Friday, December 30, 2016

Will 12th Juror Flap Keep Chaka Out Of Jail?

By Ralph Cipriano

Lawyers for former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah are arguing that he should stay out of jail while an appeals court decides whether Judge Harvey Bartle III abused his authority by dismissing a dissident juror who didn't think that the government had proved its political corruption case against Fattah beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fattah, a former 11-term congressman, was sentenced earlier this month by Judge Bartle to 10 years in prison after a jury in July convicted Fattah of conspiracy to commit racketeering, wire fraud and honest services fraud, as well as falsifying records and laundering money. Fattah, currently free on $100,000 bail, is scheduled to report to prison on Jan. 25th.

But according to Fattah's lawyers, who filed a motion for bail today, there is a "substantial question" on appeal likely to result in a reversal of the former congressman's conviction. That question: whether Judge Bartle committed an "abuse of discretion" when he booted dissident Juror No. 12.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Inside The Jury Room

By Ralph Cipriano

On the first day of deliberations in the political corruption trial of U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, the jurors were screaming at each other.

After an 11-1 vote, the jury foreman told the lone holdout, Juror No. 12, to sit down and shut up. The next day, the jury foreman apologized. But the jury continued to argue, and  continued to split 11-1 on eight straight votes.

As far as two jurors were concerned, the majority was ganging up on the lone holdout.

"In my opinion, the rest of the jurors pounced on the gentleman with the . . . dissenting opinion," Juror No. 3 told Judge Harvey Bartle III.

"I mean, it was mayhem," the jury foreman agreed. "It was everybody pretty much against this guy."

In the end, the judge decided to join in the pile-on, and kick the dissident juror off the jury, for having the temerity to disagree with the majority.

"Godfather" Galati Loses Another One

By George Anastasia

This has not been a good month for wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati.

The South Philadelphia auto body owner with the Godfather complex was sentenced a few weeks ago to a maximum of 29 years in prison in a Common Pleas Court insurance fraud and murder-for-hire case.

And on Monday a three-judge panel with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal of an earlier federal murder-for-hire conviction for which he is serving a 22-year stint.

The only break the 66-year-old mob associate has gotten from the legal system is a ruling that his Common Pleas Court sentence will run concurrently with his federal time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Obstinate Juror? Or Henry Fonda In 12 Angry Men?

By Ralph Cipriano

Was Juror No. 12 in the Chaka Fattah case being obstinate? Or was he reprising Henry Fonda's role in 12 Angry Men?

Did Juror No. 12 violate his oath as a juror? Or was he just following the dictates of his conscience?

It's an argument that won't be settled by a newly released Dec. 16th memorandum from Judge Harvey Bartle III. And it won't be settled on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer or the Legal Intelligencer.

Instead, it's an argument that will most likely play out in appeals court. While former Congressman Chaka Fattah sits in jail, anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Retired Detective Joe Walsh Will Testify Jan. 5th About "Billy Doe"

By Ralph Cipriano

At 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5th, retired Detective Joseph Walsh is scheduled to appear under subpoena as a witness in the courtroom of Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright.

At the Jan. 5th hearing, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom will get to question Walsh on his investigation of Danny Gallagher, AKA "Billy Doe;"  specifically on Walsh's continued questioning of the former altar boy that wasn't reported to defense lawyers.

Judge Bright is presiding over the retrial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, scheduled for May 1, 2017. Bergstrom is trying to use the testimony of retired Detective Walsh to prove prosecutorial misconduct in support of a defense motion to dismiss the case.

Judge To Release Transcript Regarding Dismissal Of 12th Juror

By George Anastasia

A federal judge said Friday that he will unseal all documents explaining how and why a holdout juror was dismissed in the Chaka Fattah corruption case.

Judge Harvey Bartle III, responding to a motion filed by lawyers for Philadelphia Media Networ, said he will file a formal notice "promptly" to unseal the court record.

The information could provide legal fodder for appeals that are expect dot be filed by Fattah, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday. He will remain free on bond pending the outcome of his appeal. His four co-defendants are also facing jail time.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Judge Harvey Bartle III Sets Hearing On Philly Inquirer Motion To Unseal Transcript Involving Judge's Dismissal Of Juror No. 12

By Ralph Cipriano

Judge Harvey Bartle III has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Friday on a motion by Philadelphia Media Network to unseal "records and information relating to the dismissal of Juror No. 12."

On Monday morning, the same day Bartle sentenced former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah to 10 years in prison for racketeering and corruption, Philadelphia Media Network filed a motion to intervene in the Fattah case, in order to obtain "records and information related to dismissal of juror."

Philadelphia Media Network owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and The 12th Juror in the Fattah case was dismissed after he was accused of refusing to deliberate. But in an interview with this reporter, Juror No. 12 insisted he wasn't refusing to deliberate, he was refusing to change his mind after he came out on the short end of eight straight 11-1 votes, the last of which was over whether Karen Nicholas, one of Fattah's aides was guilty of falsifying records. That prompted speculation as to whether the case should have ended in a hung jury.

