that Hall had also targeted Nancy Phillips to be fired. Phillips is currently the Inquirer city editor who is Katz's longtime companion. But in his private emails, Bob Hall had repeatedly claimed that Katz and Phillips were interfering with Hall's plans for the newsroom by encouraging Marimow to drag his feet on changes Hall wanted to make.
It was quite a reversal of fortunes for Phillips, the Inquirer's award-winning investigative reporter. The previous year, Phillips, then just a reporter and a member of the Newspaper Guild, had worked as a corporate head hunter for the Inky's new owners, recruiting Marimow as editor.
From the ranks of a reporter, Phillips was elevated under the new ownership to assistant to the publisher. Then she was promoted to city editor. Her annual salary was boosted from $78,865 to $106,000 at a time when 550 other Guild employees, as well as about 30 non-union managers, were being hit with 2 1/2 half percent pay decreases, plus two weeks of annual unpaid furlough.
"Miss Phillips, who's been there 30 years," Katz said, and "suddenly" she was "to be fired."
Publisher Bob Hall testified that at a meeting in July, Marimow was informed that his "job was in jeopardy" if he didn't make some changes. Hall wanted Marimow to get rid of some top editors, and use the savings to hire young reporters to cover the suburbs. But Marimow balked at getting rid of his top lieutenants.
The key email exchange between Hall and Katz took place on May 17, 2013.
At 6:33 a.m., Katz wrote Hall, Norcross, Lenfest, associate publisher Mike Lorenca and three others, "I am not in favor of hiring a CFO UNTIL WE HIRE A CEO. I've expressed this to Bob, so I assume he's told George. I think the new CEO should have the prerogative of picking his subordinate since presumably he will be working for him."
At 8:19 a.m. Hall sent an email back to Katz, which he copied to Norcross, Lenfest, Lorenca and three others: "Lewis and I did talk about this. I indicated and he agreed that we would start search for new CEO in the fall and I would be around until the end of the year."
"I indicated to him that it is not necessary for CEO to pick his team as it is done both ways all the time." Mike [Lorenca] and I believe that we should start process. So the owners can decide on the direction."
When shown the emails, Katz said he must have talked it over with Hall, and agreed to let him stay on until Dec. 31.
|Lewis Katz and Richard A. Sprague|
The judge still has to decide Hall had the right to fire Marimow, or whether that decision was up to IGM's management committee, which consists of two feuding members, Katz and Norcross.
The judge also has to decide whether the Inquirer would suffer irreparable harm if Marimow is not reinstated as editor.
Marimow is working under the terms of a two-year contract that pays him $257,000 a year. The editor had offered to take a 20 percent pay cut when he took the job last year, to set a self-sacrificing example for the troops and management to follow, but IGM's new owners told him it wouldn't be necessary.
Since he was fired Oct. 7, Marimow is still getting paid. His contract expires April 30.
While Marimow's status remains up in the air, lawyers for Norcross offered to reinstate Brian Tierney as a sales consultant, at Katz's request.
Tierney was getting paid $25,000 a month as a sales consultant, but did not bring in any revenues during the first four months of his contract, according to a confidential management analysis. Tierney, a former Inky publisher and owner, was originally recruited to return by Phillips, at at time when she was working as a corporate head hunter. Katz had complained on the witness stand that he was never consulted before Norcross fired Tierney.
That prompted Norcross's lawyers to tell Katz in the courtroom they would bring Tierney back if that's what Katz wanted. So do you want to bring back Tierney, Katz was asked.
"Absolutely," Katz replied. But it was hard to tell whether the exchange was just for show, and whether anybody at the struggling company really wanted Tierney back as an under-peforming sales consultant for $25,000 a month.
The feuding partners had little to say to each other during today's hearing. But as he was leaving the courtroom, H.F. "Gerry Lenfest, the owner who had filed suit with Katz, turned to Norcross and said, "Good night, George."
"Good night, Gerry," Norcross replied.
Testimony resumes tomorrow in the case at 10 a.m. in Courtroom 630 at City Hall.
By Ralph Cipriano
For The Philadelphia Inquirer, it's all coming apart in Courtroom 630.
The combatants don't seem to have any self-awareness about how they're hurting themselves or tarnishing the brand they're fighting over.
So far this week, we've been treated to the spectacle of an award-winning investigative reporter and an editor with two Pulitzer Prizes getting together to concoct a phony cover story about which company official supposedly hired that editor.
We've seen a pledge taken by the new owners not to meddle in editorial operations revealed as a cheap PR trick. The truth is, the new owners are having a competition to see who can meddle the most in the newsroom. But first, they have to declare that every decision, such as hiring a new editor, is a business decision rather than an editorial decision. Then they can dispense with that worthless non-interference pledge and meddle to their hearts' content.
Today in Courtroom 630, we saw a lawyer for a fired editor toss some dirty newsroom linen at a lame duck publisher, the kind of dirty linen that libel lawyers can only dream about. All in the name of victory.
