Monday, December 28, 2015

Grandstanding D.A. Vows To Keep Monsignor Lynn In Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
The D.A.'s credo: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story
for BigTrial.net

He may have won a new trial but he's not getting out of jail anytime soon.

That's the political reality facing Msgr. William J. Lynn. Last week, a panel of three state Superior Court judges overturned Lynn's 2012 conviction for endangering the welfare of a child, and ordered a new trial.

But at least for the next month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy will continue to work as the prison librarian at SCI-Waymart for 19 cents an hour while lawyers back in Philadelphia continue the battle over his case.

Standing in the way of Lynn's release is Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, and Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. At a press conference today, the D.A.  announced he was appealing the decision by the panel of judges to the entire state Superior Court. Williams requested an "en banc" re-argument of the case before all nine judges on the appeals court, rather than just a three-judge panel. If he gets turned down, the district attorney promised, he'll appeal to the state Supreme Court, where the D.A. has a winning track record.

The Superior Court previously reversed Lynn's conviction in 2013 and ordered that he be "discharged forthwith." Lynn got out of jail, but Judge Sarmina placed him under house arrest. The D.A. appealed. The state Supreme Court then reversed the reversal and, at the D.A.'s request, Judge Sarmina promptly sent Lynn back to jail.

At his press conference today, D.A. Williams engaged in some of his usual grandstanding. He managed to screw up the facts of the case and use his own daughters as political props, so he could do more grandstanding. In Philadelphia, this lame act is what passes for the city's top prosecutor.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lynn's Lawyer Seeks New Judge

Time for more grandstanding?
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

This morning, Thomas A. Bergstrom finally got hold of his client, Msgr. William J. Lynn, to tell him the good news that his conviction had been vacated by the state Superior Court, and that Lynn was going to get a new trial.

The monsignor was "very pleased" to hear it, Bergstrom said. The two men discussed if and when Lynn was going to get out of jail. And then Lynn asked if Bergstrom knew what District Attorney Seth Williams was going to do next.

That's the big question. The district attorney, who has stonewalled this blog for three years, released a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer that said the D.A. "is committed to protecting all the citizens of Philadelphia against crimes of violence such as those committed by Msgr. Lynn."

The district attorney has 14 days to decide whether he will appeal the latest reversal by the state Superior Court to the state Supreme Court. Frankly, the citizens of Philadelphia are more in danger from the district attorney's crimes of violence against justice in his so-called "historic" prosecution of the church then they are by any of the alleged acts that Lynn was tried for. Especially when you consider the very real possibility that the alleged victim in the case, Billy Doe, the credibility-challenged former altar boy, probably made the whole thing up.

While Lynn was waiting to get out of the prison at SCI-Waymart, his lawyer was busy in Philadelphia filing an emergency motion in Common Pleas Court to get the case reassigned to another judge. Even though his conviction is overturned, Lynn cannot be released from prison without an order from the trial judge, M. Teresa Sarmina.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Msgr. Lynn Gets A New Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

A panel of state Superior Court judges today vacated Msgr. William J. Lynn's prior conviction on endangering the welfare of a child and ordered a new trial.

Lynn,  the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, has been in and out of prison since his original conviction three years ago.

In a 43-page decision, the Superior Court judges ruled that the trial court -- Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina -- "abused its discretion" by allowing 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be admitted as evidence against Lynn.

The 21 cases dated back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, and took up at least 25 days of the 32-day trial. In his appeal brief, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, argued that the prosecution "introduced these files to put on trial the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia, hoping to convict [Lynn] by proxy for the sins of the entire church."

The Superior Court judges agreed, ruling that the "probative value" of the supplemental cases "did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court's cautionary instructions."

In their decision, the Superior Court judges heavily criticized Judge Sarmina, whom they reversed on the same case for the second time in the past three years.

"None of the evidence concerned the actual victim in this case, and none of it directly concerned [Lynn's] prior dealings with either [former priest Edward V.] Avery or [Father James J.] Brennan," the Superior Court judges wrote about the two co-defendants on trial with Lynn. "In this regard, the trial court has apparently mistaken quantity for quality in construing the probative value of this evidence en masse." The Superior Court judges further declared that the "probative value of significant quantities of this evidence was trivial or minimal."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Prison Librarian Hopes To Get Out Soon

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

The State Correctional Institute at Waymart has a new librarian.

Six days a week, Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, checks books in and out of the prison library for fellow inmates; he also keeps track of periodicals.

"It keeps him busy," said Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom. "They have a  huge library and it's really up to date."

As he works his job for 19 cents an hour, the monsignor can't help but watch the calendar and wonder whether he'll be getting out of jail again soon. Lynn has an appeal for a new trial pending before the state Superior Court. It's with a sympathetic panel of judges that has already overturned Lynn's prior conviction once before.

The reason why the wait time on the current appeal is so short is that one of the three Superior Court judges that heard Lynn's appeal, Christine L. Donohue, was elected last November to the state Supreme Court. So the panel of judges has only two weeks left to issue its decision on the Lynn case before Judge Donohue leaves the Superior Court to become Supreme Court Justice Donohue.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Honorary Chief Strikes Back After False Arrest

"Be Careful Who You Pick On"
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

James J. Binns, Philadelphia trial lawyer and longtime cop booster, is a good friend of David Wolfson, Chief of the Margate City Police Department.

The friendship dates back to 2007. That's when Binns, who lives a half a block away from the Margate City Police Department, donated to the local cops four bicycles and four Harley Davidson police motorcycles. Binns also dedicated two "hero cop" plaques in memory of Sgt. Richard Himber and Patrolman John J. Donnelly, two Margate officers who died in the line of duty.

A year later, a grateful Chief Wolfson appointed Binns as honorary chief of the department.

That's why the chief was so surprised on Dec. 13, 2011 when he stopped by the Margate police station and discovered that one of his officers had arrested the 72-year-old honorary chief and locked him up in jail on a charge of criminal mischief.

That prompted the chief to start his own investigation. When it was over, the charge against Binns was dropped and subsequently expunged. Meanwhile, the cop who arrested Binns, Officer Christopher Taroncher, got hammered by a hearing officer for being dishonest and untrustworthy, and was suspended without pay for six months. He was also the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by Binns.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Feds Again Fail To Make Their Case In A Big Mob Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Have the feds lost their mojo when it comes to the mob?

That's certainly a reasonable question after another organized crime prosecution ended with a not guilty verdict last week. The acquittal of Vince Asaro, an 80-year-old reputed mob capo, in a case in federal court in Brooklyn, is the latest example of federal authorities coming up short in a high profile Mafia trial. 

The same could be said for the last three Mafia prosecutions in Philadelphia where, at best, the feds could only claim partial victories. 