Monday, December 12, 2016

At The D.A.'s Office, It's About To Hit The Fan

By Ralph Cipriano

Seth Williams should bring an umbrella to work.

Why? Because our corrupt district attorney, already under investigation by the FBI, the IRS and a grand jury, is about to see his proudest achievement get splattered by what's about to hit the fan.

What does Seth Williams consider to be his proudest achievement? Why his self-described "historic" prosecution of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Catholic cleric in the country to be sent to jail, not for touching a child, but for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. It's an achievement that has caused church haters and so-called victims advocates to swoon over Seth. At the height of this adulation, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd proclaimed Seth, raised Catholic, to be the "avenging altar boy."

But there's long been a problem with the Lynn case, namely that the alleged victim -- former altar boy Danny Gallagher AKA "Billy Doe" -- is a transparent fraud, as revealed in his copious medical records, legal depositions, and in two interviews with a couple of psychiatrists. It's a classic fake news story for anybody who wants to look into it.

Today, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, filed a motion in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that seeks to take the pre-trial testimony of retired Detective Joseph Walsh. Here's why alarm bells are about to go off at the D.A.'s office as soon as they read Bergstrom's motion -- Walsh was the lead investigator in the Msgr. Lynn/Billy Doe case. And, according to Bergstrom's motion, Walsh has already talked to defense lawyers and "provided exculpatory evidence" never revealed to defense lawyers during two previous archdiocese sex abuse trials.

Fattah Gets Ten Years In The Slammer

Matt Rourke/AP
By Ralph Cipriano

It was a prison sentence that seemed to please both sides.

"I'm personally satisfied," said U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger today, after Judge Harvey Bartle III hit former Congressman Chaka Fattah with a 10-year prison sentence for his conviction in a racketeering and political corruption case.

"That's a significant sentence," Memeger told a media horde outside the federal courthouse. The feds had asked the judge to put Fattah away for between 17 and 22 years, but 10 years is "a long time to be sitting in prison," Memeger said. He added with a prosecutor's glee that going from Congress to prison would be "a long fall for Chaka Fattah."

Inside the courtroom, Albert S. Dandridge, one of Fattah's lawyers, turned to the congressman's supporters after Judge Bartle had imposed sentence and said, "That's about as good as we could have expected."

As he exited the courthouse, the former congressman seemed to agree. "We respect the court's decision," Fattah said. And then the former congressman thanked his defense lawyers, the nine character witnesses who showed up to testify in his defense today, as well as the more than 200 supporters who wrote the judge on Fattah's behalf, requesting leniency.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Big Trial In The News

It was a good week in the media for Big Trial.

First, The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered by reading Big Trial that former L&I Deputy Commissioner Dominic Verdi had been found not guilty of the political corruption charges against him.

The Inquirer, which had hung Verdi out to dry publicly when he was indicted, but didn't bother to cover the trial that exonerated him, remedied that injustice by putting Verdi on the front page two days after a jury found him not guilty.

Then, the rest of the media pounced on a story that Big Trial's Ralph Cipriano and George Anastasia wrote for our partners at, about the mystery of the 12th juror in the Chaka Fattah case. That's the white guy from Lancaster County who was convinced that the government hadn't proved its case against Fattah, but the trial judge booted him off the jury. The news peg: the former congressman is due in court Monday to be sentenced, and faces 17-22 years in the slammer.

First, a bunch of Fattah's former staffers put up a website,, to raise questions about the case, starting with the mystery of the 12th Juror. Then, the Inquirer's Clout column weighed in on the mystery, and whether the congressman had gotten railroaded.

Finally, The Philadelphia Tribune followed up with a great column by lawyer Michael Coard, that went through the applicable legal standards and concluded it was high  time for the trial judge to clear up the mystery by unsealing a transcript of a closed-door hearing with that 12th Juror.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Verdi Not Guilty On All Counts

By Ralph Cipriano

A jury deliberated for just a couple of hours today before unanimously acquitting Dominic Verdi on all the political corruption charges against him.

Verdi, the former deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, had been accused in a seven-count federal indictment of conspiracy under the Hobbs Act to commit extortion and honest services fraud. But the case had all kinds of problems, which the trial judge, Berle M. Schiller, pointed out to the jury.

Verdi's problems began in 2006 when he sunk $20,000 into Chappy's Beer, Butts & Bets, a beer distributorship that was out of business by 2010. Verdi complicated the problem when the city's Inspector General asked him about it in 2007, and he denied having any ownership interest in Chappy's.

So Verdi was guilty of a conflict of interest, and lying about it. Not exactly exemplary conduct, but ethical violations. The feds, however, overreached by charging Verdi with criminal acts -- conspiracy to commit extortion and honest services fraud -- but failing to prove any of it.