What a mess. See that building in the picture above, formerly known as the Ivory Tower of Truth? Like a grand dame down on her luck, the Inky has vacated her ancestral home, and now she's holed up in a vacant old department store on Market Street. The value of the city's paper of record has dropped in just six years from $515 million to $55 million. When they get through in Courtroom 630, it might be time for a flea market.
The fun started this morning when Inquirer publisher Bob Hall was being questioned about the legal opinion he solicited from the Cozen O'Connor law firm that said that Publisher Hall had the right to fire Editor Bill Marimow.
That's what the lawsuit in Courtroom 630 is ostensibly about. A majority group of owners led by George Norcross III gave Bob Hall the green light to fire Bill Marimow. A minority group of owners led by Lewis Katz and G.F. "Gerry" Lenfest subsequently filed suit, asking a judge to reinstate Marimow and terminate Hall.
So far, the judge has denied an injunction that would have terminated Hall, and taken under advisement an injunction that would have brought back Marimow. That means Hall is back in business as a lame-duck publisher until Dec. 31, while Marimow's fate remains up in the air. Meanwhile, the legal death match continues in Courtroom 630 over what the case is really about, namely a wrestling match among rich guys for control.
As George Norcross allegedly warned union workers, "Trust me, this is not going to be pretty."
Today in court, lawyers for the Katz-Lenfest team were cross-examing Hall about that legal opinion he obtained without the knowledge of the minority ownership faction.
Who told Hall to hire the Cozen law firm?
"Mr. Norcross," Hall testified. "He made the first contact" with Cozen.
Did Hall know that Norcross's insurance agency provided insurance to the Cozen law firm?
"I did not know that, no sir," Hall replied.
Norcross wasn't in the courtroom today. He's the executive chairman of Connor Strong & Buckelew. According to a source close to the situation, Connor Strong & Buckelew is an insurance broker, so "Cozen doesn't really purchase insurance 'from' them -- but rather through them."
When you're a damsel in distress like the Inky, however, and you eagerly hop in bed with every suitor that comes along, expect to field questions the next morning about your virtue.
But hey, they've already done worse.
Let's see, in the last round of corporate romance, the Inky fell for pitch man Brian Tierney, and Ed Coryell, head of the Philadelphia Carpenters Union, who was sitting on a fat pension fund.
People noticed that after Coryell became an Inky owner, all editorial criticism of his goon squad down at the Convention Center ceased. Tierney left an even bigger public stench. He's the former spinmeister for the late great archbishop of Philadelphia, some guy named Bevilacqua who, according to a grand jury report, successfully orchestrated a coverup that kept 63 predator priests out of jail, guys in collars who had raped and sexually abused hundreds of innocent children.
Tierney drove the Inky into bankruptcy before bailing with a $300,000 golden parachute; then he came back earlier this year to take a $25,000-a-month sales consulting gig. Over the first four months of his contract, Tierney got paid $87,500 in exchange for bringing in zero new accounts and zero new revenues.
Norcross fired Tierney; Katz wants to bring Tierney back as a salesman, and pay him more money.
Katz's buddy, Lenfest, has proposed bringing Tierney back as publisher. Norcross has said, over my dead body.
Next, the Inky was getting ready to jump into bed with former Governor Ed Rendell. Fast Eddie had already bought the flowers, warmed up the Barry White music, and he had the cheap champagne on ice. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and they convinced the governor to take a powder for the good of the team. But hey, let's welcome to the party George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and Lewis Katz, a top Democratic fundraiser.
Who's meddling more? Katz and his girlfriend, the Inky city editor? Or Norcross and his daughter, the 26-year-old corporate VP who oversees philly.com?
That's what the legal combat in Courtroom 630 has come down to.
During cross-examination, Katz's lawyers asked Bob Hall if it was true that Katz blocked Norcross's candidate for president of philly.com? He did not name that candidate, but everybody in the room was guessing Lexie.
And was it true, Mr. Hall, that Norcross retaliated by torpedoing the next three candidates for president of philly.com that had been recruited by an independent search group?
"I don't know if that's a fact," Hall responded.
If this is a street fight, you have to like the odds of the guy who takes out three of your guys for every one of his.
The next line of questioning by Joseph R. Podraza Jr., on behalf of the Katz ownership faction, began with, isn't it a fact Mr. Hall, that you yourself like to meddle in the newsroom? The lawyer brought up one example of alleged "interference."
Mr. Hall, didn't you take it upon yourself to go out in the Inky newsroom and meddle with editor Marimow, Podraza said. Didn't you take Marimow to task for an investigative story that targeted Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery and his wife, for some legal referrals she made?
Mr. Hall, didn't you tell Marimow that you "did not believe it [the story] belonged on Page 1?"Podraza asked.
Mr. Hall, didn't you tell Marimow the story was "seriously flawed" because it "implied" that both McCaffery and his wife "had done something wrong?"
To the disappointment of libel lawyers everywhere, the questions Podraza asked were objected to by team Norcross's lawyers. The judge shut down the line of inquiry by sustaining the objections.
