Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jury Begins Deliberations In Farnese Trial

By George Anastasia
for BigTrial.net

The quid pro quo bribery case against state Senator Lawrence Farnese and Committeewoman Ellen Chapman is now in the hands of a federal jury.

The panel of seven women and five men deliberated for about an hour later this afternoon before retiring for the day. The jurors are scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.

The jury got the case after hearing Judge Cynthia Rufe outline the laws that applied int he 13-count federal indictment pending against the two defendants. Among other things, the judge told the jurors that the events at the heart of the case are not in dispute, but the intentions of the two defendants were.

She said the jury would have to decide whether there was criminal intent.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Closing Arguments In Farnese Snore-Fest

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Four lawyers squared off in a federal courtroom today to rehash the Larry Farnese case in closing arguments that amounted to two hours of tedium.

As previously reported, the government sees a $6,000 study abroad scholarship that the state senator lined up six years ago for the daughter of a Democratic committee woman as a sinister plot. The feds have targeted Farnese and Ellen Chapman, the committee woman he did a favor for, with a 13-count indictment that charges conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as honest services fraud through bribery. The government is also alleging multiple violations of the U.S. Travel Act, for sending Chapman's daughter to Kyrgyzstan as part of that vast criminal conspiracy.

On their end, the defendants' lawyers view the case as Big Brother overstepping his bounds by invading the 8th Ward to criminalize politics as usual. Meanwhile, the constituents of the First Senatorial District, who have seen this movie before, are left to wonder whether their third straight state senator in the past 40 years will soon be heading off to jail.

Friday, January 27, 2017

8th Ward Dems Tell Feds Farnese Didn't Have To Buy Votes

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

A Democratic committeeman from the 8th Ward got his dander up today when a prosecutor asked if state Senator Larry Farnese had offered him money in exchange for his vote to make Farnese ward leader.

"Don't be silly," Sam Hopkins, a 20-year veteran of the ward, yelled at Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis on cross-examination. "It's just not done."

A minute later, Hopkins indignantly asked the prosecutor, "Young man, where are you from?" The prosecutor started to answer before he thought better of it, and shut up.

The defense was putting on its case today in the federal fraud trial of the state senator, which has struck many observers, including the judge, as a possible example of prosecutorial overreach. Farnese is charged with allegedly buying the vote of Ellen Chapman, a Democratic committee woman who is his co-defendant, by lining up a $6,000 scholarship for Chapman's daughter.

In the eyes of the government, that $6,000 scholarship, which came from a political action committee, was a bribe that helped Farnese get elected ward leader. But Farnese's lawyers have characterized the scholarship as a good deed, the type of thing that legislators routinely do for their constituents.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Government Winds Down Pathetic Farnese Corruption Case

Is That All There Is?
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Stephen Huntington is a retired lawyer who, back in 2011, aspired to be the Democratic leader of the city's 8th Ward.

Today, Huntington told a federal jury about the phone call he got from a distraught Democratic committee woman, explaining why she couldn't vote for Huntington as ward leader.

"Ellen was crying," Huntington told the jury. She was "very emotional."

The committee woman, Ellen Chapman, supposedly told Huntington that she was going to vote for  state Senator Larry Farnese as ward leader. Why? Because Farnese was lining up a $6,000 donation so that Chapman's daughter could study abroad.

"I felt sorry for her," Huntington explained about Chapman. "I regarded her as a mother who was concerned about her daughter's education. Who can argue with that?"

The answer to Huntington's question: an army of government prosecutors and FBI agents. They saw in a committee woman's tears and a $6,000 educational loan from a state senator a federal conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud through a bribery scheme. The end result was a 13-count federal indictment and a jury trial where the feds are invading 8th Ward politics. And Chapman and Farnese are both facing jail time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Farnese Jury Asked To Decide Between Bribe Or `Good Deed'

By George Anastasia
For BigTrial.net

It was a lesson in political pragmatism delivered by the defense attorney for beleaguered State Senator Larry Farnese at the opening of Farnese's corruption trial.