Asaro, an alleged member of the Bonanno Crime Family, was charged with murder, extortion and robbery, including being one of the organizers of the infamous Lufthansa Airline heist celebrated in the movie Goodfellas. Mobsters made off with more than $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry after hitting a storage facility at JFK Airport in 1978.

While the robbery was allegedly set in motion by mob associate James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke (Robert DeNiro played a character based on Burke in the film), no one had ever been charged with the crime until Asaro was indicted two years ago. By then most of the others involved were dead. Burke died in prison after being convicted of other offenses.

The Asaro trial was billed by the New York Times as the last big mob trial in New York, a development based in part on the steady demise of the American Mafia and in equal part on a shift in prosecutorial interest to terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Joe Vito Mastronardo Dies In Prison

Joe Vito and son
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Joe Vito Mastronardo, the "Gentleman Gambler" who lived life on his own terms and moved to the beat of a drummer that only he could hear, died in a federal prison this afternoon where he was serving a 20-month sentence for bookmaking.

The cause of death was believed to be complications from pneumonia, although no official word was released from the Federal Medical Center Devens, in Ayers, MA, where Mastronardo was doing time after entering a guilty plea earlier this year in the high profile case.

He was 65.

Mastronardo was considered one of the premier odds makers in the Philadelphia area and one of the best in the country. His betting line  -- the "Joe Vito line" --  was an industry standard. Mastronardo, who got his start taking bets while working as a teenaged caddy at a suburban country club, made millions over the years and was constantly the focus of law enforcement attention.

This came in part because of his high volume business, but also because he was the son-in-law of former mayor and police commissioner Frank L. Rizzo. Joe Vito married Rizzo's only daughter, Joanna. They had one son, Joseph F.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Billy Doe Punks Out

You paid Billy Doe how much?
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In the civil case of Billy Doe vs. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al., it's all over before it even got started.

This morning, lawyers in the case were scheduled to pick a jury in Courtroom 480 at City Hall, in preparation for going to trial at 9:30 a.m. Monday, "trial date certain," according to the court docket.

But late last night, Billy Doe's lawyers notified other lawyers in the case that the trial was off and the case was "being discontinued."

The big question is why. The short answer appears to be that with no money left on the table, Billy Doe's lawyers decided not to risk exposing their client's complete lack of credibility by proceeding with what would have been at best, a show trial. A show trial where the only thing left to gain was some headlines about a big jury verdict that they would have never been able to collect from the three penniless defendants left in the case.

But on the risk side of the risk/reward ledger, there was a chance, depending on the judge's rulings, that the show trial could have turned into a real trial, and Billy Doe would have been unmasked in court as a complete fraud. The next big question is what was it that Billy Doe and his lawyers were so afraid of coming out that they didn't want to run the risk of going ahead with the trial, and putting their boy on the stand?

In the absence of official comment, let the speculation begin. But before we get to that, however, how do you think Archbishop Charles J. Chaput feels right now? He's the guy who gave Billy Doe a confidential settlement in August because he'd presumably been frightened to death by his lawyers about the prospect of a big jury verdict for Billy, and against the church.  But then, on the eve of trial, after that fat check from the archdiocese had already cleared the bank, Billy Doe and his lawyers punk out.

Who's left holding the bag? Archbishop Chaput, the chump who got suckered, possibly for millions. Not to mention all of those faithful Catholics who still throw their dollars in the collection basket.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gerry's Sinking Ships

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In July, after he got through negotiating a new labor contract, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the  philanthropist who owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, celebrated by passing out $1,000 bonuses to his employees.

Today, a month after Terry Egger, Lenfest's hand-picked successor, took over as publisher, he will lay off 46 newsroom employees.

What the hell happened, union leaders want to know. When he was passing out bonuses, Lenfest bragged he had turned the company around, recalled Bill Ross, executive director of the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild. Then, "He [Lenfest] hires the guy" [Egger] . . . and has him do all the dirty work."

The layoffs begin a merger of what are now three distinct news operations, the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, into "a unified, one-newsroom approach," Egger wrote Monday in a letter to all employees.

Lenfest, along with the late Lewis Katz, were the winning bidders at a court-ordered auction in 2014, buying the city's only two daily newspapers and website for the inflated price of $88 million. But Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company that owns the two papers and website, has lost $90 million in advertising revenues since 2011, Egger said. The current layoffs are needed to save between $5 million and $6 million, Egger told employees.

That prompted union leaders to recall that Lenfest previously donated around that same amount, $5.8 million in 2010, to keep the SS United States, the rusting ocean liner docked on Delaware Avenue, out of the scrapyard.

"This isn't the only sinking ship Gerry's invested in," Ross cracked.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Will Billy Doe Face A Final Cross-Examination?

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Next Friday, in Courtroom 480 at City Hall, they're scheduled to pick a jury in the civil case of Billy Doe vs. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al.

The case still bears that title even though in August, the archdiocese settled with Billy Doe for a undisclosed pile of cash. It's an unholy pact that should have prompted every Catholic in town to demand that their archbishop tell them how much.

There are still three defendants left in the civil case; three men who went to jail for sexually abusing the credibility-challenged former altar boy turned heroin addict and accused dealer: ex-priest Edward Avery, the late Father Charles Engelhardt, and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero.

In the case of Shero, Judge Rosalyn K. Robinson ruled this morning that she was granting the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part. "It is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed," the judge wrote, that "defendant Shero is collaterally estopped from denying or disputing that he committed the acts of sodomy and sexual abuse alleged in plaintiff's complaint."

A similar motion in the case of Avery is expected to be granted as well. That means for defendants Shero and Avery, rather than be allowed to contest the alleged sexual abuse of Billy, the civil trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 9th, would just become a hearing on how much more in damages should be awarded the plaintiff, to compensate for his alleged pain and suffering.

But here's where it gets interesting. Judge Robinson said she'll be ruling on the motion for summary judgment next week in the case of the late Father Engelhardt. And since the jury in Engelhardt's criminal case reached no verdict on the most serious charge, a count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, the judge may allow the civil jury to decide what actually transpired between the priest and the altar boy.

"Our argument is that a civil jury should be allowed to decide what assault if any occurred," said Thomas R. Hurd, the lawyer defending the estate of the late priest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

George Martorano And The Case That Changed The Philly Mob

Ted Simon and George Martorano
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Earlier this month, George Martorano was released from a prison.

It was long overdue.

Martorano, 65, had spent 32 years in federal institutions. Jailed in 1983, he pleaded guilty a year later to drug dealing charges, admitting that he ran a multi-million dollar narcotics ring that dealt in cocaine, heroin and marijuana.  It was his first offense. Yet the judge -- the late John B. Hannum -- sentenced him to life.

