Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve At The Mob Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

"It's New Year's Eve," "Uncle Joe" Ligambi yelled at one of the feds. "What are you doing here? You should be getting ready for tonight's parties."

For a guy stuck in jail on the holidays, the boss of the Philadelphia mob was in surprisingly good spirits today.

The prosecution had wound up its case, and the defense was putting on its witnesses. They included a former car dealer who once sold Uncle Joe a Cadillac, and a gambling expert who tried to show that the people overheard on federal surveillance tapes were actually part of somebody else's bookmaking operation, and not Uncle Joe's.

It was a half-day for the mob trial on New Year's Eve, as the judge and lawyers in the case knocked off early, but not before they talked about scheduling. It looks like the defense will wind up its case on Thursday by calling "Frankie The Fixer" DiGiacomo, a former government witness.

At the first mob trial, DiGiacomo, a South Philly plumber and wannabe wise guy, sounded more like a defense witness last year when he described Uncle Joe and his co-defendants as "good people, great people." Frankie the Fixer also ripped fellow government witness "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello as somebody who "should have been dead a long time ago."

Judge Eduardo Robreno said he expected closing statements on Monday and Tuesday, and then, after the judge delivers his charge on Tuesday afternoon, the case will go to the jury.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Judge Sarmina Declares She's Fallible, Lets Lynn Out Of Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
D.A. compares Msgr. Lynn to this guy
for Bigtrial.net

After declaring "I am fallible," the Hon. M. Teresa Sarmina today announced she would reverse course, and grant bail to Msgr. William J. Lynn.

It was Judge Sarmina who denied Lynn bail twice in 2012, before and after she put him away for three to six years after a jury found the monsignor guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

A three-judge panel of Superior Court appeal judges on Dec. 26th reversed that conviction, saying the "plain language" of the state's original child endangerment statute plainly didn't apply to Lynn. It only applied to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers and guardians, the Superior Court judges said. It did not apply to the monsignor, who never even met the alleged victim in his case. [The state's original 1972 child endangerment law was amended in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.]

The Superior Court judges went one step further, labeling Sarmina's handling of the law in the Lynn case as "fundamentally flawed." So no wonder Judge Sarmina looked like she was sucking on lemons today when she read a legal soliloquy from the bench that basically amounted to: I may have screwed up the case, but I really don't think so; I'm still the trial judge and you're not; and I bet I'm going to be upheld when the state Supreme Court takes this up on appeal.

Meanwhile, not to be upstaged, a representative for District Attorney Seth Williams managed to top their previous high standard for rhetorical excess. Only a few days after filing a motion that suggested the hapless monsignor might be masterminding an international plot to flee the country and escape to the Vatican, Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit, topped that whopper by comparing Lynn's status as a flight risk to Ira Einhorn, AKA the Unicorn.

For those of you too young to remember, Einhorn was the notorious killer hippie who, back in 1981, fled the country on the eve of his murder trial in Philadelphia.

So the D.A. was comparing Lynn, the celibate priest and ultimate company man, to the free-loving, freewheeling hippie sociopath who clubbed his girlfriend to death and stuffed her mummified corpse into a steamer trunk he kept next to his bed for 18 months. Nice.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

District Attorney Says Msgr. Lynn Is A "Flight Risk"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is asking Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to deny bail to Msgr. William J. Lynn, on the basis that Lynn is a "flight risk" who may seek refuge in the Vatican.

A panel of three Superior Court judges on Dec. 26th reversed Lynn's "historic" 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and said that the monsignor should be "discharged forthwith." But the D.A. isn't going along with the higher court's opinion at a bail hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday before Judge Sarmina.

Lynn was labeled a "flight risk" in a six-page answer to a petition for a bail hearing filed by Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit. The monsignor is a "high ranking official [in] a worldwide organization, the Roman Catholic Church, that has both diplomatic and non-diplomatic facilities in many nations," Burns wrote.

The evidence presented at Lynn's trial "established that numerous individuals within that organization are closely associated with [Lynn] and may be willing to improperly assist him out of personal interest without proper sanction," Burns wrote.

In response, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, said, "The whole thing is idiotic. These guys [in the district attorney's office] are the most unprofessional lawyers I've ever run across in my life. They simply ignore the law and they're gonna continue to do it. But that [Superior Court] order applies to them as well."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Judge Sarmina To Decide Whether Msgr. Lynn Gets Out Of Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The state Superior Court has reversed the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, saying he never should have been charged in the first place with the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

But whether Lynn gets out of jail is up to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, the trial court judge who put Lynn away, and whose prior rulings in the case have been described by a panel of three Superior Court judges as "fundamentally flawed."

At 10 a.m. Monday, Judge Sarmina will convene a bail hearing to determine whether Msgr. Lynn gets out of jail. The hearing will be held in Courtroom 507 of the Criminal Justice Center. Several members of District Attorney Seth Williams' office are expected to attend, and argue that the monsignor deserves to stay in jail for months or years while the D.A. appeals the Superior Court opinion.

For Msgr. Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, this doesn't make much sense.

"The Superior Court has said he [Lynn] should be discharged forthwith, so I don’t think that requires any interpretation," Bergstrom said. "Seems to me she [Judge Sarmina] has to do exactly what they’ve ordered," Bergstrom said, referring to the panel of three Superior Court judges that reversed Lynn's conviction.

In the past, however, Judge Sarmina, has not exactly been impartial, or merciful, when it comes to Msgr. Lynn.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Superior Court Reverses Msgr. Lynn's "Historic" Conviction

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania today reversed the landmark conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

The court said the "plain language" of the state's 1972 child endangerment law required that Lynn had to be "a supervisor of an endangered child victim" in order to be convicted of the third-degree felony of endangering the welfare of a child. Lynn, however, never even met Billy Doe, the former 10-year-old altar boy who was the alleged victim in the case.

In a unanimous 43-page opinion by a panel of three judges, the Superior Court said Judge M. Teresa Sarmina's decision to allow the conviction of Lynn under the state's original child endangerment law was "fundamentally flawed."

