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

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    In a stunning rebuke of the government's case, a jury today found mobster George Borgesi not guilty of racketeering conspiracy, acquitted mob boss Joe Ligambi of a witness tampering charge and hung on three other counts against Ligambi.

    The panel of 11 women and one man voted 10-2 to acquit Ligambi of a conspiracy charge and two gambling charges he faced.


    The nearly total rejection of the government's case came at the end of a retrial that had begun in November. The trial focused on five counts that remained after an earlier jury had acquitted Borgesi and Ligambi of a series of charges tied to gambling and loansharking.

     Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., said he would file a motion next week asking for bail for Ligambi, 74, who has been jailed since he was indicted in the case back in May 2011. Borgesi, 50, was released today. The South Philadelphia capo, who is Ligambi's nephew, has been in jail since his arrest in an unrelated racketeering case in March 2000 for which he subsequently was sentenced to 14 years.

    "Thank you, thank you," Borgesi's brother, Anthony, said to the jurors as they left the courtroom after announcing the partial verdict in the case. Family members and friends smiled and hugged one another after the jury left the courtroom.

    "Thank God," said Manny Borgesi, George Borgesi's mother, as she hugged her son Anthony. They had attended nearly every day of the trial. Manny Borgesi is Joe Ligambi's sister. Borgesi's wife Alyson, who had been barred from the courtroom, smiled and embraced family members in the hallway after learning of the verdict that will send her husband home for the first time since they were married.


    The couple wed while Borgesi was in a federal prison in West Virginia serving the 14-year sentence from the 2000 case.

    "Once again they did not lay a finger on us," Jacobs said after the jury's decisions were announced. "(Ligambi) has emerged from two federal trials without a scratch."

    Jacobs was referring to the fact that Ligambi was found not guilty of five of the nine counts he faced in the first trial that ended in February. Jacobs also said he was disappointed that the jury in the current case was unable to reach a decision on the three counts on which they hung.

    "It's a damn shame the two dissenters didn't respect the views of the 10 who were clearly on the right path," he said. In addition to filing a motion for bail, Jacobs is expected to ask for a quick decision from the government on whether they intend to retry Ligambi a third time.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said that decision rests with the Justice Department in Washington. Labor said he was "disappointed" in the jury verdict. But he pointed out that the overall impact of the case has been to "disrupt La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia."

    Of the 14 defendants named in the indictment handed up in this case, 10 have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. Only two, Joseph "Scoops" Licata and Borgesi, have been acquitted. One defendant is still awaiting trial and Ligambi's status remains in limbo.

    Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, was quick to praise Jacobs for leading the defense during the eight-week trial.

    "The architect of (the acquittals of both defendants) is standing right over there," Warren said as he pointed toward Jacobs. Warren also urged everyone in both camps and those he has seen filing comments on this website to tone down the rhetoric.

    "It's been an exhausting and gut-wrenching trial," he said. "We're well passed the time for the ugly vitriol to be put to bed. Let's move on."

    Both lawyers chided the government for calling witnesses whose credibility and motivation were suspect. In fact, the case against Borgesi was built almost entirely around the testimony of mob informants Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick.

    Jacobs, repeating an argument he made in his closing, said it was impossible to believe that "any reasonable grown-up would base any important decision" on the word of the suspect witnesses the government used to build its case.

    And, as he had argued to the jury, Jacobs said the government's case was built on "ancient history" and the phony assumption that Ligambi was the boss of a criminal organization. The mob, Jacobs had told the jury, was dismantled more than a decade ago.

    While gambling and loansharking still take place, "as it does in every major city," Jacobs said, those involved in those businesses are "independent contractors" and not part of an organized criminal conspiracy.

    While Jacobs said he was prepared to retry the case a third time, he said he hoped the government would not waste taxpayer money for a third chance at conviction.

    Warren took a parting shot at Monacello, who is reportedly living in Ventnor, joking that "there are a lot of walnuts cracking in an asshole in Ventnor right now." Warren defended Borgesi in the current case. He had represented Licata in the first case. His clients are the only two defendants to win acquittals thus far.

    Borgesi was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced in the first trial, but the jury hung on the conspiracy count that was retried this time. The defendant left the federal building with his wife, mother and other family members. They were reportedly celebrating his release this afternoon at a party at his brother Anthony's South Philadelphia home.

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


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge has to decide whether she has  jurisdiction to preside over the dissolution of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com.

    IGM is a Delaware corporation doing business in Pennsylvania. The question is, which state's courts should preside over the dissolution of IGM, and the auctioning off of the two newspapers and website?

    In a 16-page memorandum of law filed Jan. 16th, attorney Richard A. Sprague, writing on behalf of a minority ownership faction headed by Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, states that the Delaware Courts do not have "exclusive jurisdiction over the dissolution of IGM."

    The Delaware Court Of Chancery has stated that sister jurisdictions may "adequately address dissolution issues relating to Delaware companies," Sprague writes.

    "IGM's sole business is the operation of Philadelphia newspapers and media, its principal place of business is Philadelphia, and all of its operations and assets are in Philadelphia," Sprague writes. "Dismissal is unwarranted in this case where the company is a local concern." Sprague asks Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney to take jurisdiction over the case, and appoint a trustee to "dissolve IGM."

    However, in a 30-page opposing memorandum of law filed Jan. 22, attorney Robert C. Heim, writing on behalf of a faction of majority owners headed by George Norcross, states that the Sprague memorandum "is premised upon the deeply flawed assumption" that Judge McInerney "has jurisdiction to issue a judicial decree pursuant to Delaware law dissolving a Delaware limited liability company."

    Heim warns of dire consequences if Judge McInerney decides she's in charge of the dissolution.

    According to IGM's governing Limited Liability Company Agreement, IGM may be dissolved "only under the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act," Heim writes. "The plain language of the Delaware LLC Act only permits the Delaware Court of Chancery to issue an order of judicial dissolution."

    "Hence, under both the [IGM] LLC Agreement and the Delaware LLC Act, the Delaware Court of Chancery has indisputable -- and arguably exclusive -- jurisdiction to dissolve IGM by judicial decree, while this Court has none," Heim wrote Judge McInerney.

    The "at best shaky underpinnings of this court's jurisdiction over IGM's dissolution provide a ground for appeal that can be erased by any party, by any court, at any time," Heim writes. "In other words, there is a serious risk that any judgement" by Judge McInerney "regarding the dissolution of IGM could be nullified on appeal on jurisdictional grounds, even after the dissolution took place,"Heim writes in bold print.

    A successful appeal, Heim writes, would force the warring ownership factions "to re-litigate the very same issues before the Delaware Court of Chancery ... causing needless, and potentially detrimental, delay."

    Heim calls on Judge McInerney to stay the current lawsuit filed by the minority ownership faction in Philadelphia, and allow the suit filed by the majority ownership faction in the Delaware courts to proceed.

    In addition to having Delaware law going against it, Heim writes, "There are no grounds in Pennsylvania law for this Court to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over an action to dissolve a foreign limited liability companies such as IGM."

    Both ownership factions filed competing lawsuits in Delaware and Philadelphia last October, after the firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow by Publisher Bob Hall. The minority owners headed by Katz, suing in Philadelphia, sought to have Marimow reinstated and Hall fired.

    The majority owners headed by Norcross, filing in Delaware, sought to keep Marimow in retirement and leave Hall on the job as publisher.

    Judge McInerney took jurisdiction over that dispute because Marimow had been fired in Pennsylvania. She subsequently ruled that both Marimow and Hall should be reinstated, preserving the current corporate stalemate.

     During a Jan. 14th phone conference, Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. of the Delaware Court of Chancery is quoted in the Sprague filing as saying he's not promoting a legal wrestling match.

    "I think both Judge McInerney and I share the view -- although we haven't discussed it explicitly -- that we ought to go forward with this dissolution action in just one place and not in two," Parsons said.

    "But I'm not trying to get in a state where I'm kind of racing Judge McInerney or anything like that," Parsons said. "But one that I won't be doing is trying to jump ahead of her in terms of deciding this issue ... And if it's her preference to go ahead and decide this issue, then I would certainly go along with that."

    In that same conference, attorney Heim said that Judge McInerney has previously stated in a Jan. 13 briefing that the case may be headed to Delaware.

    "I would say that the briefing has to do with whether or not the Philadelphia court should go foreword with the dissolution proceeding involving a Delaware LLC pursuant to the Delaware LLC Act," Heim said. "And I think Judge McInerney's instinct -- she stated it at the meeting, at the conference -- was that the Delaware case should go forward and should proceed."

    In addition to deciding which court has jurisdiction, there's one other issue to be resolved. The Katz and Lenfest faction want an open auction extended to all bidders. The Norcross faction wants a private auction restricted to the current five feuding owners of IGM.


    One thing that both sides agree on, no matter which court they're filing in, is that IGM is deadlocked.

    "As a result of Katz and Norcross's inability to agree on virtually any business decision involving IGM, IGM's board and its management committee are deadlocked and unable to make important business decisions," Sprague writes. "Further, there is no dispute among the owners that the resulting paralysis is threatening the viability of the enterprise, necessitating expeditious dissolution and appointment of a trustee."

    A petition filed in Delaware by the majority owners agrees.

    "With Katz and Norcross deadlocked, neither IGM's Management Committee nor its Board of Directors can take any meaningful action," the petition states. "Meanwhile, there is no mechanism in the LLC agreement to break the deadlock."

    Publisher Hall is still on the job, despite the wishes of minority owner Katz.

    In a letter sent last Dec. 12, Katz wrote Norcross and Hall "to make it perfectly clear that as of Dec. 31, 2013, Robert J. Hall will no longer be the 'part time' Publisher at IGM or PMN." Katz said he wanted both Norcross and Hall to know he was "strongly opposed to Mr. Hall's continued employment in any capacity past Dec. 31, 2013."

    However, in a filing in the Delaware courts by the majority ownership faction it states, "It is the position of the Majority Members that Hall continues to serve as the Inquirer's publisher to date and that an affirmative vote is necessary to terminate his employment, not continue it."

    Marimow's contract expires at the end of April.

    The Katz letter "raised the specter that, absent an end to the deadlock between him and Norcross, there would be no editor as of April 30, 2014, and at the least, a cloud over the tenure of the Publisher," attorney P. Clarkson Collins Jr. wrote in a filing on behalf of the majority owners in the Delaware courts. "Thus, the immediate prospect is that at the paper could find itself with no publisher and no editor."



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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Federal authorities have decided not to retry Joe Ligambi on conspiracy and gambling charges after two juries soundly rejected the bulk of the government's case against the South Philadelphia mob boss.

    In a motion filed this afternoon, the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania asked Judge Eduardo Robreno to dismiss the three remaining counts pending against the 74-year-old mob leader.

    The move came two days after a jury voted to acquit Ligambi of a witness tampering charge and hung on the conspiracy count and two counts of illegal gambling.

    "In this instance I agree with the exercise of judgment by the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Edwin Jacobs Jr., Ligambi's lawyer. "(Federal prosecutors) took their two best shots unsuccessfully."

    Jacobs said it would be a waste of taxpayers' money and government resources to try Ligambi a third time. The Atlantic City-based attorney, considered one of the top criminal lawyers in the area, represented Ligambi in both trials.

    In the first trial, which lasted a three months and ended in February, a jury found Ligambi not guilty of five of nine counts he faced. A second trial, focusing on the four remaining counts, began in November and ended on Friday with the panel's split decision.

    The anonymously chosen jury of 11 women and one man had voted 10-2 in favor of acquitting Ligambi on the three counts on which it hung. Ligambi's nephew and co-defendant, George Borgesi, 50, was acquitted of conspiracy, the one count on which he was being retried.

    Borgesi was released immediately.

    Jacobs said he hoped to have Ligambi freed within the next 24 hours, or as soon as Judge Robreno signs an order dismissing the remaining charges.

    "Hopefuly, my client and I will be having dinner together tomorrow night," he said.

    Jacobs said he would be buying.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net




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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi is being processed out of prison this morning, ending a two
    and a half year stay as a "guest" of the government in the Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch streets.

    Judge  Eduardo Robreno dismissed the remaining counts pending against the 74-year-old crime leader after federal prosecutors filed a motion yesterday declaring that they would not retry Ligambi a third time on conspiracy and gambling charges.

    Ligambi has been in jail since he and a dozen others were indicted on racketeering conspiracy and related gambling and loansharking charges in May 2011. He was twice denied bail.

    But once federal authorities filed a motion to dismiss the remaining counts against him, bail was no longer an issue.

    Most observers believe the U.S. Attorney's Office wisely opted to cut its losses and save the fight for another day. Whether that day is close at hand remains an open question. If the government comes again with a mob case, those in both law enforcement and the criminal defense bar believe, it will need a more substantial body of evidence than it had this time around.

    A jury on Friday acquitted Ligambi of one count of witness tampering and hung -- voting 10-2 to acquit -- on the three other counts. Earlier this year, in the first trial based on the same indictment, a jury found Ligambi not guilty of five of the nine counts he faced. The four remaining counts were the basis for the trial that ended last week.

    The anonymously chosen jury of 11 women and one man was apparently less than overwhelmed by the government's case.

    "There was very little physical evidence and the witnesses were convicted criminals," one juror, who asked not to be identified, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "... if the government could have provided us with credible witnesses, maybe things would have been different."


    The jury also found Ligambi's co-defendant, George Borgesi, 50,  not guilty of a conspiracy charge. Borgesi was freed on Friday.

    The two veteran mobsters returned to an underworld that is at best unsettled. Whether either will attempt to exert control and influence is an open question being asked by both state and federal authorities. Borgesi, who was serving a 14-year sentence in a separate racketeering case when he was indicted in May 2011, will be on supervised release for about 18 months.

    Free for the first time since March 2000, he is not permitted to associate with any convicted felons or organized crime figures and his travel is limited to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania unless he receives permission from his probation officer.

    Borgesi, a leader in the mob once headed by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, is one of nearly a dozen mobsters who comprise at least three difference factions in the beleaguered Philadelphia - South Jersey underworld.

    Several individuals convicted and jailed in the 1980s with mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo are now back on the streets. While Merlino is living in Florida, several key associates, including Borgesi, Steven Mazzone and John Ciancaglini, are in town. And Ligambi and some other veteran mobsters who could line up in either camp, are also now part of the landscape.