Podraza, however, had another fastball coming.
Mr. Hall, didn't you tell another employee, Podraza asked, that the upcoming ownership battle between Katz and Norcross was going to be like "the Allies vs. the Axis powers?" Mr. Hall, didn't you say that "No one can be Switzerland?" And, Mr. Hall, didn't you say, "I'm with Norcross."
When Podraza repeated the question, the lawyer claimed that Hall's alleged comments were made to associate publisher Mike Lorenca.
Hall was wondering whether Katz's lawyers had any of this stuff down on paper.
"I would have to see where it said that," the wily publisher said.
Shortly after, the judge sent everybody home for the day.
The Inky death match resumes at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Courtroom 630, when George Norcross is expected to take the witness stand. Come early if you want a ringside seat.
By Ralph Cipriano
Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, are on trial for racketeering conspiracy. It's a leftover charge from a broader racketeering case that ended in February when both defendants were acquitted of most of the charges against them.
"That helped me pay my utility bills," she said.
On cross-examination, Ed Jacobs, on behalf of Ligambi, pointed out that Burke was still in business at Coley's, and so was her poker machine, because nobody in the government cares about punishing anybody except mobsters.
"You're not in the slammer?" he asked.
No, she said.
And the government can take her machine back any time if they want it, she added.
He kept up to three Dodge City video poker machines in his tavern.
"They've been around forever," he said. "It helps pay the bills."
DiNic's is a neighborhood bar that serves roast pork and beef sandwiches. His customers come in, grab a beer, and play video poker. If they're lucky, they win cash payouts of between $20 and $300.
The customers usually lose, but they keep playing anyway, DiClaudio said. "In the end, they're gonna play to make up their losses."
The usual split, DiClaudio said, was he kept 70 percent of "the drop," or earnings from the machines, which usually amounted to between $500 and $600 a week. The vending machine company got the remaining 30 percent.
"I was responsible for payouts," DiClaudio said. Despite the payouts, "It's a revenue stream."
Back in 2007, mobster Gaeton Lucibello stopped into DiNic's to pitch his company's video poker machines.
"Give us a shot," he asked DiClaudio.
DiClaudio said he had known Lucibello for a long time.
"His sister lived across the street from my aunt," he explained. Lucibello was a real gentleman as a customer. He'd come in, order a couple of drinks, and leave a $100 bill on the bar, saying keep the change. Lucibello's generosity made him a popular customer.
So DiClaudio decided to rent two video poker machines from JMA, and he kept one from his old vendor.
When state troopers raided his tavern in 2009, they confiscated all the video poker machines and arrested DiClaudio.
After he got out of jail, DiClaudio got the machines replaced "within a day or so," he said.
"Did you continue to use the machines for illegal gambling," the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," he said.
On cross-examination, lawyer Jacobs on behalf of Ligambi, asked DiClaudio if he ever had to do any jail time for running an illegal gambling operation.
No, he said.
"You admit to 20 years of video gaming and it doesn't come back to bite you?" Jacobs asked.
Lucibello is now serving a 51-month prison term after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges.
The last witness of the day was Pennsylvania Trooper Glenn Hopey.
Hopey told how in 2009 he raided 22 bars, restaurants and other fine establishments throughout South Philly, including Grumpy's Tavern at 800 Cross Street.
"There were a total of three [video poker machines] that came out of Grumpy's," the trooper said.
Pictures of the machines were flashed on the screens of several court computers.
"It appears to be a Dodge City," the trooper testified.
The trooper was just warming to the subject of the raid on Grumpy's and other establishments when Judge Eduardo C. Robreno announced he'd heard enough.
"Let's just adjourn," the judge said. "It's been a long week."
By George Anastasia
They ate and drank and laughed and joked.
They offered a toast to "all the good guys!"
And, the prosecution contends, they discussed mob business.
The jury in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi got to listen in today to secretly recorded conversations from a four-hour lunch Ligambi shared with nine other mobsters at a posh New Jersey restaurant in May 2010.
The defense has portrayed the session as a "social" gathering. Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, calls it a "meeting of the board of directors of organized crime."
The conspiracy charge that Ligambi, 74, is fighting, could hinge on which version the anonymously chosen jury decides is accurate.
The toast was offered by Joseph "Scoops" Licata, one of three members of the Philadelphia crime family who attended the meeting with Ligambi. The six other mobsters were members of New York's powerful Gambino crime family, including crime family soldier Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli.
While no one knew it at the time, Stefanelli, then 67, was wired for sound. The mobster had begun cooperating with the FBI a year earlier and had recorded dozens of conversations. The recording of the lunch at LaGriglia, a restaurant just off the Garden State Parkway in Kenilworth, is one of the first Stefanelli tapes to be played publicly. Stefanelli committed suicide in April 2012. (See The Saga Of Nicky Skins, Bigtrial, Nov. 11, 2013).
