Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Training Day Fuckin' For Real

By George Anastasia

He said they were all dressed in black and wearing ski masks and his first thought was that it was "the Mafia" coming to rob him.

It turns out, according to a federal indictment, that Michael Cascioli was half right. They were coming to rob him. But it wasn't the Mafia. It was the cops.

Cascioli, once a major marijuana dealer in the Philadelphia area, spent four hours on the witness stand today describing his November 2007 encounter with what prosecutors allege was a rogue and out-of-control group of Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers.

The soft-spoken 39-year-old was the second key witness to take the stand in the federal racketeering conspiracy trial of six officers accused of stealing more than $500,000 in cash and drugs from dealers they targeted over a four-year period. They used threats and violence to carry out the scheme, according to a 26-count indictment, and then falsified official arrest reports to cover their actions.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"You're Not John Gotti, Buddy"

By George Anastasia

He was a college-educated marijuana dealer with $80,000 stashed in a safe in his high-rise apartment and a framed picture of mob boss John Gotti hanging on the wall.

The cops, he said, stole the safe and seven pounds of marijuana he had in the apartment and then taunted him about the picture.

"You're not John Gotti, buddy," Robert Kushner said he was told in a cell phone conversation with Thomas Liciardello, a narcotics investigator who, authorities allege, was the leader of a rogue group of Philadelphia police officers who stole cash and drugs, intimidated drug dealers and falsified police reports to cover up their actions.

Kushner, the first witness called in the racketeering conspiracy trial of Liciardello and five fellow officers, took the witness stand in U.S. District Court this morning and told a jury that he had  experienced all of that after being taken into custody, but not formally charged, on the night of Oct. 16, 2007.

A 26-count federal indictment alleges that Liciardello, co-defendant Brian Reynolds and a third police officer, Jeffrey Walker, took $30,000 in cash during a car stop of Kushner just off Ridge Avenue. They then placed him in a holding cell in the Fifth Police District and went to his apartment in the Executive House on City Avenue where, authorities say, they ransacked the 18th floor unit.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Nineteen Mutts And A Dirty Cop"

By Ralph Cipriano

A trio of veteran defense lawyers today took turns assaulting the government's case against a band of alleged rogue cops.

Jack McMahon got the party started by describing the government's star witness, former Police Officer Jeffrey Walker, as a "wicked, despicable liar." The rest of the government's stable of witnesses, McMahon said, are a bunch of lying drug dealers who amount to "nineteen bags of trash."

To cap the day, Jimmy Binns, batting third in a lineup of six defense lawyers, described the government's case as "nineteen mutts and a dirty cop."

In the longest opening argument of the day, Binns spent two hours delivering a lengthy, eye-popping recitation of the numerous witnesses in the case that the government supposedly never got around to interviewing. Those witnesses that Binns said would be testifying on behalf of the defendants include a bunch of supervisors in the police department who allegedly were eyewitnesses to many of the incidents in the case, and a couple of young female bartenders who supposedly overheard nightly confessions from a drunken and drooling Officer Walker, before he passed out.

Most astonishingly, Binns said, the defense plans to call as their witnesses a trio of federal TFOs -- task force operators who work alongside the feds who investigated this case, on the same floor of the office building they share, but somehow were never interviewed by the government.

"This is not a proud day for the Department of Justice," Binns told the jury.

No wonder relatives of the defendants in the courtroom were overheard making cracks about some of the feds having to call in sick tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Judge Rules Against Early Release For Vince Fumo

By Ralph Cipriano

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter has denied a motion that would have granted former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo an early end to his supervised release.

In a motion filed March 21st, Fumo's lawyer, Dennis Cogan, had sought to terminate Fumo's three years of supervised release after some 13 months.

"His punishments have been considerable and he has suffered much," Cogan wrote in his motion. "He is now almost 72 years of age. His health is not good and his financial losses have been considerable."

The judge, however, took a dim view of the request.

"I am nonplussed by such a motion being filed when defendant has not even completed one of the singularly most important conditions of his supervised release -- community service," Buckwalter wrote in a one-page order issued today.

