Monday, April 29, 2013

National Catholic Reporter's Philadelphia Story


NCR story -- "Star witness' story in Philadelphia sex abuse trials doesn't add up" -- can be read here.

NCR editorial -- "Philadelphia was a shallow victory" -- can be read here.

Bigtrial on at 7 p.m. on 1210 WPHT Talk Radio Monday May 6.

Prosecutor Cites `Kaboni Savage In His Own Words"

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The question is at the heart of the prosecution's case against North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage.

"How does he run from his own words?" Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher asked a federal jury today as he detailed the case against Savage and three co-defendants in closing arguments at the 13-week old trial.

Alternately methodical, articulate, impassioned and poignant, Gallagher laid out the case for more than five hours to a jury that could determine whether Savage and two of those co-defendants live or die. All three face potential death sentences in convicted of any of the 12 homicides that are part of the case.

Savage, Gallagher argued, used a "scorched earth strategy" to control his drug empire and to silence witnesses who might cooperate against him.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Msgr. Lynn's "Crafty" Well-Paid" Defense Lawyers Take Another Crack At Judge M. Teresa Sarmina


Judge M. Teresa Sarmina
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

During the trial last year of Msgr. William J. Lynn, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington advised the jury to pay attention to the judge's instructions, and to not be swayed by Lynn's "very skillful, very crafty, very well paid defense attorneys."

Blessington's comments, as well as the judge's absence of admonishment, are among the more colorful issues being argued in more than 300 pages of appeals court documents filed in Superior Court.

On April 12, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina filed a 235-page opinion, defending her handling of the 13-week trial that resulted in the June 22, 2012 conviction of Msgr. Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. The monsignor is now serving a three-to-six year prison term imposed by Judge Sarmina.

In her opinion, Judge Sarmina defended the rhetorical excesses of the prosecutor, as well as her decision to allow into the Lynn case 21 supplemental cases of previous sex abuse, dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, to show a pattern of bad behavior in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fumo's Lawyers Challenge IRS, Seek U.S. Appeals Court Hearing

By Ralph Cipriano
FCI-Ashland [Kentucky]
for Bigtrial.net

While Vince Fumo continues to reside in a federal prison in Kentucky, his lawyers back home in Philadelphia are busy on two fronts.

Tax lawyer Mark E. Cedrone has filed a challenge to the IRS's recent imposition of a "jeopardy assessment" against the former state senator for $2.9 million, a penalty that Cedrone describes in his challenge as "completely frivolous" and lacking "any reasonable basis whatsoever."

Meanwhile, criminal appeals lawyer Peter Goldberger has filed a petition for a rehearing, asking all the judges on the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider a Feb. 4 opinion that vacated the restitution portion of a sentence previously imposed on Fumo by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

At issue is whether Fumo should have to pay another $783,284 in restitution to the federal government.

Fumo's lawyers maintain he's already paid back $3.8 million in restitution and fines to the feds; the prosecutors who put him away in 2009 on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice want Fumo to pony up another $783,284.

A panel of three appeals court judges sided with the prosecutors, striking down Judge Buckwalter's previous order on restitution, and asking Buckwalter to take another crack at it.

Goldberger wants all 15 Third Circuit appeals court judges to reconsider the matter because, he argues, the panel of three judges who heard the case last December did not understand the facts of the case, in part because of a "misstatement of the facts" made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer. 

Savage Tape No. 4: "These Rats Got A Problem."


About these tapes:

In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Billy Doe's Lucky Streak Continues

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Since he became the district attorney's star witness, "Billy Doe" has had a remarkable run of good fortune in the criminal courts.
The scene outside CJC after the Engelhardt-Shero Verdict

The charges from two previous arrests in 2009 and 2010, both for retail theft, were dropped in 2010 after witnesses in both cases did not show up for court.

On Jan. 7, 2011, a judge dismissed a charge of possession with intent to distribute narcotics, after ruling that police did not have probable cause on June 9, 2010 to stop Billy Doe on the street. When police searched Billy Doe, they found 56 bags of heroin in his shorts. However, the late Judge Adam Beloff ruled the heroin was inadmissible as evidence; the charges were dropped and the case dismissed.