"It's just absolutely wonderful," said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's defense lawyer. "This whole prosecution was totally dishonest from day one," Bergstrom said of District Attorney Seth Williams and his staff. "They had to know that that statute didn't apply to Lynn. And their attempt to justify it just doesn't wash."

"The tragedy of this is Lynn should have never been prosecuted," Bergstrom said. "He's been sitting in jail 18 months for a crime he couldn't possibly commit as a matter of law."

"Now, we're working on getting him [Lynn] out of jail," Bergstrom said. "We're looking for a judge to vacate the sentence. The warden needs more than just our assurances" to let the monsignor out of jail.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Key Question For Mob Trial Jury As The Government Wraps Up

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The question went to the heart of the case against mob boss Joe Ligambi.

After verbally sparring with an FBI undercover agent over a $25,000 cash payment by Anthony Staino that was either a loanshark transaction or an investment in an illegal (and ficticious) money-laundering scheme set up by the FBI, Edwin Jacobs Jr. asked, "What does Joe Ligambi have to do with that?"

That's the question, applied on several different levels, that Jacobs hopes the jury in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi takes with it when deliberations begin sometime next month.

Absent a smoking gun (literally and figuratively), the prosecution has built the racketeering conspiracy charge against Ligambi around the criminal activities of other mobsters. Some examples  -- a sports betting operation run by Gary Battaglini for mob leader Steven Mazzone; the loansharking/extortion gambit for which Staino was convicted in the first trial earlier this year, and the operation of a video poker machine company (JMA) by Staino.

The prosecution says they support the conspiracy charge; that Ligambi as mob boss approved of and benefitted from the crimes committed by his underlings. The defense says the evidence, weak and circumstantial, does not tie Ligambi, 74, to the allegations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Galati Switches Lawyers, Mob Trial Stalled

 By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi was temporarily derailed this afternoon by a Philadelphia Daily News story about mob associate Ron Galati.

Meanwhile speculation mounted that the South Philadelphia auto-body shop operator may be considering cooperating with authorities.

Galati, 63, abruptly replaced Joseph Santaguida as his attorney today with Anthony Voci, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant District Attorney. Santaguida said he was informed of the change in a telephone conversation with Galati's son this afternoon. Santaguida had met with Galati at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility this morning.

"He didn't say anything (about changing attorneys)," Santaguida said. "Then I heard from his son."

Santaguida said he wouldn't speculate about the change. Galati is scheduled for a bail hearing on Monday. Several observers say that if he is granted bail -- which was considered unlikely at the time of his arrest -- it could be a sign that he has cut a deal with the District Attorney's Office or is in the process of doing so.

Voci, who left the DA's Office in 2006, said that "any suggestion that my client is contemplating cooperating is absolutely not true." He said he is focused on the bail issue and getting his client home for the holidays.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mob Associate Jailed In Murder For Hire Case

Mob lawyer seeks bail for wannabe wiseguy
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Here we go again.

Last year it was  mobster Anthony Nicodemo, arrested for allegedly carrying out a gangland hit while mob boss Joe Ligambi was on trial in U.S. District Court.

This year it's Ronald Galati, a notorious wannabe wiseguy. Galati, whose name surfaced during the testimony of Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello two weeks ago in the ongoing Ligambi retrial, was arrested Saturday for allegedly hiring a hit man (or men?) to knock off a witness in a pending insurance fraud investigation in which he is the principal target.

Galati, 63, who owns an auto body shop in South Philadelphia, has been in this situation before. The question being asked in law enforcement and underworld circles is whether the fast-talking mob associate, who was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for insurance fraud back in 1995, is ready to roll the dice in a case that could land him in state prison for the next 15 years?

The retrial of Ligambi and his co-defendant and nephew George Borgesi resumes this morning before Judge Eduardo Robreno. The case could go to the jury early in January. But there are those who believe the racketeering conspiracy charge the defendants are currently fighting could be the least of their problems if Galati rolls.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Flushing Out An FBI Sting Operation

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

On the FBI surveillance tape played in court, the jury heard the gurgling sounds of men standing at urinals.

In the men's room of the Chop House Restaurant in Gibbsboro, N.J., a tipsy mobster named Anthony Staino was overhead warning a sleazy financial planner named "Dino" what would happen if he didn't repay a $25,000 mob loan with the astronomically high interest rate of 144 percent.

"If you fuck with me, you know what's gonna happen, right?" Staino was overheard telling Dino amid the sounds of flushing urinals. "Don't fuck with me."

 Dino's real name was David Sebastiani; he's a certified public accountant and an undercover FBI agent. And while he was standing at the urinal in 2004, Dino was wearing a wire that not only recorded the watery sounds of the men's room, but also a successful FBI sting operation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Family Is A Distraction At Mob Trial

 By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

For more than a month family members of mob boss Joe Ligambi and of his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi have sat in the second row behind the defense table at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of the two South Philadelphia wiseguys.

Today, as the trial resumed after a five-day break, that row was empty.

Following a highly publicized flap on Friday over possible jury intimidation, the families of the two men opted not to attend the trial today and for the foreseeable future, according to one defense attorney.

"The government and the press were making them into a distraction," said Christopher Warren, Borgesi's lawyer, during a break in today's session. "They (the family members) have voluntarily decided to absent themselves from the proceedings."


Vince Fumo Finally A Winner In Court

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Vince Fumo finally walked out of court a winner.

The former Pennsylvania state senator won a case in New Jersey Superior Court on Tuesday Dec. 10th in Atlantic County when a judge denied a $73,000 claim against Fumo brought by Mitchell Rubin. He's a former Fumo political ally and the husband of Ruth Arnao, Fumo's co-defendant at his 2009 federal corruption trial.

It's a tale of three former political buddies who went in on a condo development down the shore a decade ago and then wound up suing each other after everybody got convicted by the feds and had a bitter falling out.

Fumo built the five-unit development located at 6601 Mommouth Avenue in Ventnor on land his mother bought back in the 1960s for $1,800. He rented the units out before he converted them into condos, and sold one unit to Rubin in 2003, for $135,000.