On the face of it, it hardly seemed logical or fair. It was the maximum sentence. Martorano could have gone to trial, gotten convicted and would have faced no harsher punishment. Where was the benefit in pleading out? Usually that factors in to the sentencing process. You take a plea, you catch a break.

Conventional wisdom at the time was that Martorano -- nicknamed "Cowboy George" and the son of mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano -- was looking at a 10-year max. If he got lucky, maybe less.

Instead, the judge dropped the hammer.

Why Hannum chose to go in that direction is part of a bigger, more complicated story that literally changed the face of the Philadelphia mob.  At least that's the position of aging mob informant Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi whose testimony in the late 1980s decimated the crime family he and Long John Martorano had once served.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Scarfo's Wife Sentenced To Probation

Pelullo and Scarfo
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Mrs. Scarfo won't be going to jail.

After pleading guilty to a mortgage fraud charge that was a small part of her husband's multi-million dollar looting of a Texas company, Lisa Scarfo, 36, was sentenced today to two years probation and 200 hours of community service.

"Mrs. Scarfo, good luck. I hope you get your life back together," U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler said after imposing the sentence during a 10-minute hearing in federal court in Camden.

Kugler cited her "limited role" in the scam orchestrated by her husband, mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo. But the judge added that he did not doubt that she knew what she was doing when she filed false statements in a mortgage application in 2008 that allow the couple to purchase a $715,000 home in Egg Harbor Township outside of Atlantic City.   

In a statement read by her attorney, Richard Sparaco, Lisa Scarfo apologized to the court. She said she had made a "serious mistake" that had "devastated her family" and she pleaded for leniency.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, the lead prosecutor in the eight-year investigation, said the government did not oppose probation. Under sentencing guidelines, Mrs. Scarfo faced a maximum prison sentence of six months, according to the judge.

Her husband and his top associate, Salvatore Pelullo, were each sentenced to 30 years in prison in July after a jury convicted then of masterminding the behind-the-scenes takeover of FirstPlus Financial Group in 2007 and then systematically looting the company of $12 million.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Complaint Details "Petty & Childish" Feud Between D.A., Narcs

First Assistant D.A.: "I'm tired of their shit."
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

An amended complaint filed in federal district court charges that the indictment of six Philadelphia narcotics officers was a "perverse retaliation" provoked by a "petty and childish" feud between the narcs and the district attorney's office.

"The Plaintiffs, mainly [Lt. Robert] Otto and [Officer Thomas] Liciardello, had been battling with the District Attorney's Office for more than a year over the issue of the proper handling of confidential informants, and, the system of proffers," lawyer Christopher D. Mannix wrote in a second amended complaint filed today.

"The District Attorney's Office's positions on these aspects was unprofessional and often petty and childish," Mannix wrote. "These disputes had nothing to do with the integrity of the Plaintiffs, and nothing to do with the charges eventually brought -- although the disputes later prompted the charges in what was a perverse retaliation against the Plaintiffs."

The defamation and false light suit was filed on behalf of six former narcotics officers and their supervisor against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and Mayor Michael A. Nutter. The suit seeks monetary and punitive damages for irresponsible "grandstanding" allegedly done by the three city officials.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Billy Doe Case Back From The Dead

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Like a zombie that refuses to die, the Billy Doe civil case is still scheduled for trial at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 9th, in Courtroom 480 of City Hall.

Many people assumed the case was over after Archbishop Charles Chaput caved and decided to settle with the notorious junkie hustler, but court records say the show will go on.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, and the estate of the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua have already been dismissed as defendants, as has the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. But Billy Doe's lawyers are still pressing forward with what they hope will become a show trial against three remaining defendants in the case -- former priest Edward Avery, former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, and the estate of the late Father Charles Engelhardt.

Avery and Shero remain in prison for sexually assaulting the former altar boy; Engelhardt died in prison last November.

But lawyers for Engelhardt's estate are still trying to clear his name, and they have gotten some help from a judge. On Sept. 9th, Judge Linda Carpenter granted an "emergency motion to compel the independent medical examination" of the plaintiff. According to the judge's order, Billy Doe has to travel from Florida to be examined at 10 a.m. Sept. 17th in the offices of Dr. Stephen Mechanick, a forensic psychiatrist in Bryn Mawr. And if Doe fails to appear, the judge ruled, Engelhardt's estate can apply for sanctions.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Judge Lets D.A. Out of Deposition

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams was scheduled for a deposition at 1 p.m. Monday in a defamation case filed against him by Police Officer Linwood Norman.

But yesterday in Common Pleas Discovery Court, Judge Idee C. Fox canceled the deposition because she claimed that the plaintiff's lawyer, Christopher D. Mannix, should have filed an order for pre-complaint discovery.

Mannix maintained that no such order was required, but the judge overruled him. The issue of the D.A.'s deposition, however, is far from settled because Judge Fox declined to enter a protective order sought by the D.A.'s office to prevent a future deposition of Williams.

"The D.A. is unavailable on Sept. 14, and given his understandably busy schedule, he is unlikely to be available for  a deposition at any point prior to the date on which Norman's complaint is due,"  wrote Assistant District Attorney Michael Scalera in a motion for a protective order filed Sept. 10.

In the motion, Scalera asserted that a protective order was needed to prevent "a busy public official" from "the annoyance, oppression and burden of submitting to a deposition based on nothing more than Norman's unfounded suspicion that the D.A. might have said something actionable about him at some point."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Archdiocese Of Philadelphia Settles With Billy Doe

Held Up By A Hustler
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

The archdiocese caved; Billy Doe got paid.

That's the depressing bottom line in the civil case of Doe v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al, according to multiple sources.

On the court docket today, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline F. Allen dismissed both a motion for partial summary judgment filed by the former altar boy, and a motion for summary judgment filed by the archdiocese, as "moot," because both parties had "settled all claims . . . in the instant matter."

The settlement is confidential. As part of the settlement, Msgr. William J. Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy, was dismissed as a defendant in the civil case, according to sources. Billy Doe's civil lawyers had also sued the estate of the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, but that claim too was settled, according to the court docket.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Msgr. Lynn's Case Back In Superior Court

By Ralph Cipriano
Bergstrom & Lynn Back In Superior Court
for BigTrial.net

Msgr. William J. Lynn is back in jail. He won't be seeing the Pope when he comes to town next month. Meanwhile, Thomas A. Bergstrom, the monsignor's longtime defense lawyer, is back in state Superior Court, arguing that his client deserves to get out of jail or be granted a new trial.