Billy Doe's most recent arrest, a simple drug possession case on Nov. 10, 2011, has been continued nine times in 18 months. During that time, Billy Doe appeared as a prosecution witness at two trials testifying against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

But now that the trials are over, and Billy Doe is done as a witness in the criminal courts, that last drug possession charge is about to disappear.

On April 11, according to court records, Billy Doe pleaded no contest to the drug possession charge, and entered into an accelerated misdemeanor program [AMP]. If Billy Doe satisfactorily completes the requirements of AMP, possibly another drug rehab and/or fines, at a hearing set for May 23rd, that drug possession charge is scheduled to be expunged from Billy Doe's record.

Testimony Ends In Kaboni Savage Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The defense and the prosecution both rested their cases today in the murder-racketeering trial of Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants, setting the stage for closing arguments to begin Monday in federal court in Philadelphia.

Savage, 38, and two co-defendants, Robert Merritt, 31, and Steven Northington, 41, could be sentenced to death if convicted of any of the 12 homicides listed in the case. The fourth defendant, Savage's sister Kidada, 30, could be sentenced to life.

The murders include the deaths of two women and four children killed in an October 2004 firebombing of a North Philadelphia rowhouse. The arson, authorities allege, was ordered by Kaboni Savage.

Savage Tape No. 3: "I Have Dreams About Killing Their Kids."



About these tapes:

In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Savage Tape No. 2: "I'm Gonna Set Him On Fire. Alive."


In this tape, Kaboni Savage is speaking to inmate Dawud Bey about his desire to light a prison guard captain on fire.

About these tapes:

In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Savage Unlikely To Testify In Murder Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

They've heard him rant about killing witnesses and their families.

They've listened as he's railed against law enforcement agents who were investigating him.

And they've heard him wax philosophically and darkly -- "No witness, no crime" -- about dealing with the criminal justice system.

But what the jury in the murder-racketeering trial of North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage, 38, apparently won't hear is Savage from the witness stand. Defense attorneys indicated that neither Savage nor any of his three co-defendants are likely to take the stand as the 12-week old trial winds down.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Savage Tape No. 1: "Tears Of Rage."


In 2004 the FBI secreted a listening device in the prison cell of Kaboni Savage at the Federal Detention Center.

Savage was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges and was a suspect in several homicides. The North Philly cocaine kingpin was being held in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU) with limited access to other prisoners.

Dozens of conversations were recorded in which Savage ranted about former associates who were cooperating. Savage said he would kill the cooperators and their families.

The tapes were originally played at Savage's drug trial in 2005. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many of these tapes have also been played at Savage's ongoing murder-racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

The following is the first in our series of clips from the 2004 recordings. In this clip, Savage is discussing his inner rage with fellow inmate Dawud Bey.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Staino Pleads Guilty In Mob Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net
Anthony Staino (left) and Gregory Pagano


Mob leader Anthony Staino, awaiting sentencing for his conviction on two counts of extortion, decided to fold his cards and avoid a retrial on racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges still pending against him.

Staino, 55, pleaded guilty to those remaining counts this afternoon during a hour-long hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno.

"It just makes sense," said Gregory Pagano, Staino's lawyer, of his client's decision. "He wants to get this behind him and move on with his life."


Staino, who has no criminal record, entered a so-called "open" plea to the racketeering conspiracy charge and to two gambling charges linked to his involvement in an illegal video poker machine operation.

Without a stipulation between the prosecution and the defense on a plea deal, it will be up to Robreno to determine how much time Staino is to receive. Sentencing has been set for July 17.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Prosecution Rests In Kaboni Savage Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Shortly before noon today jurors in the Kaboni Savage racketeering-murder trial once again heard  Savage promise to kill and maim "rats" and their family members, anybody, he said, who was associated with witnesses who were cooperating against him.

"That's all I dream about ... killing rats," Savage said on one of 10 secretly recorded conversations  played by the prosecution. "My dreams are contorted."

On another, he cackled and said, "I want to smack one of their four-year-olds with a baseball bat."