    Does everyone play nice and get along or does greed and treachery dominate? That's the question several veteran law enforcement investigators are asking.

    The situation is further clouded by two pending criminal prosecutions.

    Mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo, 42, is awaiting trial for the gangland murder of Gino DiPietro in December 2012. The day light shooting on a South Philadelphia street corner has been described by investigators as one of the "dumbest" mob hits in Philadelphia history.

    Nicodemo was arrested 30 minutes after the shooting in his home about five blocks from the murder scene. A gun and other evidence linked to the crime were found in his SUV parked in his driveway.

    A year later Ronald Galati, a mob associate and South Philadelphia auto body shop owner, was arrested on witness intimidation and murder-for-hire charges. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office formalized those charges in an indictment that was unveiled yesterday a few hours before the feds were moving to dismiss the charges against Ligambi.

    Galati is charged with hiring hitmen to kill two witnesses against him in a insurance fraud investigation. The 63-year-old wannabe wiseguy did 37 months on similar fraud charges in 1995.

    "This time he's turned an insurance fraud case into a murder-for-hire case," said one law enforcement source. And that has raised the stakes considerably.

    Galati, who claims he is in poor health (a judge has denied him bail, rejecting the medical argument), is now looking at a possible 30-year prison sentence. In addition, a broader indictment charging him with insurance fraud is expected from the District Attorney's Office within the next two weeks.

    And in New Jersey, an ongoing investigation continues into the shooting of Galati's daughter's boyfriend in Atlantic City. The same hitmen tied to the murder-for-hire case in Philadelphia are believed to be those who carried out that shooting. The boyfriend survived. The shooters are said to be cooperating in both cases.

    Galati is a target in that shooting and in a separate insurance fraud investigation focusing on the arson of at least one boat, according to sources familiar with the case.

    At some point the various agencies handling the investigations are expected to map out a strategy for prosecution that could include the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    The unanswered question -- and one that could put a damper on the welcome home festivities for both Ligambi and Borgesi -- is whether Nicodemo and Galati opt to cut deals with authorities in order to get out from under their own criminal problems.

    Authorities would like to question both men about a series of unsolved mob murders. For either defendant, that could be their get out of jail card. But as the juror in the Ligambi trial pointed out, the question for prosecutors as they consider building new cases is whether  Nicodemo and Galati would be "credible witnesses" or just two more "convicted criminals" taking the stand in a government deal with the devil.

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams yesterday appealed the reversal of the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn to the state Supreme Court.

    Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy, was convicted on June 22, 2012 by a jury of one count of endangering the welfare of a child. He was the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for failing to control an abusive priest under his supervision.

    On Dec. 26, 2013, Lynn's conviction was reversed by a unanimous opinion from a panel of three Superior Court judges, who said that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn. The law applied only to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers or guardians, the Superior Court said. The law didn't apply to Lynn, who had no contact with children, but was a supervisor of abusive priests. The law was amended in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.

     In a 35-page appeal petition to the state Supreme Court, the D.A. complained that the Lynn reversal sent out a "dismal" message in this "high-profile case," namely that "victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of pedophile priests who reluctantly come forward may do so in vain."

    The D.A. argues that if the Lynn reversal goes unchallenged, the state will no longer be able to protect future victims of child abuse, even under the amended child endangerment law, because of the Superior Court's overly broad language and "misapplication of law."

    "Thus, as long as this published Superior Court decision stands," the district attorney wrote, "the 2007 amendment cannot be relied on to protect children. The problem is not in the statute," the petition says, "but in the Superior Court's wholesale departure from the rules of statutory construction."

    The D.A. charges the Superior Court opinion was written "in a manner that edits the [child endangerment] statute to insulate Lynn and people like him from criminal liability. It is a problem that will certainly continue unless this [state Supreme] Court intervenes."

    Lynn, the D.A.'s petition says, "was a high-ranking Archdiocesan official specifically responsible for protecting children from pedophile priests. Instead, he relocated them, as part of a general scheme of concealment, in a manner that put additional children at risk of being sexually molested."

    Lynn was accused of failing to adequately supervisor former priest Edward V. Avery, who pleaded guilty to raping Billy Doe, a 10-year-old altar boy.

    "The Superior Court, in a published decision authored by President Bender, held that defendant did not endanger the welfare of children," says the D.A.'s petition signed by Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit. The Superior Court decision, Burns argues, was based on a "misapplication of law."

    Sadly, the D.A. overlooks that the conspiracy alleged by the district attorney was not only soundly rejected by the jury in the Lynn case, but also the trial judge, M. Teresa Sarmina. The jury found that Lynn had not conspired with Avery, or anyone else in the archdiocese, to harm Billy Doe. Judge Sarmina also threw out as unproven two charges that Lynn had conspired with another priest, Father James J. Brennan, to endanger a 14-year-old boy who allegedly was the victim of an attempted rape by Father Brennan.

    In response, Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer, said the district attorney's petition was "completely dishonest from top to bottom. It's crazy."

    "The D.A. is claiming that they [the Superior Court] held it was OK for someone like Lynn to knowingly transfer pedophile priests," Bergstrom said. "That's outrageous, it's totally dishonest."

    The Superior Court opinion reviewed the child endangerment law, Bergstrom said, and concluded that "the statute didn't apply to Lynn, period, end of story." 

    The Superior Court also found that Lynn could not even be charged as an accomplice to Avery, because the evidence in the case was "insufficient to prove that he [Lynn] intended the likely consequences of his actions."

    This also upset the district attorney, who warned of dire consequences.

    "Published error of this nature is always a serious matter," Burns writes about the Superior Court opinion, because it will impact "all future appeals," as well as the "level of prosecutorial discretion."

    "An erroneous standard," Burns writes, "may prevent meritorious criminal charges even from being filed. Such tainted precedent can also wrongly negate an unpredictable number of sound convictions."

    "The impact is exacerbated by the high degree of national public attention focused on this case," the D.A.'s petition says. "When, as here, the offenders are educational, religious or other kinds of social leaders, they often benefit from an institutional policy of concealment designed to protect that institution and exploit that reluctance. Reversal of the conviction in this case calls into doubt the ability of the criminal justice system to hinder such institutional wrongdoing."

    In his petition, the district attorney challenged the Superior Court's reading of the original state child endangerment law, which says, "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

    "One who acts in a capacity of protecting children and who supervises another who has contact with those children, is a supervisor of the welfare of children," the petition states. "His conduct was no less 'supervision' because it was accomplished through a subordinate, from whom Lynn was specifically responsible for protecting children against sexual molestation ... 'Supervision' as ordinarily understood is routinely accomplished through subordinates."

    In 2007, the child endangerment statute was amended to include "a person that employs or supervises such a person."

    The original child endangerment statute, however, does not mention the terms 'actual' or 'direct' when it comes to supervising a child, Burns writes. The Superior Court used both words to define the meaning of the statute.

    Burns says those two words may come back to haunt future victims of sex abuse.

    "Anyone charged under the amended statute will argue" that a "person supervising the welfare of a child or a person who employs or supervises such a person" must be read to mean a "person directly and actually supervising the welfare of a child or a person that directly and actually employs or supervises such a person."

    "Under the Superior Court's erroneous construction even the amended statute would not have applied to Lynn's conduct," Burns argues in the D.A.'s petition to the Supreme Court. "Lynn obviously did not 'employ' pedophile priests, and it is by no means clear that his supervision of them, for purpose of preventing" them from "sexually molesting children, would be considered sufficiently 'actual' or 'direct' under the Superior Court's understanding of those terms."

    To Bergstrom, this argument was another example of the district attorney's dishonesty.

    "They're the guys who led the charge to amend the statute and because the original [child endangerment] statute didn't apply," Bergstrom said of the D.A.'s office. "And now they saying that the amended statute doesn't apply and the old one does."

    "It makes no sense."



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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    He said he has no regrets and would do it all over again.

    He also said he's glad the U.S. Attorney's Office has opted not to retry Joe Ligambi. Not that he has any great concern for the mob boss. But he does have a personal stake in the matter.

    What the decision to drop the remaining charges against Ligambi means, said Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, "is that I never have to testify again."

    In a pointed telephone conversation this afternoon, Monacello looked back on the two trials in which he testified for the federal government and looked forward to life beyond the South Philadelphia mob.

    Commenting publicly for the first time, the one-time mob associate displayed the same bravado -- some would call it arrogance -- that he brought to the witness stand in two trials that ended without convictions for either Ligambi or his co-defendant and nephew George Borgesi.

    "Tell'em I'm relaxing on the beach," said Monacello, 46, who relocated to the South Jersey shore after he decided to become a cooperating witness. Whether he stays there or moves is an issue that will be decided later, he said.

    He still has to be sentenced by Judge Eduardo Robreno, probably sometime in the spring, on a racketeering charge to which he pleaded guilty as part of his cooperating agreement.

    Monacello said he's not concerned about going to jail. Jail, he insisted, was never the issue. He cooperated, he said, because Ligambi and Borgesi "screwed me over." And while his testimony didn't result in convictions -- the defense in both cases hammered away at the credibility and motivation of the government's key witness, especially Monacello -- he said he believed his decision to cooperate and help make the case landed both Ligambi and Borgesi in jail.

    Both were denied bail after the indictment was handed up in May 2011.

    "These two guys screwed me over," he said, "so I guess I gave them 30 months to sit."

    Returning to the same points he had made from the witness stand -- and that two juries had largely rejected -- Monacello said he cooperated not because he feared going to jail, but because "I wasn't going to do time for Joe Ligambi and Marty Angelina."

    Monacello testified that while running a bookmaking and loansharking operation for Borgesi, who was in jail on a 2001 racketeering conviction, Ligambi and Angelina were constantly horning in on and undermining his business, business that he claimed was generating cash to support Borgesi.

    He also took another verbal shot at Borgesi's brother Anthony who, he said, was always "stabbing me in the back even though I was supporting his brother." He referred to Anthony Borgesi as Fredo, the weak-willed Corleone brother in The Godfather saga.

    Monacello's take on the Philadelphia mob headed by Ligambi and Borgesi is hardly the stuff of the Mario Puzo novel. It's not about honor and loyalty, he said, but rather money, greed and treachery.

    And he admits he was right in the middle of it, making money, busting heads and doing whatever was necessary to survive.

    Among other things, Monacello acknowledged, as he had on the witness stand, that he plotted with an associate, Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo to assault Angelina. Monacello was unaware that DiGiacomo was wearing a body wire and cooperating with authorities at the time.

    Looking back on it now, he said in a phone conversation this afternoon, "The mistake I made was not cracking Angelina's head open myself" instead of going along with DiGiacomo's suggestion that he, DiGiacomo, hire two thugs to carry out the beating.

    Monacello said again that he believed Borgesi was going to kill him "because I broke the rules" by plotting to attack Angelina, a "made" member of the mob.

    He told that same story to two different juries in two trials. The first jury found Borgesi not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced. (Ligambi was found not guilty of five of nine.) The second jury, which considered the one remaining counts, acquitted Borgesi  of conspiracy. found Ligambi not guilty of witness intimidation and hung on a conspiracy charge and two gambling counts.

    Hardly a resounding endorsement of the prosecution's case or of Monacello's testimony. As one anonymous jury told Jeremy Roebuck of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "If the government could have provided us with credible witnesses, maybe things would have been different."

    Angelina, Ligambi, Borgesi, Monacello and 10 others were indicted in the racketeering case. Angelina pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial and was sentenced to six years. Monacello said his own sentencing guidelines were 60 to 72 months and that he could have done the time.

    He refused to cooperate in 2008 when he was charged in a Delaware County case that foreshadowed the federal charges that came three years later.

    "I didn't do this to get out of going to jail," he said. "That was never the issue. I just decided I wasn't going to do a day for Joe Ligambi or Marty Angelina."

    Now he sits back and waits -- for his own sentencing and for what comes next for his former partners-in-crime. He believes there are murders -- Ralph Mazzuca, John Casasanto, Raymond "Long John" Martorano -- that can be tied to his former "friends." Whether the government has the will or the evidence and witnesses to make those cases, however, is another question.

    Monacello clearly hopes it happens.

    "I'm sitting at the beach waiting to see what (Anthony) Nicodemo and (Ron) Galati do," he said of
    two potential witnesses who are facing a series of criminal problems (Ed note, see yesterday's story.). "There's a racketeering-murder case waiting to happen, and the best part is it doesn't have anything to do with me."

    Monacello believes he is done testifying. He also insists he is done with life in the mob.

    "I did a lot of bad things," he said in an earlier conversation, "but I never murdered anybody. You have to draw the line somewhere."

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    George Anastasia would prefer to cover Salvatore Pelullo's fraud trial as a reporter, rather than having to testify as a witness in the case.

    Pelullo's lawyer, however, has placed the veteran crime reporter on a potential witness list. And because potential witnesses are barred from being in the courtroom, Anastasia has been prevented from reporting on the United States of America v. Salvatore L. Pelullo et al. 

    Today, however, a lawyer for Anastasia filed a motion for a protective order, seeking to knock the reporter off the witness list. A hearing is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in Courtroom 4D of the Camden County Courthouse before Judge Robert Kugler.

    "J. Michael Farrrell, defense counsel for defendant Salvatore Pellullo, has listed award-winning reporter George Anastasia as a potential witness for the defense for the apparent purpose of preventing Mr. Anastasia from lawfully reporting about this trial," wrote Maxwell S. Kennerly of The Beasley Firm in a 10-page motion filed today.

    "Any information that Mr. Anastasia possesses is the result of his news gathering activities," Kennerly wrote. "Mr. Anastasia does not possess any first-hand knowledge relevant to this case; he merely reported about the ongoing developments in articles that he penned for The Philadelphia Inquirer from the time search warrants were executed in the spring of 2008 until he left the paper in October 2012 ... Since leaving The Inquirer, Mr. Anastasia has been reporting on criminal trials on the website bigtrial.net."

    "It's a important first-amendment issue," Anastasia said. "Anybody could manipulate the system by doing this. You could keep a reporter from covering a story if you didn't want him to cover it. All you have to is put him on the witness list."

