Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Priest's Dying Declaration In Prison

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The night before Father Charles Engelhardt died, a fellow inmate claims,  the priest gave a dying declaration:

"Paul, I do not feel well. Please understand that I am an innocent man, who was wrongly convicted."

On Dec. 22, the inmate, Paul H. Eline, a former Temple Law student, filed as an intervenor with the state Superior Court in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Engelhardt, appellant.

 In his application for third party intervention, Eline wrote that the matters he was bringing to the court's attention were "critical and constitute 'extraordinary circumstances' " that should be made part of the record.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Revenge Of The Norcrosses

Jimmy Kempski/Photo: Thomas Carroll
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The big black billboard on the Walt Whitman Bridge promotes the new sportswriter for PhillyVoice.com: "All Birds. No Bull. With Jimmy Kempski."

That's the same Jimmy Kempski who used to be an Eagles blogger for philly.com. He jumped ship to join the rival media startup brought to you by George E. Norcross III and his daughter Lexie.

Just seven months after they lost the court-ordered auction of Interstate General Media [IGM] -- the parent company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com -- the Norcrosses are back on the local media stage playing with house money.

Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and two business partners, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph E. Buckelew, had invested a total of $35 million in IGM. The Norcross ownership faction walked away from the May 27th auction with $41.7 million after expenses; a net profit of $6.7 million. No wonder the ads for PhillyVoice.com brag that the new venture is a "well-funded media startup serving the Philadelphia and South Jersey region."

It's a stark contrast between media rivals. Over at PhillyVoice.com, George's daughter Lexie, the new managing director, is busy hiring. But at rival IGM,  owned by Norcross's former business partner, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, they're laying off 21 senior employees in a new round of buyouts that's the subject of a grievance filed by the Newspaper Guild.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Galati Asks For Court-Appointed Lawyer

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Ron Galati's broke.

The South Philadelphia auto body shop owner accused to orchestrating a $5 million insurance  scam told a judge this morning that he does not have the money to pay for a lawyer in either of the two pending criminal trials he is facing in Common Pleas Court.

"Exactly right," Galati said when Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked if he could not afford to hire an attorney for either the insurance fraud conspiracy case or a murder-for-hire case in which he is a defendant.

Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz said her office believes Galati has the financial ability to retain private counsel.

"He may not be able to afford the best attorney in the land," Holtz said during a brief hearing before Minehart. But she said her office believes Galati has assets and that "the City of Philadelphia and the taxpayers of Philadelphia should not be paying" his legal bills.

Minehart set a Jan. 8 hearing date on the financial question. Holtz said her office would offer evidence showing that Galati can afford an attorney.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Billy Goes Viral

The new media superstar
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The improbable story of "Billy Doe," the former Philadelphia altar boy who claimed he was raped by a couple of priests and a Catholic school teacher, has gone viral.

Rolling Stone opened the door by apologizing for the improbable story it ran about "Jackie," the University of Virginia freshman who claimed she was raped by seven guys at a fraternity party.

Big Trial's contribution to the unfolding scandal was to point out that before they fell for Jackie's story, reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone bought Billy's bogus tale. In a classic case of the media turning on itself, the Big Trial post about Billy and Rolling Stone attracted 50,000 hits to this website in two days.

The local scandal about Billy, ignored by the hometown press, was suddenly hot news to The Daily Caller, and a bunch of websites such as jimromenesko.com, hotair.com, and fark.com, Even The Daily Mail, the British national newspaper, weighed in with a story about Billy.

And we're not done yet. The Washington Post and Newsweek are hot on the trail as well. Over at the District Attorney's office, our stonewalling D.A. Seth Williams is probably hoping he gets through this news cycle unscathed. Seth, however, does have a distant but curious link to Rolling Stone's Billy story that has attracted the curiosity of the national media.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Before Rolling Stone Ran With Jackie's Story They Fell for Billy's

Sabrina Rubin Erdely
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Before a writer for Rolling Stone ran with an alleged gang-rape story told by a student named "Jackie," she bought an alleged multiple-rape story told by a former altar boy named "Billy."

On Nov. 19th, Rolling Stone published an article claiming that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. ["A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At UVA."]

The fraternity was tried in the media and found guilty. Bricks were thrown through the windows of the frat house, the cops in Charlottesville were called in to investigate, and the university president shut down all fraternity and sorority events on campus.

Then, The Washington Post, citing factual discrepancies, cast doubt on the victim's story. Rolling Stone rolled over almost immediately, issuing an apology that said their trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."

There's lots of irony here folks for readers of this blog. The writer of the story in question, Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is from Philadelphia. Before she ran with Jackie's story, she fell for a story told by a former altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" by a grand jury.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Galati's Lawyer Bows Out

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati, the South Philadelphia auto body shop owner with a Godfather fixation, wants to keep fighting. But it looks like he'll have to do battle without the services of topnotch criminal defense attorney Anthony Voci Jr.