Jurors also heard him rant about how he wanted to tortured and burn a captain in the Federal Detention Center where he was being held and heard him describe how violence could prove to be a valuable asset on the streets.

"You take a certain reputation and run it to the moon," he said.

Minutes after the last tape was played, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, the lead prosecutor in the case, announced, "The United States of America rests."

Engelhardt-Shero Sentencing Postponed

The sentencing of Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, originally sentenced for Thursday, has been postponed until June 12.

A clerk in Judge Ellen Ceisler's office said today that the sentencing most likely would be postponed, at the request of defense lawyers. Lawyers in the case say the date of the sentencing was moved to give them more time to study trial transcripts, which just arrived April 11.

The trial ended Jan. 30, when jurors convicted Engelhardt and Shero on 9 of 10 counts for the repeated rapes of a victim identified in a 2011 grand jury report as Billy Doe.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Kaboni Savage: Tears Of Rage, But No Regrets

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It was poetic, but in a dark and frightening way.

Kaboni Savage was trying to explain to an inmate in the cell adjacent to his how he felt about the drug case pending against him and the cooperating witnesses who were lining up to testify for the prosecution.

“Tears of rage,” the violent North Philadelphia drug kingpin said.

“I’m flooded … internally from’em. Almost drown myself every night man. Tears of rage cause these sons-of-bitches gonna pay, man! They gonna pay … They kids gonna pay. They momma gonna pay. I know you get tired of me saying it, man, but that’s the kind of conviction I got for this shit, man. I’m dedicated to their death, man.”

This was in February 2004

Savage was awaiting trial on drug charges that would eventually result in his conviction and a 30-year prison sentence. Dozens of his conversations -- angry, belligerent, vile and vindictive – were secretly recorded by the FBI and played at his 2005 drug trial.

Now they’re being reprised, played for another jury that could determine whether Savage lives or dies. The “tears of rage” tape is one of nearly 300 conversations that have been or will be played for the jury in Savage’s racketeering-murder trial in U.S. District Court. Most came from a listening device hidden in his prison cell. Others came from phone wiretaps.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Skinny Joey Talks About Nicky Skins And Life Without The Mob

Skinny Joey (2nd from right) posing with Goodfellas

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

They met in a Dunkin’ Donuts near the beach in Boca Raton.

Nicholas Stefanelli, a 60-something mobster from North Jersey, was full of propositions and ideas for “business” ventures.

Joey Merlino, recently turned 50 and out of jail for about a year, was all ears.

Merlino was looking for a fresh start in Florida, or so he said. Stefanelli had come recommended from a defense attorney in Newark who had worked on one of Joey’s cases. 

They talked for about an hour. At first, Stefanelli focused on ideas for bars and restaurants, businesses he knew Joey was interested in. Money and backers were available, he said. They could make something happen, he promised. Then he steered the conversation to past events in the world in which they both operated.

Stefanelli, known as “Nicky Skins,” was a soldier in the Gambino crime family.

Merlino, who everyone knew as “Skinny Joey,” had been or was (depending on your frame of reference) the boss of the Philadelphia mob. He had just finished a 14-year stint in a federal prison. He had no desire to go back. So when Stefanelli started asking about some of the guys up north and talking about pending criminal cases, Merlino pulled back.

There are certain things you don’t talk about, especially with someone you’ve just met.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Juror Finally Speaks

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

It took 69 days, but finally a juror in the Engelhardt-Shero case has spoken out.

The barefoot, stylish lady who came to the door accompanied by her doting husband said it all came down to the victim's testimony.

"I believed him," said the juror, who asked to remain anonymous after a reporter knocked on her door.

And while "Billy Doe," the victim in the case, may have told a story where the details varied every time he told it, his behavior remained the same. And apparently, that was the consistency this juror was looking for.

"His pattern never broke," the juror said of Billy Doe. "He started changing when he went to high school. He never broke his pattern of getting in trouble." And "his way of letting go of the pain" never varied either.

It was always drugs.

"When you're on drugs, a drug addict will tell you a lot of stories," she said. So this juror apparently gave Billy Doe a pass when his story changed every time he told it.

Because he was a consistent drug addict.