When the verdict was announced, Verdi sat there stunned while his wife started crying.

"The truth finally came out," Verdi said outside the courthouse. "After six and a half years of being harassed, after six and a half years of my family being harassed, after six and a half years of my friends being harassed."

"To all my friends and family, thank you for standing behind me the way you did," Verdi said. "And to all the people out there who didn't believe me, karma's a bitch."

Monday, December 5, 2016

As Verdi Trial Winds Down, Judge Keeps Stopwatch On Prosecutor

NYTimes/Mark Makela
By Ralph Cipriano

During closing arguments today in the Dominic Verdi corruption case, U.S. District Court Judge Berle M. Schiller was keeping a strict stopwatch on a verbose prosecutor.

The judge had previously warned Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf last week that "You don't know how to control your time."

But Wolf apparently didn't learn her lesson. She continued to run over time limits imposed by the judge, who was clearly losing patience with her. So Judge Schiller took to loudly warning Wolf when her time was about to run out.

"Wind up," the judge warned Wolf when she was five minutes away from what should have ben the end of her 45-minute closing argument. "One minute or less," the judge warned when Wolf was nearing the end of the time allotted for her 10-minute rebuttal.

The judge's strict approach clearly flustered the disorganized prosecutor. But what may be more damaging to the government's case was the judge's editorial comments about missing prosecution witnesses delivered while Wolf was trying to wind up her all-too-lengthy cross-examination of the defendant. What the jury makes of this not-ready-for-prime-time act is yet to be determined.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

As Sentencing Nears, Debate Continues Over Chaka Fattah

Matt Rourke/Associated Press
By Ralph Cipriano

On Dec. 12th, former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, convicted of corruption last June, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Harvey Bartle III.

Fattah is facing as much as 20 years in prison. But a group of the congressman's former staffers say he got a bum deal.

In a detailed analysis of more than 300 pages obtained by Big Trial, the staffers, who are anonymous, assert that the congressman who served 11 terms was convicted on non-existent evidence. To prove their point, the former staffers rely on excerpts from 3,000 pages of trial transcripts.

At 6 p.m. Monday on radio station 900AM-WURD, Barbara Grant, a former TV and radio reporter, and former director of communications for Mayor John Street, plans to delve into the issues raised by this analysis. Why?

"I've known Chaka for a long time," Grant said. "I don't think he deserves to go to jail, I've seen other people walk away having done more."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Verdi On Stand: "Stupidist Thing That I Ever Did In My Life"

By Ralph Cipriano

Dominic Verdi, who took the stand today in his own defense, admitted that he had a conflict of interest when he bought Chappy's Beer, Butts & Bets, and tried to keep it a secret.

"It was the stupidest thing that I ever did in my life," Verdi said.

The 61-year-old former deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, is on trial for corruption in federal court. On the witness stand, Verdi admitted he lied when the city's Inspector General asked him about whether he had an interest in the South Philly beer distributorship.

"I should have told the truth," Verdi said.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Convicted Killer Testifies That Verdi Protected Strip Club

By Ralph Cipriano

The government's latest star witness in the Dominic Verdi corruption trial showed up in court today wearing a prison jump suit.

Other featured cooperating witnesses in the Verdi trial this week included a husband-and-wife team of former night club owners who have pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion, owing the feds as much as $1 million in back taxes, fines, and penalties.

But John Pettit had them beat. The former strip club manager was convicted this past June of third-degree murder after he punched a drunk patron in the head during a 2009 fight outside the Oasis Gentlemen's Club.  John Koons, 31, suffered a depressed skull fracture from the punch, and when he fell backward, he fractured his skull. He died two weeks after the brawl, without ever regaining consciousness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dominic Verdi To Take Stand In His Own Corruption Trial

By George Anastasia

A federal prosecutor has spent most of this week building the case against Dominic
Verdi, the former Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections charged with playing fast and loose with rules and ethics in a quid-pro-quo scam built in part around his hidden ownership in a beer distribution company.

On Friday Verdi, who resigned his city post back in February 2011 amid reports of a far-reaching corruption investigation, will get a chance to tell his side of the story.

The South Philadelphia politico is expected to take the stand in his own defense in the trial which began in U.S. District Court on Monday and could go to the jury early next week. The prosecution is expected to rest its case on Thursday, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf who over the past two days has called a series of witnesses, including bar owners and law enforcement investigators, who have offered sometimes conflicting testimony about the 62-year-old former city official.

Government Witnesses At Verdi Trial Caught At Baggage Check

By Ralph Cipriano

The government's first two witnesses in the corruption trial of former Deputy L&I Commissioner Dominic Verdi came to the witness stand yesterday loaded with baggage.

First up was Susan Callueng, a former nightclub owner who was red-faced and dabbing her eyes with tissues.