The LaGriglia tape was introduced as evidence in Ligambi's first trial which ended in February. A jury convicted four of the seven defendants in that case, but hung on conspiracy charges against Ligambi and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi. Both are being retried.
Licata, 71, was found not guilty.
Prosecutors hope the LaGriglia meeting will establish Ligambi's leadership role in the crime family, a key element in supporting the racketeering charge against him. Borgesi, 50, was in prison at the time. The tape is not expected to have any impact on the charges against him.
Snippets of conversation culled from the four-hour lunch were played with mob expert and former FBI Agent Joaquin "Big Jack" Garcia on the witness stand. Garcia, working undercover as Jackie Falcone, had infiltrated a crew of the Gambino organization in 2002 and was eventually proposed for membership in the crime family.
He spent the morning outlining mob protocol and structure for the jury, then was asked to comment on conversations picked up on Stefanelli's body wire.
When Stefanelli introduced John Gambino as "caporegime...with the administration," Garcia said that indicated that Gambino was not only a captain in the crime family, but also a member of a ruling group known as the administration.
In turn, Licata is heard on tape introducing Ligambi as "our acting boss," a designation that placed Ligambi at the top of the family tree. Ligambi was running the family while mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was serving a 14-year sentence for racketeering.
But not every comment needed to be explained.
When Ligambi referred to mobster-turned-informant Pete "Pete the Crumb" Caprio as "that piece of shit," the jury didn't need clarification. Caprio's testimony earlier in the trial was interrupted because he broke his knee. He is expected to be recalled later.
And when Ligambi talked about "this rat motherfucker Ralph," the only thing the jury needed to be told was that Ralph was former mob boss Ralph Natale, who like Caprio, became a government witness.
How well the tapes play into the conspiracy charge is an open question. Clearly they were not enough for the jury in the first trial. None of the discussions focus on the gambling and loansharking charges that are the basis for the conspiracy the government alleges Ligambi orchestrated.
But the prosecution believes the tape establishes Ligambi's role as the boss.
Earlier in the day, Garcia had told the jury "in the mob, money...flows up, never down." Members and associates have to "kick up" a piece of their earnings to their capo who in turn kicks up to the boss, he said.
That's the chain that the government alleges existed in the Philadelphia crime family from 1999 through 2012. And during that period, authorities contend, Ligambi was at the top of that chain.
Garcia is expected back on the stand to face cross-examination when the trial resumes Thursday. The veteran FBI agent, who co-wrote a book "Making Jack Falcone" about his exploits undercover, was challenged repeatedly by the defense during that first trial and will likely experience more of the same this time around.
Shortly before he took the stand, the affable and burly former agent (he appears to weigh more than 300 pounds) just shook his head about the prospect of testifying again.
"I'd rather be undercover," he said.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
After more than three hours of fruitless back room negotiations, a clearly frustrated Judge Patricia McInerney emerged from her chambers this afternoon to tell spectators that settlement talks in the war over The Philadelphia Inquirer weren't going anywhere.
The judge said she appreciated "everybody's hard work," but unfortunately, nothing was resolved, she said. "Unfortunately, we'll be coming back" for more testimony.
At issue was whether the judge would grant an injunction to reinstate fired Inky Editor Bill Marimow. Lawyers for Inky owners Lewis Katz argued today in court that Katz was denied his rights as a member of a management committee overseeing the daily operations of the newspaper when he wasn't consulted on the firing of Marimow. Katz's lawyers also contended that if Marimow wasn't returned to his editor's chair, the Inquirer would be irreparably harmed.
Defense lawyers for George Norcross, another Inky owner, rested their case today without calling any witnesses. Norcross's lawyers concluded the Katz team hadn't met their burden of proof. The Norcross team has argued that Publisher Bob Hall, clearly on the Norcross side in the ownership war, had the right to can Marimow. They also pointed out that the Inquirer kept on publishing during Marimow's absence, and even won a recent international award for front page newspaper design.
The settlement talks were hard to decipher, as the feuding owners and their dueling teams of lawyers kept shuttling in and out of the courtroom, and in and out of the judge's chambers for private confabs, when they weren't caucusing out in the hallway.
Lawyers were seen carrying around copies of a document with the heading, "Agreement," but apparently it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.
If body language is any guide, Norcross was smiling and looking upbeat all day while Katz looked grim, and at one point, was overheard telling his lawyers, "I don't want to go back there" again, referring to the judge's chambers. If there was a lone holdout, the betting in the peanut gallery was on Katz.
Bob Hall has testified that as publisher of the Inquirer, he had the authority to fire Marimow. As the newspaper's publisher for 15 years, Hall said he had hired six editors, and fired two editors, including Marimow.
Hall said he had recently rehired Michael Days as editor of the Daily News.
But the Katz legal team put Katz back on the witness stand today and asked him who hired Days as editor.
"Mr. Norcross and myself," Katz testified.
Katz and Norcross are the two members of a management committee that is supposed to oversee all business decisions at the two newspapers, as well as philly.com.