Rubin filed suit in 2011, claiming he was owed as much as $174,000 for money he had allegedly spent on improvements that included rebuilding decks and docks. The cased was tried on Oct. 15th and 16th before Judge Michael Winkelstein.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Newspaper Guild Complains About Meddling, Standing Ovation

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

After a judge ordered his immediate reinstatement on Nov. 22nd, Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow made a triumphant return to the newsroom, where he was greeted by a standing ovation from staffers.

Now, the union that represents those staffers, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, is complaining that the standing ovation wasn't  a spontaneous event.

In a Dec. 7th email to Chris Bonanducci, vice president of human resources, Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, wrote, "when Bill Marimow's return to the newsroom was announced, [Inquirer City Editor] Nancy Phillips went around the newsroom telling employees to give him a standing ovation."

"Some members were uncomfortable with this request, which of course seemed like an order when asked by the city editor," Ross wrote. "Others have asked about her credibility after she admitted concocting a cover story about Marimow's rehire during her testimony in the recent court case."

"As you might imagine, people are fearful for reprisal or punishment so I am not attaching any members names to this," Ross wrote, "but I thought you should know what is out there, while also trying to help avoid anyone feeling like they are working in a hostile environment."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mob Trial Recesses For Five Days

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The anonymously chosen jury in the conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi headed home this afternoon for a five-day break.

There will be no trial Monday through Wednesday to accommodate judicial scheduling issues. The trial is set to resume on Thursday. 

For all intents and purposes the prosecution has wrapped up its case against Borgesi, 50, who faces only a racketeering conspiracy charge.

The jury this week heard crucial testimony from two mob informants who tied the volatile South Philadelphia mobster to ongoing organized crime activities while Borgesi was in prison following a conviction in an unrelated racketeering case in 2001.

Anthony Aponick, 43, a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Viriginia, completed his testimony this morning with a brief cross-examination by Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr.

Aponick first took the stand on Wednesday. His testimony largely corroborated the story told by Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello who testified before him. Monacello, 47, has been described as Borgesi's "point man" in gambling and loansharking operations.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Meddling In Inky Newsroom

Hands-On Inky Owner Lewis Katz
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

At The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, owner Lewis Katz raised eyebrows by sitting in on a morning news meeting attended by at least 10 editors. Katz, according to two sources, discussed a story that ran in that morning's paper about the surprise resignation of Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, the company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

Owners don't usually attend news meetings. Katz, however, has asserted previously in court that he has an "open door" to visit the Inky newsroom whenever he wants.

And Katz doesn't have to stop by the newsroom to influence news coverage. Last week, an Inky obit writer was informed by a funeral director that Katz had personally Ok'd an obituary to run in the paper; the funeral director claimed that Katz was a "personal friend" of a relative of the deceased. The obituary was for the father of actress and Philadelphia native Kim Delaney. The obit writer, concerned about editorial interference, reported the incident to the Newspaper Guild.

Both incidents occurred at a newspaper where all six new owners, including Katz, made a public pledge not to meddle in editorial operations. The same owners who are busy suing each other over allegations of past meddling, by recently filing three appeal briefs in Superior Court over a period of nine days.


Words And Meanings Argued At Mob Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

What was said in a taped telephone conversation or written in the letter or Christmas card was not in dispute.

But what the words meant was the focus of nearly four hours of cross-examination today as mob informant Anthony Aponick, 43, spent a second day on the witness stand in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of George Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss Joseph Ligambi.

Aponick, a New York mob associate who was Borgesi's cellmate in a federal prison in Virginia for parts of 2002 and 2003, clashed repeatedly with Christopher Warren, Borgesi's defense attorney.

Warren, trying to underscore in the jury's mind that much of what Aponick has testified to is uncorroborated, came back again and again to a simple query.

"We just have to take your word?" the lawyer asked.

"It's the truth," Aponick responded.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Witness Puts Price Tag On Mob Membership

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

An outsider can buy his way into the Philadelphia mob for $10,000.


That, at least, is what New York mob informant Anthony Aponick said he was asked to cough up to George Borgesi while they were cellmates in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2003.

"He said I would become a member of his crew," said Aponick as he testified today at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss Joe Ligambi. "He wanted $10,000."

The membership fee was just 10 percent of what Boston mobster Bobby Luisi said he had to pay Joey Merlino back in the late 1990s to become a made member of the organization. Whether that was a reflection of an economic downturn in the underworld or whether Aponick was getting a special discount could not be determined. Like Aponick, Luisi became a close associate of Borgesi's. And like Aponick, he eventually became an FBI informant.

Aponick said his dealings with Borgesi also came with an ominous warning.

"Listen, no matter what, don't fuck me," he said Borgesi told him as Aponick was about to be released from prison in 2003. "If you fuck me, I'll kill you and your whole family."

Aponick, who was already cooperating with the FBI by that time, disregarded the warning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mob Trial Descends Into Soap Opera

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Bent Finger Lou was looking at a picture from happier times.

There he was, posing for a snapshot between two smiling women. One was George Borgesi's mother, Manny; the other was Borgesi's wife, Alyson.

"We were all friends," Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello admitted from the witness stand. That was before Monacello became a cooperating witness for the government in the case against Borgesi, the alleged mob capo, and his uncle, Joe Ligambi, the alleged boss of the Philly mob.

Monacello had the most difficult time talking about Borgesi's mother. "I always thought Manny was the only sincere one through the whole process," he testified.

But a few minutes later, Monacello was ripping George's younger brother, Anthony, as someone who was so jealous of Bent Finger Lou's favored position in the crime family that he was "constantly looking to stab me in the back."

While Monacello was teeing off on Anthony Borgesi, "Ant" was sitting right there in the courtroom soaking it up. Manny Borgesi draped a protective arm around her youngest son's muscular shoulders as Bent Finger Lou piled on the abuse.

Christopher Warren, George Borgesi's lawyer, used cross-examination to delve into such pressing legal issues as how Monacello used to date one of Anthony Borgesi's old girlfriends, and how Bent Finger Lou's ex-wife cut Anthony Borgesi's hair. Isn't this whole mob feud really just some bullshit over women, Warren asked.