Callueng's story was that whenever she needed a permit for her now defunct nightclub, Blurr in Old City, she used to go see Verdi at his office at 9th and Spring Garden.  She'd hand him a check made out to the city of Philadelphia for whatever the permit cost, whether it was $250 or $315. And then she would hand Verdi an envelope stuffed with $1,000 in cash.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Former L&I Deputy Commissioner Dominic Verdi Goes On Trial

By Ralph Cipriano

As head of the city's Nuisance Task Force, Dominic Verdi wore a bulletproof vest. Whenever, he was leading an after-hours raid on a crack house, nuisance bar, or an unlicensed massage parlor, he was always the first guy through the door.

In thousands of raids over the years, Verdi, the former deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, gained a reputation around town as the go-to guy for law enforcement --state, local or federal -- whenever it came to shutting down illegal operations around the city.

"He put himself in harm's way," then City Councilman James Kenney said admiringly about Verdi in 2000.

But Monday, on the 13th floor of the federal courthouse, it was Verdi who was accused of breaking the law. Federal prosecutors charged that while Verdi was leading late-night rights all over town, he was hiding a conflict of interest -- a part ownership he had purchased in Chappy's Beer, Butts and Bets, a beer distributorship formerly located at 2825 S.17th St. in South Philadelphia.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

No Reservatons At Ristorante Merlino

Merlino's WineglassBy George Anastasia
[Reprinted with permission from Gang Land News]

If you picked up a snazzy Merlino's wineglass on your last trip to Boca, don't throw it away. It may soon be a collector's item. It looks like Joey Merlino is out of the restaurant business.

Reports from Boca Raton, where his posh, eponymous nightspot was located, indicate that the restaurant is closed and the property is for sale. In June, Skinny Joey denied a Miami Herald report that Merlino's had gone belly up. He insisted that his joint was shutting down for the summer season and would reopen in the fall.

Who knows? That may have been the plan. But that was before the racketeering indictment that snared him and 45 co-defendants for being part of what federal prosecutors have dubbed an East Coast LCN Enterprise.

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Italian News Org Takes A Look At The Philadelphia Mob

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Rolling Stone's All Too Perfect Stories About "Jackie" And "Billy"

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, her editor, and her lawyers
By Ralph Cipriano

In his closing statement to the jury, Tom Clare, a lawyer for the plaintiff in the Rolling Stone libel case, talked about the fraudulent gang rape of "Jackie" by a bunch of imaginary frat boys.

"It had all the elements of a perfect story," Clare told the jury, according to The Washington Post. "And when something appears too perfect it usually is."

On Friday, a jury in Charlottesville, VA, decided that Rolling Stone and its reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had not only defamed Nicole Eramo, a former administrator at the University of Virginia, but acted with actual malice. That meant the jury believed that Erdely and the magazine's editors knew that Erdely's 2014 story was false but they went ahead and published it anyway, with reckless disregard for the truth.

After the trial was over, Rolling Stone apologized a second time for their since-retracted story about Jackie. But the magazine has never apologized for another all-too-perfect story Erdely wrote in 2011 about a Philadelphia altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" who supposedly was raped in savage attacks by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Have The Feds Dropped The Ball In The Merlino Case?

By George Anastasia

They don't always play by the rules . . . even when they're dealing with members of their own team.

Federal authorities in New York may have cut Skinny Joey Merlino a break by insisting -- over the objections of Philadelphia and Florida law enforcement agencies --that Merlino be included in a sweeping but vaguely drawn racketeering indictment now pending in Manhattan.

Read the story here:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Alycia Lane Settles Case With CBS, Larry Mendte

By Ralph Cipriano

The long-running legal battle is over between feuding former co-anchors Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte.

Back in 2008, Lane sued CBS, her former employer, and Michael Colleran, a former CBS president and general manager, for negligence for allowing Mendte to hack into her personal computer.

Mendte was named as a defendant in the suit filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. In the suit, Lane accused Mendte of unlawful interception of communications, invasion of privacy, and tortious interference with prospective contractual relations.

The case was scheduled to go to trial Friday until the parties reached a confidential settlement last week. The rest of the story can be read here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Father James J. Brennan Sex Abuse Case Ends With A Whimper

By Ralph Cipriano

The district attorney's office has struck a deal with Father James J. Brennan, who was accused of the attempted rape 20 years ago of a teenage boy.

On Monday, Father Brennan, whose retrial was scheduled to begin Oct. 24th, pleaded no contest to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of simple assault, and was placed on two years probation.

"This case, which took six or seven years to resolve, ended with a whimper and not a bang because they made us an offer we couldn't refuse," said criminal defense lawyer William J. Brennan, no relation, who represented Father Brennan.