On cross examination, Katz was asked if he had anything in writing to support his contention that he, and not Bob Hall, had hired Days.
Robert C. Heim, lead lawyer for the Norcross team, argued that Katz had signed a non-interference pledge to stay out of the editorial operations of the newsroom. And yet Katz had testified that he had blocked Publisher Bob Hall's attempts to fire three of Marimow's top assistant editors. And Katz was still insisting that he had the right to weigh in on the decision to fire Marimow.
"If you can fire newsroom employees, that would control the editorial content of a newspaper," Heim argued.
Heim said the reason Katz's companion, Nancy Phillips, concocted a cover story that then-publisher Greg Osberg had hired Marimow was because "they knew they were in violation" of the non-interference pledge.
Phillips, then an Inky reporter, handled the early negotiations to rehire Marimow. She and Marimow subsequently got together and cooked up what Phillips described as "the official story," which was that it was Osberg who had hired Marimow.
Heim read back testimony where he asked Phillips on the witness stand if the Osberg-hired-Marimow story was a fabrication, and then he read back her answer: "This is as I explained, yes."
David H. Pittinsky, a lawyer for Bob Hall, said that Marimow's contract expires May 1, so it didn't make any sense to disrupt the company by bringing back Marimow for three and a half months.
But Joseph R. Podraza, a lawyer for the Katz team, continued to argue that the Inquirer would be irreparably harmed if Marimow did not return. Podraza also said that Katz would have been deprived of his voting rights and full privileges as a company owner if the judge decided Marimow could be fired without Katz's input.
The judge gave no time table for when she would issue her decision.
Neither the feuding lawyers, nor their lawyers or publicists had any thing to say as they left the courtroom.
Norcross and his legal team engaged in a wind sprint down the long hallway, toward the elevators. David Sell of the Inquirer caught Norcross along the way. And Norcross had something to say about why his defense team called no witnesses.
"The case that was made by the plaintiffs demonstrated that Bob Hall acted properly," Norcross told Sell, referring to Katz's legal team.
I asked Norcross if it was true that he wasn't the holdout owner on the proposed agreement. Norcross, in mid-sprint, replied that he couldn't publicly address that question right now.
Bill Chadwick, a lawyer for Bill Marimow, was the only legal combatant to address the media.
Chadwick said his client needed to be reinstated because "Bill Marimow stands for independence and excellence" in journalism.
Marimow, Chadwick said, made the Inquirer a "credible newspaper."
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By George Anastasia
It was Mob History 101, a primer on the wantonly violent and consistently treacherous Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra.
Jurors in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi got nearly four hours of the murderous and mundane today as the trial entered its third week. With mob expert and former FBI agent Joaquin "Big Jack" Garcia on the stand and Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., conducting a lengthy and detailed cross-examination, the anonymously chosen jury took a trip down a bloody memory lane.
Some highlights (or lowlights depending on your point of view):
-- Mob boss Angelo Bruno was shotgunned to death in March 1980, a hit that destabilized the once smoothly run organization. Bruno's consigliere, Antonio "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, was behind the murder of the so-called Docile Don and thought he had the approval of the New York-based Mafia Commission. He didn't. On that, Garcia and Jacobs agreed.
"He thought he was going to be knighted as head of the family," Garcia said. "Instead he was tortured and killed and money was left in every orifice of his body."
-- South Philadelphia steak shop owner and one-time high level bookmaker Danny D'Ambrosio should have been killed, under strict mob rules, for plotting with North Jersey mobster Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio (who later became a government witness) to murder Ligambi, his current co-defendant and nephew George Borgesi and then crime family consigliere Steven Manzone in the late 1990s. Caprio had the approval of three of the New York crime families, who supported what was to be his takeover of the Philadelphia organization. (The plot was never carried out because Caprio was arrested.)
But today D'Ambrosio operates his steak shop about two blocks from Ligambi's Packer Park townhouse.
Garcia conceded that under typical mob protocol, D'Ambrosio should be dead.
"He must have gotten a pass," said the burly former FBI agent. "I don't have inside information as to why (he) has a pass, but he does."
-- The attempted murder of Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. in Dante & Luigi's Restaurant on Halloween night 1989 was, after the Bruno murder, the "most notorious hit in the history" of the Philadelphia crime family, Jaocbs said.
"It's right up there," Garcia conceded, adding that Joey Merlino was the shooter that night.
On that Jacobs and Garcia clashed. Garcia said he was repeating what other mobsters had said in tapped conversations. Jacobs said the Florida-based Merlino has never been charged with that crime. Jacobs has represented Merlino in the past and has won acquittals on murder charges in both a racketeering trial and a murder trial.
Garcia also said he believes Merlino, 50, continues to run the Philadelphia family from Florida and that even when Ralph Natale was the titular head of the organization in the mid 1990s, Merlino was in fact the boss.
Natale, Garcia said, was a "straw boss," a boss in name only. "Merlino ran the streets...still does, even as we speak. That's my opinion," Garcia said.