Women had nothing to do with it, Monacello said. It might be bullshit, but "this bullshit could cause a serious problem," said Bent Finger Lou.  He was staring at Anthony Borgesi when he said it.

It was that kind of a day at the mob trial, as the cross-examination of Bent Finger Lou descended into soap opera, petty gangland feuds, and plenty of name-calling. Why was Uncle Joe pissed at the Geator with the Heater? Did George Borgesi really bite Fat Angelo Lutz on the forehead? And why did Bent Finger Lou label one government witness "a nut case" and another government witness "a mental misfit?"

"This is hysterical," Manny Borgesi was overhead saying. Better than court TV or any reality show, spectators agreed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Life And Times Of Bent Finger Lou

Bent Finger Lou (right) with Frankie the Fixer
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello didn't deny that he was cheating on his first wife.

But the mob associate said his business partner, Jack Palermo, was out of line when he told Monacello's wife about it. So he pistol-whipped him, hitting him over the head with the butt of a  revolver.

And when another associate lied about $50,000 in gambling debts that he had secretly run up on Monacello, the martial arts trained wiseguy said he "gave him a little kick in the head."

He also acknowledged that he coached three other associates to lie to a Delaware County grand jury that was investigating him in 2008. And that he once told another deadbeat gambler that if he didn't come up with the money he owed, he would be "dead."

Monacello, testifying for the third day in the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, spent most of his time on the witness stand today in a verbal sparring match with Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. What emerged was the life and times of Bent Finger Lou, tales of assaults with baseball bats, kicks in the head, gambling debts, extortions and shakedowns.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How To Meddle In a Meddle-Proof Newsroom

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The new owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer have made a public pledge not to interfere in the editorial operations of the newspaper.

Last week, however, owners, editors, and publishers of the Inquirer were placed under oath in Courtroom 630 at City Hall, and asked to explain what that pledge really meant.

To editor Bill Marimow, it meant that although Publisher Bob Hall had basically accused him of being a racist and a sexist, there was no need to worry, because under the new regime, the two principal owners had to be in agreement to fire him.

To Nancy Phillips, the Inquirer city editor and girlfriend of owner Lewis Katz, the pledge was carefully constructed so that it didn't apply to important decisions -- like hiring the editor of the Inquirer-- because that was a business decision rather than an editorial decision.

To owner Lew Katz, that non-interference pledge didn't put a wall up around the newsroom; instead the pledge amounted to an open door. Katz explained on the witness stand that he had the right to show up in the newsroom whenever he wanted to. And when it came to hiring and firing any editor in the newsroom, Katz had a "blocking right."

Welcome to Courtroom 630, where the Inky's much-publicized non-interference pledge was revealed to be a license to meddle. And where we learned that two award-winning journalists conspired to spin a story to conceal that meddling.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Witness Depicts Uncle Joe's Dysfunctional Mob Family

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

To hear Louie Monacello tell it, his 20 years of dealing with the Philadelphia mob were part Godfather and part Family Feud.

On the witness stand for a second day in the racketeering retrial of mob boss "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and Ligambi's nephew George Borgesi, Monacello continued to offer the jury a picture of organized crime built around fear, violence, threats and extortion.

But he also spent much of today deconstructing the Ligambi-Borgesi relationship, portraying the gangsters as part of a dysfunctional family where greed and power trumped bloodlines and loyalty.

"Don't be fooled," he told the jury. "Him and his uncle were always at odds. They can't stand each other."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Judge Reinstates Inquirer Editor

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney today granted an injunction to immediately reinstate Bill Marimow as editor of the Inquirer.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Marimow returned to the newsroom on Market Street where he was fired Oct. 7 by Publisher Bob Hall. The editor was greeted by a standing ovation from staffers. He made no speeches, but walked around shaking hands and accepting congratulations.

Condolences may have been more appropriate. Marimow is returning to a hostile work environment at what may be the most dysfunctional newspaper in America. Just last week, the judge granted a separate injunction to reinstate Publisher Hall, so now he and Marimow can resume their daily wrestling over who's in control of the Inky newsroom.

Both Hall and Marimow are lame ducks. Hall was reinstated by the judge until Dec. 31; Marimow's contract expires April 30th.

So welcome back, Bill. The publisher who fired you last month is still here. He'll be watching your every move. So will George Norcross, who heads up the majority slate of owners, and who's already said that hiring you was the biggest mistake he ever made.

Have a nice day.


Bent Finger Lou Back On The Stand

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net
Bent Finger Lou

Now it's personal.

When Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello took the witness stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi, the tone of the three-week-old trial shifted.

This was no longer an expert gambling witness or a beleaguered bar owner with a poker machine or an FBI agent interpreting secretly recorded conversations. This was Borgesi's one-time friend and, if the government is to believed, his chief partner in crime.

Monacello and Borgesi go back 30 years. They know a lot about one another. And much of it will get laid out for the jury. As he did at the first trial, Monacello, 47, began to paint a verbal portrait of his underworld involvement with both defendants.

It's not a pretty picture.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mob Jury Gets A History Lesson

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It was Mob History 101, a primer on the wantonly violent and consistently treacherous Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra.

Jurors in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi got nearly four hours of the murderous and mundane today as the trial entered its third week. With mob expert and former FBI agent Joaquin "Big Jack" Garcia on the stand and Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., conducting a lengthy and detailed cross-examination, the anonymously chosen jury took a trip down a bloody memory lane.

Some highlights (or lowlights depending on your point of view):

-- Mob boss Angelo Bruno was shotgunned to death in March 1980, a hit that destabilized the once smoothly run organization. Bruno's consigliere, Antonio "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, was behind the murder of the so-called Docile Don and thought he had the approval of the New York-based Mafia Commission. He didn't. On that, Garcia and Jacobs agreed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inky Owners Unable To Strike A Deal

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

After more than three hours of fruitless back room negotiations, a clearly frustrated Judge Patricia McInerney emerged from her chambers this afternoon to tell spectators that settlement talks in the war over The Philadelphia Inquirer weren't going anywhere.

The judge said she appreciated "everybody's hard work," but unfortunately, nothing was resolved, she said. "Unfortunately, we'll be coming back" for more testimony.