Bergstrom is operating on friendly turf. On Dec. 26, 2013, a panel of three state Superior Court unanimously reversed Lynn's 2012 conviction on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child, and ordered that the monsignor be "discharged forthwith."

But on April 27, four state Supreme Court justices reversed the Superior Court's reversal, setting off a chain of events that culminated with Lynn's return to jail on April 30th.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Inky Editorial Board: Exonerated Narcotics Officers Still Guilty

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Sometimes a journalist can make the mistake of falling in love with a story. Even when it turns out to be not true.

That seems to be what's happened over at The Philadelphia Inquirer, in the case of the six former members of the city's Narcotics Field Unit.

After a seven-week trial a jury in May found the officers not guilty on all 47 charges of a 26-count RICO indictment that alleged conspiracy, deprivation of civil rights, robbery, extortion, carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, falsification of records, and aiding and abetting.

To recap, the jury heard all the evidence in the case and 47 times the jury foreman told the judge that the verdict was not guilty on every charge.

But at the Inquirer, the editorial board keeps on serving up sour grapes about the case, while rehashing disproven allegations and nasty quotes at the heart of a defamation lawsuit filed by the acquitted cops and one of their superior officers. The conduct of the newspaper has left lawyers for the cops scratching their heads and wondering what the hell is going on over at the city's paper of record.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sixth Narcotics Officer Files Libel Claim

By Ralph Cipriano
Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer
for BigTrial.net

The sixth defendant in the so-called "rogue cops" case has filed a libel and defamation claim against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and Mayor Michael Nutter.

Officer Linwood Norman filed a writ of summons Thursday in Common Pleas Court notifying the city that he was suing the three officials.

Norman's suit follows an amended defamation claim filed last week in federal court against the same three city officials on behalf of the other five defendants in the rogue cops case -- Officers Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser and Thomas Liciardello -- as well as the group's former supervisor, Lt. Robert Otto.

Now all six defendants who beat the rap are suing the city for defamation.

"Officer Norman was one of the six allegedly 'sick scumbags' referred to by Mayor Nutter after the indictment and he was one of the six officers who apparently was so contemptible and despicable according to Commissioner Ramsey that his badge needed to be melted," said Christopher D. Mannix, the lawyer who filed both lawsuits on behalf of the former narcotics officers and their supervisor.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Judge Finds Jeffrey Walker A "Truthful And Credible" Witness

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Judge Eduardo Robreno today described Jeffrey Walker, the dirty cop-turned government cooperator, as a "truthful and credible" witness. What's more, the judge said, Walker's testimony withstood the "crucible" of cross-examination by a half-dozen skilled defense lawyers.

The jury, however, didn't see it that way on May 14th when they rejected Walker's testimony and acquitted six defendants on all 47 counts of a RICO indictment.

But an undeterred Judge Robreno approved a downward departure in the sentencing guidelines for Walker, and gave him 42 months in jail. The judge squared his findings that Walker was truthful and credible with the jury verdict by saying there was a difference between being found not guilty and being innocent.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Rogue" Cops Sue Rufus, Ramsey & Nutter For Defamation

 Three "Grandstanding" Public Officials Targeted In "Laughable" Prosecution
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Five of the "rogue" cops who won their jobs back, as well as their supervisor, have filed a  defamation and false light suit against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

The suit seeks monetary and punitive damages for the irresponsible "grandstanding" done by Williams, Ramsey and
Nutter in the rogue cops case, according to an amended complaint filed July 24th in U.S. District Court by Philadelphia lawyer Christopher D. Mannix.

The lawsuit, the most entertaining court file I've read in years, has been ignored so far by the Inquirer, and confined to just four paragraphs near the bottom of a 34-paragaph story in today's Daily News about the sentencing of Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness. But the defamation lawsuit for the first time tells the back story behind the rogue cops case only whispered about at trial -- a petty turf battle between law enforcement agencies allegedly feuding over drug forfeiture money and credit for drug busts. It was a feud supposedly set off by the blunt personality of Officer Thomas Liciardello, the former leader of the Narcotics Field Unit.

The amended complaint also shines an unflattering spotlight on the inner workings of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office its dealings with the media, especially a cozy relationship with Fox 29.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Defense Lawyer: Father Andy Wasn't Suspended For Sexual Misconduct; He Also Passed A Polygraph Test

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Contrary to popular belief, Father Andrew McCormick was never suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for sexual misconduct. The priest also passed a lie detector test.

So wrote Trevan Borum, the priest's defense lawyer, in a motion for mistrial filed during Father Andy's second criminal trial that ended March 11th with a hung jury. At the time the motion for a mistrial was filed, the case was under a gag order.

The defense lawyer's claim about the priest's suspension contradicts what was said about Father Andy at trial by a key prosecution witness as well as the prosecutor. It also contradicts a Philadelphia Daily News story.

The defense lawyer's claim about Father Andy passing a lie detector test contradicts a civil lawsuit filed July 10th against the priest by the alleged victim in the criminal case.

When asked for comment, Borum would only say, "I was disappointed that the rules of fair play meant nothing when trying to convict a priest by any means necessary."

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Jimmy Binns Vs. The Daily News

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In one corner, we have Helen Ubinas, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist who can't believe those "rogue cops" got their jobs back. She wants to know why our top city officials who previously did so much political grandstanding  in this case don't have much to say about it anymore.

In the other corner we have Jimmy Binns, the veteran defense lawyer who not only represented Rocky on the silver screen but also Michael Spicer, one of the rogue cops who beat the rap and got his job back. The same Jimmy Binns who publicly predicted to Judge Eduardo Robreno at a bail hearing last August that his guy would beat all the charges and walk out of federal court a free man.

In her July 15th column, Ubinas wrote about how Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the guy who described the rogue cops scandal as "one of the worst cases of corruption" that he ever heard, sounded like a beaten puppy when she talked to him. After all six cops were acquitted by a jury on all 47 counts, Ramsey told Ubinas, "It was just a matter of time" before they got their jobs back . . . That's our system, unfortunately."

Ubinas wrote Binns an email seeking a copy of the arbitrator's decision that reinstated the six former narcotics officers. Binns responded by writing Big Trial a letter where he ripped Ubinas's column as "silly" and the "naive musings" of a "know-nothing" reporter and her editors.

As a public service, Big Trial will attempt to mediate this dispute and make everybody happy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This Time It's About The Money

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

At both of Father Andrew McCormick's criminal trials, the alleged victim in the case, as well as the prosecutor, made a point of saying that the victim who claimed he was sexually abused as a 10-year-old altar boy wasn't in it for the money.

That's why he hadn't filed a civil suit, the victim said on the witness stand at both trials.