Jacobs and Garcia debated dozens of other issues during the cross-examination with the defense attorney demonstrating detailed recall of events, cases and testimony stretching back more than 20 years. Jacobs is considered one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the Philadelphia - South Jersey area and has represented several major mob figures over the years.
Garcia, who retired after 26 years in the FBI, also had a stellar career working undercover and infiltrating organized crime and drug dealing networks. The two argued about mob protocol, agreed that there is a difference between a racketeer and a gangster (a gangster is more vicious and violent) and disagreed over what has emerged as one of the central issues in the case.
Jacobs has referred repeatedly to a meeting at a North Jersey restaurant in May 2010 as a "social"
The government contends that the session was a meeting of the leaders of the Philadelphia mob and the Gambino crime family and has used conversations secretly recorded by a cooperating witness to build the conspiracy charge against Ligambi.
Jacobs has pointed out that none of the tapes include discussions about crimes being planned or scores being settled. Garcia conceded as much, but he said the meeting in and of itself -- given the attendees -- was a "RICO conspiracy."
"It was a very important meeting," Garcia said. It was, he added, two organized crime families engaged in "relationship building."
The jury has heard snippets of nearly two dozen conversations from meetings at LaGriglia and The American Bistro, a pub in Belleville.
On one tape, Ligambi brings up the D'Ambrosio issue in a joking way. He told those sharing lunch that D'Ambrosio's father "comes over my house about three or four years ago. Said the FBI said you was gonna kill my son. He was telling me this on the step. I said, `What the fuck you talkin' about? Don't ever come around this house again. I don't know what you're talking about.' I mean, that's the kind of nuts you're dealing with. You know what I mean?"
Ligambi's comment underscored a point that was one of the underlying themes in Jacobs' cross-examination.
As he did in Ligambi's first trial, which ended with a hung jury on the conspiracy count, Jacobs appears to be trying to draw a distinction between Ligambi and the mob bosses in Philadelphia who came before him.
At one point he ticked off 15 murders and attempted murders that were part of the racketeering case against Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo in 1988 and nine murders and attempted murders that were part of the 1995 case against John Stanfa.
"In this indictment," he asked Garcia, "there isn't a murder or an attempted murder, is there? Or a gun or a knife or a slap in the face?"
The defense has argued that the prosecution, desperate to make a case after a 12-year investigation turned up precious little, hung a racketeering conspiracy charge around what amounts to second rate gambling activity.
Garcia, responding with what has been the prosecution's theme, said that violence wasn't necessary during Ligambi's reign because the crime family's reputation -- built by Scarfo and Stanfa -- was already well established.
While the lawyer and the witness disagreed on several major issues, there was consensus when they discussed food. Jacobs said that mobsters often meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner and "late night snacks" and asked Garcia if, during the two and one-half years he worked undercover as an associate of Gambino crime family capo Greg DePalma, that was the normal routine.
Garcia said it was.
"In fact," Jacobs said, "you gained 90 pounds in those two and one-half years."
Later, when a discussion turned to antipasto, Jacobs and Garcia again shared a laugh. Earlier in his testimony Garcia, who was born in Cuba, said he had to study Siclian food and culture when he posed as a Jack Falcone, a supposed Sicilian, to get close to DePalma.
"You know something about antipasto, then? " Jacobs asked.
"I've had my share of antipasto," Garcia responded.
"You've had everybody's share," said Jacobs.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
By George Anastasia
|Bent Finger Lou|
Now it's personal.
When Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello took the witness stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi, the tone of the three-week-old trial shifted.
This was no longer an expert gambling witness or a beleaguered bar owner with a poker machine or an FBI agent interpreting secretly recorded conversations. This was Borgesi's one-time friend and, if the government is to believed, his chief partner in crime.
Monacello and Borgesi go back 30 years. They know a lot about one another. And much of it will get laid out for the jury. As he did at the first trial, Monacello, 47, began to paint a verbal portrait of his underworld involvement with both defendants.
It's not a pretty picture.
Bent Finger Lou identified Ligambi, 74, as the kingpin of the local crime family.
"Joe Ligambi told me on several occasions, "'I'm the boss,'" Monacello said, affecting a belligerent tone as he repeated the phrase. "'I'm the boss.'"
But it was his description of Borgesi, 50, that offered the most detailed and the most troubling personal insights.
Borgesi, he said, bragged about being a "gangster" and claimed to have been involved in 11 murders. "I'm a professional," he said Borgesi told him.
Describing himself as an enforcer for the mob capo, he told the jury how he had assaulted a contractor who ran afoul of the organization; how he used a baseball bat to split open the head of a member of the 10th and Oregon gang, and how he took a group of 12 to 15 men to a bar in Delaware County to intimidate two bookmakers who were scheduled to testify in a 2001 mob trial.
All of that, he said, was carried out on Borgesi's orders.
Dressed in a gray, pinstriped suit, white shirt and tie, Monacello was focused, but decidedly less arrogant as he retold the same stories he had provided in the first trial that ended earlier this year with a hung jury on the conspiracy charge that Ligambi and Borgesi are again fighting.