    Pelulo, an Elkins Park businessmen, is one of seven defendants in the federal fraud case being tried at the Camden County Courthouse. The most notorious defendant is mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo, the son of jailed former Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

    The government alleges that Scarfo and Pelullo orchestrated the systematic looting of a Texas-based mortgage company, FirstPlus Financial, by secretly taking  control of the board of directors in June 2007. Over the next 10 months, authorities allege, Scarfo and Pelullo helped themselves to $12 million. The money was spent to purchase luxury items such as an $800,000 yacht named "Priceless," a $200,000 Bentley, and a $200,000 downpayment on a $700,000 home in Egg Harbor Township.

    In a previous big trial story, Anastasia laid out his differences with Pelullo and his lawyer:

    On a personal note, I may not be able to cover the rest of the FirstPlus trial because Salvatore Pelullo has listed me as a potential witness and witnesses are not permitted in the courtroom during testimony ...

    Pelullo's second attorney, J. Michael Farrell, would not say why I might be called and said he was reluctant to discuss the issue with me because I might tell the prosecution. In a brief discussion during the morning break, Farrell would offer not further explanation. I have never discussed the case with Pelullo's lawyers and am hard pressed to understand why I would be called as a witness ...

    I told him, 'You don't want me on the stand.' He called that a `threat' and said I would remain on the list. 

    Everything I know about this case has appeared in stories that I wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer from the time search warrants were executed in the spring of 2008 until I left the paper in October 2012. I have probably written more about the alleged scam than anyone else.

    But what I could provide as a witness for the defense is baffling ...

    In his motion, Kennerly said the courts are usually protective of a reporter's First Amendment rights.

    "Both this Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals have firmly held that news reporters enjoy under the First Amendment a qualified privilege for news gathering activities," Kennerly wrote. It's a "privilege premised on the principle that compelled production 'can constitute a significant intrusion into the news gathering and editorial processes' and 'may substantially undercut the public policy favoring the free flow of information to the public.'"

    "Aditonally, New Jersey statutory law expressly confers a privilege on any person engaging in news gathering activities," Kennerly wrote. "George Anastasia is considered a news reporter as defined by New Jersey statutory law and any information that he possesses is subject to this reporter's privilege."

    To overcome a reporter's qualified privilege, Kennerly writes, Pelullo's lawyer has to demonstrate that he tried to get this information from other sources, that the information is only available through the journalist and his sources, and finally, that the information sought is crucial to the case.

    "Since defendants have failed to show that any testimony they expect Mr. Anastasia to provide meets any of the criteria necessary to overcome his newsperson's privilege, he must be removed from the witness list," Kennerly concluded.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for BigTrial.net

    U.S. District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler ruled today that veteran crime reporter George Anastasia is free to cover the fraud trial of Nicodemo S. Scarfo and Salvatore Pelullo.

    After a 50-minute hearing at the federal courthouse in Camden, Judge Kugler decided that Anastasia's right to cover the trial under the First Amendment trumped any issue raised by the defense.

    J. Michael Farrell, a lawyer for Pelullo, had listed Anastasia as a potential witness in the fraud case. The lawyer wanted the reporter to testify that prior to the issuing of a search warrant in 2006, Anastasia had never heard Pelullo's name mentioned as a member of organized crime.

    The names of potential witnesses are kept on a sequestration list. They're not supposed to show up in the courtroom prior to their appearance on the witness stand. By putting Anastasia on that list, the defense, in effect, had barred Anastasia from visiting the courtroom as a reporter.

    The judge said the defense can still call Anastasia as a witness, but that he was removing the reporter's name from the sequestration list so that Anastasia would be free to cover the trial.

    Even though the defense can still call Anastasia as a witness, Judge Kugler told Farrell from the bench that it might not be advisable for the defense to go down that road.

    If he allowed Farrell to ask Anastasia the question he wanted to ask, what would it prove, the judge said. The issue of whether Anastasia had heard Pelullo's  name prior to 2006 mentioned as a member of organized crime was irrelevant.

    And, the judge said, if he allowed Farrell to ask his question, he would have to allow the government to ask Anastasia what he had written since 2006, such as the allegations that Pelullo and his co-defendant Scarfo had looted a Texas-based mortgage company.

    Pelullo, an Elkins Park businessman, is one of seven defendants in the federal fraud case being tried along with Scarfo, the son of jailed former Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

    The government alleges that Scarfo and Pelullo orchestrated the systematic looting of FirstPlus Financial by secretly taking  control of the board of directors in June 2007. Over the next 10 months, authorities allege, the defendants helped themselves to $12 million.

    George Anastasia has been covering organized crime in Philadelphia for nearly 40 years. After he retired from The Philadelphia Inquirer as its ace mob writer in 2012, he's been blogging for big trial.net.

    Anastasia was represented in court today by Max. S. Kennerly, a lawyer from The Beasley Firm, the sponsors of big trial.net. Kennerly said the judge recognized the importance of the First Amendment, but kept future options open.

    "The court agreed that there was no reason to keep George out of the courtroom, but did not yet rule on the First Amendment issues," Kennerly said. "If any of the defendants want to try to call him as a witness later -- which the court said was likely a very bad idea -- they can try to do so, and we will sort out the First Amendment issues then."

    "I assume this is the end of the issue, but if they try anything else with George, I am happy to come back and defend his right to report on the trial," Kennerly said. He would also be happy to continue to defend  "the public's right to know what's going on in their courtrooms, by way of George's singular expertise."

    Kennerly said the real credit for today's victory in court goes to Kim Loutey, a third-year law student who did the research, developed the arguments and drafted the brief that the judge sided with.

    "All I did was show up," Kennerly said. "The argument was there, and it was irrefutable."

    Anastasia was happy with the ruling.

    "I think the judge saw the issue for what it was and recognized the importance of the First Amendment," Anastasia said. Also the judge recognized "I don't have any first-hand information," Anastasia said. "That nothing I could have testified about would have added anything to the case."


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A Philadelphia grand jury has ripped the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections for a policy of  official neglect that allowed a large vacant factory in Kensington to go up in flames in 2012, killing two firefighters.

    The 110-page grand jury report issued Monday said L&I failed in its primary mission to protect public safety. The report said that during a four-year period preceding the fire, L&I sent four different inspectors out to the abandoned factory at 1817-41 York St. The inspectors kept issuing threatening violations that were never followed up on, or taken to court.

    As a result, owners Nahman and Michael Lichtenstein, a father and son team of real estate moguls from Brooklyn, N.Y., were allowed to "thumb their noses" at the Nutter administration. The city permitted the Lichtensteins to slowly turn the factory "into a fire trap," the report says, while the Brooklyn slumlords racked up almost $400,000 in unpaid taxes.

    The former Thomas W. Buck hosiery factory occupied almost a full city block on East York St. just off Kensington Avenue near a Market-Frankford El station, before it went up in flames on April 9, 2012. When 40 fire companies arrived the night of the fire, they were venturing into a "war zone," a fire battalion chief told the grand jury. Winds of 35 miles per hour swept flames through the abandoned factory as firefighters battled to save the neighborhood. Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney died in the blaze when they were crushed under tons of falling bricks. Two other firefighters trapped in the rubble were seriously injured.

    The grand jury report is another political disaster for Mayor Nutter, much like last year's City Council hearings on the fatal building collapse on Market Street that killed six people, injured 14, and prompted an L&I building inspector to commit suicide. This week's grand jury report blasts Nutter's current and former L&I Commissioners, Carlton Williams and Fran Burns, for not prioritizing the danger posed by large abandoned buildings like the one on York Street. The grand jury report excoriated both L&I commissioners and the city for not having the will power to take slumlords like the Lichtensteins to court.


    "The York Street tragedy stands as a symbol of the city's long practice of neglect," the grand jury report says. "We saw how the city's longstanding reluctance to take action against tax-delinquent owners of large, decaying buildings fosters a damaging culture of nonpayment and noncompliance."

    "Owners have come to realize that there will be no repercussions, and that they will not be held responsible, if they ignore 'final warnings' from L&I, and tax and water bills from the revenue department."

    L&I, according to the city charter, is responsible for protecting public safety, inspecting large vacant commercial structures, issuing violations and enforcing compliance, the grand jury report says.

    "With respect to the York street property, L&I failed in its mission," the grand jury report concludes. "It did not adequately inspect, it did not enforce, and it did not protect public safety."

    The grand jurors tried to find out whether the 2012 fatal fire had led to any "substantial improvements in [L&I's] procedures as a result of the breakdowns that occurred in this matter."

    "The answer is a very clear 'no,'" the report says.

    Sadly, the grand jury concluded there was "no criminal penalty for the tale of misdeeds we found. While the building owners violated virtually every regulation that got in their way, they were never held accountable for doing so ... had city departments done their job, these deaths might never have occurred."

    The Lichtensteins were "unscrupulous from the start," the grand jury report says. They agreed to pay $750,000 when they bought the building in 2008. But they delivered only half that amount, and promised to pay the rest within 45 days. But that 45 days turned into years. The seller, "worn out by the Lichtensteins' delay tactics ... settled for a fraction on the dollar," the report says.

    City laws required the owners to maintain a working sprinkler system in the building, and/or clean and seal the premises so that no one could enter. But, the report said, "there is no evidence that the Lichtensteins did anything to bring the building up to code."

    Meanwhile, the grand jury found, the abandoned factory was invaded by prostitutes, crackheads and scavengers. The floor was covered with puddles of water; the building had more than 80 visible broken windows. Neighbors filed 30 complaints, but L&I ignored most of them And when they weren't ignoring those complaints, L&I inspectors made cursory inspections, and then wrote in their files that the matter was "resolved."

    Records showed the owners had paid "not one dime in real estate taxes, or in water and sewer rents,
    since they bought the York St. property in 2008," the report says.

    "In fact, the Lichtensteins are still the legal owners of 1817-41 York St., which is now only a vacant lot, and owe the city over $100,000 for the demolition of the burned-out shell."

    Between 2009 and 2012, four different L&I inspectors visited the property and issued violation notices. But those notices turned out to be "merely superficial steps that did no more than keep the bureaucratic wheels spinning," the grand jury report says.

    L&I did not keep track of cumulative violations. Each time it sent an inspector out, L&I issued a new case number "thus treating the property as if it had no previous violation history," the grand jury report says.

    The first building inspector to visit the property in 2009 issued fire and property code violations. A second inspector showed up in 2011. He opened a new case number which "effectively disregarded all previous uncorrected violations," the report said.

    When he was called to the grand jury, the second building inspector testified that he "didn't concern himself with the prior case because it was not "my complaint." The second building inspector never went inside the property. He "just looked around the outside," the report says, and issued a clean and seal violation notice.

    A third and a fourth inspector visited the property in 2012. The fourth and last inspection took place a week before the fire.

    "Obviously, the department lacked, and apparently still lacks, even the most basic controls to ensure that inspections are properly performed, that information is appropriately consolidated, and that violations are promptly prosecuted," the grand jury report says. "They [L&I inspectors] created paper, but no results."

    In their report, the grand jurors express frustration over L&I's history of incompetence under former Commissioner Fran Burns and current Commissioner Carlton Williams.

    "The Buck factory was a large property, the focus of neighborhood complaints for years, with problems presenting a genuine danger," the grand jury report says. "If that wasn't enough to motivate any real action, how can we conclude that anything else would have been?"

    "The secret was spilled by both the current and past L&I commissioners," the report says. Both Burns and Williams "admitted that the Department does not really want to take large properties with serious violations before a judge. It turns out that if the building owner is unavailable to unable to pay for repairs, the court has the power to order the city to bear the cost."

    The city could have exerted leverage on the slumlords by holding up requested permits and a request for a much-needed zoning change, from commercial to residential, the grand jury report says. But L&I  "simply granted the requests, both initially and for renewals," the report says. "It was as if the multiple fire and building code violations didn't exist."

    This is what business friendly government looks like.

    At the time of the fire, the owners owed the city almost $400,000 in back taxes. "Apparently, however, no one even checked" before the zoning change granted, the report says.

    The city's Department of Revenue is responsible for collecting back taxes. But the department kept sending court actions to the wrong address. Those court actions were repeatedly dismissed because notices were sent to the vacant factory on York Street, rather than the company's office, the grand jury report says.

    Four times, the Water Revenue Bureau made the same mistake, sending legal actions to the wrong address. Four times, those actions were dismissed.

    "In fact, the Lichtensteins still owe thousands, and the Water Revenue Bureau is still sending the bills to an empty lot," the report says.

    During the fire, a brick wall that was part of adjacent furniture store collapsed. Four firefighters were buried under tons of bricks.

    Firefighters Patrick Nally and Francis Cheney, were seriously injured in the collapse. Lt. Neary and Firefigher Sweeney died before rescuers could dig them out.

    "With great frustration, we have concluded that criminal charges are not available, at least on the present state of the evidence and the law," the grand jury report says. "From what we know, the bureaucrats at L&I were guilty of indifference, not crime. The Lichtensteins were a closer call."

    The grand jury report blasts L&I officials for not holding the Lichensteins accountable, but also for providing them an alibi with false testimony.

    "It's not just that L&I failed completely to bring the owners to court and enforce the code; it's worse than that," the grand jury report says. "After generating notices that went nowhere, L&I inspectors testified that the property was properly sealed from intrusion with intact fencing and entrances. This contradicts all other evidence, and shows us that at least some inspections were spurious. Nevertheless, they [L&I] hand the Lichtensteins their best available defense."

    "We saw systemic failures at every level of L&I," the grand jury concludes "We believe it is time for a through review of the entire department by a truly independent agency."

    The grand jury called for the creation of a task force that would include L&I, the law department and the fire department, to address code violations in large vacant structures. The grand jury also called for the amendment of the criminal code to allow criminal prosecution of property owners who refuse to correct dangerous conditions.

    The grand jury report says that L&I, the city's law department, and revenue department watched helplessly as the property on York Street deteriorated.

    "The Lichtensteins demonstrated no serious intent to develop the York Street property," the grand jury report says. "They [the Lichtensteins] put no money into protecting it structurally. They allowed scrappers to steal valuable copper piping and dismantle the wiring and the elevator. They made little or no effort to keep squatters from entering the building. They obtained a demolition permit, but let it languish. They had no building plans, no building permits, no construction or demolition contracts, no construction financing, and no prospective tenants. And they failed to pay the city of Philadelphia a dime in taxes or water and sewer rents."

    In spite of overwhelming evidence that the Lichtensteins were slumlords who didn't care about public safety, the officials over at business friendly L&I, as well as the rest of the Nutter administration, did nothing to protect lives. The grand jury report assigned blame to each city agency involved in the mess.