"Two hundred and eighty-five hours out of a mandated five hundred," the judge wrote. "Not even close. To say that this failure is disappointing is putting it mildly."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Father Engelhardt Loses Appeal

By Ralph Cipriano

A day after they ruled against an appeal from Bernard Shero, a panel of three state Superior Court judges came to the same conclusion regarding the appeal of Shero's co-defendant, the late Father Charles Engelhardt.

In a 25-page decision issued today, the Superior Court judges ruled that seven appeal issues raised by Engelhardt are "either waived or devoid of merit." The judges then affirmed Engelhardt's sentence of 6 to 12 years in jail after being convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault.

The 67-year-old priest died last November in jail after serving nearly two years of his sentence. In their opinion, the judges note "that appellant has passed away during the pendency of this appeal. However, consistent with our cases, we decline to dismiss this appeal as moot in its entirety."

This was before the judges went through the appeal issues and dismissed them as "either waived or devoid of merit."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bernard Shero Loses Appeal

By Ralph Cipriano

The state Superior Court has turned down Bernard Shero's request for a new trial.

In a 36-page decision posted online today, a panel of three Superior Court judges ruled that seven appeals issues raised by Shero at a hearing last Oct. 28th "are either waived or devoid of merit."

In their decision, the Superior Court judges affirmed the June 12, 2013 sentence imposed on Shero by Judge Ellen Ceisler. The judge sentenced Shero, 51, to 8 to 16 years in jail after he was convicted by a jury of rape of a child, attempted rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault.

In its decision, the Superior Court judges did not address the appeal filed on behalf of Shero's co-defendant, Father Charles Engelhardt, except in a footnote to say that the priest's case is "currently pending before this court." Judge Ceisler sentenced Father Engelhardt to 6 to 12 years in jail after being convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault.

The 67-year-old priest died in prison last November. In spite of his client's death, defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern, and Engelhardt's religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, had vowed to continue the appeal,  to clear the priest's name. But the courts aren't bound by such sentiments. When an appellant dies, a court can decide that since there's no longer any controversy, the appeal is "abated."

In the case of Father Engelhardt, it's not stated what the Superior Court will do with the priest's appeal. But in treating Shero's appeal separately, the Superior Court judges didn't do Shero any favors. Twice, the Superior Court judges ruled against Shero for raising appeal issues that applied only to Engelhardt.

Sentencings Delayed In FirstPlus Case

By George Anastasia

Mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and his partner-in-crime Salvatore Pelullo will have to wait two more months before they find out how much time they will be spending as guests of the federal government for their convictions in the FirstPlus Financial fraud case.

Sentencings originally set for this week before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler in Camden have been pushed back to June in order for authorities to have more time to prepare what are expected to be detailed pre-sentence reports.

Scarfo, 49, and Pelullo, 47, are looking at jail time in the 20- to 30-year range. Both have prior convictions which enhance the guidelines used to determine the range of sentence in federal cases.

They each were convicted of more than 20 counts in the racketeering fraud case. The government charged that the pair took behind-the-scenes control of FirstPlus in 2007 and siphoned more than $12 million out of the Texas-based mortgage company through bogus business transactions and phony consulting contracts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

As Sentencings Approach, A Look At Mob Ties In FirstPlus Case

By George Anastasia
Goodfellas Sal and Nicky Jr.

Unless there are some unforeseen developments -- and in this case that's always possible -- the hammer comes down next week in the multi-million dollar FirstPlus Financial fraud case.

Nicodemo S. Scarfo, Salvatore Pelullo and the brothers John and William Maxwell each have sentencing hearings before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler in the same federal courtroom in Camden where a jury delivered guilty verdicts last year.

Scarfo, the 49-year-old son of jailed mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, is looking at a sentence that could land him in prison for the better part of the rest of his life. The same can be said for Pelullo, 47, described as a mob associate and with Scarfo the brains behind the 2007 takeover and looting of the Texas-based mortgage company.

The Maxwell brothers -- John the CEO of FirstPlus and William a lawyer hired as private counsel by the firm -- were convicted of many of the same racketeering, conspiracy and fraud counts, but with no prior criminal convictions, they face less potential jail time. That, of course, is a relative term. A 10-year prison sentence might be considerably less than a 30-year sentence but is little solace to the defendant serving the 10 years.


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