At issue was whether the judge would grant an injunction to reinstate fired Inky Editor Bill Marimow. Lawyers for Inky owners Lewis Katz argued today in court that Katz was denied his rights as a member of a management committee overseeing the daily operations of the newspaper when he wasn't consulted on the firing of Marimow. Katz's lawyers also contended that if Marimow wasn't returned to his editor's chair, the Inquirer would be irreparably harmed.

Defense lawyers for George Norcross, another Inky owner, rested their case today without calling any witnesses. Norcross's lawyers concluded the Katz team hadn't met their burden of proof. The Norcross team has argued that Publisher Bob Hall, clearly on the Norcross side in the ownership war, had the right to can Marimow. They also pointed out that the Inquirer kept on publishing during Marimow's absence, and even won a recent international award for front page newspaper design.

The settlement talks were hard to decipher, as the feuding owners and their dueling teams of lawyers kept shuttling in and out of the courtroom, and in and out of the judge's chambers for private confabs, when they weren't caucusing out in the hallway.

Lawyers were seen carrying around copies of a document with the heading, "Agreement," but apparently it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

If body language is any guide, Norcross was smiling and looking upbeat all day while Katz looked grim, and at one point, was overheard telling his lawyers, "I don't want to go back there" again, referring to the judge's chambers. If there was a lone holdout, the betting in the peanut gallery was on Katz.


A Mob Toast For "All The Good Guys"

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

They ate and drank and laughed and joked.

They offered a toast to "all the good guys!"

And, the prosecution contends, they discussed mob business.

The jury in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi got to listen in today to secretly recorded conversations from a four-hour lunch Ligambi shared with nine other mobsters at a posh New Jersey restaurant in May 2010.

The defense has portrayed the session as a "social" gathering. Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, calls it a "meeting of the board of directors of organized crime."

The conspiracy charge that Ligambi, 74, is fighting, could hinge on which version the anonymously chosen jury decides is accurate.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nap Time At The Mob Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

At the mob trial on a slow Friday afternoon, only a dozen spectators showed up to watch a dull rerun.

Most were students who stopped by briefly and left.

The afternoon's witnesses included two subdued bar owners who testified about illegal gambling in South Philly, and a state trooper who raided 22 South Philly businesses and confiscated a bunch of Dodge City video poker machines.

At the defense table, a dapper "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, alleged boss of the Philadelphia mob, passed a note to his nephew, George Borgesi, and Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren.

Georgie Boy smirked behind his glasses; Warren laughed.

Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, are on trial for racketeering conspiracy. It's a leftover charge from a broader racketeering case that ended in February when both defendants were acquitted of most of the charges against them. 

Only a couple of veteran trial watchers bothered to stop by to catch the rerun. One gave the show a bad review.

"How can you have a mob trial with no murders, no violence, and no money," said Walter, before returning to his seat.

Worse yet, there were no mobsters in the cheap seats, or mobster wives or relatives around to provide some local color. The media had also taken a holiday.

How much worse can it get for the local mob if they put the godfather on trial and it's so boring nobody cares?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Inky Ownership Fight Tarnishing Brand

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

For The Philadelphia Inquirer, it's all coming apart in Courtroom 630.

The combatants don't seem to have any self-awareness about how they're hurting themselves or tarnishing the  brand they're fighting over.

So far this week, we've been treated to the spectacle of an award-winning investigative reporter and an editor with two Pulitzer Prizes getting together to concoct a phony cover story about which company official supposedly hired that editor.

We've seen a pledge taken by the new owners not to meddle in editorial operations revealed as a cheap PR trick. The truth is, the new owners are having a competition to see who can meddle the most in the newsroom. But first, they have to declare that every decision, such as hiring a new editor,  is a business decision rather than an editorial decision. Then they can dispense with that worthless non-interference pledge and meddle to their hearts' content.

Today in Courtroom 630, we saw a lawyer for a fired editor toss some dirty newsroom linen at a lame duck publisher, the kind of dirty linen that libel lawyers can only dream about. All in the name of victory.

What a mess. See that building in the picture above, formerly known as the Ivory Tower of Truth? Like a grand dame down on her luck, the Inky has vacated her ancestral home, and now she's holed up in a vacant old department store on Market Street. The value of the city's paper of record has dropped in just six years from $515 million to $55 million. When they get through in Courtroom 630, it might be time for a flea market.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Judge Reinstates Inky Publisher, But Not Inky Editor

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net
George Norcross (center)

Judge Patricia McInerney today denied a motion for a mandatory injunction that would have fired Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall. She took under advisement a request for another mandatory injunction that would have reinstated Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow.

The judge's rulings left Hall, the guy who fired Marimow, still in office while Marimow remains in a state of suspended animation. It was a victory for George Norcross, the South Jersey political boss who heads up a majority slate of new Inky owners. And it was a defeat for Lewis Katz, former owner of the New York Nets, who heads up a minority group of owners.

A lawsuit filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court claimed there had never been a "mutual agreement to further renew" publisher Hall's contract past an expiration date of Aug. 31. The rehiring of Hall had to be approved by a two-member management committee consisting of Norcross and Katz, the Katz lawsuit said.

Lewis Katz (center), with Nancy Phillips and son Drew
"Lewis Katz did not approve, and under no circumstances would Lewis Katz have approved, the renewal of Hall's contract of employment for any period of time after its expiration on Sept. 1, 2013," the lawsuit said. The timing was critical, as the Katz lawsuit alleged that Hall was working without a contract when he fired Marimow on Oct. 7.

Katz's case fell apart in court today after lawyers for Norcross entered into evidence a May 17th email exchange between Katz and Hall that stated Katz had agreed to retain Hall as publisher until Dec. 31.

The judge decided there was "no clear right to remove" Hall, said David H. Pittinsky of Ballard Spahr, a lawyer who represented Hall. The attempt "to oust [Hall] has now been rejected by the court," Pittinsky said. He declined comment on the status of Marimow.

Richard A. Sprague, the lead lawyer for Katz, left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Katz left early. Marimow declined comment, saying he didn't want to talk until the case was all over.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Pledge And A Couple Of Pulitzers

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The way Lewis Katz explained it on the witness stand, the men who wanted to buy the Inquirer had a credibility problem.