Voci has filed motions to withdraw as Galati's attorney in a pending murder-for-hire case and a massive insurance fraud conspiracy case. Both are listed for trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

"My client does not have sufficient funds to allow me to continue," Voci said in a brief comment today when asked about the withdrawal motions. Voci, a former Assistant District Attorney, represented Galati in another murder-for-hire case in federal court in Camden earlier this year.

In that case, Galati was convicted of hiring two hitmen to murder the boyfriend of his estranged daughter. The boyfriend survived the hit and was one of several key witnesses. The two hitmen, a third conspirator and Galati's daughter Tiffany also took the stand for the government.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trying To Peddle The Ultimate Contrarian Story

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

When I was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer and had a story to pitch, I used to go editor shopping.

Back in the 1990s when the newspaper had 600 journalists, there were so many departments to shop in -- news, features, sports, the projects desk where they did long, boring investigative stories, and the Sunday magazine. And so many different editors to pitch a story to. If one editor said no it was on to the next one until I made a sale.

Sadly, one rule applied to too many editors I dealt with. If you told them something they already knew, something that squared with the prevailing wisdom, you were in good shape. But if you told those same editors something new, especially something that might challenge the prevailing wisdom, that's when the trouble started.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"I Accept This Injustice"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

An oblate of St. Francis de Sales takes priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He prays to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

Few who pray that prayer could have ever imagined the fate that befell Father Charles Engelhardt.

That was the message of the homily delivered today by Father Michael Connolly at the funeral of Father Engelhardt, his friend and fellow oblate of nearly 50 years.

An oblate wears a silver cross around his neck, Father Connolly said. He fished his own cross out of his priestly garments to show the crowd. It's a cross an oblate receives on the occasion of his first presentation of faith, the priest said. It's not a crucifix; there's no body on it.

"Charlie was the body on that cross in his life," Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was falsely accused, tried, and convicted, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, "Charlie endured his suffering" with patience and humility, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was repeatedly humiliated before he died as a prisoner.

What was Charlie Engehlardt's response to his fate?

"I accept this injustice believing God will make it right in the end." That's what Father Engelhardt repeatedly told his lawyers and fellow oblates, Father Connolly said. It would be Father Engelhardt's parting message on the day that his family and fellow oblates gathered to bury him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Moses, Solomon And The Monsignor

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Under a stained glass dome and bronze statues of Moses and Solomon, the state's highest court this morning debated the fate of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

"God save the Commonwealth and this honorable court," the court crier shouted in the packed, ornate chambers of the state Supreme Court on the fourth floor of the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Up at the raised mahogany bench, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille got things rolling by announcing, "The issue here was this application of the [child] endangerment statute."

That really is the issue in the Lynn case. The other justices, however, did not seem to want to stick to that script as they fired one extraneous shot after another at Thomas A. Bergstrom, the monsignor's defense lawyer.

After it was over, Bergstrom had the dazed look of a hockey goalie. His adversary from the D.A.'s office seemed to get off much easier, but he did have to concede a few key points that could be fatal.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Handcuffs And A Hospital Bed

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

For Father Charles Engelhardt, the ordeal is finally over.

The 67-year-old priest died at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., according to Father James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Father Engelhardt's religious order.

"A beautiful and holy man" was how his lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, described him. He was "a true martyr," McGovern said.

At the time of his death, Father Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, where he had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence. The priest was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, was "Billy Doe," the former altar boy turned heroin addict who had all kinds of credibility issues.

To Father Engelhardt's family and lawyer, the priest was an innocent man falsely accused and wrongly convicted in a case overflowing with reasonable doubt. When the priest died at the hospital, no family member was present.

Father Greenfield saw Father Engelhardt the day before he died. Despite being handcuffed to a hospital bed and under guard by two armed correctional officers, "Charlie" appeared to be in good spirits, Father Greenfield said.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Priest Stricken In Prison

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Father Charles Engelhardt was transported by ambulance from prison to a hospital last week after he experienced dizziness.

The 67-year-old priest is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County, where he's serving a six to 12 year-sentence. In a case overflowing with reasonable doubt, a jury on Jan. 30, 2013 inexplicably convicted Engelhardt  of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. Even though the alleged "victim" in the case was Billy Doe, a former altar boy turned heroin addict whose crazy stories of abuse defied logic and common sense, as well as all known evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives.

Just a week before he was stricken, Father Engelhardt's lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, was in state Superior Court, arguing that his client deserved a new trial because of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

Last Tuesday morning, doctors at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., diagnosed cardiac artery disease and found a blockage in the priest's heart, said his niece, Tracey Boyle, a registered nurse.