On March 6, 2014, at Father Andy's first trial, the priest's defense lawyer, William J. Brennan, cautioned the jury that although the alleged victim had not yet filed a civil suit against the archdiocese, "I don't know what he's gonna do tomorrow."

If people keep telling you, "It's not about the money, it's about the money," Brennan told the jury.

On July 10, the alleged victim in the case fulfilled Brennan's prophecy by filing a civil suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, John Doe v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn, and Father Andrew McCormick.

Both of Father Andy's trials ended in deadlocked juries. On April 10th, after the second mistrial in 14 months, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright that the D.A.'s office would not retry the case a third time. But now the alleged victim is after Father Andy in the civil courts. And in the civil complaint, "John Doe" is seeking damages of more than $50,000, plus punitive damages.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Billy Doe Part of Rolling Stone Libel Suit Over False Rape Story

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Lawyers in a nationally prominent libel suit pitting a University of Virginia dean against Rolling Stone magazine are sparring in court over the veracity of Billy Doe.

Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for a former Northeast Philly altar boy who claimed he was raped by two priests and and a Catholic school teacher. Billy's allegations at two historic criminal trials here in Philadelphia sent his three alleged assailants in jail, as well as Msgr. William J. Lynn, for not preventing the alleged abuse.

The libel suit that seeks $7.5 million was brought by Associate Dean Nicole P. Eramo of UVA over the November 2014 publication by Rolling Stone of "A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At UVA." The article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, since retracted, claimed that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. Eramo's lawsuit calls the story a "monumental hoax."

But it may not be the reporter's only screwup. Three years before she wrote about Jackie for Rolling Stone, Erdely wrote a story about Billy for Rolling Stone that accepted as gospel Doe's fantastic rape claims. The article was titled, "The Catholic Church's Sex-Crime Files: How a scandal in Philadelphia exposed documents that reveal a high-level conspiracy to cover up decades of sexual abuse."

In the legal complaint filed by Dean Eramo in the Circuit Court of the city of Charlottesville, VA, the plaintiff's lawyers wrote that "Following the debunking of 'A Rape on Campus,' Newsweek examined the Billy Doe story, determining that 'the factual discrepancies in Jackie's story are dwarfed by the factual discrepancies in Billy's story" and also "noting Billy Doe's 'astonishing lack of credibility."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Pope, Billy Doe & Msgr. Lynn

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Billy Doe, the truth-challenged former altar boy who's seeking to cash in on his improbable tale of serial sex abuse, was originally scheduled to go to trial against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Aug. 3rd.

The Pope is scheduled to be in Philadelphia a month later, from Sept. 25-27, for the World Meeting of Families.

What were the chances of the Pope and Billy, however briefly, sharing a media spotlight?

Apparently none. As of July 10, on the court docket there's a new trial date posted for Billy Doe v. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al -- Nov. 9th.

Meanwhile, when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia, he's scheduled to visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on State Road in Northeast Philly. But one of the inmates the Pope won't be meeting with is Msgr. William J. Lynn.

According to Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, the monsignor, the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to reign in predator priests, was moved last week from Curran-Fromhold. Lynn is now at SCI Waymart,  a state prison located two and a half hours north of the city. Bergstrom said he doubts "the Pope will go to Waymart."

It's kind of amazing how two potential embarrassments for the archdiocese during the Pope's upcoming visit have just disappeared.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Rogue" Cops Get Their Jobs Back

Michael Spicer [left] with Brian Reynolds and Perry Betts
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

An arbitrator ruled today that all six defendants in the alleged "rogue cops" case are getting their jobs back.

"They are back on the payroll right now," James J. Binns, the lawyer who represented Officer Michael Spicer, said of the six defendants. "They're being paid as of today."

The former narcotics officers will also be receiving a year's worth of back pay.

"Obviously it's been recognized that these men never did anything wrong and they've been totally vindicated of all the charges that have been leveled against them," Binns said. "Mike [Spicer]'s on cloud nine."

Monday, July 6, 2015

Scarfo's Lawyer Points To Russian Mob In FirstPlus Case

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

There might have been some mobsters lurking behind the FirstPlus Financial fraud case, a lawyer for lead defendant Nicodemo S. Scarfo said in legal papers filed recently, but their drink of choice would have been vodka not vino.

In an apparent attempt to distant himself from co-defendant Salvatore Pelullo -- and also get a shot at a new trial, Scarfo -- through his lawyer Michael Riley -- has argued that there was an "alternative theory" to the government's organized crime pitch in the high profile case and that he was denied the opportunity to present it. 

Pelullo, an Elkins Park businessman with two prior fraud convictions and a Ukrainian-born wife, might have been kicking back funds from the multi-million dollar scam to Russian gangsters rather than Scarfo's Lucchese crime family, Riley wrote in a motion filed last month.

"In retrospect the connections to the Russian mob are far more substantial than those with Uncle Vic," Riley argued. The "Uncle Vic" reference is to Vittorio Amuso, the jailed boss of the Lucchese crime family who was named, along with Scarfo's father Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, as an unindicted co-conspirator in the looting of FirstPlus, a Texas-based mortgage company.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pope Pickets Inky

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Reporters and editors picketing The Philadelphia Inquirer today carried along a life-size cardboard cutout of the pope flashing a thumb's up sign.

"Help Us Pope Francis," the picket signs said. Other placards carried by members of the Newspaper Guild proclaimed, "Six Years No Raises," and "No More Givebacks."

"Our members can't afford to give back another penny," Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild shouted through a bullhorn. "We're not asking for charity, we're asking what's right for our members."

With the Guild contract set to expire at midnight Saturday, union members have authorized a vote that could result in the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years. As a couple hundred union members marched in front of the newspaper offices on Market Street, the wealthy philanthropist who was the target of the demonstration was nowhere in sight.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A 'Perfect Crime' Says Drug Dealer Witness Who Would Like To Hear From Jurors

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Robert Kushner said he told the truth when he took the witness stand as the prosecution's leadoff witness in the trial of six Philadelphia narcotics cops indicted for allegedly going rogue.

A jury verdict last month finding all six not guilty doesn't change any of that, the bulky 32-year-old former marijuana dealer said as he sat in a deli off City Avenue earlier this week offering more questions than answers in the wake of the high profile trial and what he said was "the perfect crime" committed by men sworn to uphold the law.

"I know what happened to me," Kushner said as he calmly recounted the same details he had offered the federal court jury when he took the stand back in March. "Those charges were valid."

Kushner, who lost his job as a basketball coach at a private high school after he took the stand and went public with his drug dealing past, said he had nothing to gain by lying and in fact had lost more -- a job he loved -- by taking the stand.