You don't pay a bribe with a check, lawyer Mark Sheppard told the U.S. District Court jury that will decide Farnese's fate. And you don't pay a bribe for one vote when you need 30.

"This isn't how bribery is done," Sheppard said. "This isn't how criminals act."

In a brief but pointed opening statement that outlined the defense strategy in the trial, Sheppard asked the jury to use "common sense" in evaluating the charges against his client and co-defendant Ellen Chapman, a Democratic Party ward committeewoman.

The two are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud in what prosecutors said was a bribery scheme to insure Farnese's election as ward leader in Philadelphia's eighth ward back in 2011. Authorities allege that Farnese donated $6,000 from his campaign fund to help underwrite a study abroad program for Chapman's daughter. In turn, the prosecutors said, Chapman agreed to vote for Farnese in the ward election.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Parallels Between The Church And Penn State Sex Scandals

Aaron Fisher
By John Ziegler
for BigTrial.net

Like most readers of this website, I have been following with great interest the tremendous work by Ralph Cipriano exposing the obvious injustice done in one of the major sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church of Philadelphia. 

I recently interviewed Cipriano for my podcast and wrote about the “Billy Doe” case for Dan Abrams’ “LawNewz” websiteThe complete lack of follow up on the most recent bombshells in the story by the news media has been outrageous, however, sadly, it has also not been at all surprising to me. 

You see, for over five years now I have effectively been living the same experience as Ralph during my investigation of the so-called “Penn State Scandal” (To be clear, I have no connection to the school and now actually have disdain for the university for how it has actively promoted a horrendous lie in this matter).  

These two stories have an enormous number of elements in common. One of the most important is that the news media is so completely invested in their original narrative that they can’t bring themselves to even seriously consider that they completely blew each of the cases, even as the evidence piles up that it is obvious that they did.

Farnese Trial: Penny Ante Politics Or Political Corruption?

By George Anastasia
For BigTrial.net

Based on the "standards" set for corruption in Pennsylvania's First Senate District, the case against Larry Farnese seems penny ante at best.

Nevertheless, the 48-year-old South Philadelphia state senator begins the fight for his political life today, trying to refute the charge that he donated $6,000 in campaign funds to a college in order to convince a committeewoman to vote for him in a ward leader election that he won unanimously.

Jury selection began today before U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Rufe. The trial is expected to last about a week.

Farnese holds the same senate seat that once belonged to Henry J. (Buddy) Cianfrani, the quintessential political wheeler-dealer who was convicted of padding his senate payroll with ghost employees. After Buddy there was Vincent Fumo whose political career ended when he was buried under a 137-count corruption conviction built around allegations of influence peddling and millions of dollars in misspent or misdirected cash.

Friday, January 20, 2017

SNAP Lawsuit Alleges Kickbacks, Collusion With Plaintiff's Lawyers

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

A lawsuit filed in Chicago by a former employee of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests [SNAP] alleges that the nonprofit's top officials routinely accepted kickbacks from plaintiff's lawyers, as well as colluded with them to orchestrate negative publicity against the Catholic Church.

The explosive lawsuit was filed on Jan. 17th by Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a former director of development for SNAP. In the lawsuit, Hammond's lawyers claim she was fired in a "retaliatory discharge" before she could report SNAP's kickback schemes to the government. The story of the lawsuit was first reported on Jan. 18th by the National Catholic Reporter.

In Philadelphia, SNAP has been an outspoken advocate for Danny Gallagher, AKA "Billy Doe," the credibility-challenged former altar boy who claimed he was raped by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher. SNAP also has urged District Attorney Seth Williams to continue to prosecute Msgr. William J. Lynn, now facing a retrial on one charge of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Gallagher. Even though Lynn has already served 33 months of his original 36-month minimum sentence, plus 18 months of house arrest.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Life And Times Of "Little Nicky"

More on the passing of Nicky Scarfo
By George Anastasia

"His legacy, if you can call that, as a ruthless mob boss is unparalleled, certainly in this area," said James J. Leonard Jr. "Nicky Scarfo was the epitome of a gangster in every sense of the word."