At the time, the proposed new ownership group included former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, South Jersey political boss George Norcross, and Katz, himself a former Democratic party chairman from Cherry Hill.

The news media was raising lots of questions about the "strong political leanings" of the group, and whether those leanings would dictate editorial policy, Katz said. The reporters at the Inquirer were also uneasy over the prospect of becoming more of a house organ for the Democratic party than they already were. So what to do?

Katz divulged the winning formula, which he borrowed from  the playbook of former Inky publisher Brian Tierney. First, Katz said, they had to go get "the best editor they could find," somebody whose mere name [or trophy case] would "remove the stigma" that a bunch of political hacks had just bought the Inky. The goal was "to bring in somebody who was beyond repute," Katz said.

Next, they had to come up with a pledge for all the new owners to take, a solemn oath not to meddle with the sacred editorial operations of the Inky, Daily News and philly.com. The pledge and an editor with a couple of Pulitzers was just the ticket to "calm the storm in the news media," Katz said.


The Reporter Who Hired Her Own Editor

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

On April 1, 2012, ace reporter Nancy Phillips was writing about what it would take to bring Bill Marimow back as editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"His proposed terms," Phillips wrote, are "a salary comparable to what he was being paid when he left: $257,000. He says he is prepared to immediately announce that he was volunteering to cut his pay by 20 percent as a gesture to set the tone for concessions and cutbacks from others in management as well as the unions ..."

Phillips, however, wasn't writing for the news columns of Philadelphia's paper of record. On this assignment, she was reporting directly by email to Lewis Katz and George Norcross, the new owners of the Inquirer, on her negotiations to bring back Marimow.

When Phillips got through arranging the rehiring of Marimow, she went to work on bringing back Brian Tierney, the Inky's former publisher, as a sales consultant, and Mark Frisby, a former Tierney lieutenant, as a senior vice president in charge of production. She did all this while she was just a reporter in the Inky newsroom, and a member of the Newspaper Guild, rather than management.

Last year, however, all of these folks were playing on the same team. Now, Katz and Norcross are in court fighting each other over the firing of Marimow. Tierney has been fired; Frisby is no longer around. And Phillips's extraordinary role as a head hunter may be recast by Norcross's lawyers as meddling on behalf of her longtime companion, Lewis Katz.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Saga Of Nicky Skins Continues

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Pete the Crumb Caprio was a no-show this morning at the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi.
Nicky Skins

The 84-year-old mobster-turned-informant reportedly tripped, fell and broke his knee while on his way to a safe house after testifying Thursday. Caprio, who was offering the jury a history lesson on the Philadelphia mob, is expected to be recalled as a witness once he recovers.

Prosecutors hoped the testimony of the admitted murderer would establish the fact that Ligambi and Borgesi were leaders of the Philadelphia crime family, a key element in the racketeering conspiracy charge they are facing.

Caprio was a longtime member of the organization and a member of a crew based in Newark. He was a soldier and later a capo. In testimony at previous trials, he has admitted that he plotted to kill Ligambi, Borgesi and another Philadelphia mob leader in the late 1990s with the idea of taking over the family.

Before that could happen, Caprio was indicted on unrelated murder and racketeering charges. He then cut a deal with the government to cooperate.

Changing gears with Caprio on the shelf, the prosecution today began setting the stage for the jury to hear from another North Jersey mob figure although he won't be on the witness stand. Just as they did in the first trial that ended in February, prosecutors plan to play a tape made by Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli, the Gambino crime family soldier who wore a wire for the FBI for two years. Stefanelli, 69, committed suicide in March 2012, but tapes that he made for the feds live on.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pete The Crumb Talks Murder And Mob History

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

He was described by the defense as an 84-year-old Mafia hitman with a faulty memory, a mobster who had murdered so often "he couldn't remember how many people he had killed."

But when he took the stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy trial of crime boss Joe Ligambi and wiseguy George Borgesi, Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio rattled off the how, when and why of a series of hits that are part of his organized crime resume.

Thin, balding and hard of hearing, Caprio was the leadoff witness for the prosecution in the retrial of the two Philadelphia mob leaders. Dressed in a blue V-neck sweater over a shirt and tie, Caprio spent 90 minutes on the stand at the end of the trial day. He is due back when the trial resumes next Tuesday.

"Shoot him again to make sure he's dead," Caprio said matter-of-factly as he recounted the instructions he gave to an associate during the 1975 slaying of a mob associate known as Butchie whose remains were dropped in a shallow grave in the basement of a Newark social club and then covered with cement.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Borgesis Rant On The Eve Of Trial Rerun

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It could be a packed house for what basically amounts to a rerun.

Friends and family members of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi, are expected to fill the small, 15th floor courtroom tomorrow for opening statements in the retrial of the two South Philadelphia wiseguys.

Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, are facing a racketeering conspiracy charge, a leftover from a broader racketeering case that ended in February with both defendants acquitted of most of the charges they faced. Borgesi beat 13 of the 14 counts and Ligambi was acquitted of five of  nine.

The turnout in U.S. District Court at 6th and Market is expected to be a public showing of support for the two gangsters who have been held without bail since an indictment was handed down in May 2011. It also comes on the heels of a blistering attack by Borgesi's family in the Philadelphia Daily News last week in which they charged that George Borgesi was the victim of a government vendetta.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tierney's Sales Work "Considerably Below Expectations"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Brian Tierney's performance as a sales consultant was "considerably below expectations," according to a confidential management analysis that preceded his firing.

In February, former Inky publisher Tierney began negotiating a deal to launch a national advertising campaign on behalf of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and philly.com. He was to be paid a salary of $25,000 a month, or 10 percent of the revenues he generated, whichever was higher.

The contract took effect in April, when, according to confidential records, Tierney was paid a partial month's salary of $12,500, and brought in zero revenues.

In May, according to the records, Tierney was paid $25,000 in salary and brought in zero revenues.

In June, according to the records, he was paid $25,000 in salary and brought in in zero revenues.