    "L&I repeatedly issued code violations against the York Street property, yet did not follow up, and did not require the Lichtensteins to obtain a vacant property license or sprinkler variance," the grand jury report says.

    "Simultaneously, the Revenue and Law Department did little to collect unpaid real estate taxes and water rents amassed against York Street," the grand jury report says. "Despite the code vocations and tax delinquencies, L&I still issued zoning and demolition permits to the Lichtensteins. None of these departments ever investigated and connected the dots to sermon what was glaringly obvious -- that the Litchentenstens had no intention of complying with the law."

    The report ripped Fran Burns, Nutter's L&I commissioner from August 2008 to May 2012.

    "Despite the potential for large-scale catastrophes from neglected large vacant commercial properties, L&I saw no need to prioritize or take proactive measures with regards to these properties," the grand jury report says. "To the contrary, the Department has long avoided taking owners of these properties to court. Commissioner Burns explained that the concern is that, where the owner cannot be located or will not comply, the court could instead order the City to take the remedial action itself and foot the bill."

    That upset the grand jury.

    "But avoiding court is penny wise and pound foolish; a conflagration that endangers and kills is far most costly than cleaning and sealing," the grand jury report says. "Further, in this case, the owners could be found and there is no reason to believe that a court would have ordered the City, rather than the Lichtensteins, to remedy the violations."

    "Burns further explained that, under her watch, vacant commercial properties would only be inspected ever few years 'because usually they are maintained,'" the grand jury report says. "No specialized unit deals with vacant commercial and industrial properties. No special coding system identifies or categorizes these properties in L&I's database because 'it would take some mechanics and some work to do on the technology...' Thus the Department has no way to identify or prioritize these properties, and no apparent interest in doing so."

    "They should have," the grand jury concluded. "The steady deterioration of large vacant properties like York Street is inevitable, where, as here, owners refuse to remedy code violations. The sheer size of these properties and their proximity to residential and commercial properties means that their decline endangers a significant number of citizens and businesses. And in this case, it obviously was not true, as Burns maintained, that such structures are 'usually ... maintained.'"

    The grand jury report says that Commissioner Burns tried to portray L&I's actions in this case as an "example of a new, improved process she had implemented at L&I" in 2010.

    Burns new policy: if a property had three failed inspections, L&I was supposedly going to take the property owner to court. The facts, however, showed that the "Lichensteins received seven separate violation notices, and still, L&I never actually took them to court," the grand jury report says. "It just issued empty threats."

    The situation did not improve since Carlton Williams took over as L&I Commissioner on June 4, 2012. Under Williams, L&I has an annual budget of $21 million, and 320 employees, including 200 inspectors.

    "Unfortunately, certain ineffective practices and procedures have remained as well," the grand jury report says. "L&I did not, and despite the York street fire, does not, prioritize large vacant structures."

    "Commissioner Williams told us that 'there is a bit of reluctance' in L&I to deny permits to tax delinquents," the grand jury report says.

    "The way he explained it was, 'If you don't grant that permit to repair, you are leaving an unsafe condition,'" the report says. "But he situation here was not whether or not to issue a permit to correct an unsafe condition. The Lichensteins had no interest in repairing unsafe conditions, and no permit was necessary to correct the multiple vocations at their property. Further, tax delinquency correlates to blight; it is a red flag that L&I should heed. We simply do not understand, or find acceptable, L&I's 'reluctance.'"

    The report quotes Commissioner Williams' attempt to explain L&I's reluctance to take slumlords to court:

    "Well the problem is, it becomes a resource issue," Williams told the grand jury. "If we declare something imminently dangerous, actions -- the court expects you to take action. And if it it something that is structurally stable, but still a problem or nuisance to the community and if you put them in that court, if the property owner doesn't take action, then the City has the burden of that responsibility."

    "In other words, it remains L&I's practice to avoid taking owners of large vacant properties to court," the grand jury report says. "This institutional reluctance to take owners of large, vacant commercial properties like York Street to court is at odds with L&I's mission of protecting public safety."

    Our globetrotting mayor is out of the country again, visiting South Africa this week. His chief of staff, Everett Gillison, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that administration officials were reviewing the grand jury report, and would comment "in the days to come."

    To former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin, the grand jury report ratified his testimony at last year's City Council hearings on the fatal building collapse on Market Street. Levin criticized L&I under Nutter and Burns for politicizing the department, and for prioritizing economic development over public safety.

    In response, Nutter called Levin out of touch.

    "The grand jury by their findings has shown that it's not me that's out of touch, it's Nutter who's out of touch," Levin said. "The grand jury report is the worst indictment of the Nutter administration because you have two dead firemen for no apparent reason. Except that for the last 15 years, there's been no political will to let the department function free of political interference."

    Another more recent example of L&I's indifference and neglect of public safety is in Northeast Philadelphia, at the 11.7 acre site of a former giant furniture store. Neighbors have repeatedly complained that the site has been operating as an illegal landfill, and has become a dangerous magnet for local kids.

    The incompetence of business-friendly L&I continues to have deadly consequences. On Aug. 19, 2013, police found the body of a 19-year-old man who was executed there, shot up to a dozen times.



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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney has declined a petition to preside over the dissolution of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com.

    In a one-paragraph order entered into the record Friday afternoon, Judge McInerney wrote, "It hereby is ordered and decreed that this court declines to exercise jurisdiction" over the petition for dissolution sought by IGM minority owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.

    Although it does business in Philadelphia, IGM was incorporated in Delaware. According to its governing agreement, the company is to be dissolved under Delaware corporate law. That means it will be up to Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. of the Delaware Court of Chancery to decide how to proceed with the dissolution of IGM under its feuding owners.

    Friday's decision was a victory for a majority group of IGM owners that includes Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew. In Delaware, Vice Chancellor Parsons will now have to decide whether to order an open auction, as sought by Katz and Lenfest, or a private auction, as sought by Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew.

    An open auction would be open to outside bidders; a private auction would be limited to the feuding owners.

    In a statement on behalf of Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew, spokesman Dan Fee said, "We are pleased that our petition will be heard in Delaware, as we believed it should be under the terms of the operating agreement of Interestate General Media. We look forward to the opportunity to explain why any sale of IGM should be among its current owners as the agreements rates."

    Norcross, Hankowsky an Buckelew have "made it clear they are proud of the remarkable turnaround of IGM in the short time the company has owned the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com and look forward to being part of its future," Fee said. "We would like to thank the employees of IGM and our readers who have been patient and supportive of the papers and philly.com during this process. We hope and expect that with the approval of an internal auction among current members, we can put all of this behind us in a manner of weeks, if not days, and continue building on the company's progress."

    In a statement, Richard A. Sprague, lawyer for Katz and Lenfest, said, "We are confident that the Delaware Chancery Court will agree with our position that the best way to achieve the maximum value of the company is through a fair, open and public auction."

    While an open auction would achieve "the maximum value of the company," the Norcross faction has argued that it may also drive any new ownership group into debt, and force more layoffs and cutbacks at the two newspapers and website.

    In the last round of litigation involving the feuding owners, Judge McInerney ordered the return of both Inquirer editor Bill Marimow and Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall to their jobs last November.

    Hall, who was supposed to retire as of Dec. 31, is still on the job. Marimow's contract is up at the end of April. Neither Hall or Marimow can be replaced while the feuding owners remain hopelessly deadlocked.

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn say the Philadelphia district attorney is resorting to hysteria, emotion and histrionics in his legal appeal to send their client back to jail.

    District Attorney Seth Williams has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a Dec. 26th opinion from a panel of three Superior Court judges that reversed Msgr, Lynn's prior conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. 

    In its appeal to the state Supreme Court, the district attorney said the reversal by the Superior Court panel sent a "dismal message" to the survivors of sex abuse. Also, because of the overly broad language and "misapplication of law" in the Superior Court opinion, the district attorney warned that the state may not be able to protect future victims of child abuse.

    Lynn's lawyers saw it differently.

    "The Commonwealth willfully the distorts the Superior Court's decision, which "simply concluded" that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn, as he was "neither a parent, guardian, nor other person supervising the welfare of a child," Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis argue in their 27-page response to the D.A.'s petition that was filed today.

    "In the absence of law and fact to support its position, the Commonwealth hopes to trick this Court into hearing its appeal on the basis of hysterics," Bergstrom and Khaskelis argue to the state Supreme Court. Lynn's lawyers also accuse the district attorney of employing "histrionics" and "an irrational appeal to emotion."

    Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy, was convicted on June 22, 2012 by a jury of one count of endangering the welfare of a child. He was the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for failing to control an abusive priest. Lynn had served 18 months of a 3 to 6 year sentence when he was set free on bail after the Superior Court reversed his conviction.

    In their response to the D.A.s appeal to the state Supreme Court, Lynn's lawyers delve into the factual history of the case. It began in 1992 when a 29-year old man wrote the secretary for clergy to say he had been molested as a teenager back in the late 1970s by Father Edward V. Avery.

    Avery was a "close personal friend" of the victim and his family for many years, Lynn's lawyer say. "It was a relationship that began when Avery was a priest in the parish" where the victim's family belonged.

    When the victim was 15, after a night in a bar, the priest groped the victim while the two shared a bed. At the time, the teenager was "Avery's only known victim," Lynn's lawyer wrote.

    When Lynn confronted Avery about the accusation, he denied it. Lynn recommended to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua that Avery undergo an assessment and inpatient treatment at St. John Vianney, the archdiocese's own psychiatric hospital. Avery was hospitalized for more than eight months. His diagnosis was alcoholism. He was not diagnosed with any sexual disorder. The archdiocese's doctors pronounced Avery "fit to return to ministry."

    Avery's therapists did recommend that he return to a ministry with "no direct contact with children." Bevilacqua assigned Avery as chaplain at Nazareth Hospital, with a residency at St. Jerome's parish in Northeast Philadelphia, which had "a large rectory where several other priests could observe Avery."

    Lynn put together an "aftercare integration team" that included Father Graham, pastor of St. Jerome's.  Lynn told Father Graham "the details of Avery's past and the nature of Avery's treatment, asking Father Graham to be vigilant of Avery," Lynn's lawyers wrote.

    From the time Avery was discharged in 1993 until 1998, Avery was receiving outpatient treatment at St. John Vianney. Avery's therapists regularly wrote to Lynn, saying that Avery was "progressing well in therapy." Avery attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for two years. He also received a Ph.D. in divinity.

    Avery was removed from ministry as a result of "a new more rigorous archdiocesan policy," Lynn's lawyers wrote. Msgr. Lynn had "no indication whatsoever that Avery had contact with children in his ministerial duties." Father Graham had complained that Avery was "unwilling  to help out at the parish and had fewer duties than other priests living at St. Jerome's rectory," Lynn's lawyers wrote. Avery confined himself to his chaplain duties.

    In 2002, after the archdiocese adopted a "zero-tolerance" policy with regards to sex abuse, Lynn asked Avery to undergo a second psychological assessment. This time, Avery's therapists noted a "history of alcohol abuse," but said the priest "did not present as an individual with a sexual disorder."

    Father Graham told therapists that he "had never observed Avery around young people."

    Avery was removed from ministry in 2003 and removed from the priesthood because of his molestation of the 15-year-old during the late 1970s.

    In 2009, a victim a grand jury labeled "Billy Doe" came forward to charge that Avery had sexually abused him during the 1998-99 school year, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

    Unlike the previous victim, Billy Doe "recounted a story of random abuse, by a priest whom neither he nor his parents had a relationship," Lynn's lawyers wrote. "In sum, [Lynn] did not suspect, and had many valid reasons not to suspect, that Avery was anything but rehabilitated. He certainly never foresaw that the tragic events leadeng up to [Billy Doe's] abuse would take place."

    In the appeal to the state Supreme Court, the D.A. claimed that Lynn "was a high-ranking Archdiocesan official specifically responsible for protecting children from pedophile priests. Instead, he relocated them, as part of a general scheme of concealment, in a manner that put additional children at risk of being sexually molested."

    The D.A. argued that "the Superior Court errs in holding that a church official who systematically reassigned pedophile priests in a manner that risked further sexual abuse of children did not endanger the welfare of children."

    In their response, Lynn's lawyers cry foul.

    "This is a distortion of the holding at best and at worst, a complete fabrication that insults the intelligence and integrity of the Superior Court," Lynn's lawyers argue.

    The original law that Lynn was convicted under says, "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

    The Superior Court opinion reversing Lynn's conviction held that the original child endangerment law "did not apply to him [Lynn] as he was neither a parent, guardian, nor other person supervising the welfare of  a child," Lynn's lawyers wrote. In addition, the Superior Court held that the district attorney did not meet its burden in proving that Lynn was an accomplice in Avery's crime of endangering the welfare of child [EWOC].

    "Contrary to what the Comomnwealth would lead this Court to believe, [Lynn] was never charged with or convicted of reassigning pedophile priests," Lynn's lawyers wrote. He was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child.

    Avery was never diagnosed as a peodplhie and was not reassigned "as part of a general scheme of concealment," Lynn's lawyers argue.

    The jury acquitted Lynn of one conspiracy to commit EWOC count, and the trial judge dismissed another conspiracy to commit EWOC count.

    Lynn's lawyers took a dim view of the D.A.'s argument that the Superior Court opinion reversing Lynn's conviction will prevent the state from protecting future victims of abuse.

    "The Commonwealth's accounts of the perils of the precedent set by the Superior Court's decision is baseless and illogical," Lynn's lawyers write. "There is no need for this Court to consider this position. In the aftermath of the 2007 amendment to the EWOC statute, which includes a new category of potential defendants, there will be few, if any prosecutions like this case, based on the old version of the statute. The Court's precious resources would be wasted on considering a case with no prospective value."

    In 2007, the state amended the EWOC law to include supervisors such as Lynn.

    "It is, frankly, astonishing, that the Commonwealth showed a modicum of restraint and did not take the small step to accuse a panel of thoughtful and distinguished jurists of facilitating EWOC themselves," Lynn's lawyers write.

    The district attorney's warning that the amended statute "will not protect children has absolutely no grounding in the words of the Superior Court opinion or the language of the new statute," Lynn's lawyers wrote. "It is nothing but an irrational appeal to  emotion that should be ignored."



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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    It was mood music for a corporate takeover.