The case sure started with a bang. Back in 2011, the district attorney issued a grand jury report, still online, which stated eleven times that Father Brennan had anally raped 14-year-old Mark Bukowski back in 1996. It happened in the priest's apartment, on a night when the priest admitted he showed the boy pornography and then got into bed with him.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pill Mill Doc Gets 30 Years

By George Anastasia

A federal judge sentenced pill mill doctor William J. O'Brien 3d to 30 years in prison today for running a multi-million dollar drug trafficking operation with the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang and for contributing to the death of a patient by prescribing what authorities said was a "lethal' combination of pain medications.

O'Brien, jailed since his arrest in January 2015, showed little remorse during the two-hour hearing before Judge Nitza Quinones. On the contrary, the 51-year-old doctor, who had represented himself during a six-week trial that ended in June, insisted he was innocent and continued to rant against prosecutors and investigators who he said lied and fabricated evidence to build the case against him.

O'Brien was found guilty of 123 of the 127 counts he faced, including multiple counts of drug trafficking. He was also found guilty of money-laundering and lying in a bankruptcy proceeding.

"I don't show remorse because I did nothing wrong," he said in a statement to the court during  today's proceeding.

The Mob Goes Green

By George Anastasia

Not for nothing was Tony Soprano a "solid waste management consultant."

The mob, especially the mob in New Jersey, has always had a hand in the trash disposal/landfill business. But a recent examination by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation has
uncovered a new twist in the old game.

The mob has gone "green" -- as in recycling.

At the forefront of the latest foray, state investigators say, is a Florida-based businessman with ties to Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and to members of the Lucchese and Bonanno crime families in New York.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Feds Seek Life Sentence For Pill Mill Doc

By George Anastasia

Calling him a "kingpin" who was motivated by "unbridled and amoral greed," federal prosecutors have asked for a life sentence for pill mill doctor William O'Brien who is to be sentenced tomorrow before U.S. District Court Judge Nitza Quinones.

O'Brien was convicted in June of running a multi-million dollar pill mill operation with members of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang. Among other things, he was also charged with sometimes foregoing the fee he would charge for writing a script in exchange for oral sex from female "patients."

"The depth and breadth of his criminality was astounding," Assistant U.S. Attorneys M. Beth Leahy and David Troyer wrote in a 28-page sentencing memo. O'Brien, who had medical offices in Philadelphia, Levittown and Bristol, represented himself during a six-week trial before Quinones that ended with his conviction on 123 of the 127 counts he faced, including causing the death of a patient by prescribing a lethal combination of drugs.

Monday, October 3, 2016

D.A.'s Office Explains Why They Let Mohammed & Fatboy Go Free

The D.A. Who Legalized Drug Dealing
By Ralph Cipriano

The District Attorney's Office, which has stonewalled this blog for four years, is suddenly talking about their decision to free a couple of accused drug dealers -- Mohammed and the Fatboy -- who got caught red-handed with 225 pounds of marijuana worth more than $2 million.

Here's what the D.A. had to say about dropping the charges against Mohammed and the Fatboy, along with some 800 other accused drug dealers previously arrested by former members of the Narcotics Field Unit South:

The DA's office is expected to seek justice, not just convictions. On occasion, that means we may be unable to pursue a case because of concerns about the trustworthiness of a particular witness. When that witness is a police witness, multiple cases may be affected. That is an unfortunate but essential element of our professional responsibility as prosecutors. Decisions of this sort are in no way unique to this office; federal officials have made similar determinations.

We waited four years for that? "Self-serving" and "disingenuous" was how one prominent criminal defense lawyer characterized it.

"The foundation in the D.A.'s office seems to be crumbling," said FOP President John McNesby. After he read the D.A.'s statement, McNesby expressed hope that Williams would lose his bid for reelection next year.

"Quite frankly, it's going to be a breath of fresh air" when Seth Williams is gone from the D.A.'s office, McNesby said. "Hopefully, we'll be dealing with someone with a clearer mind."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Mohammed & The Fatboy Got Caught With 225 Pounds Of Marijuana But Beat The Rap [Thanks To D.A. Seth Williams]

By Ralph Cipriano

On Jan. 17, 2012, the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit South tailed a suspected drug dealer to a garage, where they confiscated 53 pounds of hydroponic marijuana with a street value of $481,240.

When the cops interviewed the suspect, Mohammed Samhan, 26, of Los Angeles, he decided to cooperate and give up another marijuana dealer. The cops subsequently raided the home of Kit "Fatboy" Poon, 41, of Northeast Philadelphia. This time, they confiscated 172 pounds of hydroponic marijuana with a street value of $1,565,420.

Faced with serious jail time, Poon decided that he too wanted to cooperate. He told the cops he knew about an even bigger future marijuana shipment due to arrive by tractor-trailer.

With the two accused drug dealers in custody, Lt. Robert Otto, supervisor of the narcs, called Chief Jan McDermott of the District Attorney's Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit, and requested that McDermott conduct "proffers" with both suspects. [A proffer is an interview where, in exchange for information about criminal activity, a prosecutor agrees not to use that information against the suspect.]