In July, according to the records, he was paid $25,000, and brought in zero revenues.

Anyone see a problem?

"After four months of zeroes, somebody should have said, 'What's going on here,' " said Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia.

"When Brian was the publisher and he had a sales rep who brought in zero revenues after four months, I'm pretty sure he would have wanted to terminate him," Ross said.  "Why he (Tierney) was allowed to get away with such an outrageous deal is offensive and disgusting to me and my membership."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joe Vito Mastronardo, Gentleman Gambler, Heads To Court

Joe Vito
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The numbers are staggering.

More than $1.3 million in cash seized at his home in the Meadowbrook section of Huntingdon Valley, including $1.1 million stashed in PVC pipes buried in the back yard.

Another $1.7 million in bank accounts frozen by the feds, part of a seizure action that totals more than $6.3 million.

And a money trail of wire transfers in excess of $3.2 million to financial institutions in Sweden, Malta, Antiqua and Portugal.

That's the financial picture painted by federal prosecutors in the case against "Gentleman Gambler" Joe Vito Mastronardo Jr. and 15 co-defendants, including his wife, his son and his brother.

"At its peak, the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization had over 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars of betting activity in a year," an indictment now pending in U.S. District Court alleges.

But that's just part of the story.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

At The Inky, The Sideshow Continues

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

It was just another day at the Inky.

The associate publisher jumped out the window.

A lawyer for one group of rival owners, at the cost of at least $400 an hour, was trying to figure out who was responsible for putting Brian Tierney out to pasture.

Meanwhile, the other group of owners was offering $29 million to buy the other side out.

Is this any way to run a company?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Inky Fires Brian Tierney

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

What a difference a day makes. On Monday, this blog reported The Philadelphia Inquirer was paying former publisher Brian Tierney $25,000 a month to run a national advertising campaign that flopped. Today, according to two sources, the newspaper fired Tierney.

Tierney was the former Inky publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, the firm that bought the Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com for $515 million in 2006, and then went bankrupt three years later. After the two newspapers and the website were sold at an auction to creditors, Tierney stepped down in 2010 as publisher and CEO. He returned this year to direct a national sales campaign.

Tierney, who did not respond to Bigtrial's request for comment, had plenty to say about his departure to reporter Tom Fitzgerald of the Inquirer. Tierney called the loss of his consulting job "collateral damage of institutional fighting."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Inky Owners Square Off Over Bringing Back Brian Tierney

He's back!
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Things are going so bad at The Philadelphia Inquirer that one side in the current ownership dispute wants to bring back Brian Tierney as publisher.

The other side says, no freaking way. So now they have something new to fight about. The two ownership factions were slugging it out in court this morning over the fate of recently fired Inky editor Bill Marimow. One side wants to bring Marimow back as editor; the other side wants the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner to rest on his laurels.

Tierney, who left the Inky in 2010, has been seen around the newspaper in recent months. When asked what he was up to, Tierney reportedly said the new owners needed his help. He's been hired, at $25,000 a month, to work on a national sales campaign. So far, according to a source, the campaign has turned out to be a flop.

The current Inky publisher, Bob Hall, is a part-timer who was supposed to step down in August. Rumors began circulating that Tierney would return as Hall's replacement. Against this backdrop one faction in the Inky ownership dispute, Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest were asked two weeks ago during a meeting with the leadership of the Newspaper Guild Of Greater Philadelphia if the Tierney rumors were true. According to Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, Lenfest responded, what would be so bad about that?

Plenty, according to Ross, who filled him in. Later that day, the Newspaper Guild also met with George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey who heads up the rival Inky ownership faction. When asked about the return of Tierney, Norcross's response, according to Ross, was, Over my dead body and the dead body of my daughter will Tierney ever come back as publisher.

Norcross's daughter, Lexie, 25, runs the philly.com website.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Owners Brawl Over Inky

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The new owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer may put out a boring newspaper, but they sure know how to stage an entertaining brawl.

Maybe it's time to outfit the new Inky newsroom in the old Strawbridge building with TV cameras, and turn the battle over the city's comatose paper of record into a reality TV series.

Nancy Phillips and Lexie Norcross would look great on camera as the faces of the two rival ownership factions slugging it out every day in the newsroom. It would be far more interesting than having to read the paper of record.

Meanwhile, in Common Pleas Court this morning, a couple of battling owners, Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gentleman Gerry" Lenfest, showed up to demonstrate their support for fired Inky Editor Bill Marimow, who's hired his own lawyer because he's tired of getting "smeared" by the mudslinging.

George Norcross, the rival owner presumably behind the firing and alleged smearing of Marimow, let his lawyers do the talking, as he was nowhere in sight.

Who will win the slugfest? On one side, we have Katz, who made a fortune in parking, banking and billboards and used to own the New Jersey Nets, and his longtime companion, Nancy Phillips. She's a 40-something former investigative reporter who considers Marimow her mentor and is now the city editor of the Inquirer. The joke around the Inky newsroom was that after Katz bought the paper, it was Nancy who hired Marimow as editor.

On the other side, it's George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and his daughter, Lexie. She's the 25-year-old VP of digital operations and corporate services who runs philly.com., the free website that prefers trashy stories about Miley Cyrus and Jenna Jameson to dull Inky investigative stories and editorials. It's the Norcross faction that wants to put Marimow out to pasture. The former editor of the Inquirer may be a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, but to the Norcross faction, he's a print dinosaur stuck in a 1970s tarpit.

One veteran political handicapper who knows all the players says his money's on Norcross, because he's the better in-fighter. "This is not his kind of battle," the handicapper said of Katz. "This is over pussy and bullshit, not money."


Why Did The D.A. Wait Eight Months To Arrest Father Brennan?

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

There's an unexplained mystery in the arrest of Father Robert L. Brennan.

The alleged victim in the case came forward in January 2013 to charge that between 1998 and 2001, when he was 11 to 14 years old, he was an altar boy sexually assaulted by Father Brennan. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia immediately reported the allegation to the district attorney's office. Yet, District Attorney Seth Williams waited eight months to arrest Father Brennan on Sept. 25th.