The family does not know whether the priest suffered a heart attack because they have been unable to speak to his doctors. The family, however, does know that when doctors implanted a stent in the priest's heart, they discovered blockages in other arteries, Boyle said. By Friday, the priest was back in the prison infirmary, as doctors mulled whether to perform further open heart surgery, his niece said.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Judge Losing Patience As Defense Challenges Mob References

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Salvatore Pelulluo and Nicky Scarfo Jr. used their mob connections to intimidate and silence officials at FirstPlus Financial Group while setting up and carrying out the multi-million dollar looting of the Texas-based company, federal prosecutors contend.

And for that reason, they argue, evidence demonstrating ties to La Cosa Nostra were legitimately presented to the jury during the FirstPlus fraud trail and should not be grounds for dismissing the convictions that were delivered back in July.

Scarfo and Pelullo "allowed various FPFG officials to learn of (their) affiliation with organized crime," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno wrote in a 103-page response to a defense motion asking that the convictions be dismissed and a new trial ordered.

"That knowledge caused those officials to refrain from challenging Pelullo's and Scarfo's control of the company" and allowed Pelullo and Scarfo to carry out the "takeover and looting" of the Texas-based mortgage company, the prosecutor wrote.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler has scheduled a hearing for Friday on the defense motion and government's response. Scarfo, Pelullo and brothers John and William Maxwell, who were also convicted, are scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When Prosecutors Cheat

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

When Assistant District Attorney Peter Carr stood to begin oral arguments today in Superior Court, Presiding Judge Anne E. Lazarus let him know before he said a word that he was facing an uphill climb.

"You've got your work cut out for you," she warned Carr.

During the hearing, allegations of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct were piling up as defense lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero argued that their clients deserved a new trial.

Carr attempted to blow off most of the accusations as a "harmless error" here, a "not consequential" error there, and, best of all, "certainly not a "reversible error."

But Judge Lazarus cut him off and said she agreed that when weighed individually the errors might indeed be minor. But the judge said there were so many errors and her concern was that the "quantitative effect" of all those errors might have fundamentally compromised the defendants' rights to a fair trial.

It was the most powerful moment of the hearing. A half-dozen blocks away at the district attorney's office, you could almost hear Seth Williams screaming.

In the D.A.'s self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Superior Court has already reversed the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn. In court today, defense lawyers were seeking reversals for two more defendants in that historic prosecution -- Engelhardt and Shero. Would hitting the trifecta on reversals make appellate history?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Three-Ring Circus Starring Billy Doe

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

How many courtrooms does it take to unravel a lie?

In the case of "Billy Doe," the answer these days is three.

Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for the former altar boy turned heroin addict who told an incredible and constantly-changing story about supposedly being raped by two priests and a school teacher.

It's a story that defies all logic and common sense, a story thoroughly disproved by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The Billy Doe case also contradicts established patterns of abuse over 40 years as exposed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's  secret archive files.

But in a triumph of absurdity, a legal three-ring circus starring a clown named Billy plays on, resuming tomorrow with an 11:30 a.m. hearing in state Superior Court.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Merlino Ordered Back To Jail For 'Night On The Town'

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

What a federal prosecutor described as a "night on the town with his mob buddies" has resulted in a four-month prison sentence for former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick imposed that sentence this afternoon after hearing more than three hours of testimony and argument in a probation violation hearing for the 52-year-old convicted Mafia leader.

Merlino, now living in Florida, will begin the sentence in 30 days, according to the order issued by Surrick. Once he completes that sentence, Merlino will no longer be on supervised release and will be free to meet and associate with whomever he chooses.

But that may be the least of his problems. According to testimony during the hearing, Merlino has been the focus on an ongoing investigation by an organized crime task force in South Florida. Authorities have apparently had the one-time South Philadelphia celebrity gangster on their radar since his arrival in the Sunshine State three years ago.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Merlino Heading Back To Philadelphia For Parole Violation Hearing

By George Anastasia


For Bigtrial.net

It looks like an encore is planned for U.S. District Court in the ongoing Skinny Joey Merlino saga.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued a one-page ruling this morning denying a motion by Merlino's lawyer seeking to have his probation violation voided. Instead, Surrick set a hearing on the issues for Friday at 10 a.m.

Merlino, who has been living in Boca Raton for the past three years, drew a media horde when he appeared earlier this month for the first hearing in the case. That proceeding focused on a motion filed by defense attorneys Edwin Jacobs Jr. and Michael Myers who argued that federal authorities had failed to properly notify Merlino of the alleged violations.

Merlino, they said, had not been given a summons to appear in court prior to the expiration of his three-year probation. Prosecutors argued that the practice in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was to file a notice of a violation rather than issue a summons. Merlino and his lawyer were informed on Sept. 2, five days before Merlino's probationary period ended, that a notice was to be filed and a hearing scheduled. Merlino's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., asked for a delay in setting a hearing date so that he could check his case load. The formal notice was not filed until Sept. 16.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scarfo, Pelullo, Maxwells Seek New Trial In FirstPlus Fraud Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

They want a do over.

And if they're granted a new trial, they don't want any mention of the mob.

