|Is That All There Is?|
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.
|"I see dead people"|
The judge, however, told the lawyers in the case that she wasn't taking the day off. And that the defense had until 11 a.m. tomorrow to submit their motions, which may include a motion to dismiss this clunker.
The judge said she wanted to give the government plenty of time to be able to respond to the defense motions. So maybe, just maybe, the judge will perform an act of mercy and pull the plug on USA v. Farnese rather than waste any more of the taxpayers money.
Somebody ought to turn the tables on the feds and do an investigation of the U.S. Attorney's Office. They're like the movie director who comes up with a box office hit, and then has license to bring a series of stinkers to the silver screen.
Kind of like M. Night Shyamalan, who had a 1999 box office hit with The Sixth Sense. And then he proceeded to give us The Village, The Happening, The Last Airbender, Lady in the Water and After Earth, which was so bad that Will Smith called it "the most painful failure in my career."
For the local U.S. Attorney's office, their box office smash was USA v. Fumo in 2008-9, which got rave reviews from the press corps. Especially The Philadelphia Inquirer, because it confirmed their view of the former state Senator as a combination of Hitler, Satan, and the Antichrist.
That's why in the Fumo case, the Inquirer put its stamp of legitimacy on the prosecution's "zeal to criminalize," in the immortal words of defense attorney Eddie Jacobs, "every blessed thing that Senator Fumo touches."
In the Fumo case, the feds were allowed to criminalize every facet of the activity formerly known as politics as usual. That meant that formerly harmless activities such as sending an email became a federal crime. So did sending a fax, fixing up an office building, tearing down a nuisance bar and a garage, buying a car for the officers of a nonprofit to drive, as well as putting gas in that car.
acquitted six former city narcotics officers on all 47 charges in a 26-count RICO indictment.
In that case, the feds relied on 19 drug dealers and a crooked cop as star witnesses, but the jury found all of them simply not credible.
That stinker was followed by the Chaka Fattah case of last June. That's where the feds relied on a couple of turncoat cooperating witnesses to tie the former congressman -- who went to jail today -- to another RICO plot that involved the alleged laundering of a $1 million campaign loan.
The Fattah case was on its way to becoming another box office bomb. One of the original jurors realized that despite the words of the two suspect government witnesses, who were doing their best to keep themselves out of jail, there was not one shred of written evidence that tied the former congressman to the loan, or any conspiracy involving the loan.
But the resourceful trial judge in that case solved the problem of a potential mistrial by conducting a heavy-handed investigation of potential juror misconduct after just four hours of deliberations. And then that judge decided to toss the lone holdout juror off the case. Despite ample and credible evidence that the lone holdout was the only juror in the room who understood the facts of the case. And the simple principle that an overblown government indictment alleging all sorts of crimes does not constitute evidence.
An appeals court will decide whether the judge did the right thing by tossing the juror, while the former congressman begins serving a ten-year prison term.
The Fattah case was followed by the Dominic Verdi case of last December. In that stinker, the former deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections was acquitted by a jury of every charge in a seven-count indictment that alleged violations of the Hobbs Act by conspiring to commit extortion and honest services fraud.
The Verdi case got bad reviews. The trial judge repeatedly ripped the prosecutor for her lack of time management skills. The judge also pointed out to the jury several cooperating government witnesses who were allegedly part of the big sinister conspiracy with Verdi, but failed to show up in court. Meanwhile, the jury decided that the cooperating witnesses who did testify, including a convicted murderer and a couple of fraudsters who ran a seedy nightclub, had zero credibility.
All of which brings us to the current stinker from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Larry Farnese case. For starters, the casting is all wrong. Unlike his predecessor, Farnese doesn't look like the mastermind of a criminal plot; only a boy scout who got caught rigging the student council election.
Here's what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. The feds years ago began their crusade against politics as usual by taking out a powerhouse state senator accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state senate and a couple of nonprofits. But now the feds are down to attacking his successor on the grounds that he used a $6,000 scholarship to rig an election for ward leader.
An uncontested election settled by acclamation, in a unanimous voice vote. Quite the downward slope. Maybe it's time to call off the crusade? Before we start making federal cases out of office betting pools?
Before Huntington came to the witness stand today, the government in the Farnese case called its star cooperating witness. Theodore Mucellin is a former political consultant who claimed that he was still a friend of Farnese's.
Mucellin explained how Farnese told him he was going to try to find someone else to underwrite the $6,000 donation to pay for study abroad for Chapman's daughter. But if he couldn't find another sponsor, Mucellin told the jury, "We were gonna cut the check."
Mucellin explained to the jury how Chapman supposedly told him, "I have a deal with the senator, and I'm gonna honor it."
On cross-examination, Mucellin said it wasn't unusual for Farnese to come up with money to pay for educational expenses for students in his district. Farnese came from a family of teachers, Mucellin said. And when it came to education, "He cared a great deal about it."
In today's sleep-inducing court proceedings, there was plenty of inside baseball for the jury to ponder. Such as Mucellin telling the jury that his wife worked in the U.S. Attorney's office. And that it was one of his wife's friends in that same U.S. Attorney's office who found him a defense lawyer after the FBI came knocking on his door.
When the feds showed up to question him, Mucellin told the jury, it was just two days before doctors induced his wife into labor; the couple was expecting their first child.
Then, Mucellin received a target letter from the feds, threatening him with jail time. That's when Mucelin became a cooperating witness willing to testify against his old pal, Larry Farnese, in exchange for a government grant of immunity.
A nice and cozy circle, isn't it?
If the judge doesn't grant a motion to dismiss, this sorry spectacle of a federal corruption trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday.