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.


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