That's when the system broke down. Two confidential police memorandums obtained by Big Trial lay out the details of what's been described in court papers as a "petty and childish feud" between the narcs and the Philly D.A.'s office. It was an old fashioned turf battle over who sat in on proffers, which law enforcement agency would collect drug forfeiture money, and who got credit for major drug busts.

Seth Williams put an end to the feud when he announced, via a letter leaked to the media -- without a shred of evidence to back him up -- that the district attorney's office would no longer prosecute any drug cases involving Lt. Otto or five of his officers.  The narcs and their supervisor were subsequently transferred out of the narcotics unit.

Meanwhile, what happened to the two accused drug dealers who got caught red-handed with 225 pounds of marijuana worth more than $2 million? They were set free by the district attorney, along with 800 other suspects previously arrested by the narcs, in what amounted to a holiday for drug dealers.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Wiseguy's Guide To Saving Atlantic City

By George Anastasia

Paul D'Amato sat in the living room of his Ventnor home dressed in pajamas, slippers and a bathrobe.

It was about 3 o'clock on a spring afternoon in 1978. D'Amato said he had gotten up a few hours earlier. His body, after years of running one of the most popular joints in the city, was still on nightclub time.

The 500 Club, an Atlantic City landmark on Missouri Avenue, had burned down five years earlier, but "Skinny" D'Amato was used to getting up late.

It didn't take much to get him going. Within minutes, D'Amato was waxing nostalgically about what was and optimistically about what would be.

Resorts International was poised to open the first casino-hotel on the Boardwalk, the start of the grand experiment to rebuild the struggling resort. Caesars World and Bally's were waiting in the wings.

"It's gonna be a gold rush," D'Amato predicted, then corrected himself. "No, not gold. Platinum. That's better than gold."

Read the rest if the story here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How A "Reckless," "Irresponsible" Two-Paragraph Letter Written By D.A. Seth Williams Will Cost Philly Taxpayers Millions Of Dollars

Hey Seth, where's the beef?
By Ralph Cipriano

On Dec. 3, 2012, District Attorney R. Seth Williams wrote a two-paragraph letter to then Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

In the letter, Williams announced that in "an exercise of prosecutorial discretion," his office would no longer prosecute any drug case involving five Philadelphia narcotics officers, as well as their supervisor.

The letter, which the D.A.'s office allegedly leaked two days later to Fox 29, effectively put out of business "the most accomplished and effective narcotics unit in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department," according to court papers filed by a lawyer for the five narcotics officers and their supervisor.

The D.A's letter also prompted the city to eventually throw out about 800 drug cases involving arrests made by those narcotics officers. Of the 800 cases, about 175 accused drug dealers have turned around and filed civil rights lawsuits against the former narcs as well as the city of Philadelphia, seeking damages.

During litigation over one of those criminal cases that was subsequently dismissed, the public defender's office, representing one of the accused drug dealers, repeatedly asked Seth Williams to provide the "information and documents" that led the D.A. to write that letter that put the narcs out of business.

The public defender's office was expecting to discover the files, information and documents that backed up the D.A.'s letter that led to the dismissal of 800 drug cases. The disturbing answer to the public defender's repeated requests for discovery, however, was that there were no files, no information, no documents.

The bottom line, as revealed in five years of past criminal and civil litigation: Seth Williams wrote a letter that destroyed the careers of six police officers and freed 800 drug dealers without one shred of demonstrable proof to back up his words.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Galati Gives Up, Pleads No Contest To Murder-For-Hire

By George Anastasia

Ron Galati decided this afternoon to fold his cards rather than fight murder-for-hire and insurance fraud charges in Commons Pleas Court

Already serving a 22-year federal sentence for a conviction in a different murder conspiracy case, the 65-year-old South Philadelphia auto body shop owner pleaded no contest to a series of charges tied to two separate indictments pending against him.

Galati implied that he was not guilty, but said he opted to take a deal offered by the District Attorney's Office in order to "put this away and move on."

"This is the best decision," he told Judge Daniel Anders during a protracted hearing that began shortly before 10 a.m. and did not conclude until 12:45.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Galati's sentence in the two Common Pleas Court cases will run concurrently with the federal sentence he is currently serving. In addition, the District Attorney's Office agreed to drop insurance fraud charges against Galati's wife, Vicki.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Inky Bloodhounds Need A Seeing Eye Dog

By Ralph Cipriano

The bloodhounds at our city's intrepid paper of record are hot on the trail of D.A. Seth Williams.

But what those bloodhounds really need is a seeing eye dog to lead the way. Because the bloodhounds are blind, and have been for a long time.