"I'm not suing the city (as dozens of other drug dealers arrested by members of the tainted Narcotics Field Unit are)," he said. "My arrest had been expunged because I was a first time offender. I had nothing to gain."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Newspaper Strike Looms; Does "Gerry" Know What's Going On?

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

As Newspaper Guild members voted overwhelmingly last night to authorize what would be the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years, people were asking about "Gerry."

"The real question is, is Gerry aware of what's going on," asked Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. Ross said he was amazed that "such a great philanthropist as Gerry would allow things to get to this point."

"Gerry" is H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the 85-year-old former billionaire philanthropist who overpaid when he and the late Lewis Katz bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com on May 27, 2014 for the inflated price of $88 million. [When Katz died in a plane crash, Lenfest was left holding the bag as sole owner]. After 35 fruitless negotiating sessions over 7 months, Guild members voted 287 to 26 to authorize union leaders to prepare for a strike on June 27th, when the current contract expires.

If there's a newspaper strike, "It's part of his legacy," Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild said about Lenfest. "If they [the newspapers] fail on his his watch that certainly doesn't jive with all the great things that he's done."

Amy Buckman, the former TV reporter who's the public relations manager for Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the owner of the two newspapers and philly.com, insists that Geriatric Gerry is awake and alert, and up to speed.

"I can assure you that the company negotiators keep the Owner/Publisher updated on the ongoing talks," Buckman said in an email. She also reiterated in a prepared statement that if the Guild goes on strike, Philadelphia Media Network will continue to publish a newspaper and keep the website going, presumably with replacement workers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Would Old Pennsy RR System Have Saved Lives At Frankford?

Photo: Gary Pancavage
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Almost a century ago, the fabled Pennsylvania Railroad had a safety system in place on the tracks at the Frankford Junction curve that would have automatically put the brakes on a speeding locomotive.

The old safety system was a "marvel of technology and engineering when it was conceived, designed and installed 90 years ago," wrote Bennett Levin, a professional engineer and former commissioner of Philadelphia's Department of Licenses & Inspections.

Levin, a self-described train nut, owns a train yard where he restores antique railroad cars and locomotives less than a mile from the site of the May 12th derailment that killed 8 people and injured more than 200. He also served for six years as a voting member of the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, until the early 2000s.

That old Pennsylvania RR safety system "is still functionally sufficient to insure safe operation today," Levin wrote in a primer on the derailment circulated among some 100 people on an email chain. But would that old PRR system have prevented last month's fatal derailment at Frankford Junction?

"That's a hypothetical question," Levin said in an interview. "We still don't know why he [the engineer] sped up. But in the normal course of business that system would have countermanded a mental lapse or a distraction" on the part of the engineer.

The derailment is the subject of a congressional hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Washington. Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating the accident, may want to know why an old safety system still functioning on other tracks in the Frankford Junction complex wasn't in place on the tracks where the accident occurred. And why Amtrak installed the old safety system on the tracks where the derailment happened two weeks after the accident.

Scarfo Sentencing Postponed Again

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The sentencing of mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and three co-defendant convicted of looting a Texas mortgage company has been put off for the third time while a judge decides whether information in a modern day slave labor case should have been turned over to the defense prior to the trial.

Scarfo, 49, was scheduled to be sentenced this morning for his role in the secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial back in 2007. Co-defendant and alleged mastermind of the scam, Salvatore Pelullo, 47, was scheduled to be sentenced yesterday. Both sentencings, along with those of co-defendant brothers John and William Maxwell, have been pushed back to July in order to give Judge Robert Kugler a chance to rule on 11th hour motions from the defense camp seeking to overturn the convictions.

Lawyers for Scarfo and Pelullo have argued that the prosecution withheld information about a separate investigation that could have provided ammunition to discredit government witnesses in the FirstPlus case.

"The government withheld evidence that was demonstrably relevant in the (FirstPlus) trial," Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley wrote in a motion filed last month. The result, Riley contends, "cut deeply into the guarantee of due process and gravely impaired the basic function of the court."

Prosecutors, in a response brief filed yesterday, argued that the motions were "nothing more than last ditch efforts" by the defense to "forestall their well deserved sentences."

Friday, May 29, 2015

About That Parade . . .

By Ralph Cipriano
As Babs Would Sing, Don't Rain On My Parade!
for Bigtrial.net

A funny thing happened to that proposed Heroes Parade down Broad Street. It was supposed to honor six former narcotics officers found not guilty by a jury two weeks ago on 47 racketeering charges.

But a week after he announced plans on this blog to honor the defendants in the so-called rogue cops case, James J. Binns, the CEO and president of the annual Hero Thrill Show, changed his mind.

"In my opinion, it's more important for these men to enjoy their families and get their lives back in order after what has unquestionably been an ordeal," Binns said in a phone interview.

"The Hero Thrill Show stands on its own merit," Binns said. "There should be no confusion here."

The thrill show, he said is about raising money to pay for the education of the children of police officers and firefighters who have "given their lives in the line of duty," Binns said. "And nothing should detract from that."

Certainly not a "bunch of pissants," Binns said, referring to the critics still sniping at the defendants.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"I Stood Up For A Hero"

Michael J. Diamondstein's closing in the rogue cops case.



Friday, May 22, 2015

A Parade Down Broad Street For Six Defendants

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

They may not have their jobs back yet or their paychecks.

But the six defendants in the so-called rogue cops case are getting a parade down Broad Street.

So says James J. Binns, now in his tenth year as president and CEO of the Hero Thrill Show. It's an annual event that raises money for college scholarships to benefit the sons and daughters of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

On Saturday Oct. 10, former Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser will be grand marshals of the 61st annual Hero Thrill Show, Binns said. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at City Hall. The six former narcotics cops and their families will ride in six white Bentley convertibles in a "Heroes Parade" down Broad Street.

The parade ends at the Wells Fargo Center, where the thrill show will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Last year's event attracted 50,000 people. This year, Binns hopes to triple that number.

Binns was the defense lawyer for Michael Spicer, the only one of the defendants to take the stand. After a seven-week trial, the six former members of the Narcotics Field Unit were found not guilty on all 47 charges contained in a 26-count federal RICO indictment.

"These heroes have been vilified in the press and it's time that they were recognized as the heroes they are, Binns said. Asked if he expects any blowback over elevating a bunch of guys denounced by the police commissioner, the mayor and the U.S. Attorney, Binns responded, "I don't see how any reasonable fair-minded individual could have the slightest doubt about their innocence if you were there and heard the testimony."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lynn's Lawyer Seeks Return Visit to Superior Court Panel; District Attorney Objects, Claims It's "Judge-Shopping"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Thomas A. Bergstrom, the defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, is seeking a return visit before a panel of three state Superior Court judges who previously ruled that his client should get out of jail immediately.