That's the essence of a 72-page motion filed by lawyers for Salvatore Pelullo and joined by lawyers for Nicodemo Scarfo and brothers John and William Maxwell asking Judge Robert Kugler to overturn their convictions and order a retrial in the FirstPlus financial fraud case.

A hearing on the motion and the government's response is set for Monday. Sentencings, which were originally scheduled for Oct. 21, 22 and 23, have been moved to January for all four defendants.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Secret Life Of A Corroborating Witness

By Ralph Cipriano
Best guy friends Billy and Leo
for Bigtrial.net

In court nearly two years ago, Leo Omar Hernandez was the only witness who could corroborate any part of Billy Doe's wildly improbable tale about being repeatedly raped as an altar boy by a couple of priests and a school teacher.

Hernandez was supposedly the "best guy friend" that Billy Doe first confided his story of sex abuse to back when they were high school classmates at the International Christian Academy in Northeast Philadelphia.

Hernandez told the jury that when he and Billy were sophomores at the Christian Academy, they used a Bible verse as a weapon against a male teacher who got "touchy-feely" with them. In court, Hernandez presented himself as a clean-cut, straight-arrow, honorably-discharged Air Force vet living with his girlfriend and newborn son at a house he owned in Mayfair. But none of that turns out to be true.

Billy Doe is currently suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and his alleged abusers in a civil suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, his former "best guy friend" Leo Omar Hernandez has filed a medical malpractice case filed in Common Pleas Court against a Philadelphia osteopath, a male doctor that Hernandez claims got him hooked on drugs and then had an abusive sexual relationship with him.

Records gathered for that medical malpractice case show that while Leo Omar Hernandez claims he's a victim, he also admits he's a former drug addict, steroid abuser, and a dancer in gay male strip clubs.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Merlino Packs Them In At Federal Hearing

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Joey Merlino can still draw a crowd.

The one-time South Philadelphia celebrity mobster had a nearly packed courtroom for his probation violation hearing this morning. Friends, family members, law enforcement officials and more than a dozen members of the media showed up for a 90-minute proceeding that revolved around mundane technical issues and that offered all the drama of a first-year law school seminar.

The proceeding before U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick ended without any resolution. But Merlino, 52, attracted a swarm of television cameramen and newspaper photographers as he exited the building at Sixth and Market Streets.

"The Mummers Parade," Merlino said cryptically as reporters shouted questions at him and a small entourage that made its way toward Seventh Street and a parking garage. Merlino was scheduled to return to Florida later today.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Joey's Back In Philadelphia, But For How Long?

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Joey Merlino's back in town.

But the one-time South Philadelphia celebrity mob boss hopes he's just passing through.

Merlino has a date at 10 a.m. tomorrow before U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick who will ultimately decide the short term future of the 52-year-old mobster.

Merlino has to respond to a summons alleging he violated the terms of his supervised release by meeting with three convicted felons, including Philadelphia mob capo John Ciancaglini, in Florida on June 18.

Merlino's attorneys have called the meeting a "chance encounter" that was "much less nefarious that the government wants this court to believe."

Federal prosecutors have termed the defense argument "laughable."

Surrick will ultimately decide who gets the last laugh.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Galati Convicted In Murder-For-Hire Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati was convicted of murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges today in a case that offered a look into a bizarre and twisted South Philadelphia family dynamic.

A federal jury deliberated for about five hours over two days before returning guilty verdicts on all four charges Galati faced. No date has been set for sentencing, but the 64-year-old auto body shop owner is looking at 20 years or more at the top end of federal sentencing guidelines.

With a prior conviction for insurance fraud and with two other cases pending in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, Galati could very well spend the rest of his life in prison.

"We're not surprised, but we're disappointed," said Anthony Voci Jr., Galati's defense attorney. Voci said Galati took the verdict well. But members of his family were "devastated," according to Galati's twin sister Renee.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Jury Gets Murder-For-Hire Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It was murder-for hire, both the prosecution and defense agreed.

The question was who did the hiring?

That's the issue a federal jury began wrestling with this afternoon in the trial of South Philadelphia auto body shop owner Ron Galati who is charged with hiring three hitmen to kill his estranged daughter's boyfriend.

After hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense, the jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for about a hour before recessing at 4:30 p.m. They will return tomorrow at 9:30 to continue.

The prosecution contends that Galati, 64, a wannabe mobster, ordered the shooting of Andrew Tuono last November. Galati's lawyer, Anthony Voci Jr., has presented an alternative, contending that Tiffany Galati, the defendant's 31-year-old daughter, was behind the hit.

"We agree," Voci said in one of the highlights of his impassioned, 90-minute closing, that Tuono was shot on Nov. 30 of last year as he and Tiffany Galati walked out of their home on Carson Avenue in Atlantic City.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What The Jury Knows, And Doesn't Know, In the Galati Trial

Tiffany Galati
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning in the murder-for-hire trial of South Philadelphia auto body shop owner Ron Galati.