Big Trial Editor's Note: This is an advance obituary that Anastasia wrote for the Inquirer before he left the paper. It was updated and published Sunday. A day after Anastasia scooped himself by breaking the story of Scarfo's death on Big Trial.

The Inky story can be read here:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Report: Nicodemo Scarfo Has Died In Prison

By George Anastasia
For BigTrial.net

Nicodemo D. “Little Nicky” Scarfo, who ruled the Philadelphia mob in the 1980s with a temperament and philosophy more suited to the 1920s, has died in a federal prison medical facility in Butner, N.C., according to underworld sources.

Prison officials could not be reached to confirm the report which began circulating in South Philadelphia this morning. Scarfo had been an inmate at the medical facility for more than a year where he was being treated for various medical ailments, including kidney failure. He died Friday.

The 87-year-old mob boss was serving a 55-year sentence on racketeering and murder charges. He was convicted in 1988 along with 16 co-defendants, most of them made members of his notorious crime family. The prosecution, which included charges of murder, attempted murder and extortion, brought down his organization and signaled the end of his eight-year reign as Philadelphia crime kingpin.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"You're Killing My Case"

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

On the witness stand today, retired Detective Joseph Walsh detailed numerous inconsistencies in the many contradictory stories told by Danny Gallagher, the former altar boy who famously and improbably claimed he was raped by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher.

And when Walsh told Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen about those inconsistencies, her response, according to Walsh was, "You're killing my case."

At the end of a nearly three-hour pre-trial hearing today, Thomas A. Bergstrom, a lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, stood before the judge and stated what Sorensen should have done when faced with all those inconsistencies: confront Gallagher and find out what was the truth.

But Sorensen, who was not called by the District Attorney as a witness to refute Detective Walsh, never did confront Danny Gallagher, Bergstrom told the judge. Why? Because, Bergstrom said, Sorensen had to know, "That the kid's a liar."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lanny Davis Seeking Presidential Pardon For Chaka Fattah

Davis and friend
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

He may have lost a bail motion today, but former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah still has one long shot left to stay out of jail -- a request for a presidential pardon from Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton.

In a Jan. 1 letter to President Obama,  Davis and Dr. Therman E. Evans, a New Jersey doctor and pastor, ask the president to pardon Fattah before leaving office later this month.

"We have known him for 30 years and know first-hand his unmatched contributions to improving the life chances of tens of millions of Americans," Davis and Evans wrote.

Davis and Evans cite three key issues that they argue make Fattah a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon -- "the presiding judge exhibited a clear prejudice, there was documented misconduct by the prosecutors, and there are major evidence gaps in the case."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Battle Over 12th Juror Continues With Two Fattah Co-Defendants

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In a battle over whether two co-defendants of former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah are entitled to bail while they appeal their convictions, defense lawyers claim that the government is ignoring the testimony of five jurors in the case, as well as the improper actions of the trial judge in removing a dissident juror.

The defense lawyers were responding to a brief filed Monday by the government that asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to deny bail motions for Fatttah codefendants Robert Brand and Karen Nicholas.

Neither of the codefendants "present a substantial question that is likely to result in a reversal or new trial on any counts on which a sentence of imprisonment has been imposed," wrote Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric L. Gibson and Paul L. Gray, and trial attorney Jonathan Kravis.

"There is no justification for granting either Brand or Nicholas bail during appeals," the prosecutors conclude. "Accordingly, the government respectfully submits that the appellants' motions for bail pending appeal should be denied."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Archdiocese-D.A. Hearing Moved To Friday The 13th

A scheduled hearing that may feature retired Detective Joseph Walsh testifying against former Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen has been moved from 2 p.m. Wednesday to 11 a.m. Friday.

