Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Murder-For-Hire Plot That The Bard Would Love

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It sounds like the plot from a Shakespearean play, but with a decided South Philadelphia twist.

A father, upset because his daughter is dating a man he neither likes nor trusts, sends two henchmen to kill the unwanted suitor. If Shakespeare had written the story, the assassins would have carried swords or daggers.

Ronald Walker said he used a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

Walker took the stand this afternoon during the opening day of testimony in the murder-for-hire trial of Ronald Galati, a South Philadelphia auto body shop owner with a checkered criminal past that includes alleged organized crime connections.

But neither Galati's past nor his suspected mob ties are expected to figure in the trial. Instead, the case will focus on the allegation that last year Galati, 63, hired three men to kill Andrew Tuono who was dating Galati's daughter Tiffany at the time.

Tuono survived the hit and is listed as a potential witness. So is Tiffany Galati.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Psalms and Prayers In Prison

SCI-Coal Township
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Father Charles Engelhardt spends his days in prison reciting prayers, psalms and hymns from the Liturgy of the Hours.

"That's his anchor," Father Jerry Dunne says about Engelhardt's daily devotion to the official prayer book for the Catholic clergy.

Dunne visits Engelhardt every month at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, some 2 1/2 hours northwest of Philadelphia. That's where Engelhardt, 67, is serving a six to 12 year sentence after he was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. The "victim" in the case is the credibility-challenged former altar boy known as "Billy Doe."

Dunne has known "Charlie" Engelhardt for more than 40 years. The two priests are fellow oblates of St. Francis DeSales. They went to the seminary and college together, and worked along side each other at a couple of archdiocesan high schools, as well as in the same parish.

Engelhardt has lost "a lot of weight" but his "spirits are unusually positive," Dunne says. "That fascinates me."

"He's a person of very strong faith," Dunne says of Engelhardt. "He believes there's a purpose for all this. He believes that ultimately justice will prevail."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Joey Merlino Heading Back To Philadelphia

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Joey Merlino’s coming back to Philadelphia.

But the erstwhile mob boss isn't happy about it.

Instead of completing plans to open a restaurant in Boca Raton, the 52-year-old former South Philadelphia wiseguy will have to appear in federal court at 6th and Market Streets and explain to a judge why he should not be  sent back to prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.  

According to a violation notice filed last month, Merlino was spotted meeting with mobster John “Johnny Chang” Ciancaglini and two other convicted felons on June 18 at a restaurant and a cigar bar in Boca. While on parole, Merlino is prohibited from meeting with any organized crime figure or felon. 

Merlino, Ciancaglini and five other co-defendants were convicted in a highly publicized 2001 racketeering case in Philadelphia. Merlino, the  boss of the crime family at the time, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and three years of supervised release. 

Ciancaglini, a mob capo, was sentenced to eight years and three years of supervised release. He has completed his entire sentence. Merlino was about to finish his supervised release term this week after which he would have been free to meet and associate with whomever he liked. 

The timing of the violation was seen in underworld circles as an attempt by federal authorities to, in the words of one mob associate, “bust his balls.”  


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Galati Prepares For Trial, May Take The Stand

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Ron Galati has decided to roll the dice and put his future in the hands of a federal jury that will begin hearing testimony later this month in his murder-for-hire case.

What's more, the South Philadelphia auto body shop owner and wannabe wiseguy is considering taking the stand in his own defense, a move that was hinted at in a motion filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson, the prosecutor in the case.

In the same motion, Richardson alleged that Galati has made frequent payments to two prominent South Philadelphia organized crime figures, mob boss Joseph Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, but offered no explanation of what the payments were for.

Galati, 64, faces from 15 years to life if convicted. His apparent resolve to go to trial and perhaps tell his story in his own words to the jury undercuts speculation and media reports that he might cooperate with authorities.

"I don't know anything about anybody," he has reportedly told those close to him. 

Prior to the start of a pre-trial hearing this morning, Galati's defense attorney, Anthony J. Voci Jr., said no decision had been made on whether Galati would testify. Voci spent most of the hearing  attempting to block the introduction of evidence detailing Galati's alleged prior criminal activities. Voci said that evidence would be highly prejudicial and would make it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial. The prosecution says the evidence should be permitted, but has agreed not to introduce evidence alleging mob involvement. 

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Rodriguez said he would rule on the criminal history evidence motion shortly. The trial, in federal court in Camden, is set to begin Sept. 15.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Superior Court Seals Allegations Of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Reprinted with permission from yesterday's National Catholic Reporter.