A jury of 10 women and two men will likely begin deliberations later in the day. Galati's future is in the balance. The 64-year-old wannabe wiseguy, who opted not to take the witness stand, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. A sentence near the top of the guideline would be tantamount to life.

If the jury convicts, Galati's daughter Tiffany, 31, will be the witness who sealed his fate.

If the jury acquits, or can't make a decision, Tiffany may also be the reason.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Details Of A Bloody Family Feud Surface At Galati Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The father sat at the defense table facing a murder-for-hire charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

The daughter sat on the witness stand, offering testimony that could help the government put him there.

Ron Galati, the 64-year-old South Philadelphia auto body shop owner, and his daughter, Tiffany, 31,  squared off in federal court in Camden today in a bloody and twisted version of family feud.

Galati is charged with hiring hitmen to kill Tiffany's boyfriend Andrew Tuono back in November. But her testimony, which included her eyewitness account of the shooting, covered a dysfunctional family dynamic that stretched back several years and that Tiffany Galati said shattered her relationship with her father, her mother Vicky and brother Ron Jr.

The shooting of Tuono, she said, was a violent and extreme extension of her father's overly protective and authoritarian approach to parenting. Her father always came between her and whomever she was dating, she explained. He wanted her to break up with Tuono with whom she had begun living. When she refused to end the relationship, she implied, her father decided to end it for her.

"There were bullets flying," she said of the night when she and Tuono were confronted by two gunmen allegedly sent by her father. "I had never been shot at before."

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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When A Reporter Crosses The Line

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The president of the FOP says there are credible allegations that two Pulitzer Prize-winning Daily News reporters behaved unethically by buying diapers and food and paying utility bills for a woman they wrote about who accused police of misconduct.

If the allegations are true, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says, the reporters crossed an ethical line and may have tainted the criminal investigation of the cops accused of misconduct.

In the wake of the charges, Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker aren't talking, and neither are their editors. Only new owner and interim Inquirer Publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest has spoken. "We stand behind the work of our reporters," Lenfest said in a canned statement defending the Daily News and its prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice." But Lenfest's statement also said that "if such 'sound evidence' exists, we will pursue it."

One impeccable source, however, has already stated in writing that the reporters crossed the line by giving gifts and buying food for another character in their series. The source is Wendy Ruderman, who in her book BUSTED A tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, discloses that she bought groceries and gave gifts to former police informant Ventura "Benny" Martinez, who in Tainted Justice, also accused the police of misconduct.

"As journalists, Barbara [Laker] and I couldn't give him money, but we tried to help him in other ways," Ruderman writes on pg. 169 of BUSTED. "I bought him groceries, rushing over to his home with bags of vegetables, turkey and Dora the Explorer fruit snacks. I bought his son a Razor scooter for his birthday and told Benny to say it was from him. I wondered if Benny sold the scooter for drugs, but at the time, I was so plagued with guilt that I couldn't see through his manipulation and lies."

"Barbara and I knew the things we did for Benny crossed the line," Ruderman wrote. "But that line -- the one between reporter and human being -- got blurry."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leonetti Rips Uncle, Says Cousin Didn't Have A Chance

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Defense attorneys for Nicodemo S. Scarfo said repeatedly during his federal fraud trial that Scarfo,
49, was targeted for prosecution because of the reputation and notoriety of his father, jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

The jury, of course, saw it differently, convicting the younger Scarfo of all 25 counts he faced in the looting of FirstPlus Financial, a Texas mortgage company.

But now another voice has weighed in in Scarfo's defense. It's not a defense of what he did, but rather an explanation for how he ended up where he did. And it's also a plea for some consideration from Judge Robert Kugler when he sentences Scarfo in October.

The younger Scarfo never had a chance, said his cousin, mobster-turned-government witness Philip Leonetti.

"He's really not a gangster," Leonetti, 61, said in a telephone interview with Bigtrial this week. "His father had him under his spell...I used to tell him, 'Nicky, get away from these guys.' And when he was talking to me, he would agree' But then he would talk to his father and..."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Inky Vs. The Daily News

Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman and Michael Days
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

First it was the former owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer who couldn't get along. They wound up suing each other in court over the firing of Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow, amid charges of  newsroom meddling.

Then it was the top editors of the Inquirer and Daily News who squared off over an Inky story about police corruption that supposedly cast the two reporters who wrote the tabloid's 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice," in a negative light.

According to several newsroom sources, two top editors of the Daily News -- Editor Michael Days and Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph -- lobbied heavily and even threatened to resign if new owner and interim Inquirer Publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest ran an Inky story scheduled for last Sunday's paper written by Inky staff writers Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelan.

Lenfest settled the dispute by killing the Inky story, according to several sources. Then it was Inky Editor Bill Marimow's turn to get upset about newsroom meddling. There was talk on the rumor mill about Marimow threatening to resign, but he didn't go anywhere. Now it appears the veteran Inky editor may be digging in for a longer fight.