Go figure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IRS Visits Vince Fumo In Prison To Deliver A Bill for $2.9 Million

,
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

For Vince Fumo, the news just keeps getting worse.

The former state senator still resides in a federal prison in Kentucky where he's serving a 61-month sentence for his 2009 conviction on 137 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. 

Since late January, after doctors discovered three blockages in his heart, the 69-year-old Fumo has been walking around with a zipper in his chest after undergoing triple bypass surgery and dealing with depression, which doctors have told him is a frequent side affect of the surgery.

In February, a federal appeals court sided with the prosecutors who put Fumo away, ruling that the former state senator should give back even more money. The feds, who have already extracted $3.8 million in restitution and fines from Fumo, are seeking an additional $783,264.

On March 21, Fumo got a visit in prison from an IRS agent bearing a notice from Guadalupe N. Ortiz, acting area director of the agency's Philadelphia office. The IRS was formally notifying Fumo that he was being hit with an extremely rare "notice of jeopardy assessment and levy," which, including tax, interest and penalties, amounts to a bill for a total of $2.9 million.

In an interview, Mark E. Cedrone, Fumo's tax lawyer, termed the jeopardy assessment "a draconian infrequently-used weapon of mass destruction" employed by the IRS in only a fraction of cases. And the jeopardy assessment is not just a bill.

"They IRS has served levies on various financial institutions resulting in the freezing of significant assets" belonging to his client, Cedrone said.

Cedrone said the government's case is without merit, because the IRS is in no danger of failing to collect on any debts it may be owed. Fumo is still listed as a co-owner on five of the six transferred properties that the IRS has raised questions about, Cedrone said. So the IRS remains protected.

Not that the government deserves any more of his client's money, Cedrone said. While the IRS is seeking $2.9 million, Cedrone argues that under the law the amount due the IRS is "zip." That's what he plans to argue in appeals to the IRS, and possibly in a federal lawsuit as well.

"Where I come from, they call this piling on," said Cedrone, a South Philly guy.

The Day 56 Bags of Heroin Disappeared

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

At 8:11 p.m. on June 9, 2010, the district attorney's star witness in the case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a man subsequently identified in a 2011 grand jury report as "Billy Doe," was walking on the 200 block of Allegheny Avenue when he caught the eye of Police Officer Cesar Torres.

At the time, Torres was on patrol in a marked police car, the officer subsequently testified.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Brown asked the officer what caught his eye about Billy Doe:

Q. What was the defendant wearing when you saw him?

A. I believe he had [on] sweatpants with a hoodie that had a jacket over it ...

Q. Did something draw your attention to the defendant that brings you here today?

A. Yes, ma'am. I was traveling eastbound and I observed a large bulge coming out of the right side of the defendant's waist area.

Q. What happened after that?

A. At that time, myself and the defendant made eye contact and he looked very surprised ... um, just like, you know a look of shock. His eyes opened wide.

That large bulge turned out to be 56 bags of heroin. This is the story of how a smart criminal lawyer made that heroin disappear.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Cold, Calculating Hitman Sticks To His Story

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Defense attorneys spent several hours today painting a picture of Lamont Lewis as a cold, calculating murderer who usually carried a gun and was never afraid to use it.

Lewis, 37, didn't dispute the portrayal. In fact, he often added to the picture.

Discussing the killing of a rival who lay paralyzed outside his North Philadelphia bar, Lewis was asked if he hadn't told an associate "to kick his fucking ass."

"Yes sir," Lewis replied, adding that his associate "actually kicked him in the face two times."

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hitman Describes Firebombing That Killed Six

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

They made a pact to kill the mothers of any associate who became a "rat."

And that's what Lamont Lewis said he thought he was doing in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, when he and his cousin, Robert Merritt, firebombed the rowhouse of Marcella Coleman, the mother of Eugene "Twin" Coleman.

What Lewis didn't know, he said, his voice cracking, was that there were children in the house at the time. But when he angrily confronted Kidada Savage, who he said had set the murderous plan in motion, she was indifferent to the plight of the victims.

"Fuck'em," Lewis said Kidada Savage told him a day after the arson in which six people, two women and four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, were killed.

 

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