Friday, August 23, 2013

L&I Snoozes While Demolition Site Across The Street From A City HIgh School Becomes A Landfill, Then A Bloody Crime Scene

By Ralph Cipriano

It's an open demolition site that features the rusting skeleton of a former giant furniture store. The walls are collapsing; so is the roof.

Neighbors say the site is an attractive  public nuisance for local kids, who like to party there and paint graffiti. It sits directly across the street from the ballfields behind George Washington High School on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.

For months, L&I has allowed the 11.7-acre site to operate as an illegal landfill. Dump trucks have been seen going in and out of the property on a daily basis, say neighbors and a former L&I employee who visited the site. The dump trucks left behind in the rear of the property a pile of concrete rubble, brick and old tires. Dumpsters formerly kept on the site also attracted plenty of old refrigerators, mattresses and lots of trash.

"It's an eyesore," said a woman who lives across the street but did not want to be identified. At 7:20 a.m. on Monday Aug. 19th, neighbors saw a worker at the site frantically waving down police, who had just pulled up in cop cars with lights flashing.

"Bet you they found a body," the woman recalled saying to a neighbor. "It was just a matter of time."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Contractors Run Amok While L&I Promotes Commerce

By Ralph Cipriano

What the hell is going on at City Hall?

In the fifth and final City Council public hearing today on the June 5th building collapse on Market Street, the public finally got a chance to speak. Witnesses testified about a city where unscrupulous contractors run amok, and an administration where public safety has taken a back seat to politics and commerce, with deadly results.

Jim Foster, editor of the Northwest Independent, talked about how the public hearings have only been the beginning "of the process that tells the truth about how a city unraveled its own codes, played politics with due diligence, let down the citizenry, and now we have seven dead and many maimed." Foster was speaking about the building collapse that killed six, injured 14, and prompted the suicide of a L&I building inspector.

The editor said the responsibility for the building collapse rests at the top. "The cavalier attitude of the mayor and staff cannot be justified," Foster said. "No issue has brought more citizen outrage back to me as editor than this wall collapse and the deaths."

It was another bad day for Mayor Nutter, who previously had tried to mute the City Council's public hearings on the building collapse by barring current city officials from testifying.

The heaviest damage political damage to Nutter and his inept former L&I commissioner -- Fran Burns, now CEO of the city school district -- came from a trio of heavyweight plumbers who testified about the city's willful lack of oversight over their trade.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bennett Levin Says Mayor Nutter Violates City Charter While De-Emphasizing Life Safety At L&I

Bennett Levin
By Ralph Cipriano

Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin charges that Mayor Nutter is in the process of "tearing down" his former department. Along the way, Levin says, Nutter has de-emphasized public safety, as well as violated the city charter.

"During your campaign for mayor, you often expressed your disdain for the department," Levin wrote in an open letter to the mayor today that was circulated to the media. "In my humble but experienced opinion, the problem is not solved by tearing down the department, by slashing its workforce by 25 percent, or by providing it with a commissioner who, from all appearances, knew absolutely nothing about its core and basic public safety responsibility ..."

The City Council has been holding public hearings on the June 5th building collapse on Market Street that killed six people, injured 14, and prompted an L&I inspector to commit suicide. At an Aug. 1 hearing, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass asked Fran Burns, former L&I commissioner under Nutter, why the focus at L&I had switched from life safety to economic development. Burns, L&I commissioner from 2008 to 2012, claimed it wasn't true in testimony that underwhelmed council members and spectators.

The mayor's press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Levin's charges. Apparently, they only respond to the newspaper owned by the Democratic party.

Defense Lawyers Allege Prosecutorial Misconduct, Judicial Errors

The judge who put two innocent men in jail
By Ralph Cipriano

Lawyers for Bernard Shero and Father Charles Engelhardt have filed legal papers claiming their clients were wrongly convicted due to judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

The lawyers made their claims in separate documents filed on Aug. 1 with Judge Ellen Ceisler, both entitled, "Defendant's Statement of Errors To Be Complained Of On Appeal."

Michael J. McGovern, writing on behalf of Father Engelhardt, asserted that Judge Ceisler should have tossed a conspiracy charge against Father Engelhardt a lot sooner than she did. During the trial, the judge overruled defense objections to the charge that Father Engelhardt had conspired with Father Edward Avery to rape Billy Doe, the victim in the case, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

After the jury delivered its verdict and convicted Engelhardt of conspiracy, the judge at sentencing announced she was going to throw out the conspiracy charge as unproven. But that decision came after the judge had given "lengthy and repetitive jury instructions on conspiracy and accomplice liability thus unduly emphasizing" the conspiracy charge to the jury, McGovern wrote. The conspiracy charge took up 10 out of 44 pages of jury instructions, and one page of a two-page jury verdict sheet that listed "four separate charges of conspiracy and accomplice liability," McGovern wrote.

Friday, August 2, 2013

"I Came Here To Speak For Dead People"

Bennett Levin (Clem Murray for the Inquirer)
By Ralph Cipriano

Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin returned to City Hall Thursday to testify about the incompetence and corruption of local government, and how it was responsible for a series of catastrophes and a trail of dead bodies dating back more than 20 years.

"I came here to speak for dead people," Levin told City Council members. He said the city can no longer allow L&I to be "a political backwater where money talks and people die."

It was 90 minutes of straight talk in a place unaccustomed to hearing it. Levin, L&I commissioner from 1992 to 1995, named names, told inside stories, and settled some old scores. He also ripped the press, although you won't read about it in the Inquirer. 

The reaction in Mayor Michael Nutter's button-down, bureaucratic City Hall was astonishment. One City Council member, Bobby Henon, gushed over Levin's "career of speaking truth to power." Another Council member, Curtis Jones Jr., appeared starstruck. "I don't know whether to call you Commissioner or Professor at this point," Jones said. "Because we've been in class."

When it was over, one municipal employee congratulated Levin on his ability to stick his foot so far up the posteriors of some former city officials that surgery might be required from a proctologist.


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