"It's an internal matter, and it's not open for discussion," Marimow wrote in a terse email, when asked about the killed story.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Don Manno Gets His Life Back

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Don Manno sat in Seasons 52, a posh restaurant at the Cherry Hill Mall one day this week, eating a piece of salmon and talking about the future.

But the past, the immediate past, kept intruding into his conversation.

It was one week exactly from the day a jury in U.S. District Court in Camden had given him his life back. Manno was calm, relaxed and philosophical about the experience. He had beaten federal prosecutors in a grueling six-month trial in which his freedom and future as an attorney were on the line.

It shouldn't have come to that, the veteran defense attorney said.

"I think the federal prosecutors thought they were going to teach us all a lesson about how to practice law," Manno said. "I don't need them to tell me how to be a lawyer. I did nothing wrong. If a jury had questioned what I did then I might think differently. But federal prosecutors aren't going to tell me how to be a lawyer."

That was as close as Manno, 68, came to displaying any of the anger and bitterness that lingers from the FirstPlus Financial fraud case in which he was ensnarled. For the most part, he was sanguine, profusely thanking and praising his wife Rita and his grown daughters Kimberley and Rebecca for helping him through an ordeal that, he says, will make him a better lawyer.

"I think I always had the ability to relate to my clients, to understand intellectually what they were going through," he said. "But now I think I have an emotional understanding. When you get a knock on your door at six in the morning and they take you away in handcuffs, you have a different understanding of the process."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Judge Rules Fumo Can Travel Without Advance Approval

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter has decided that former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo can travel freely throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey without needing advance approval from his parole officer.

Fumo's lawyer, Dennis Cogan, had filed a motion on June 17th seeking to modify Fumo's travel restrictions. Cogan filed the motion after Fumo's parole officer denied him permission to visit his condo at the Jersey Shore and a 99-acre farm his fiancee owns outside Harrisburg.

Because it's Vince Fumo we're talking about, the government filed a motion in opposition, which was  immediately trumpeted as big news by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The prosecutors who put Fumo away for 61 months wanted to require the defendant to notify his parole officer in advance, as well as get her authorization before he went anywhere while on probation.

But today, Judge Buckwalter issued an order granting the defendant's motion with one stipulation. Every Monday, the judge wrote, Fumo has to supply his probation officer with an itinerary for the week "setting forth where and when he intends to be."

"Billy Doe" Story Wins Catholic Press Association Award

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

A lengthy summary story about "Billy Doe," based on reporting originally done for big trial.net, has won first prize for best investigative reporting from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

The story, "Star witness' story in Philadelphia sex abuse trials doesn't add up," ran in the April 29, 2013 edition of the National Catholic Reporter. Labeled an "analysis" by NCR, the nearly 6,000-word story examined  a "compromised investigation," a "flawed grand jury report," and the many contradictory stories told by Billy Doe.

Doe is the former 10-year-old altar boy and drug addict who claimed at two historic Philadelphia sex abuse trials that he was raped by two priests and a school teacher. Three men are currently in jail because of Doe's stories. A fourth defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, was convicted on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, but that conviction was overturned by an appeals court.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Scarfo, Pelullo, Maxwell Brothers Guilty In FirstPlus Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and his business associate Salvatore Pelullo were convicted today of looting a Texas-based mortgage company of more than $12 million through a series of phony business deals and bogus consulting contracts.

Scarfo, 49, the son of jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, was described by the government as the behind-the-scenes power in the secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial in 2007.

Pelullo, 47, an Elkins Park businessman with two prior fraud convictions, was the point man in the scheme, according to authorities. A wannabe wiseguy who quoted lines from The Godfather and brought a street corner swagger to business meetings, Pelullo was accused of using threats and intimidation to force company officials to do his bidding.

The anonymous chosen jury, which deliberated for parts of 10 days over two weeks, also convicted former FirstPlus CEO John Maxwell and Maxwell's brother, William, a lawyer who worked as special counsel for FirstPlus. The jury found lawyers David Adler, Gary McCarthy and Donald Manno not guilty of the charges they faced.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Drexel University's Police Brutality Scandal

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

On Dec. 30, 2011, a Drexel University police officer was caught on camera using his 4,000-pound police SUV to ram a fleeing suspect.

The suspect, Walter Johnson, then 43, of West Philadelphia, was crushed against a concrete wall and pinned  there for 13 seconds before the cop threw his SUV in reverse.  Johnson, who was unarmed, suffered multiple pelvis fractures and a fracture of his right lower leg "with bones protruding through the skin." His injuries were detailed in a police brutality lawsuit filed last year in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court by Philadelphia lawyer Robert J. Levant.

It was a completely unjustified use of deadly force by Drexel University Police Officer Robert Allen, the lawsuit claims. But that was just the start of the alleged police misconduct in the case. The lawsuit alleges a coverup by the Drexel University police that went all the way to the top.