In case you missed it, the Inky's hounds are sniffing a trail of blood left behind by Seth's self-inflicted wounds. It began with $160,000 in undeclared "gifts" that came from donors that included the Philadelphia Eagles, a roofing contractor, and some friendly defense lawyers. Also on the trail is the FBI and a federal grand jury.

The latest blood that was spilled resulted from a confession by the D.A.'s girlfriend, Stacey Cummings, that she had slashed tires on two official city vehicles parked outside Seth's house.

As in the $160,000 in gifts that went unreported for up to six years, Seth waited a while before doing the right thing. Twelve days went by before Seth's security officer finally got around to reporting the crime. Can you say cover-up?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Boston Bob," Former Merlino Mob Associate, Now A Holy Roller

By George Anastasia

They called him "Boston Bob."

In the late 1990s, he was the Philadelphia mob's point man in Beantown, generating tens of thousands of dollars through bookmaking, loansharking, extortion and drug dealing.

Today, the former Robert Luisi goes by the name Alonso Eposito. And he's traded in his membership in Cosa Nostra for an affiliation with an organization that has an even more storied history.

Boston Bob is now Pastor Al, a Christian minister based in Tennessee with a television show, speaking engagements and Bible-study classes.

Rest of the story can be read here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The [Real] Corruption Of Seth Williams

By Ralph Cipriano

For the past five years, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has been given two complimentary all-access sideline passes to Philadelphia Eagles games.

This is the same District Attorney who last month decided that Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor wouldn't be prosecuted for the alleged sexual assault of a dancer at the Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club.

Anyone see a problem?

For the past six years, D.A. Williams has accepted $160,000 in unreported gifts, including $45,000 in free roof repairs, and more than $20,000 in free airfare and lodging for vacations in Key West, Las Vegas and the Dominican Republic.

This is the same District Attorney who prosecuted Thomasine Tynes, a 71-year-old former Traffic Court judge, on a bribery charge for accepting the unreported gift of a Tiffany bracelet from a lobbyist worth $2,000. [She got up to 23 months in prison.]

Anyone see a problem?

It's great that a federal grand jury and The Philadelphia Inquirer are investigating the finances of Seth Williams. As bad as how the D.A. has flouted campaign finance laws, however, what he has done to Lady Justice is far worse.

As a grand jury report in this town once said, it's like comparing inappropriate touching with rape. And the rapist, a large bald man who wears bow ties, is still at large.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Big Trial On The Big Talker

An MP3 of Ralph Cipriano's appearance on Christine Flowers' Radio Show Sunday night on The Big Talker can be played here by hitting the little check mark in the gray box on the left.

Flowers recently weighed in with a  column on the D.A.'s decision to retry the Lynn case, "When justice is blind, but ambition isn't."

That column can be read here.

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

A New Jersey woman pleaded guilty on Aug. 9 to conspiring with her former boyfriend to produce sexually explicit images of two children, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

Janine Kelley, 35, of Audubon, N.J., a registered nurse, became sexually involved with her co-conspirator, Alexander Capasso, 42, of Collingswood, New Jersey, back in 2011. During this time, Capasso revealed to Kelley that he fantasized about engaging in sexual acts with children.

Kelley readily complied.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Feds Say Tapes Show Merlino Is Philly's Mob Boss

By George Anastasia

It looks like a tale of the tapes in the feds' latest battle with mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

Federal authorities, in arguing Merlino should not be released on bail, have pointed to "explicit recordings in which Merlino discussed the crimes he was committing and exhibited his role as a leader" of the mob family.

A bail hearing for Merlino, originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been moved to Friday after Merlino's Florida attorney, David L. Roth, asked for an extension.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

They say you shouldn’t put your cell phone number on social media, and that advice probably applies to credit card numbers too.

Aaron Dashawn Caple, 23, of Philadelphia, used Facebook and Twitter to solicit people to provide him with their ATM bank cards and pin numbers.

From there, Caple used the accounts to deposit bad checks, and then withdrew the money quickly before he was found out. Once he devised the plan, Caple visited multiple ATMs in Philadelphia to deposit and withdraw funds, and also visited various stores to make purchases and get cash back.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Joey Merlino Arrested In Major Mob Bust

By George Anastasia

Mob Boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was arrested at his home in Florida this morning as the feds dropped the hammer in a multi-state, multi-defendant organized crime case.

Merlino, 54, was part of a massive roundup in which more than 40 members and associates were taken into custody. Indictments brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York offered a shopping list of crimes ranging from gambling, loan-sharking and extortion to medical insurance fraud and untaxed cigarettes.

Rest of story can be read here.

Fox 29's report featuring George Anastasia.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Should The Chaka Fattah Case Have Ended In A Mistrial?

By Ralph Cipriano and George Anastasia

Should the racketeering and political corruption trial of U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah  have ended in a mistrial?

That was the situation behind closed doors in June on the second day of deliberations in the case according to Juror No. 12.