Bergstrom also is seeking permission to brief that Superior Court panel on other appeal issues that the defense lawyer hopes will get his client a new trial.

In response, top appeal lawyers for District Attorney R. Seth Williams argued that Bergstrom was "judge-shopping." Furthermore, the D.A. asserted that the state Superior Court panel of judges that previously ruled on the Lynn case had made a "material misrepresentation of the law." Because of that material misrepresentation, the district attorney argued in his brief, it would constitute an "appearance of impropriety" if the same panel were allowed to rehear the case.

On Wednesday, Bergstrom filed a reply brief that claimed the D.A.'s accusation of judge-shopping was "unfounded and insulting." Regarding the alleged material misrepresentation of the law, Bergstrom wrote that the charge was "disturbing." He argued that the Superior Court panel of judges was best-suited to rehear the Lynn case because they are already familiar with it.

Jack McMahon Rips Police Commissioner Ramsey A New One; Then He Dumps On Inky Editorial Board For Bogus Mass Mind-Reading

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Jack McMahon, the lawyer for former Officer Brian Reynolds, has blasted Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for his "ugly arrogance" and "blatant disregard" for the constitutional rights of the six defendants in the rogue cops case acquitted last week on all 47 racketeering charges.

If that wasn't enough, McMahon, a former prosecutor, ripped Ramsey for being a coward, "a man without a backbone," as well as an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia and its police department.

In the rogue cops trial that lasted seven weeks, McMahon functioned as the lead defense lawyer, tearing apart a bunch of drug dealers as well as former Officer Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness against his former fellow members of the narcotics field unit.

McMahon is pissed because ten months ago, when the defendants were indicted, Ramsey, playing judge and jury, pronounced them all guilty at a press conference. The rogue cops case was "one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard" in his 40 years as a cop, Ramsey said. To make it worse, Ramsey told reporters that he was going to destroy the former officers' badges.

Then, after a jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges, Ramsey didn't offer any apologies. Instead the police commissioner who fired the defendants said they would have to go through arbitration to get their jobs back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Closing Argument That Had A Courtroom In Tears


James J. Binns' closing in the rogue cops case.



Friday, May 15, 2015

How To Reconstruct A Train Wreck

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

When there's a catastrophe like a train derailment, guys like Steven M. Schorr get paid to reconstruct what happened.

Schorr, a licensed professional engineer from Abington, is the guy who goes to an accident scene packing a high-definition laser scanner to map all the debris.

It doesn't matter whether engineers like Schorr are investigating a plane crash, a multi-vehicle car accident, or a train derailment, the methodology is the same.

"The reconstruction of a collision is an application of the laws of physics to the physical evidence left as result of a collision," Schorr said.

To that end, the job of the National Transportation Safety Board is to not make any judgments right away,  Schorr said, but rather to "collect the physical evidence." That's why NTSB member Robert Sumwalt recently bopped Mayor Nutter for his declaration that the "idiot" engineer of the Amtrak train was at fault because he was allegedly doing 106 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50.

"You're not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that," Sumwalt said right after Nutter's announcement. "We want to get the facts before we start making judgments."

And right now, the NTSB is collecting evidence.

They want to map "where everything ends up," Schorr said. "The points of rest of the train pieces, the location of the debris path." The spots along the accent route where occupants were ejected, as well as all the damage done to the train. All that physical evidence can sometimes be used to make a 3D animation to recreate the accident, Schorr said.

"Once you figure out how the accident happened, you can then attempt to figure out why it happened," Schorr said.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jury Acquits Six Narcotics Cops On All Charges

Perry Betts hugs daughter Samantha; Photo: Michael Bryant/The Inquirer
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

It was a complete repudiation of the government's racketeering case against six former narcotics officers.

Forty-seven times, the jury foreman today announced a verdict on forty-seven charges contained in twenty-six separate counts. Forty-seven times, the jury foreman said, "Not Guilty."

When the jury foreman sat down, there was a roar of approval from  courtroom spectators that could be heard out in the hallway. After a ten-month legal ordeal, all six defendants were getting ready to walk out of the federal courthouse as free men, after their electronic ankle bracelets were removed.

The last defendant to leave was former Officer Thomas Liciardello, who has spent the past ten months in solitary confinement while the other defendants were out on bail.

After the verdict, Liciardello and the other defendants literally stopped traffic out on Market Street while supporters, including FOP President John McNesby, pulled over in trucks and SUVs, to honk their horns in solidarity.

"I just want to thank the jury; they believed in us," a pale Liciardello told a media throng as he stood beside his wife, also a police officer. "I just want to get on with my life."

Support From An Unlikely Source

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Mobster-turned-government-witness Ron Previte, who was a Philadelphia police officer for 12 years, was digging into a lunch of veal parmigiana and penne pasta in a restaurant near Atlantic City this afternoon when he was informed by bigtrial.net that six former narcotics cops had been found not guilty in their federal corruption trial.

"Beautiful," said Previte. "Good for them."

Previte didn't know any of the six defendants, but he knows about police work and despite his checkered past, he still takes pride in the time he spent on the streets wearing a blue uniform.  

"I did some bad things but I was still a good cop," Previte said. "People don't understand. These same people who were calling these guys corrupt, badmouthing police, when they were getting slapped around by their husband or when their drug dealing neighbors were shooting at one another, the first person they called was a cop."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

No Questions, No Verdict As Jury Deliberations Continue in Narco Cops Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Not a peep.

Not one question. Not one request for documents. Not a word.

They jury in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers completed its fifth day of deliberations this afternoon without offering any sign of where things stand. One day after declaring an impasse on some issues, the panel went from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without any indication of where they were heading and of whether the impasse was still in place.

"There's just no way to know," said one member of the defense. "We could speculate all day and be totally wrong."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jury At Impasse In Narco Cops Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Jury deliberations have apparently hit a snag in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers.

The panel of six women and six men sent a message to Judge Eduardo Robreno late this afternoon indicating there was "an impasse." The note, delivered shortly before 3 p.m. read, "If we are at an impasse on one or more of the counts, what is the direction of the court?"

The jury is weighing the evidence and testimony introduced to support a 24-count indictment. There was no indication on which counts the jury may be stalled. The question would seem to imply that the jury has reached consensus on some of the charges, but there is no way to determine whether they have voted to convict or acquit.

"It's like reading tea leaves," said one member of the defense camp before the judge responded to the jury question.

Family members and friends of the six defendants have sprawled across the 15th floor hallway outside Robreno's courtroom during the deliberation process. The panel got the case late Thursday afternoon after hearing nearly six weeks of testimony and closing arguments. Today marked the third full day of deliberations.