According to a report by an expert witness for the plaintiff, former Drexel University Police Chief Edward Spangler violated police procedures by telling the Philadelphia Police Department not to investigate the use of deadly force by one of his officers. Instead, former Chief Spangler, who was hosting a party at his home that night for his top commanders, decided that the incident was just an auto accident. He made this decision without ever leaving the party, visiting the scene or reviewing any video.

Walter Johnson was arrested and charged with attempted burglary, criminal conspiracy, attempted criminal trespass, possession of instruments of a crime and criminal mischief. But after the Philadelphia District Attorney's office got a look at the video, the D.A. decided not to prosecute. All charges against Johnson were dismissed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

After 11 Years, USA V. Vincent J. Fumo Finally Comes To An End

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

In 2003, the U.S. Marines stormed Baghdad. The space shuttle Columbia exploded, killing seven astronauts. Outkast had the top pop song with Hey Ya!

In Philadelphia that same year, police discovered an electronic bug in the office of Mayor John Street. Donovan McNabb was the quarterback of the Eagles. Jim Thome led the Phillies in home runs with 47.

Also in 2003, the feds began their investigation of state Senator Vincent J. Fumo.

On Friday, after 11 years, the long legal saga of the United States of America V. Vincent J. Fumo came to an end.

The feds had 30 days until Friday to file an appeal on the last act in the criminal case -- Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter's May 20th decision to stick Fumo with an extra $359,430 in restitution costs.

The feds, who have already filed two successful appeals in the Fumo case, decided not to appeal a third time. According to Fumo's defense lawyers, it was the end of the criminal case.

"We're all happy for Vince Fumo," said Dennis Cogan, Fumo's defense lawyer. "Enough is enough. He's been through hell."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

Verdict In FirstPlus Trial, But Deliberations Continue

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It looks like the jury has voted to convict in the FirstPlus Financial racketeering fraud trial.

But at this point we don't know which one -- or how many -- of the seven defendants have been found guilty.

Jury deliberations resumed this morning in the six-month old trial. But questions submitted by the anonymously chosen jury panel to Judge Robert Kugler last week offer some insight into the process and have given rise to speculation that the panel has voted to convict someone.

In a note sent Thursday afternoon, the last day of deliberations last week, the panel wrote: "We are unanimous on some counts, but we are  not unanimous yet on others (the word "yet" was underlined twice in the note). Are we under any time constraints to reach unanimity?"

That question, coupled with an earlier inquiry about the way to respond to the racketeering conspiracy charge, has led to speculation that the jury has voted to convict at least one and possibly more of the defendants on the principal count in the 25-count indictment. All seven defendants are charged with conspiracy.

"It doesn't look good," said one member of the defense camp last week.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Jury Deliberations Continue In Scarfo Fraud Trial


By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The jury completed a fourth day of deliberations this afternoon without reaching a verdict in the FirstPlus racketeering fraud trial of Nicodemo S. Scarfo and six co-defendants.

The anonymously chosen panel of seven women and five men is expected to return to the U.S. District Courthouse in Camden at 9 a.m. tomorrow to resume the process. The panel sent a question to Judge Robert Kugler late in the day that led to some speculation about where the panel is headed.

The question had to do with the interrogatories or predicate acts listed to support the racketeering conspiracy charge that heads the indictment. All seven defendants are charged with conspiracy. The government has to prove at least two of the predicate acts as elements of the conspiracy charge. In response to its question, the panel was told it had to be unanimous in finding two of those acts proven.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Meet The New Boss

By Ralph Cipriano
Same as the old boss
for Bigtrial.net

On Thursday June 12th, the new owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, was still on vacation in Europe. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Brian Tierney was convening a meeting in the office of former Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall.

For an hour, Tierney questioned four top officials from Philly.com about a dip in numbers regarding website traffic.

The officials explained that two years ago in a re-design, Philly.com had eliminated some old gimmicks used to inflate web traffic. Gimmicks that use to fly back when Tierney was publisher. Such as counting each photo in a 20-page photo gallery as separate page views. And counting different pages of the same story as different page views.

But Tierney wasn't interested in hearing excuses. In a demeanor described by people in the room as "bullying" and "domineering," Tierney made it clear to the folks from Philly.com that he was only interested in hearing how they were going to raise those numbers.

"It was just frustrating," said Matt Romanoski, Philly.com's executive producer for sports. "Right off the bat, he [Tierney] almost sounded like he was preparing, like he seized on something that he could fire us for."

FirstPlus Trial Heading To The Jury

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

After nearly six months of testimony and more than a week of detailed and grueling closing arguments, jury deliberations are set to begin in the FirstPlus Financial racketeering fraud trial of mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and six co-defendants.

Donald Manno, Scarfo's former criminal defense attorney and a co-defendant in the case, completed his closing arguments this morning. Manno, who is representing himself, was the final defense attorney to address the anonymously chosen jury panel.