    A few hours after a rowdy shareholders meeting formalized what federal authorities allege was Salvatore Pelullo's secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial, Pelullo hosted a celebratory dinner for company officers and members of the board of directors at a posh steakhouse in Dallas.

    As he sat at the head of a long table in a private dining room at DelFrisco's on that night in October 2007, a violinist serenaded  Pelullo repeatedly with the same song, said Robert O'Neal, then chairman of the board and president of FirstPlus.

    O'Neal, testifying for the prosecution at the racketeering trial of Pelullo, mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and five other defendants, said the song was all too familiar and somewhat ominous.

    "It was the theme from The Godfather," he said in response to a question from Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Small.

    O'Neal was the second FirstPlus official to take the stand in the now month-old trial. Among other things, he told the jury that his signature had been forged on at least two company documents authorizing the $1.8 million purchase of a financial company.

    That purchase was one a several gambits the government alleges Pelullo and Scarfo orchestrated after taking behind the scenes control of FirstPlus in June 2007. The racketeering indictment alleges that Scarfo and Pelullo siphoned $12 million out of the struggling, Texas-based mortgage company, using the funds to support high flying lifestyles that included expensive cars, lavish homes and a yacht they christened "Priceless."

    Scarfo, 47, has been identified as a member of the Lucchese crime family in North Jersey. He is the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo. Pelullo, 45, of Elkins Park, has been identified as a mob associate.

    O'Neal, a chiropractor from Beaumont, Tx., said he was brought into FirstPlus by William Maxwell, an attorney and friend who had been named special counsel to FirstPlus. Maxwell's brother John was the CEO of the company. The Maxwell brothers are co-defendants in the case along with three other attorneys, including Donald Manno of Cherry Hill, Scarfo's longtime defense attorney.

    O'Neal is expected back on the stand when the trial resumes Thursday. Court is in recess tomorrow.

    Earlier today David Roberts, another former FirstPlus official, completed his fourth day on the witness stand. Roberts testified that he was threatened by Pelullo and that while Pelullo was listed only as a "consultant," he was in fact the person running the company.

    "What was said was what was done," Roberts said of Pelullo.

    Roberts said Pelullo used fear and intimidation, including allusions to his mob connections, to bully him and others in the company. In earlier testimony, he told the jury that shortly after taking control of FirstPlus Pelullo warned Roberts and the Maxwell brothers that if they ever cooperated with the government, "our wives would be raped by niggers and our children would be sold as prostitutes."

    Roberts, who said he had two daughters aged three and five, said he was frightened by the threat and decided, "I wasn't going to be a problem. I was going to do what I had to do."

    During cross-examination, defense attorneys challenged Roberts' credibility and motives for cooperating, pointing out among other things, that he had lied on his resume -- Roberts conceded that he had "embellished" -- and that he borrowed $38,000 from Pelullo even while claiming he feared him.

    Roberts served as secretary of the company and was a member of the board of directors from the summer of 2007 until early in 2008. He was also vice president of a FirstPlus subsidiary. He said he earned an annual salary of $150,000.

    The FBI first questioned him in September 2008, he said, about six months after his job had been terminated. He said he wasn't surprised to get a visit from federal investigators because he had had concerns about the way FirstPlus was operating.

    "From the inside it did not look like what I envisioned a public company would look like," he said. 

    O'Neal told a similar story about the way FirstPlus was run. He said he was brought into the company by William Maxwell and that Pelullo was introduced as a "consultant." He said he was unaware that Pelullo had two prior convictions for fraud, facts that would have impacted his decision to get involved.

    He said William Maxwell later boasted about a legal appeal he was working on for "Little Nicky" who he later learned was jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. Scarfo. The elder Scarfo, 83, has been jailed since 1988 on racketeering and murder charges. He is serving a 55-year sentence.

    Testimony and evidence introduced at the trial has included records of Pelullo and the younger Scarfo visiting the mob boss in prison in Atlanta and taped phone conversations from prison in which Scarfo and his son discuss what the government alleges was the FirstPlus takeover.

    O'Neal said he twice traveled to the Philadelphia - South Jersey area with William Maxwell. On both
    occasions, he said, they met with Sal Pelullo and on one occasion they went to an Italian restaurant where he was introduced to the younger Scarfo.

    Maxwell, he said, pointed to Scarfo who was standing in front of the restaurant and said, "He's the man. He's the money." O'Neal said he assumed Scarfo was "the Godfather."

    O'Neal said after he became president of FirstPlus he was "very concerned about the leadership of the company." He said William Maxwell assured him that Pelullo would not be involved in the operations, but O'Neal said that assurance was hollow and that Pelullo remained very active in the decision making process. O'Neal said he opted to resign early in 2008, claiming he did not have the time to commit to the job as president.

    In fact, he said, he lied about why he wanted to step down. His real reason, he said, was his concern about organized crime.

    "I didn't want to make anyone mad," he said. "I just wanted to get out."

    On cross-examination by Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, O'Neal admitted that anything he knew about the Mafia came from movies and news reports. He said he had had very little contact with Italian-Americans in Texas.

    Throughout the trial, the defense has hammered away at two themes -- FirstPlus was a failing company that floundered not because of fraudulent business deals, but because of its weak financial position; and the introduction of the spectre of organized crime into the case is an attempt by the government to sensationalize and hype an otherwise complicated and boring story of a financial collapse.

    Returning to the dinner at DelFrisco's and The Godfather music, Riley asked O'Neal if it would be unusual to hear Mexican music being played in a Mexican restaurant. He also asked him if his perceptions of Pelullo and Scarfo weren't clouded by "the stereotype that Italian-Americans" from the northeast part of the United States were Mafia.

    Isn't that the same, Riley asked, as northerners who believe everyone from Texas "wears a cowboy hat, drives a pickup truck and has cows?"

    O'Neal said it wasn't just The Godfather theme, but "the way it was done."

    "He was playing it directly to Mr. Pelullo," said O'Neal, adding that the violinist played the theme three or four times in succession. He also said John Maxwell's two sons, one in high school and the other in college, acted as "body guards" for Pelullo, accompanying him whenever he got up from the table.

    Riley asked incredulously if O'Neal wanted the jury to believe that "two boys, one in college and the other in high school" where providing security for a Mafia figure? O'Neal struggled with the answer, but said that's what it seemed like to him.

    While not part of today's testimony, other government documents and records indicate that the October 2007 shareholder's meeting was the focal point of the takeover of FirstPlus. The government alleges that Pelullo threatened officials to get shareholder votes in line and used intimidation to thwart a rival group of shareholders who opposed the new board of directors that the government said Pelullo had put in place.

    The dinner at DelFrisco's was to celebrate the victory, but O'Neal said he was taken aback as were other company officials who attended.

    As a final question, Riley asked O'Neal, "Do you wear a cowboy hat, drive a pickup truck and have cows?"

    "Two out of three," said the witness.

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    The Philadelphia Inquirer is a "vanity asset" that should be disposed of at a private "English-style" auction.

    That auction should feature "open, ascending serial bidding" restricted to the two current feuding ownership factions, who presumably between servings of tea and crumpets, would have the option to buy each other out.

    With an English-style auction restricted to the current owners, continuity and confidentially would be preserved, and the struggling newspaper would have a chance to succeed economically, according to the ownership faction led by South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross.

    The rival ownership faction of  Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest disagrees. They seek court appointment of a receiver, who would oversee a public auction with sealed bids. After all the envelopes are opened, the city's paper of record would be sold to highest qualified bidder. The primary goal of the Katz-Lenfest faction would be to obtain the highest sales price. Katz and Lenfest say the limited English-style auction proposed by Norcross would "artificially restrict" that sales price.

    The two alternative auction proposals were outlined in court papers filed today in the Delaware Court of Chancery, where Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. will oversee the sale of Interstate General Media [IGM], owner of the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the philly.com website. Predictably, the feuding ownership factions can't agree on anything.


    Norcross, and two other IGM co-owners, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew, foresee dire consequences with a public auction.

    "A public auction would force IGM to spend very large amounts of money on setting up a data room, providing access to the key officers and employees and hiring investment bankers and lawyers," said P. Clarkson Collins Jr., the Wilmington lawyer representing the Norcross faction in the Delaware courts. "And all of those costs would be compounded by the inevitable flood of curiosity seeking bidders who appear whenever a vanity asset is on the market."

    "Unfortunately, like many newspapers, IGM, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com, has suffered financial losses in recent years," Collins writes. "As just one indicator, on April 2, 2012, IGM purchased the company owning the Inquirer [Philadelphia Media Network, Inc. or PMN] for approximately $61 million. This was 44 percent of the $139 million paid for it just 18 months earlier in September of 2010, and less than 12 percent of its $515 million purchase price in 2006."

    "With decreasing numbers of subscribers and difficulties adjusting to the digital age, newspapers face many challenges in the near future in order to survive," Collins writes.

    At a public auction, "given the record loss in value over the last several years, a third party considering investing will want to obtain as much information about the company and its executives as possible," Collins writes. An optimistic estimate would be 90 days.

    "It would be another four months before new executives could be reeducated and hired," Collins warns. "IGM and its employees cannot afford a continuing state of paralysis for two months, much less seven or more months. And the deterioration of the entity that will take place during a public auction process will almost inevitably result in a lowered value for the current owners, not a higher one."

    The Katz and Lenfest faction disagree, saying that a public auction could be done in a timely fashion.

    They ask the Delaware Court to appoint a receiver, who would announce the public auction of IGM. For a period of 30 days, the court-appointed "receiver will 'shop' IGM to potentially interested purchasers, who will have access to a data room compiled under the supervision of the receiver, to allow for due diligence," wrote Collins J. Seitz Jr., the Wilmington lawyer who represents the Katz and Lenfest ownership faction in Delaware's Chancery Court

    At the end of 30 days, the receiver will "invite all interested parties who meet the requirements of a qualified bidder to submit a single, sealed bid." The primary concern is "which liquidation method will maximize value for all" of the company's current owners.

    "A public auction in which multiple parties submit sealed bids for all of IGM's assets ... will provide for the value-maximizing sale that Delaware law requires," Seitz writes. In contrast, Seitz writes, "English-style' bidding [would be] limited to the two current ownership factions," which would "artificially restrict" the sales price.

    Seitz proposes a court hearing of no more than two days, at which the Katz and Lenfest faction "will demonstrate through expert testimony that the public auction ... has a greater likelihood of yielding a higher sale price for IGM than a private sale limited to only two participants."

    Sealed auction bids "are often employed to maximize value," Seitz argues. "A single-sealed bid is a preferred approach when bidders will include groups who hold material equity positions in the auctioned entity."

    Because the current owners can't agree on anything, the new owners will have their work cut out for them. They will have to hire "the four most senior management positions" -- a new publisher, new editors of the Inquirer and philly.com, and an executive in charge of production and distribution, Collins writes.

    The Norcross faction warns that another possible monkey wrench in a public auction might be confidentiality.

    IGM's LLC agreement "prioritizes confidentiality, including a robust confidentiality provision binding" the current owners, Collins writes. "A public auction requires no confidentiality of finances and other confidential affairs of IGM and PMN."

    A private auction, Collins argues, would also stabilize ownership until 2016, at a company that has "seen multiple changes of ownership in recent years."

    "The current management deadlock goes beyond selecting a new publisher and new editors for The Philadelphia Inquirer and philly.com," Collins writes. "It extends to being unable to retain key employees and to attract able executives. It delays the implementation of the negotiated profit sharing agreement" with the newspaper's unions. "Talented people do not want to endure a protracted management impasse and the uncertainty it engenders."

    "The same is true of key revenue sources like advertisers," Collins writes. "Uncertain about advertising polices going forward, advertisers are reluctant to enter into renewal agreements and can easily decide to move to other outlets. The fact is that the company needs to act quickly to stem the loss of advertising revenue. Delay will make that extremely difficult."

    IGM "is not currently in bankruptcy with creditors knocking on its door but the current management deadlock puts it in immediate peril," Collins concludes.

    "Although IGM's ownership might be faulted for the inability to resolve their differences, they at
    least had the foresight to require that a dissolution prioritize speed, confidentiality and continuity of ownership over 'maximizing value' in the short term for the selling parties," Collins writes.

    He urges the Chancery Court "to recognize the intent of the [current] owners, as well as the need for a quick resolution, and order an immediate private auction among the existing owners."

    The Katz and Lenfest faction, however, sees no value in any continuity of ownership "among the original members of IGM."

    "This contention is meritless," Seitz writes. "Ultimately these provisions of the LLC Agreement presuppose a board not subject to deadlock and have no bearing on a judicial dissolution ordered by this Court." A private auction would "artificially restrict the price that IGM's members will receive as a result of the sale of assets," Seitz argues.

    The Newspaper Guild's motion to intervene in the current dispute "demonstrates that there is interest outside of the current ownership in bidding on IGM," Seitz concludes. "Additional  bidders will promote an even greater sale price."

    While the battle over the upcoming auction plays out in the Delaware courts, IGM's feuding ownership factions are still going at it in the Pennsylvania courts.

    In Pennsylvania Superior Court today, Philadelphia attorney Richard A. Sprague, acting on behalf of Katz and Lenfest, filed an appeal of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney's Feb. 18 opinion where she declined to take jurisdiction over the breakup of IGM.

    Judge McInerney opted to defer to the Delaware courts, as IGM was incorporated in Delaware, and according to its limited liability agreement agreement, the company should be dissolved under terms of the Delaware Limited Liability Act.

    In her order, Judge McInerney declined an emergency petition from Sprague for dissolution and a request for an appointment of a trustee.

    "IGM was created in Delaware and therefore should be dissolved ... by a judicial decree entered by a Delaware court," Judge McInerney wrote. "In this particular case, the parties sought judicial relief per the Delaware Limited Liability Act. As such, this court did not have jurisdiction."


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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    Ron Galati, the Don Corleone of the South Philadelphia auto repair business, was arraigned earlier this week on murder-for-hire, conspiracy and witness intimidation charges.

    The wannabe wiseguy pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail pending trial. He is also the target of two other investigations, an insurance fraud probe in Philadelphia and another murder-for-hire and fraud case in New Jersey.

    Galati, if the District Attorney's allegations prove true, has apparently turned an insurance fraud pinch that could have landed him in jail for from five to six years into an attempted murder-witness intimidation fiasco that could result in a prison sentence of up to 30 years. That's not a pleasant prospect for the 63-year-old mob associate who underworld sources say always talked a better game than he played.

