Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pope Pickets Inky

By Ralph Cipriano

Reporters and editors picketing The Philadelphia Inquirer today carried along a life-size cardboard cutout of the pope flashing a thumb's up sign.

"Help Us Pope Francis," the picket signs said. Other placards carried by members of the Newspaper Guild proclaimed, "Six Years No Raises," and "No More Givebacks."

"Our members can't afford to give back another penny," Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild shouted through a bullhorn. "We're not asking for charity, we're asking what's right for our members."

With the Guild contract set to expire at midnight Saturday, union members have authorized a vote that could result in the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years. As a couple hundred union members marched in front of the newspaper offices on Market Street, the wealthy philanthropist who was the target of the demonstration was nowhere in sight.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A 'Perfect Crime' Says Drug Dealer Witness Who Would Like To Hear From Jurors

By George Anastasia

Robert Kushner said he told the truth when he took the witness stand as the prosecution's leadoff witness in the trial of six Philadelphia narcotics cops indicted for allegedly going rogue.

A jury verdict last month finding all six not guilty doesn't change any of that, the bulky 32-year-old former marijuana dealer said as he sat in a deli off City Avenue earlier this week offering more questions than answers in the wake of the high profile trial and what he said was "the perfect crime" committed by men sworn to uphold the law.

"I know what happened to me," Kushner said as he calmly recounted the same details he had offered the federal court jury when he took the stand back in March. "Those charges were valid."

Kushner, who lost his job as a basketball coach at a private high school after he took the stand and went public with his drug dealing past, said he had nothing to gain by lying and in fact had lost more -- a job he loved -- by taking the stand.

"I'm not suing the city (as dozens of other drug dealers arrested by members of the tainted Narcotics Field Unit are)," he said. "My arrest had been expunged because I was a first time offender. I had nothing to gain."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Newspaper Strike Looms; Does "Gerry" Know What's Going On?

By Ralph Cipriano

As Newspaper Guild members voted overwhelmingly last night to authorize what would be the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years, people were asking about "Gerry."

"The real question is, is Gerry aware of what's going on," asked Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. Ross said he was amazed that "such a great philanthropist as Gerry would allow things to get to this point."

"Gerry" is H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the 85-year-old former billionaire philanthropist who overpaid when he and the late Lewis Katz bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and on May 27, 2014 for the inflated price of $88 million. [When Katz died in a plane crash, Lenfest was left holding the bag as sole owner]. After 35 fruitless negotiating sessions over 7 months, Guild members voted 287 to 26 to authorize union leaders to prepare for a strike on June 27th, when the current contract expires.

If there's a newspaper strike, "It's part of his legacy," Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild said about Lenfest. "If they [the newspapers] fail on his his watch that certainly doesn't jive with all the great things that he's done."

Amy Buckman, the former TV reporter who's the public relations manager for Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the owner of the two newspapers and, insists that Geriatric Gerry is awake and alert, and up to speed.

"I can assure you that the company negotiators keep the Owner/Publisher updated on the ongoing talks," Buckman said in an email. She also reiterated in a prepared statement that if the Guild goes on strike, Philadelphia Media Network will continue to publish a newspaper and keep the website going, presumably with replacement workers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Would Old Pennsy RR System Have Saved Lives At Frankford?

Photo: Gary Pancavage
By Ralph Cipriano

Almost a century ago, the fabled Pennsylvania Railroad had a safety system in place on the tracks at the Frankford Junction curve that would have automatically put the brakes on a speeding locomotive.

The old safety system was a "marvel of technology and engineering when it was conceived, designed and installed 90 years ago," wrote Bennett Levin, a professional engineer and former commissioner of Philadelphia's Department of Licenses & Inspections.

Levin, a self-described train nut, owns a train yard where he restores antique railroad cars and locomotives less than a mile from the site of the May 12th derailment that killed 8 people and injured more than 200. He also served for six years as a voting member of the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, until the early 2000s.

That old Pennsylvania RR safety system "is still functionally sufficient to insure safe operation today," Levin wrote in a primer on the derailment circulated among some 100 people on an email chain. But would that old PRR system have prevented last month's fatal derailment at Frankford Junction?