Robreno told the jurors to keep on deliberating.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Msgr. Lynn's Lawyer Seeks Hearing In Superior Court

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

A lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn filed two motions in state Superior Court today, seeking to argue an appeal for a new trial before the same panel of judges that previously overturned Lynn's conviction.

On Dec. 26, 2013, state Superior Court Judges John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno issued an opinion that reversed Lynn's June 22, 2012, conviction in Common Pleas Court for endangering the welfare of a child.

On April 27, 2015, the state Supreme Court entered an opinion reversing the Superior Court's reversal.

In his motion seeking a new briefing before the Superior Court, Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer,   noted that the state Supreme Court only addressed one narrow issue, namely whether Lynn was considered an "other person supervising the welfare of a child" under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law.

Day Three In Rogue Cops Case Without A Verdict

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The jury in the rogue cops case spent a third day behind closed doors deliberating the fate of six defendants.

Judge Eduardo C. Robreno received two notes from the jury today.

The first asked to see three trial exhibits: D51, 9J and 9K.

Since the media was not provided with a list of trial exhibits and there is a gag order in the case, it remains a mystery as to what exhibits the jury was asking for.

The second note asked the judge if the jury could leave at 4:30 p.m. It was a request granted by the judge without requiring the jury to file into court seeking to be dismissed. The judge requested that the court clerk remind the jury of his instructions not to discuss the case or view media accounts.

The judge also announced that the lawyers in the case -- two prosecutors and six defense lawyers -- didn't have to continue to stake out the courtroom awaiting a verdict. A clerk was instructed to collect phone numbers. The judge told the lawyers to stay at locations no more than ten minutes away from the courthouse.

Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Keeping The Vigil

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

About two dozen spectators, mostly family members and supporters of the defendants, spent the afternoon camped in the hallway outside Courtroom 15A.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, the jury in the rogue cops case sent two questions to Judge Eduardo C. Robreno that prompted some sparring among the lawyers.

"Hey, hey, hey," the judge yelled at the lawyers, to get them to calm down.

The first jury question on the second day of deliberations asked if all the charges in the case are interrelated, or whether they all stand alone.

The second question involved Episode #17 of the indictment, where Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds and John Speiser allegedly stopped a person identified as "L.S." near 38th St. on Aug. 14, 2010, and confiscated a total of $1,100 in cash.

The indictment charged Liciardello with attempting to "conceal the theft from authorities" by writing a police report that said only $507 had been seized from L.S. "To conceal the theft of the additional $593 from L.S., defendant Liciardello falsely stated in the report that Jeffrey Walker had made an undercover purchase of Endocets from L.S. when Liciardello knew that was not true," the indictment stated.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cops Or Criminals? Jury Deliberations Begin In Narco Cop Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Were they cops who bent the rules or criminals who broke the law?

That's the only question that matters for a federal court jury that began deliberations this afternoon in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers.

The jury, primarily middle class suburban residents, got the case shortly after noon following a detailed two-hour explanation of the laws that applied to the case by Judge Eduardo Robreno. The judge's charge capped a six-week trial that included days of conflicting testimony from drug dealers (the prosecution's key witnesses) and law enforcement officials (called by the defense). The jury also got two days of highly charged and often vitriolic closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The six former members of the Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit are charged in a 26-count indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from narcotics dealers they had targeted and with fabricating police reports and arrest records to cover their crimes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Narco Cops Trial Heads To The Jury

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The government wasn't interested in finding the truth, but merely in making a case.

That was the message delivered again and again today in closing arguments for the defense in the racketeering corruption trial of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics investigators.

The jury, which is expected to begin deliberations sometime tomorrow, heard a steady stream of defense arguments built around attacking the government's case and the credibility of its witnesses, including more than a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop.

One defense attorney after another fired verbal shots at the prosecution.

It was, the jury was told, a "flawed" case built on "fables" not facts. Testimony came from "a parade of witnesses that looked like an audition for the Jerry Springer Show." The prosecution was "disingenuous in the extreme" and the six-week trial was an example of "innocent men being accused by guilty men."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, who had the final word in the government's rebuttal closing late this afternoon, shrugged off the criticism, telling the jury the defense strategy was to "attack and distract" and that despite the emotional claims and high octave rants, the defense still was faced with one hurdle it could not overcome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Government Asks Jury To Believe A Bunch of Drug Dealers

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Should the jury at the rogue cops trial believe stories of alleged police misconduct as told by a bunch of drug dealers?

Yes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney, because the tales the drug dealers told are "shockingly similar" to the stories told years later by former Officer Jeffrey Walker, after he got caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation.

No, said defense lawyer Jack McMahon, because the drug dealers are a bunch of lying criminals with no corroborating evidence to back up their ridiculous stories. As for Jeffrey Walker, McMahon said, he's a liar and a thief who would "do anything to save himself."

The doors in Courtroom 15A were locked throughout the day today as lawyers on both sides of the case gave their closing arguments before Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.

McCartney was content with attacking the defendants in the case, six former members of the narcotics field unit accused of conspiring to beat and rob the drug dealers they busted, and covering up their tracks with phony police reports.

McMahon, however, spent as much time attacking the government as he did the dirty cop and the drug dealers.

"What the government has done in this case should be shocking to all of us," McMahon told the jury. The feds have displayed "extraordinary gullibility" while embracing a disreputable cast of characters, McMahon charged. "They [the feds]  have failed at every level to investigate and corroborate."

Merlino Wins On A TKO

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was sprung from jail last month after a appellate court panel vacated a U.S. District Court order sentencing him to four months in prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.

This morning the panel issued a detailed report explaining its findings. Merlino's release, on April 24, came with only 10 days remaining on his four-month sentence.

"They owe me four months," Merlino quipped during a phone interview this afternoon, adding, "I hope they just leave me alone. I'm not doing anything wrong."

Last month, when the appellate court announced it was vacating the lower court order that sent Merlino back to jail, his lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. declared that "my client has served a four-month sentence for doing absolutely nothing wrong."

But that's not exactly the legal takeaway from the split decision of the appellate court that was made public today.

Merlino, who is back in Boca Raton where he is the front man for a posh Italian restaurant named -- what else? - MERLINO'S, won on a technicality.

The appellate court never took up the broader defense argument that there was not sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Merlino had knowingly consorted with fellow South Philadelphia mobster John Ciancaglini in a Boca Raton cigar bar while on supervised release.

Instead, in a split 2-to-1 decision, the appellate judges found that Merlino had not been served a summons prior to the expiration of his three-year probation period and as a result, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia no longer had jurisdiction.

 

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