    Two reputed hitmen allegedly hired by Galati have given him up in what investigators say was a plan to murder two rival auto body shop owners -- a father and son -- who may have been cooperating with the DA's office. Those hits were never carried out, but a third shooting in Atlantic City is still under investigation.

    The target that time was Andrew Tuono, the boyfriend of Galati's daughter Tiffany. The attempted hit went down. Tuono was shot three times in the stomach outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30. He survived. The two shooters were arrested within minutes of the assault and quickly rolled on Galati, whom they said promised to pay them to kill Tuono and had also hired them to rub out Joseph Rao and his son, Joe Jr., because Galati believed -- correctly -- that Rao Sr. had testified against him before a grand jury in an insurance fraud probe.

    "This guy is ratting on me on an insurance thing," alleged hitman Ronald Walker told investigators Galati told him.

    Walker and Alvin Matthews have been arrested for the Tuono shooting. They have also admitted, according to an affidavit that is part of the pending Galati case, that they were tapped by Galati to shoot the Raos.

    "They gotta go," Walker said Galati told him.

    The affidavit of probable cause, the basis for Galati's arrest in December, was sworn to by Philadelphia Police Det. Robert DiFrancesco and Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael Romano. DeFrancesco is assigned to the District Attorney's Insurance Fraud Unit. Romano is part of an Organized Crime Task Force.

    They jointly interviewed Walker and then Matthews who were being held in the Atlantic County Jail after their arrests by Atlantic City police.

    During his interview, which took place on Dec. 6, Walker told the investigators that "sometime before Halloween" he met with Galati and Jerome Johnson, a Galati associate who has also been charged in the case. The meeting took place outside American Collision, the auto repair shop Galati runs at 1930 S. 20th Street.

    Walker said the meeting was set up by Johnson, a lifelong friend who told him "Galati had a problem" that he wanted to discuss with them. Walker said the three of them walked up the street from the auto body shop, pausing in front of what appeared to be an abandoned house nearby.

    There, he said, Galati asked him to kill both Raos.

    "Galati wanted him to go to the garage and shoot both of them in the head," according to the affidavit. Galati also asked how much it would cost. After Walker told him $20,000 for each, Galati allegedly replied, "Alright."

    Walker told authorities Galati reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash -- $800 -- which he handed him. Walker considered it a down payment for the murders.

    What neither Galati nor Walker realized at the time was that the state police, who had begun an insurance fraud investigation a year earlier, had a surveillance camera mounted across the street from American Collision.

    Romano, the state trooper, spent hours after the first interview with Walker reviewing tape from October 2013. The tape, according to the affidavit, includes video from October 23 that shows Galati meeting with Walker, Matthews and Johnson outside the auto body shop between 1:45 and 2:45 that afternoon.

    While there apparently is no audio, that kind of evidence could be effectively used by prosecutors to support Walker's story if and when he takes the witness stand against Galati.

    Walker and Matthews also told the investigators that after they were assigned the murder contract on the Raos they did "recon," visiting Rao's auto body shop at 9th and McKean Streets in South Philadelphia. In fact, it appears Joseph Rao and his son unknowingly stared death in the eye at one point.

    Matthews told the investigators that it was Johnson who solicited him to get involved in the Rao contracts. He said Johnson told him that Galati wanted Joseph Rao Sr. killed because he was "testifying against him...or trying to get him indicted or something along those lines."

    Mathews said he knew the Raos from another body shop they once owned at 24th and Wharton in South Philadelphia. Matthews said he was promised a car and some money, but he said he didn't know how much, for carrying out the hits. He said he visited the shop at 9th and McKean pretending that he was interested in a job cleaning cars.

    The would-be hitman said he gave Joseph Rao Sr. a phony name and telephone number. When questioned by investigators, Rao said he remembered a black male stopping by the shop sometime in late October or early November looking for a job "cleaning out cars or detailing cars," according to the affidavit.

    Rao said he thought that might be a good idea and told his son, who was also in the shop, that it would "save you from doing it.

    Matthews told authorities he did not want to carry out the hit that day because there were others in the shop. He said he went back to a car where Johnson was waiting with a gun and told him that Rao wasn't there.

    He and Walker also told authorities that they went back to the shop in November to carry out the murders and found it had been padlocked, apparently as part of a city investigation into insurance fraud.

    At that point, Matthews said, Johnson told him "it's time to concentrate on the young boy (Tuono) now."

    Both Walker and Matthews told authorities that they had previously been hired by Galati to vandalized cars. Those cars would then to brought to Galati's shop for repair work. That scenario was similar to what authorities alleged Galati was doing in the early 1990s. He was convicted in 1995 and served 37 months in a federal insurance fraud case.

    Mob associate Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello told a jury at the recent trial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, that he and Borgesi worked similar scams for Galati. He said Galati would make copies of keys to cars of customers. After the cars were repaired, Monacello said, Borgesi, using keys provided by Galati, would steal the cars and crash them into other vehicles that also belonged to Galati customers, creating more work and potential insurance windfalls for the auto body shop owner.

    Monacello said he was paid $100-a-night.

    Walker and Matthews both told investigators that Galati paid them for their vandalism work. Walker estimated that he had damaged about 20 vehicles for Galati and was paid between $500 and $1,500. Matthews said he was involved in 50 incidents and was paid from $20 to $50 per event. Matthews said he also was paid to "set numerous fires on boats" and at least one house, according to the affidavit.

    Sources said that federal authorities in New Jersey have taken up the case there against Galati which includes the attempted murder of Andrew Tuono and insurance fraud connected to at least one boat fire and other acts of vandalism.

    The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, meanwhile, is expected to drop another shoe with an indictment that focuses on the insurance fraud that precipitated the investigation of Galati. That case could include multiple defendants. Whether any of them are tied to organized crime is open to speculation.

    For years Galati has basked in the low-life celebrity of knowing and being around mob figures including Borgesi, Ligambi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. Sources say the insurance fraud case  could spill over on to members of Ligambi's family, both his relatives and mob associates.

    From Florida, Merlino recently said that "the only thing Ron Galati can say about me is that my hair is black."

    Authorities have long believed that it was in Galati's auto body shop that a stolen van was converted into a "hit machine" by members of the Merlino organization. That van, with two portholes cut in its side, was used to carry out the infamous ambush of mob boss John Stanfa on the Schuylkill Expressway in the middle of morning rush hour traffic on August 31, 1993.

    Stanfa's car was strafed by fire from two machine pistols that morning. The mob boss, in the front passenger seat, ducked. His son Joseph, riding in the back seat, took a bullet to the cheek. But the younger Stanfa survived. The statue of limitations on that shooting has long expired. Unless authorities were able to roll it into a racketeering case, anything Galati knows about it might be useless.

    What's more, District Attorney Seth Williams has made witness intimidation cases a high priority in this office. Philadelphia has a long history of witnesses being killed, particularly in the drug underworld. Kaboni Savage, convicted last year and sentenced to death, was charged with 12 murders. Eight of those were linked to witness intimidation, including the firebombing of a home in which two women and four children were killed.

    It may be that the District Attorney's Office doesn't want to make a deal with Galati who may have placed himself in a position to be the poster boy for the DA's war against witness violence. In that case, whatever -- if anything -- Galati can say to tie some Ligambi associates to insurance fraud might not be enough to get him out from under his own problems.

    The attempted murder of Andrew Tuono adds another "family" twist to the building Galati saga. Sources said Galati, acting like Don Corleone, held court in an Italian restaurant outside of Atlantic City shortly before the shooting and may have discussed what was planned with others that night.

    More troubling, say both underworld and law enforcement sources, is that the attempted hit was carried out in front of Galati's daughter. Both Tiffany Galati and Tuono are believed to be cooperating with investigators.

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

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    By George Anastasia
    For Bigtrial.net

    He was nearly killed in one of the  most infamous gangland shootings in the violent history of the Philadelphia mob.

    His older brother has changed his name to get out from under the family stigma.

    A younger brother tried to commit suicide for the same reason and has been comatose for 25 years.

    That's part of the depressing personal history of Nicodemo S. Scarfo, a story that has made its way into testimony in the now seven-week old racketeering and fraud trial playing out in federal district court in Camden.

    Scarfo, 47, is the lead defendant in the case. He and Salvatore Pelullo, a 45-year-old Mafia wannabe, are charged with orchestrating the secret takeover of a Texas mortgage company in 2007 and then ripping it off to the tune of $12 million.

    But folded into the testimony about corporate structure, SEC filings and lawyerly due diligence, the anonymously chosen jury panel of 18 (six are alternates) has also been getting a primer of the turbulent history of the local mob.

    Scarfo and his jailed father, Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, are at the center of that story.

    "You're aware, aren't you, that he was shot in 1989 and almost killed?" Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, asked his client's probation officer, Sharon O'Brien as she testified earlier today.

    O'Brien, who is due back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow, said she was. One can assume the jury is also aware since this was not the first time Riley has mentioned the Halloween night shooting at Dante & Luigi's Restaurant that left the younger Scarfo with seven bullet holes in his body.

    Both the defense and the prosecution have used elements of the bloody Scarfo family saga to underscore their positions in the trial.

    Riley has masterfully laid out the defense claim that prosecutors have used the spectre of organized crime to sensationalize and prop up fraud allegations that have little, if any, foundation. He has also told the jury that his client has been targeted by law enforcement -- often unjustly -- for most of his adult life because he shares the same name with his infamous father.

    Little Nicky Scarfo is considered one of the most violent mob bosses in the history of the American Mafia and has been described by some prosecutors as a "psychopath" with a disturbing penchant for violence.

    Prosecutors have painted Scarfo and Pelullo as corporate gangsters who used strong arm Mafia tactics, including threats of violence, to take over FirstPlus Financial and then, in a classic mob play, bust the joint out.

    Ironically, it is Pelullo, on secretly recorded conversations picked up on FBI wiretaps, who has made most of those threats and who has talked like a B-movie bad guy. Scarfo's story, however, is the wheel around which the mob allegations spin.

    It could be months before the jury is asked to sort it all out. Scarfo and Pelullo, both convicted felons, could face prison sentences of 30 years or more if convicted. Five other defendants, including four attorneys and the former CEO of FirstPlus are also on trial.

    Scarfo's father and Lucchese crime family boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso have been identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. Testimony and evidence has included details of visits Scarfo and Pelullo made to a federal prison in Atlanta where Scarfo was serving a 55-year term
    on racketeering and murder charges.

    The elder Scarfo, 84, has a parole date of 2033, meaning he will probably die in jail. From testimony and evidence offered by the prosecution, he has been portrayed as a sounding board and cheerleader for what authorities say was the plan to takeover and loot FirstPlus.

    He also warned his son about problems in the New Jersey underworld, describing several key members of the Lucchese family with whom the young Scarfo was associated as "rats" who should be avoided.

    A letter Scarfo wrote to his son from prison in January 2008 -- about the same time the FirstPlus scam was unfolding according to authorities -- was introduced as evidence earlier in the trial. Attached to the letter, according to testimony, were court documents related to a wiretap affidavit and transcript from a 1999 federal investigation of organized crime figures.

    The targets of that probe apparently included brothers Michael and Martin Taccetta and several members of the Perna family, fathers and sons, all of whom were members or associates of the Lucchese organization.

    "My dear Son," Scarfo wrote, "hold on to these 39 pages for the future. Review them. Tacettas and Pernas are rats and the younger ones are glorified rats by proxy. And who knows how far they will go in the future. As far as I'm concerned, they're all lying rats.
    "Love, Dad xxoo"

    "Hardly a Hallmark card, is it," Riley quipped when cross-examining a federal prison official about the letter.

    Donald Manno, a former Scarfo lawyer who is a co-defendant in the case, described the note as an attempt "by an old man" to "protect his son as best he could." Manno, who is representing himself, asked the same prison official the question that Riley posed to the probation officer today.

    "You're aware that the son was shot seven timse, almost killed, by enemies of the father...you're aware of that?" Manno asked.

    There has been no detailed explanation of what led Scarfo to make the allegation about the Taccettas and Pernas. The Taccetta brothers have been jailed on federal racketeering charges and on murder charges tied to a state case in Toms River involving the bludgeoning death of a video poker machine operator with golf clubs.

    Martin Taccetta, released from prison a few years ago, is under indictment in Morris County in a pending state racketeering gambling case that includes 30 other mob members and associates, including the younger Scarfo and four members of the Perna family.

    Michael Taccetta is due to be released from federal custody shortly.

    One underworld source, while not discounting the possibility that some of those individuals mentioned by Scarfo may be cooperating, added that Scarfo, in jail since 1987, "is delusional. He thinks everybody's a rat."

    The letter and bits and pieces of the overlapping mob connections are part of the intriguing back story that the jury in the FirstPlus case has been hearing. The jury also was shown a letter from the elder Scarfo to Pelullo and one from Amuso to the younger Scarfo congratulating him on being remarried.

    Scarfo's marital problems were also part of the testimony today. He divorced his first wife in February 2007 and married his current wife on Valentine's Day of that year. His wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo, was indicted in the FirstPlus case and has pleaded guilty to a mortgage fraud charge linked to the couple's purchase of a $715,000 home in Egg Harbor Township.

    The down payment for that home came from money siphoned out of FirstPlus, authorities allege, and the mortgage itself was arranged through companies the government has linked to the scam.

    O'Brien, the probation officer, was asked about two of those companies today, Global Net and Learned Associates and Scarfo's ties to them. O'Brien said she never determined exactly what the relationship was, but said her office was aware of the ongoing FBI investigation into FirstPlus and did not want to jeopardize it by raising questions with Scarfo.

    Evidence introduced at the trial indicates that at the time Scarfo completed his three years of probation under O'Brien's supervision in March 2007 he was being paid $33,000-a-month as a consultant for Seven Hills Management, a Pelullo-backed company that authorities allege was also part of the scam. Scarfo also told O'Brien that he was about to begin working a second job for William Maxwell, a Texas lawyer whose brother John was the CEO of FirstPlus.

    William Maxwell was special counsel to FirstPlus at the time. The Maxwell brothers are co-defendants in the ongoing trial. A letter from Maxwell indicated that he was going to pay Scarfo $150,000-a-year to develop business contacts and identify companies that could be purchased in New Jersey. The job also included a car, cell phone and business expenses.