He said he met Borgesi when Borgesi was 17 and he was 14. He said he became a member of his mob crew about 10 years later and handled bookmaking, loansharking and extortion. He also said he and Borgesi would steal cars together in collaboration with an auto body shop operator who used to make copies of customers' car keys and give them to Borgesi.
Being part of organized crime, Monacello told the jury, was "a license to steal."
"You could stick your hand in anybody's pocket," he said Borgesi told him.
He called Borgesi a "maniac" and a killer whom others referred to as "The Fireman."
"Wherever he went, he started fires," Monacello explained. "He caused trouble."
Authorities allege that after Borgesi was jailed on racketeering charges in 2000, Monacello ran his gambling and loansharking operation. Borgesi was convicted in 2001 in that unrelated racketeering case and sentencted to 14 years in prison. The conspiracy charge in the current case is built largely around the allegation that, from prison, Borgesi continued to operate in the underworld.
Monacello, authorities allege, was Borgesi's street-level operative.
The defense, as it did in the first trial, is expected to argue that Monacello used Borgesi' name and reputation to enhance his own money-making underworld schemes and that Borgesi was unaware of what was going on.
The jury in the first trial acquitted Borgesi of 13 counts of gambling and loansharking that were based primarily on Monacello's testimony. But it hung on a final conspiracy charge, resulting in the retrial that began earlier this month.
Whether Monacello's story plays differently with the current jury could determine Borgesi's fate. Unlike Ligambi, who faces charges built around testimony and secretly recorded conversations, Borgesi's case revolves around Monacello and another government informant, Anthony Aponick, who is expected to testify within the next two weeks.
Monacello spent about two hours on the witness stand and is due back when the trial resumes Monday.
Borgesi, he said, used violence, fear and intimidation to get his way in the underworld and with his associates. "If he found out you were lying to him and making money behind his back, he would beat you up or kill ya." Monacello said. "He was known as a gangster and a very dangerous person."
Prosecutors reinforced that point by questioning Monacello at length about instances when Borgesi assaulted Angelo Lutz, another crime family associate. As he had in the first trial, Monacello described one incident in which, he said, Borgesi split Lutz' head open with the metal rod from an artificial Christmas tree while threatening to kill Lutz in a dispute over money.
Lutz, Monacello said, had forged a check and stolen $4,000 from a company Lutz and Borgesi ran at the time.
Monacello cited three other instances when, he said, Borgesi assaulted the then 5-foot-4, 400-pound mob associate, including one incident where, Monacello said, Borgesi bit Lutz in the forehead and spit his skin out on the sidewalk.
The prosecutor is expected to play a now infamous tape -- used at the racketeering trial in 2001 and again at the first trial in this case -- is which Borgesi is heard on a wiretapped phone laughing and cackling about how he had pummeled Lutz, knocking him out. That incident was separate from the ones described by Monacello today.
In an even more personal note, Moncello talked in detail about how he was first ordered by Borgesi to funnel money to Borgesi's wife, Dina, after Borgesi was jailed in 2000. About 18 months later, he said, Borgesi from prison told him the money should go to his then girlfriend Alyson.
"She was his commare," Monacello said. "His girlfriend on the side."
Borgesi divorced his first wife in 2004, Monacello said. And, from prison, married Alyson who has been in the courtroom every day during the trial.
Borgesi showed little reaction to Monacello, but occasionally commented to his lawyer, Christoper Warren, seated next to him at the defense table. The defense is expected to portray Monacello as a liar, cheat and thug when cross-examination begins.
Borgesi, in comments, emails and messages to friends, has been referring to Monacello as "Rat Finger Lou" and "Fuck Finger Lou."
But if this jury buys the story that Monacello is selling, it will be Borgesi who gets the finger.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney today granted an injunction to immediately reinstate Bill Marimow as editor of the Inquirer.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Marimow returned to the newsroom on Market Street where he was fired Oct. 7 by Publisher Bob Hall. The editor was greeted by a standing ovation from staffers. He made no speeches, but walked around shaking hands and accepting congratulations.
Condolences may have been more appropriate. Marimow is returning to a hostile work environment at what may be the most dysfunctional newspaper in America. Just last week, the judge granted a separate injunction to reinstate Publisher Hall, so now he and Marimow can resume their daily wrestling over who's in control of the Inky newsroom.
Both Hall and Marimow are lame ducks. Hall was reinstated by the judge until Dec. 31; Marimow's contract expires April 30th.
So welcome back, Bill. The publisher who fired you last month is still here. He'll be watching your every move. So will George Norcross, who heads up the majority slate of owners, and who's already said that hiring you was the biggest mistake he ever made.
Have a nice day.
The judge's decision didn't make any sense from a practical viewpoint.
After four days of hearings in Judge McInerney's courtroom, the combatants are back to square one.
Rival owners Lew Katz and George Norcross are still at each other's throats.