In an interview, the juror, who sought anonymity, said that after two days of deliberations he was on the short end of at least eight 11-1 votes.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lynn Gets Out of Jail: D.A. Says He Will Retry Case

By Ralph Cipriano

On the day that Msgr. Lynn got out of jail, District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he will retry the case for allegedly endangering the welfare of children.

Today, Lynn's sister and brother-in-law drove showed up at the State Correctional Institute in Waymart, PA, where Lynn has served 33 months of his 36-month minimum sentence, to pick him up and drive him to their home in Reading.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Will D.A. Seek A Retrial Of Msgr. Lynn?

Is it time for more grandstanding?
By Ralph Cipriano

At a bail hearing set for Tuesday morning, Msgr. William J. Lynn is expected to walk out of court as a free man.

The next move in the legal odyssey will be up to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

On July 19, a Hudson County, New Jersey man allegedly ran over a federal police officer with a 2009 Grand Jeep Cherokee. As a result, he could face as many charges as he has nicknames.

Hakim G. Taylor, otherwise known as “Scott Taylor,” “Hakim Horton, “Anthony Lance,” and “Hakim Smith” was being observed by law enforcement after he was suspected of participating in narcotics transactions.

According to the New Jersey Attorney General, once he and an accomplice realized police were hot on their trail, Taylor hopped into the driver’s seat of the Jeep, and refused to exit the vehicle...even after he was told to do so by a special agent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Msgr. Lynn A Free Man

By Ralph Cipriano

Msgr. William J. Lynn, the central figure in the district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Philadelphia archdiocese for sex abuse, is a free man.

That’s because today, the state Supreme Court, in a one-page decision, announced it would not review a second reversal of Lynn’s original conviction by the state Superior Court.

After serving 33 months in jail, and 15 months under house arrest, Lynn could be on a bus to Philadelphia as early as tomorrow.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn’s lawyer. “We’ll file a bail motion first thing in the morning.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

On May 15, it was not business as usual for one popular Philadelphia eatery.

James Parker, 50, of Philadelphia, was officially indicted on July 21 after violently robbing Tavern on Broad, a Center City restaurant, back in May.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Parker pistol-whipped an employee at the restaurant, and eventually forced him to open the safe. That night, Parker fled with approximately $8,000 cash.

As a result of the robbery, Parker is being charged with robbery that interferes with interstate commerce, as well as using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

A Souderton, PA man’ fate was sealed on July 13 and will serve 15 years in prison for distributing and possessing a mass amount of child pornography.

Ian Ranberg, 50, was initially arrested in 2013 after he allegedly received images of child pornography in May, August and September of that year. In 2014, Ranberg pled guilty to distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck
For BigTrial.Net

Trust can take years to build and seconds to destroy, as evidenced by a Florida investment advisor who defrauded his clients of approximately $800,000 total, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Sean Donald Premock, 43, was fired from a previous employer after selling investments that were not approved. After he was let go, he began his own business venture, creating his own investment and financial planning companies...which he allegedly used to steal from his clients.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It's Always About The Money

For the mob, it's always about the money.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

U.S. For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

In November of 2014, just before 10 p.m., a 22-year-old woman was violently grabbed off a Philadelphia street and forced into a car. She was then struck by her attacker with a hammer, and was told that if she continued to resist, he would kill her.

The victim was transported to Maryland in the trunk of the attacker’s car, her wrists bound together. Three days later, she was rescued by police. 

A surveillance video captured the attack as it happened, showing Barnes seize the woman shortly after she stepped off a bus.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Skinny Joey" Takes A Hit At SugarHouse

No more blackjack for Joey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Amateur Hour As Jury Convicts Pill Doctor

By Ralph Cipriano

It was a fitting end to a bizarre trial that featured a novice judge and a pill-pushing doctor who insisted on representing himself as his own lawyer.

It took the jury an incredible two hours tonight to read a verdict that found the doctor who allegedly ran a pill mill that catered to outlaw bikers and strippers guilty on 123 out of 127 counts.

Why did it take two hours? Because Judge Nitza Quinones, who was confirmed in June 2013 and has had limited experience presiding over federal criminal trials, had the court clerk read every word of every count out loud, including all the relevant titles, codes and statutes, and then ask the jury foreman whether the jury had reached a unanimous verdict on each count of guilty or not guilty.

As a result, the court clerk stated a mind-numbing 121 times that Dr. William J. O'Brien 3d was accused of violating Title 21 of the United States Code, Section 841, by distributing controlled substances while operating "outside the usual course of medical practice," and prescribing controlled substances for "no legitimate medical purpose." Amateur hour continued when the court clerk polled the jury, and read the name of every juror out loud, rather that follow the usual custom and refer to jurors by numbers.

By the end of the reading of the two hour verdict, one juror was slumped over; others were dazed and staring off into space. Court observers were shaking their heads and saying they had never seen anything like it.


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