    "An opportunity like this is one I can build a tremendous career on," Scarfo said in a note to O'Brien about the job offer. The government alleges the salary from Maxwell and the consulting fee from Seven Hills were part of the scam and ways to funnel money from FirstPlus to Scarfo.

    O'Brien said that Scarfo never fully disclosed his finances to the probation department, as he was required to do under the terms of his supervised release. She also said he lied to her by denying he had had contact with convicted felons and organized crime figures, two other prohibitions.

    Personal details of Scarfo's life were also part of her testimony. She told the jury that before moving, Scarfo was living in Ventnor with his first wife, his daughter, his mother and his (comatose) brother.

    Later, after divorcing and remarrying, she said Scarfo made a point of asking her to come and see his new baby. His second wife gave birth of a baby boy a few months after they were married on Valentine's Day 2007, she said.

    O'Brien said Scarfo proudly told her he had named the enfant "Nicodemo Scarfo 3d."

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

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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright today swore in a panel of 12 jurors and 4 alternates. Then, the judge gave the jury a cold case to solve, namely whether a Catholic priest had sexually assaulted a former altar boy some 16 years ago.

    The cold case comes with a media spotlight. "This is what's called a publicity or media case," Judge Bright warned the just-picked panel of 12 women and 4 men.

    The judge informed the jury that it was one of the most "important and solemn duties of citizenship" for them to sit as jurors who will decide the fate of Father Andrew McCormick. The 57-year-old priest is accused of sexually assaulting a former 10-year-old altar boy during the 1997-98 school year at St. John Cantius Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

    McCormick was arrested on July 26, 2012, after the victim in the case came forward some 14 years after the alleged crime. The victim told the district attorney's office he was motivated by the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was convicted on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, another former 10-year-old altar boy known as "Billy Doe."

    Lynn, whose conviction was overturned last Dec. 26th by an appellate court, was mentioned in court as a potential witness in the trial of Father McCormick. But whether Lynn shows up in the courtroom may be another story. To date, he has not been served with a subpoena.

    Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told the judge her leadoff witnesses tomorrow would be the officers who investigated the alleged crime scene some 14 years after the fact.

    Kemp said the victim in the case would testify, along with his father, mother and grandmother. Presumably, the victim told his story to his relatives, and they're going to share those accounts with the jury. I say presumably because under the rules of the court, reporters can't ask the lawyers in the case any questions.

    Judge Bright is presiding over  a "publicity or media case" involving a Catholic priest accused of sex abuse. So she followed recent Philadelphia judicial policy by slapping a gag order on the lawyers in the case, so they can't talk to the press.

    The judge told jurors the trial is expected to last 7 to 10 days.

    Father McCormick, wearing his Roman collar and a black suit, had nothing to say publicly as he sat at the defense table with his lawyers, William J. Brennan and Richard J. Fuschino Jr.

    It was the Brennan and Fuschino team that got a mistrial in the 2012 case of one of Msgr. Lynn's co-defendants. Father James J. Brennan was accused of attempting to rape a former 14-year-old boy, but the jury hung 11-1 in favor of acquittal. This time around, however, it's going to be a much tougher case.

    The alleged victim in the Father Brennan case, Mark Bukowski, had a history of drug abuse and arrests. The alleged victim in the Father McCormick case supposedly doesn't carry that kind of baggage that would make him easy prey on cross-examination.

    There were few spectators in the court today, except for a lone former parishioner who said he was there to support Father McCormick, the former pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County.

    Reporters showed up from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Associated Press.

    The hallways outside Judge Bright's courtroom on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center were filled with three panels of about 150 potential jurors. But Courtroom 1102 was so small that spectators and reporters were evicted when the jury panels were brought in to answer questions from the judge.

    Lawyers in the case spent a day and a half picking a jury. Potential jurors were asked questions such as whether they could be open minded about a defendant who was a Roman Catholic priest. Whether they would give more weight, or less weight, to the testimony of police officers. And whether they would hold it against Father McCormick if he didn't take the witness stand in his own defense.

    One woman candidly admitted it would be a problem for her if a defendant didn't take the stand.

    "I would think they have something to hide," said the woman, who was not picked as a juror.

    While the hallways outside Judge Bright's courtroom were crowded with potential jurors, the elevators at the Criminal Justice Center were packed, as usual, like cattle cars. Claustrophobic spectators intent on reaching Courtroom 1102 were left to climb 11 flights of stairs through cigarette strewn hallways with big no smoking signs.




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    St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg
    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    His troubles with "Father Andy" began when his mother confided to the priest that her son might be gay.

    The alleged victim, now 26, testified in court today that when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, the priest brought him to his room in a church rectory, and sexually assaulted him.

    Then, after the alleged attack, the victim testified the priest would repeatedly tell him on the playground that homosexuality was a sin, and so was masturbation.

    How did that make him feel, the prosecutor asked?

    "Horrible," the young man testified. "As a homosexual, if it's a sin, it means I'm going to hell."

    To the alleged victim, the priest's words meant that what happened in the rectory must have been the altar boy's fault.

    "I thought that was supposed to happen to me because of what I am," the tearful man told the jury.

    In Courtroom 1102 in the Criminal Justice Center today, Father Andrew McCormick stood to hear the court clerk read the charges against him.

    The 57-year-old priest of 30 years is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, sexual assault of a minor, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault.

    When asked how he pleaded, the priest responded by saying "Not Guilty" five times in a loud, clear voice.

    The victim in the case is a 26-year-old business manager for a large New York cosmetics firm. He's a slender man with blonde highlights who probably gets carded at every bar he walks into.

    The alleged victim testified that his relationship with "Father Andy" began when he became an altar boy in the third grade at St. John Cantius Church, a Polish parish in the Bridesburg section of the city.

    "He asked me if I wanted to be an altar boy," the alleged victim testified about Father Andy.  At first, it was great. The altar boy got out of class to serve at Mass. He got paid to do funerals. Father Andy treated him to burgers and fries at McDonald's. He also got free soda and cookies at the rectory.

    "It was fun," the alleged victim testified. "I thought it was great. I thought he [Father Andy] was my friend."

    At the time, the altar boy had a troubled home life. He had to repeat the third grade. His parents were having problems that eventually would lead to a divorce. And the altar boy already knew what his mother suspected was true, that he was gay.

    Sadly, Father Andy also knew he was gay, the alleged victim testified.

    Father Andy showered the altar boy with attention and treats. He would meet him while the boy was walking to school. He would rub the boy's back when they were together in the sacristy.

    The altar boy felt like Father Andy was taking "me under his wing," the alleged victim testified.

    Then, sometime during the 1997-98 school year, Father Andy asked the altar boy to serve at an evening Mass. After Mass, the priest took the boy over to the rectory, where the altar boy "had two cookies and a Dr. Pepper."

    The priest asked the altar boy if he wanted to see his room. "A priest's house," the alleged victim testified. He said he thought visiting a priest's house would be "very cool."

    But according to the alleged victim, when they entered the priest's room, Father Andy "started fumbling with" a door that led to a common meeting room inside the rectory. The altar boy thought the priest was locking that door.

    As soon as the door was closed, the alleged victim testified, Father Andy attacked.

    "He started undressing himself and he started undressing me," the alleged victim told the jury. "He started touching my butt, my genitals."

    "I was just in shock," the man testified. He recalled hearing the priest's "heavy breathing." The alleged victim said he found himself staring at the priest's garb.

    "He had a coat with 32 buttons," the alleged victim testified. He counted every one. He said he watched as the priest took off his shirt and pants. The priest had "blue plaid boxers on" under his pants. He took his shoes off but left his sox on.

    In contrast to the slender priest at the defense table, the alleged victim testified that Father Andy "was a lot bigger" 17 years ago, when the attack allegedly happened.

    "He grabbed my arm and had me touch his genitals," the alleged victim testified. "His stomach was pressing against" the altar boy's face.

    "I laid back on the bed. He puled his penis out."

    The priest tried "forcing his penis into my mouth," the alleged victim testified. He told the jury he kept his teeth clenched.   "I put my head to the side and said, 'No.'" But the priest tried to penetrate him orally again, the alleged victim said. He told the jury he continued to resist.

    "He [Father Andy] told me to get out," the alleged victim told the jury. "I started putting on my clothes real quick."

    Over at the defense table, Father McCormick was turning red.

    On the witness stand, the victim testified that after the attack, he went downstairs and tried to call his mother three times on the rectory phone. When he got no answer, he walked home, a trip that took about 15 minutes.

    Why didn't he tell anybody that night what had happened, asked Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp.

    "I was scared," the alleged victim said. "It was a secret."

    At 11, the victim told the prosecutor he repeatedly tried to commit suicide.

    "I remember trying to hang myself a lot," the alleged victim said. "Almost every week ... I didn't want to live any more ... Everything I thought was wrong."

    At 11, he was watching a TV show about molestation with his cousin.

    "That has happened to me," the alleged victim said he told his cousin.

    His next admission came when he was a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School on a retreat. The alleged victim said he told a group of students, and a teacher, "I've been molested by somebody."

    In 2011, the alleged victim heard in the media that Father Andy was one of 26 priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for possible inappropriate contact with minors.

    That night, the alleged victim told the jury, he had a nightmare that Father Andy was attacking another boy. In the nightmare, "He [Father Andy] was doing this to my five-year-old nephew and I couldn't do anything about it," the alleged victim testified.

    So the alleged victim told his father that the priest had abused him. Then he told his grandfather, a retired police detective, who took a statement, and turned it over to the police.

    When police arrested Father Andy, he was the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Bridgeport, Montgomery County. Father Andy is no longer allowed to say Mass publicly or perform any other priestly duties.

    About nine of Father Andy's former parishioners were in the courtroom today to support the priest. They sat on the left side of the courtroom, behind the defense table. On the other side of the courtroom, the alleged victim's family and friends were there to support him.

    When court was over today, clerks escorted each group of partisans out through separate exits.

    The alleged victim had a red face, and was dabbing his eyes with tissues when Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked, "Why are you doing this?" meaning why did this young man come to court to tell his story.

    "So this does not happen to another little boy," the alleged victim responded.

    He told the prosecutor he has not filed any civil lawsuit against the archdiocese.

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino tried to point out inconsistencies in the alleged victim's testimony.

     At that evening Mass you served with Father Andy, did you work alone or was there another altar boy assigned to that Mass, Fuschino asked.

    "I'm 100 percent sure it was alone," the alleged victim testified.

    But at a preliminary hearing last year, Fuschino said, you testified you didn't recall for sure whether you were working alone as an altar boy that night. "Did your memory get better" in the last year, Fuschino asked.

    "Objection, argumentative," Assistant District Attorney Kemp said.

    "Sustained," said Judge Gwendolyn Bright.

    Why didn't you tell anybody about the attack, the defense lawyer wanted to know.

    "It was a secret," the alleged victim testified.

    You use that word secret a lot, Fuschino said. When you were 11 years old, and told your cousin you had been molested, did you tell her to keep it a secret?

    Yes, the alleged victim responded.

    You say you're not suing the archdiocese for money, the defense lawyer asked. But didn't you go see a lawyer to check out a possible civil lawsuit?

    "I went to see a lawyer," the alleged victim conceded. But it was for his own protection. He did not file any civil lawsuit.

    The alleged victim said he talked to the lawyer for his own protection. He is not seeking money from the archdiocese, he insisted.

    "I have a full-time job," the alleged victim testified. "I don't need money. I have a very successful career."

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  • 02/28/14--04:40: Is The Mob Dead?
  • By George Anastasia

    Mob boss Joe Ligambi is back in his stylish corner townhouse in Packer Park, the one with the black, front-door awning embossed with a bold, white letter “L.” 

    The 74-year-old crime boss has also been spotted, on occasion, driving around South Philadelphia in a late-model black Cadillac sedan, his car of choice for years. 

    But is the veteran wise guy in the driver’s seat when it comes to the local crime family? More important, does he — or anyone for that matter — want to be? 

    History indicates that the job of Philly mob boss leads to a jail cell or a coffin. Of the six mob bosses who preceded Ligambi, two were brutally murdered and the other four ended up doing long prison terms.
    Read the rest of the cover story in the Philadelphia City Paper here.


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    By Ralph Cipriano
    for Bigtrial.net

    A tearful mom and dad told a jury today about the noose they found hanging in their son's closet.

    They were followed to the witness stand by a grandfather who was a retired detective.

    It was "Pop" who took the first statement from the alleged victim in this case, the 26-year-old man who has accused Father Andrew McCormick of sexually assaulting him back in 1997 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

    "He was like a wounded animal," the silver-haired detective said of his grandson. "He was so filled with anxiety."

    In short, it was a great day for the prosecution as three relatives of the alleged victim took turns scoring points against "Father Andy."

    Dad was the lead-off witness. He talked about the 3 a.m. text he received on Dec. 5, 2011 from his son.

    "Dad, I'm just gonna come out and say it," the father recalled the text message saying. "Father Andy molested me. This is the root of my problems."

    The teary-eyed father told the jury about the day Father Andy asked if his son wanted to be an altar boy. At the time, the family had just moved to the neighborhood, and joined St. John Cantius Church, a Polish Catholic parish in the Bridesburg section of the city.

    "Father Andy approached us and said our name in Polish," the father recalled. "I was impressed with that."

    When Father Andy asked if his 9-year-old son wanted to become an altar boy, "I thought it was a great idea," the father testified. But after his son became an altar boy, he didn't act the same.

    "His behavior stared to change" when he was 11, the father recalled. "He's hanging a noose in his closet."

    Father and son used to go fishing, and watch wrestling on TV. But the son no longer wanted to do those things with his father. He also didn't want his father to touch him.

    "He just withdrew," the father testified. "He spent a lot of time in his room."

    In 2011, the father saw a news story on TV about Father Andy being one of 26 priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for suspected inappropriate contact with children.

    The father asked his son about the priest. According to the father, the son would only reply, "Father Andy's not a good man."

    Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp asked the father about how the family reacted after their son told them about the alleged abuse.

    "It's been a heavy burden," the father testified.

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino asked the father if his son's personality change at 11 may have been due to a struggle over sexual identity.

    Yes, the father said.

    Fuschino suggested the altar boy also could have been struggling with the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. The Catholic Church believes that homosexuality is immoral, right, Fuschino asked the father.