"That's a hypothetical question," Levin said in an interview. "We still don't know why he [the engineer] sped up. But in the normal course of business that system would have countermanded a mental lapse or a distraction" on the part of the engineer.

The derailment is the subject of a congressional hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Washington. Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating the accident, may want to know why an old safety system still functioning on other tracks in the Frankford Junction complex wasn't in place on the tracks where the accident occurred. And why Amtrak installed the old safety system on the tracks where the derailment happened two weeks after the accident.

Scarfo Sentencing Postponed Again

By George Anastasia

The sentencing of mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and three co-defendant convicted of looting a Texas mortgage company has been put off for the third time while a judge decides whether information in a modern day slave labor case should have been turned over to the defense prior to the trial.

Scarfo, 49, was scheduled to be sentenced this morning for his role in the secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial back in 2007. Co-defendant and alleged mastermind of the scam, Salvatore Pelullo, 47, was scheduled to be sentenced yesterday. Both sentencings, along with those of co-defendant brothers John and William Maxwell, have been pushed back to July in order to give Judge Robert Kugler a chance to rule on 11th hour motions from the defense camp seeking to overturn the convictions.

Lawyers for Scarfo and Pelullo have argued that the prosecution withheld information about a separate investigation that could have provided ammunition to discredit government witnesses in the FirstPlus case.

"The government withheld evidence that was demonstrably relevant in the (FirstPlus) trial," Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley wrote in a motion filed last month. The result, Riley contends, "cut deeply into the guarantee of due process and gravely impaired the basic function of the court."

Prosecutors, in a response brief filed yesterday, argued that the motions were "nothing more than last ditch efforts" by the defense to "forestall their well deserved sentences."

Friday, May 29, 2015

About That Parade . . .

By Ralph Cipriano
As Babs Would Sing, Don't Rain On My Parade!

A funny thing happened to that proposed Heroes Parade down Broad Street. It was supposed to honor six former narcotics officers found not guilty by a jury two weeks ago on 47 racketeering charges.

But a week after he announced plans on this blog to honor the defendants in the so-called rogue cops case, James J. Binns, the CEO and president of the annual Hero Thrill Show, changed his mind.

"In my opinion, it's more important for these men to enjoy their families and get their lives back in order after what has unquestionably been an ordeal," Binns said in a phone interview.

"The Hero Thrill Show stands on its own merit," Binns said. "There should be no confusion here."

The thrill show, he said is about raising money to pay for the education of the children of police officers and firefighters who have "given their lives in the line of duty," Binns said. "And nothing should detract from that."

Certainly not a "bunch of pissants," Binns said, referring to the critics still sniping at the defendants.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"I Stood Up For A Hero"

Michael J. Diamondstein's closing in the rogue cops case.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Parade Down Broad Street For Six Defendants

By Ralph Cipriano

They may not have their jobs back yet or their paychecks.

But the six defendants in the so-called rogue cops case are getting a parade down Broad Street.

So says James J. Binns, now in his tenth year as president and CEO of the Hero Thrill Show. It's an annual event that raises money for college scholarships to benefit the sons and daughters of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

On Saturday Oct. 10, former Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser will be grand marshals of the 61st annual Hero Thrill Show, Binns said. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at City Hall. The six former narcotics cops and their families will ride in six white Bentley convertibles in a "Heroes Parade" down Broad Street.

The parade ends at the Wells Fargo Center, where the thrill show will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Last year's event attracted 50,000 people. This year, Binns hopes to triple that number.

Binns was the defense lawyer for Michael Spicer, the only one of the defendants to take the stand. After a seven-week trial, the six former members of the Narcotics Field Unit were found not guilty on all 47 charges contained in a 26-count federal RICO indictment.

"These heroes have been vilified in the press and it's time that they were recognized as the heroes they are, Binns said. Asked if he expects any blowback over elevating a bunch of guys denounced by the police commissioner, the mayor and the U.S. Attorney, Binns responded, "I don't see how any reasonable fair-minded individual could have the slightest doubt about their innocence if you were there and heard the testimony."


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