By RALPH CIPRIANO

PHILADELPHIA — Defense lawyers for a priest and a Catholic school teacher convicted of raping a former altar boy claim that prosecutors didn’t tell them about a witness who would have bolstered the testimony of a key defense witness and called into question the accuser’s credibility.

Claiming prosecutorial misconduct, defense lawyers are seeking a new trial because they charge that prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says prosecutors can’t withhold “exculpatory evidence” that could clear a defendant.

In a strange twist that confounds legal experts, the court ordered the filings to be sealed.

The charge of prosecutorial misconduct is in an application to amend the appellant brief filed July 9 in Pennsylvania Superior Court by Burton A. Rose, a lawyer for former teacher Bernard Shero. Michael J. McGovern, who is also seeking a new trial for his client, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, filed the same application to amend on July 10.

The same day, the district attorney's office asked the court to seal the records in the cases. On July 29, the dockets in both cases recorded that the seal was granted, but no reason was stated regarding why.

“That’s a very extraordinary remedy,” said Alan J. Tauber, a former defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, who was also sent to jail because of accusations from the same former altar boy. “I don’t know what basis they would have to put this under seal.”

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Judge Grants Bail For Accused "Rogue" Cop; Meanwhile, Defense Lawyers Sound Pretty Cocky About Their Guys Beating The Rap

Former Officers Thomas Liciardello [left] and Michael Spicer
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno let former Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Spicer out of jail this afternoon, setting bail at $175,000.

In a second bail hearing, Robreno adjourned court after two hours of arguments. The judge wanted to give himself some time overnight to ponder whether he should also let out of jail Officer Thomas Liciardello, the man the feds say is the alleged ringleader of a band of rogue cops.

Federal prosecutors have charged six former members of the city's Narcotics Field Unit in a 26-count racketeering indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property, while allegedly using excessive force, kidnapping drug dealers and falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has already waved the white flag, calling the allegations "one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard." Ramsey suspended all six cops for 30 days, with the intention of firing them. He also announced at a press conference that he plans on destroying the former cops' badges. How's that for a presumption of innocence?

Not to be outdone, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger wanted to see the six former cops held in jail without bail until trial because they supposedly were flight risks and posed a danger to the community.

But five of the six former officers are now out on bail, and the judge was considering whether to let the sixth officer out of jail. Meanwhile, today in court a couple of defense lawyers sounded pretty cocky about the chances of their guys beating the rap when the government's much ballyhooed police corruption case finally comes to trial.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Grudge Match: Msgr. Lynn Vs. D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

In a grudge match before the state Supreme Court, defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn will square off against District Attorney Seth Williams.

At stake is the freedom of Lynn, whose historic June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child was reversed on Dec. 26, 2013 by the state Superior Court.

Both the district attorney and Lynn's defense lawyers have filed briefs in anticipation of a yet-unscheduled hearing before the state's highest court. The district attorney began his 33-page filing on July 10th by charging 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 district attorney wrote. In reversing Lynn's conviction, "The Superior Court erred and should be reversed," concluded the brief filed by Chief of  the D.A.'s Appeal Unit Hugh J. Burns Jr., Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg, First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., and D.A. Seth Williams.

In their 55-page brief filed on Aug. 1st, defense lawyers Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, go on the attack, charging that the "Commonwealth's brief is replete with factual errors." The defense lawyers ripped the D.A.'s brief as an "unfair attempt to deflect this court's attention from the narrow issue actually before it," namely whether the state's original 1972 child endangerment law applied to Lynn. The defense lawyers further accuse the district attorney of "shrouding the narrow issue in a cloak of hysteria and emotions."

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Man In the Mirror

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Sometimes you can conduct an exhaustive nationwide search for a talented top executive and never realize that the perfect candidate is right under your nose.

Or in the case of H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, that ideal candidate is staring back at you in the mirror.

After Lenfest and the late Lew Katz won the May 27th auction to buy the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com for the inflated price of $88 million, Katz introduced Lenfest as interim publisher of the Inquirer. And then Lenfest announced that his first order of business was to find a new publisher.

Lenfest was quoted in the Inquirer as telling employees that he already had identified five potential candidates and that he expected the hiring process to take several months. But it didn't take that long.

In the interim, for the past couple months, Lenfest's name has appeared at the top of the Inky masthead alongside the title of interim publisher. Last Tuesday, "interim" was dropped from the title and Lenfest simply became publisher.

There was no public announcement, no installation ceremony. No smoke signals emanating from 8th and Market. Just the dropping of one word, interim, from the masthead. Talk about anticlimactic.

 

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