    Yes, the father conceded.

    The victim's mother testified that she originally had a very favorable impression of Father Andy.

    "He was a really nice guy," she said. When the priest asked her son to be an altar boy, "I was really happy about that."

    The mother told the jury how she went to see Father Andy at church to ask him to say a Mass for her late brother, who had died in a fire.

    "My brother was a feminine boy," the mother testified. At that meeting, the mother said she confided to the priest, "I worry about [my son] because he's so feminine."

    When her son came out at 21, his family was "totally supportive and not shocked," the mother testified.

    She told the jury about her son's personality change at 11 years old.

    "He started getting real bad," she testified. "I found him hanging in a closet," she said, before she broke down in tears on the witness stand.

    "He used to pull his hair out of his head," she sobbed. She said she kept asking him why he was doing these things to himself.

    The mother had to stop testifying; she told the prosecutor she thought she was going to get sick. The jury was sent behind closed doors. Mom rushed out of the courtroom, pursued by the assistant district attorney, who was carrying a wastebasket.

    After a break, the mother returned to the witness stand.

    Her son told her he didn't want to be an altar boy anymore, she testified. He also wanted out of St. John's.

    "I want to get out of that school, I want to get out of that school," her son kept saying. But Mom didn't want to do it.

    "I really liked it," she said of St. John Cantius. "We're Polish."

    She couldn't understand what had gone so wrong.

    In 2011, when the TV news reported that Father Andy had been suspended as a priest, the mother asked her son if the priest had ever done anything to him.

    Her son denied it. His only criticism of the priest was, "He used to say weird stuff to us."

    When she found out about her son's claim of abuse, it hit like a bomb.

    "We were sitting on the couch," she told the jury. "I was out of my mind."

    She began to cry as she related what she told her son: "Why didn't you tell me? Because I was always there."

    That night, she testified, she drove over to the closed St. John Cantius Church, and banged on the door until a bewildered man showed up and asked what she wanted. She said she told the man to forget it.

    Her next move was to call her father. Her son wouldn't talk to her about the abuse, but he did say he would talk to "Pop."

    "My dad kinda like took over," the mother testified. He came over the next day.

    "My son didn't want me to hear anything," the mother testified. "I had to leave the house."

    Her son told Pop everything.

    When she came back inside, her father told her, "We're going to the police."

    The prosecutor asked how the alleged abuse had impacted her family.

    "It's affected us in so many ways," she testified. Her son had trouble sleeping. He had frequent panic attacks.

    The prosecutor asked the mother a tough question. Did her son know that she had told Father Andy she was worried her son was gay?

    Mom started crying again.

    Her son didn't know that happened until a recent meeting in the district attorney's office, she testified.

    And what was her son's reaction to that bit of news, the prosecutor asked.

    "He said," she sobbed, "I sold him out."

    "Objection," said a defense lawyer.

    Sustained, said the judge.

    But the damage was done. It's hard to imagine the jurors will forget that line.

    The mother testified her son is still too ashamed to tell her what happened with Father Andy.

    "I still don't know specifics," she said.

    On cross-examination, the mother was asked if she attended the Masses that her son served as an altar boy with Father Andy.

    Most of them, the mother said. I may have missed a few.

    "I was a church goer," she said. "I still am."

    Did the kids make fun of your son because he was effeminate, the defense lawyer asked.

    "I don't know about that," she said.

    The final witness for the day was the alleged victim's grandfather. He's a retired Philadelphia police detective who also worked for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, investigating sex crimes.

    When his daughter called to talk about her son, "she was sobbing on the telephone," the grandfather testified.

    He went out to talk to his grandson the next day.

    "I immediately recognized he had been assaulted," the grandfather told the jury.

    He testified he told his grandson, "You gotta calm down."

    It was the grandfather who took the alleged victim to see a civil lawyer, at the advice of his step-son, who's a lawyer.

    "I thought he needed protection," the grandfather said of the alleged victim.

    Does your grandson plan to file a civil lawsuit, the prosecutor asked.

    His grandson "never wanted to sue anybody," the grandfather flatly declared. "This is not about money."

    The defense lawyers wisely decided not to cross-examine "Pop."

    The case resumes at 9:30 a.m. Monday, weather permitting, in Courtroom 1102 of the Criminal Justice Center.



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  • 03/04/14--16:43: What Lies Beneath
  • By Ralph Cipriano

    for Bigtrial.net

    In her opening statement to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp accused "Father Andy" McCormick of taking some altar boys to see an R-rated movie.

    Kemp told the jury that when the priest took the altar boys to see What Lies Beneath, he was too embarrassed to wear his Roman collar out in public, so he went to the movie theatre dressed in plainclothes.

    Today in court, one of the former altar boys who went to see the film reprised that tale on the witness stand, saying it was one of the few times he'd ever seen Father Andy not dressed like a priest. Adam Visconto, now 27, said he was in seventh grade and presumably around 13 when he went to see the R-rated movie with Father Andy. The implication was the priest, wearing a polo shirt and pants, had snuck the altar boys in to a see a movie that according to its rating required kids under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

    But William J. Brennan, McCormick's defense lawyer, brought to the courtroom a DVD copy of the 2000 supernatural suspense thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pheiffer. Brennan asked the former altar boy to read the fine print on back of the box. Instead of an R-rating, the movie was rated PG-13, meaning parents were "strongly cautioned" to consider whether kids under 13 should see the movie.

    "That's OK, it was a long time ago," Brennan told Visconto, who was staring at the box. Meanwhile, a stunned assistant district attorney asked for a recess so she could look up the movie's rating on her iPhone. After the jury left the courtroom, and Kemp checked her phone, she had to admit she and the witness had gotten it wrong; Father Andy had taken the kids to see a movie rated PG-13, not R.

    It was one of those embarrassing screw-ups that lawyers hate to see happen in court. Sure it was a small and arguably insignificant detail, but it was a screw-up nonetheless, and certainly an overreach by the prosecutor in her opening statement. There was no excuse down at the district attorney's office for somebody not checking out that movie rating the way Brennan did. It would have taken less than a second to find the movie's rating on a Google search.

    Kemp tried to repair the damage by asking Visconto if the movie contained sex scenes and profanity [yes] and whether the priest had checked with Visconto's mother beforehand [no] about whether he could go to see the movie.

    But in a case that until today was going all the prosecution's way, you have to wonder whether the jury was left wondering what else the district attorney's office may have gotten wrong. The screw-up over the movie rating also happened on a day when a few other balls bounced the defense's way.

    The first witness who testified today was Kathleen Visconto, a mother of four from Bridesburg who was also a member of Father Andy's former Polish parish at St. John Cantius.

    Visconto told the jury about how Father Andy ruffled her feathers when he wanted to take her teenage altar boy son to Poland without her. She was perturbed that she first heard about the proposed foreign adventure from her son, and not from Father Andy.

    She said she told the priest "There's no way that my son was gong that far and for that long without me being there."

    So the priest went to Poland with some other altar boys, but not her son, Visconto testified. She told the jury she advised her son to not be "as close to Father Andy as he was."

    She said the priest, who was in charge of the altar boys, was always taking them somewhere without telling parents. To fast food joints for hamburgers. To the St. Jude's religious store for artifacts. To other old-school churches where they said the Mass in Latin. And to fields where they could pick dandelions so the priest could make dandelion wine.

    Visconto told the jury when she confronted Father Andy about his relationship with her son, he was "taken aback that I would question him ... that I would want to know where [my son] was and that he was with Father Andy and I should trust him."

    She said the last time her son Adam saw the priest, he came back "white as a ghost."

    By that time, Visconto had told Father Andy to stay away from her son. Father Andy had moved on to another parish, but he didn't listen to Visconto. Instead, he sent a Mass card to the boy, as well as a statute of the Blessed Virgin.

    Father Andy's last transgression happened when he came back to St. John Cantius for the funeral of a monsignor who used to be the pastor at St. John's. After Mass, Father Andy asked Adam Visconto  and another altar boy to meet him in the basement of the church.

    Visconto said she told her son not to go. She reported the incident to the pastor of St. John's. She told the jury she blamed Father Andy for her son's loss of interest in the priesthood. Her son had talked about becoming a priest, she said, but after his experiences with Father Andy, Adam Visconto changed his career plans.

    On cross-examination, defense attorney Brennan got Visconto to agree that she was the type of parent who wouldn't let her teenage son take a foreign trip alone with anybody, whether it was Father Andy, Pope Francis, or President Obama.

    Next, Adam Visconto took the stand to speak for himself.

    When he first became an altar boy, at 9 years old, Visconto said he looked up to Father Andy, who was always dressed in his black cassock, black cape and black beretta.

    "He was a priest of the people," Visconto told the jury. "He took an interest in my interest in deepening my Catholic faith."

    But by the time he was between 12 and 14, Visconto said that "proximity issues" had arisen with Father Andy. The priest would sometimes put his arm around the altar boy when they were sitting together in the rectory. When the altar boys started talking about girls, Father Andy would "jokingly get involved in those conversations."

    As a teenager, "I wanted nothing to do with him," Visconto said of Father Andy.

    Father Andy was crushed. After he left the parish, he sent Visconto a Mass card that said, "I apologize if I hurt you in any way. Good luck being Jesus in the living stations of the cross."

    Later, Father Andy left a statue of the Blessed Virgin inside the Visconto's front door.

    "I wanted nothing to do with it, and we disposed of it," Adam Visconto testified.

    On cross-examination, defense attorney Brennan got Visconto to agree that in seventh grade, when he didn't want to hang out with Father Andy any more, he had just discovered girls.

    "Yes, absolutely," Visconto enthusiastically replied.

    Visconto told the jury on cross-examination that he was one of 50 to 60 altar boys who were supervised by Father Andy. And that he had never seen Father Andy inappropriately touch or sexually abuse any of those other altar boys.

    Brennan asked Visconto to repeat what he had told a detective for the defense lawyer about Father Andy's effect on the altar boys. It sounded like a ringing endorsement:

    "He grew my soul," Visconto had said about Father Andy. "He stuck to tradition. He was always looking out for us."

    Next up on the witness stand was Daniel Levan, a Marine in uniform who was a former classmate of the alleged victim at Archbishop Ryan.

    Levan testified that when he and the alleged victim were seniors, they went on a religious retreat. The alleged victim stunned Levan and other classmates by announcing "that he was molested as a child."

    In earlier testimony, the alleged victim, now 27, and an out-of-the closet gay man, testified that when he was 10 years old, the priest allegedly took the boy up to his room in the rectory, locked the door, and tried to force his penis into the boy's mouth.

    "He was a happy funny kind of kid," Levan recalled of the alleged victim. That's why classmates at the retreat were so stunned, nobody asked any follow-up questions.

    On cross-examination, defense lawyer Brennan asked Levan did he tell you who did it?

    "No, sir."

    Did he say when it happened?

    "No, sir."

    Did he say where it happened?

    "No, sir."

    Did he say how it happened?

    "No, sir."

    Father Joseph Zingaro testified that he came to St. John Cantius just as Father Andy was getting transferred out. The two priests overlapped for 10 days at St. John's.

    Father Zingaro said he was upset that Father Andy allowed altar boys to visit his room at the rectory.

    "It's not appropriate," Father Zingaro said. "That's been ingrained since seminary."

    He said that Father Andy allowed altar boys into his room on another occasion where he was changing into his priestly garb. The boys saw the priest in his t-shirt, but he had pants on.

    "I don't think any person should be changing in front of" altar boys, Father Zingaro testified.

    Father Zingaro said that Adam Visconto's mother complained to him about Father Andy's unwanted attention, and invitation to meet him in the church basement. Father Zingaro said he observed Father Andy interacting with Adam Visconto at the funeral of the monsignor.

    "He [Visconto] didn't approach Father at all," Zingaro told the jury.

    Was he afraid of Father Andy, the prosecutor asked.

    "It seemed he was," Father Zingaro said.

    The last witness of the day was Detective James Owens of the Special Victims Unit. He was the cop who investigated the alleged victim's story that Father Andy had attempted to stick his penis in the altar boy's mouth.

    Owens acknowledged that the victim first told his story to his grandfather, a former detective for the Philadelphia Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney's office, where he investigated sex crimes against minors.

    "I guess the police officer in him kicked in," Owens said of "Pop," the grandfather who took the alleged victim's statement.

    The prosecutor asked the detective about another altar boy named Philip who had taken that trip to Poland with Father Andy, the trip that Adam Visconto's mother wouldn't let him go on.

    Detective Owens said he spoke to Philip's mother, and she "acted like I was on some kind of witch hunt."

    The prosecutor objected to the statement from her own witness, and the judge sustained the objection.

    But the jury has to be wondering where Philip was, and what he has to say about Father Andy.

    One thing's for sure; Philip didn't talk to Detective Owens.

    The detective testified that he asked Philip's mother to pass on a message to Philip, but, "I never heard from him.

    On cross-examination from defense attorney Richard Fuschino, Owens agreed that the only real evidence the prosecution has against the defendant is the alleged victim's statement about what allegedly transpired 17 years ago in the priest's bedroom when the victim was 10. He may have told some people he was molested along the way, but he never said who did it until three years ago, 14 years later, after he saw the priest's face on TV.

    Father Andy may have "border issues" with altar boys. But the priest's defense lawyers have asserted that out of all the altar boys under the priest's supervision over the years, the alleged victim is the only one who has accused the 57-year-old Father Andy of molestation during his 30 years as a priest. The prosecution doesn't have anybody else, defense attorney Brennan said in his opening statement.

    After the detective got through testifying, the prosecution rested.

    Defense attorney Brennan asked the judge to toss one count against Father Andy of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor as unproven. Brennan said the alleged victim had testified that the priest had tried to stick his penis in the boy's mouth, but that the boy had clenched his teeth and turned his head away.

    But the judge denied the motion, saying the alleged victim may have kept his teeth clenched, but the priest's penis allegedly went past the boys lips.

    "There was penetration however slight," Judge Gwendolyn Bright said.

    Tomorrow, the defense plans to present 8 or 9 character witnesses and 5-6 fact witnesses to rebut the prosecution.

    "The wild card is whether the defendant testifies," Brennan told the judge.

    Apparently, that call has not been made yet.

    Closing statements are expected on Thursday, and then the case will go to the jury.

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