At the hearing, Thomas A. Bergstrom, the lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, is expected to ask Walsh about his investigation into the "Billy Doe" sex abuse case, and why he didn't believe that the former altar boy was telling the truth.

According to Bergstrom, when Walsh told Assistant District Attorney Sorensen about his doubts, she replied, "You're hurting my case" and "You're damaging my case." But according to Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, Sorensen denied that she ever said that.

The hearing will be held before Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright in Courtroom 1101 at the Criminal Justice Center on Friday the 13th, possibly a bad omen for Seth Williams and his self-described "historic" prosecution of the church.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Lead Detective In "Billy Doe" Case Didn't Believe Billy

Former ADA Mariana Sorensen [left] 
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

The lead detective in the "Billy Doe" sex abuse case didn't find the former altar boy credible after repeatedly confronting him over numerous factual discrepancies in his many conflicting stories.

And when Detective Joseph Walsh voiced his doubts about the D.A.'s star witness to a top prosecutor, she didn't want to hear about it.

"You're damaging my case, you're hurting my case," is what Thomas A. Bergstrom, a lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, claimed that former Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen said about the star witness whose testimony sent three priests and a former Catholic school teacher to jail.

"You can't turn a blind eye to that," Bergstrom said when he asked Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright to invoke the ultimate penalty for prosecutorial misconduct, namely dismissing a retrial of the criminal case against Msgr. Lynn scheduled to begin May 30th.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Defense Lawyers Pound Away At "Rash, Unmethodical" Judge Bartle; Feds Respond By Saying He Did Everything By The Book

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Lawyers for two of Chaka Fattah's co-defendants have joined the chorus seeking to have their clients stay out of jail while a federal appeals court considers the propriety of Judge Harvey Bartle III's early dismissal of a dissident juror.

Last week, defense lawyers filed a motion seeking to have Fattah, the former 11-term U.S. Congressman, remain free on bail while a federal appeals court considered whether Judge Bartle had abused his discretion by booting the dissident juror.

In a bail motion filed today on behalf of Robert Brand, a Fattah co-defendant, a team of defense lawyers argued that Judge Bartle's "rash, unmethodical dismissal" of the dissident juror who "vigorously disagreed with the ultimate verdict was improper." The bail motion filed on behalf of Brand also claimed that Judge Bartle's "haphazard" questioning of five jurors during the trial "so disrupted the deliberation process" that it "severely prejudiced" the defendant as well as tainted the jury.

In a second bail motion filed on behalf of Karen Nicholas, another Fattah co-defendant, attorney Ann Campbell Flannery criticized Judge Bartle for asking "leading and suggestive" questions of five jurors in the political corruption case. Flannery also asked the federal appeals court to consider whether "the trial judge's quick and continued intrusion into the deliberative process was an abuse of discretion."

 And whether the judge's actions had "a coercive effect" on the remaining jurors, namely "that if one dissented or took longer to deliberate than the others, the others could complain to the court and obtain swift intervention and relief."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Judge's Argument For Dismissing 12th Juror Doesn't Hold Water

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

When he explained why he dismissed a dissident juror in the Chaka Fattah case, U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Bartle III advanced an argument that doesn't hold water.

"There have been only approximately four hours of deliberation," the judge declared on June 16th in a memorandum released last month, after lawyers for The Philadelphia Inquirer had to go to court to unseal it. "There's no way in the world," the judge further declared, that Juror No. 12 "could have reviewed and considered all of the evidence in the case and my instructions in the law."

The judge then concluded that Juror No. 12 had not only violated his oath as a juror, but also "delayed, disrupted, impeded, and obstructed the deliberative process, and had the intent to do so."

But according to an interview with Juror No. 12, and court transcripts, the judge's logic disqualifies the other jurors in the case -- including the jury foreman -- who were repeatedly voting in the majority to convict, without a shred of evidence in the jury room. At a time when some of those jurors mistakenly believed that the government's indictment was evidence.


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