Publisher Hall and Editor Marimow still disagree on everything.
The Inky city editor, who happens to be Katz's longtime companion, doesn't exactly see eye to eye with the VP of digital operations who oversees philly.com, the newspaper's free website, and happens to be Norcross's daughter.
Last night, Norcross announced he would seek an expedited appeal of the judge's decision, because it leaves the feuding owners in a continued stalemate. The judge's decision invites more "chaos" in the daily operation of the Inquirer, as well as "paralysis," Norcross said through a statement issued by a spokesperson. The judge's decision also gives owners who have taken a "non-interference" pledge when it comes to the editorial operations of the Inquirer a green light to continue meddling.
Judge McInerney's five-page order stated that the "key issue before this court" was whether the firing of Marmiow was an editorial decision or a business decision.
Apparently, it's both.
The limited liability agreement for Interstate General Media, the Inquirer's parent company, states that a management committee composed of just two members, Katz and Norcross, has the "right, power and authority" to make "decisions with respect to all business and operational matters." The authority of the management committee is supposed to be "confined to the business and operational aspects of the company." The management committee is supposed to have "no authority with respect to editorial or journalistic policies and decisions of the company."
The judge concluded that the hiring and firing of the editor could be viewed as an editorial or journalistic decision, as well as a "business and operational matter."
"Since two reasonable interpretations exist," the judge wrote, the issue, as far as she was concerned, was ambiguous.
So the judge said her next step to resolve the dispute was to look at the parties' intentions at the time they entered into the limited liability agreement. She also looked at customary practices in the newspaper industry.
The judge found more ambiguity.
Testimony offered in the case showed that the "hiring and firing of an editor is traditionally an 'editorial or journalistic' decision left to the discretion of the publisher in the newspaper industry," the judge wrote. The judge also heard testimony that the Inquirer is governed by a limited liability agreement wherein the management committee "clearly views the hiring and firing of the editor and the publisher as a 'business and operational' matter."
"Indeed, the testimony established that the management committee hired Mr. Marimow as editor," the judge wrote. "Moreover, the former publisher of the Inquirer, Mr. [Greg] Osberg, testified that since he did not hire Mr. Marimow, he believed he could not fire Mr. Marimow."
The judge decided that the limited liability agreement trumped customary practices in the newspaper business. Under he limited liability agreement, the judge wrote, "the management committee possesses the authority to hire and fire the editor as part of its 'business and operational' duties."
Since Marimow was not fired by the management committee, the judge wrote, "Mr. Katz was deprived of his voting right granted to him under the limited liability agreement and suffered irreparable harm ... Mr. Katz had a clear right to vote on the firing of Mr. Marimow."
In making her decision, the judge realized she was only resolving "the discrete and narrow issue pending before this court," namely whether Marimow should be reinstated. The judge wrote that her decision "does not resolve nor necessarily advance the likelihood of resolution of any other issues in the operation of the Inquirer."
That's for sure.
In other words, all the warring parties who came to Judge McInerney's courtroom seeking a resolution of their conflict are now free to keep on fighting.
Note exactly the wisdom of Solomon.
In response, the Norcross team issued a statement that said Norcross would file an appeal on an expedited basis of the judge's decision to reinstate Marimow.
"The decision to return Marimow to the Inquirer as a lame duck editor -- his contract ends April 30th -- will have the effect of risking chaos in company," said the statement from Dan Fee, a spokesman for the majority owners headed up by Norcross. The statement noted that the judge was restoring "an editor who consistently resisted needed changes to the paper and who is in open conflict with the publisher."
In their lawsuit, the Katz team sought to resolve the war at the Inquirer by reinstating Marimow and terminating publisher Hall. But instead of resolving the dispute, the judge, in separate orders, just returned both Hall and Marimow to office.
"The ruling ensures that every newsroom decision will require the joint agreement of the managing members, subjecting the company to paralysis," the Norcross statement said.
Then, in the true spirit of the judge's decision, the Norcross team took a swipe at Katz, as well as his "girlfriend," the city editor of the Inquirer.
The bell had rung. Round Two of the Inky Death Match was now officially under way.
"Minority owner Lewis Katz, who brought the lawsuit, testified under oath that he believed it appropriate for an owner to be able to influence the operations of the newsroom," the statement said. That includes "the hiring and firing of journalists, with no set standards for how far or how often they [the owners] can reach in to influence coverage."
"That would render the non-interference pledge meaningless because the power to fire is the power to influence coverage," the statement said. "Given that Nancy Phillips, Katz's girlfriend, testified under oath that she created an 'official version' of how Marimow was hired, it is difficult to understand how they [presumably Katz, Marimow and Phillips] can continue to assert they are protecting the 'integrity' of journalism."
"In newspapers across the country, it is the publisher who has the right to make personnel decisions, including the hiring and firing of the editor," the statement said. "The court affirmed that Hall was the publisher and his authority to remove Marimow should have likewise been affirmed."
But that's not what happened.
And now, both sides are free to resume fighting.