A rebuttal closing argument this afternoon from the prosecution completed the argument phase of the trial, setting the stage for the start of deliberations tomorrow.

Manno was detailed and highly effective yesterday afternoon when he spoke to the jury for about an hour. The one-time federal prosecutor, who referred to himself in the third person, told the jury to consider the facts and not the "diversions, distortions and false circumstantial evidence" around which the prosecution has built its case.

"Don Manno was not involved in any conspiracy," he told the jury.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tears and Fear At The Inky

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The new owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, wasn't back yet from his vacation in Vienna and Berlin.

While Lenfest was away, leaders of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents approximately 500 of the newspaper's 1,800 employees, were trying to talk Drew Katz, son of the late Lewis Katz, out of his announced intention of selling his father's $16 million stake in the company to Lenfest.

Meanwhile, in the absence of leadership, Brian Tierney, Lenfest's newly appointed sales consultant, was holed up in former Publisher Bob Hall's office, and reportedly throwing his weight around like he was running the place.

"I saw more people crying yesterday," said Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild, after he toured the newspaper.

According to Ross, three top executives at the newspaper quit yesterday because they couldn't deal with Tierney, or his lieutenant, Mark Frisby.

At the Inky, sold last month at a court-ordered auction for $88 million, they're running Associated Press and Washington Post stories on the front page. While inside the newspaper offices at 8th and Market, it's panic and uncertainty over what will happen next.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Partnership That Didn't Last Twenty Minutes

Auction winners Gerry Lenfest and Lewis Katz
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

In the moments after Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest won the May 27th auction to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer for $88 million, Katz told Lenfest he wanted his son, Drew, to be a partner in the venture.

According to a source, Lenfest's reply, in the presence of Katz's son, was no way.

Less than 20 minutes in, the Katz-Lenfest partnership was already at loggerheads.

Four days later, when Lewis Katz was killed in a May 31st plane crash, relations between Drew Katz and Gerry Lenfest got worse.

Lenfest, according to the source, didn't pick up the phone to call Drew Katz to tell him he was sorry about his father's death. He didn't even call Drew Katz to discuss Lenfest's future plans for the company, plans that supposedly included Drew Katz taking over for his father.

Instead, on the eve of Lewis Katz's funeral, Gerry Lenfest left the country. He flew to Europe, from where he granted media interviews and issued edicts on what he was going to do with the Inky. Without discussing any of it with Drew Katz.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Juror's View Of The Nicodemo Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

She listened to two days of testimony in the Anthony Nicodemo murder trial last month and said she wasn't buying the defense argument that Nicodemo was carjacked and became an unwitting getaway driver in the murder of Gino DiPietro.

"The story about the carjacking was absurd," the former Common Pleas Court panelist wrote in one of several e-mail exchanges with Bigtrial.net. She also said she surmised the shooting was a mob hit even though the judge had barred any mention of organized crime. And she correctly assumed that Nicodemo was being held without bail and that he was able to afford a high priced defense attorney.

The juror agreed to share her insights from the two days she heard testimony, but asked to remain anonymous. She was the first of three jurors dismissed during the case which ended in a mistrial on May 20. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution are to meet with Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart Thursday for a status conference during which a new trial date could be set.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fumo Beats The IRS In Federal Court

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter on Friday struck down an extremely rare "jeopardy assessment" levied by the IRS against former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo.

In a 63-page memorandum, the judge granted summary judgement to the plaintiff in the case of Vincent J Fumo v. United States of America. Under the jeopardy assessment, which the IRS typically uses to combat money launderers and international fugitives, the IRS had frozen three of Fumo's bank accounts totaling more than $2.7 million.

The judge, however, said the imposition of the jeopardy assessment was "not reasonable" because Fumo, sitting in jail at the time, did not attempt to hide any transactions of property and money to his son and fiancee. Nor did he place any assets "beyond the reach of the government," the judge wrote.

"The jeopardy assessment made against [Fumo] shall be abated and all liens and levies filed pursuant to it shall be released," the judge declared.

"It's wonderful to be entirely vindicated by a court of law." said Mark E. Cedrone, the tax lawyer who represented Fumo. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mafia Smoke, No Fire In Fraud Case, Pelullo's Lawyer Says

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

He wasn't a gangster. He was a turnaround expert.

And if the government had just left him alone, Salvatore Pelullo would have turned FirstPlus Financial, a struggling Texas mortgage company, into a profitable business enterprise.

Do the math!

That was the message, accompanied by nearly 100 slides and a heavy mixture of passion and sarcasm, that Pelullo's lawyer, Michael Farrell delivered to a federal jury today in a highly charged summation that offered a decidedly different view of the testimony and evidence from the one presented by the prosecution during the five-month trial.

The government, Farrell said repeatedly, failed to back up its charge that Pelullo and mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo looted the company after secretly taking control of its board of directors in the summer of 2007.

 

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