Yesterday, Brennan's lawyer, Trevan Borum, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, asked why.

"If the allegation was credible, why does it take nine months?" said Borum, who likened the case to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. "I've had no explanation whatsoever. I don't know what on earth took them so long."

Friday, October 18, 2013

New Witness In Mob Trial?

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

It looks like there's going to be at least one new witness in the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi.

New York mobster-turned-informant Anthony Aponick, an inmate with Borgesi in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2002 and 2003, is apparently going to be called to testify this time around.

The alleged Bonanno crime family associate has been debriefed at length by the FBI. Among other things, he has said that he came to Philadelphia in 2003 and met with a top Borgesi associate at Borgesi's behest in order to establish himself in the local underworld. He did that, he has said, despite the fact that a New York mob leader cautioned him about the danger, referring to the Philadelphia mob that Borgesi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino once controlled as "kill crazy."

"They're Mad Hatters," Aponick said he was warned. "Stick with the devil you know."

Aponick opted to ignore that advice. Perhaps because he was cooperating with the government at the time?

"We look forward to questioning Mr. Aponick at length during cross-examination" was all Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, would say when asked about the potential new witness who has prior convictions for armed robbery and bank robbery and who will also be painted as a drug abuser by the defense.

Monday, October 14, 2013

At The Inky They're Pining For Billy

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

When I used to work at The Philadelphia Inquirer, a couple of reporters there had a routine that always made me laugh.

They were relatively new hires. Whenever they were around the  old-timers too long, and heard too many stories about Gene Roberts and the Golden Age of Journalism, they would hum a few bars of "Tara's Theme," from Gone With The Wind.

The Inky had a lot in common with the movie that lamented the lost Confederacy. Staffers at the city's paper of record were always reminiscing about the glory days under legendary editor Gene Roberts; now they're pining for the return of Bill Marimow.

Marimow is the Gene Roberts disciple who's done a couple stints as Inky editor. Last week, Inky Publisher Bob Hall fired Marimow for not being enough of a "change agent." That's funny because Hall's been the Inky publisher since I was there back in the 1990s. Two new owners of the paper, represented by Richard A. Sprague, a former Inky blood enemy, then filed suit in Common Pleas Court to bring Marimow back and fire Hall.

Meanwhile, former Inquirer heavyweights such as Steve Lopez, Mark Bowden and Maxwell King are leading a petition drive to bring back Billy. Cue Tara's Theme.

I used to work for Marimow. I like and respect him, but I won't be signing that petition.

Sadly, it doesn't matter who runs that paper. Maybe the Inky under a succession of new owners is just too cowed or ethically compromised. Or the staff that remains there is just too beaten down or just plain spent. Whatever, it's been obvious for a long time that the city's paper of record is not up to doing what's needed in this town.

I know from my own personal experiences. Even when the guy at at the top had the best intentions, the troops under him were too lame to deliver.

Especially that City Hall bureau.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The D.A., His Dead Dog, And A Murder Victim

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

District Attorney Seth Williams is taking heat for supposedly being dumb enough to compare a murder victim to his dead dog.

The incident allegedly happened at a Town Hall meeting Oct. 1 at the Lower Mayfair Recreation Center.

Williams, running for reelection, was touting his high conviction rate when the grieving family of a murder victim, Shane Kelly, asked why the D.A.'s office had given the two men who killed Kelly a plea bargain.

"In an attempt to display empathy, he [Williams] said, I just lost my dog this Sunday so I can only imagine what you're going through," said Brian Caputo, 20, a political science major at LaSalle University who witnessed the incident. "Those were the words that came out of his mouth."

"That's when the family got angry," Caputo said. Caputo said he was shocked by the remark, saying it showed the district attorney's "incompetency, his arrogance and attitude, and the way he talked down to people."

Williams's political opponent, Danny Alvarez, is calling on the D.A. to release a videotape of the event made by the D.A.'s staff. A spokesperson for Williams, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

City Council Demolition Report Gives Nutter And L&I A Pass But A "Johnny Doc-umentary" Nails 'Em

A Star Is Born
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The City Council should have hired Johnny Doc to turn its special report on demolition practices into another "Johnny Doc-umentary."

After holding five public hearings on the fatal Market Street building collapse, the City Council on Sept. 26th released a 69-page report on how to reform the city's demolition practices to prevent future tragedies.

If you didn't read it, I'll save you the trouble. It's a real snore that only bureaucrats and government wonks would appreciate; dense and filled with jargon. Worse, the report fails to hold accountable Mayor Nutter and the Department of Licenses and Inspections for their lax approach to public safety that was amply exposed during the public hearings.

Fortunately, the Philadelphia Building Trades Union has released a 19-minute documentary, "Deconstructing Post Brothers: Exposing the Truth Behind the Cheap Facade." The film, which stars "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, had its world premiere Oct. 1 at the electricians headquarters on Spring Garden Street.

The union film targets the Post Brothers non-union construction job at the Goldtex Apartments on 12th Street with predictable venom. But along the way, it's everything the City Council report isn't -- fast-paced, easy to understand, and hard-hitting. Best of all, it features a cast of characters blasting our incompetent mayor and the drones at L&I for failing to protect us.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Defense Lawyer Rips D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

A defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn has publicly accused District Attorney Seth Williams of professional misconduct.

In a letter hand-delivered on Friday, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom ripped the D.A. for teeing off on his client during a Thursday press conference about the arrest of another priest, Father Robert L. Brennan. The defense lawyer said he intends to report the D.A. to the state disciplinary board. A spokesperson for Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

At the press conference, D.A. Williams took the occasion to lambaste the monsignor, now in jail serving a 3 to 6 year sentence after his conviction last year on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child. But according to the district attorney, Lynn was also guilty of conspiring to keep abusive priests in active duty, so they could harm more children.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

D.A. Arrests Another Priest, But Won't Arrest Or Charge Msgr. Lynn

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrest this morning of another Roman Catholic priest, charging Father Robert L. Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.

Father Brennan, 75, a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims, was charged with sexually assaulting an altar boy between 1998 and 2001, when the latest victim was between 11 and 14 years old. The altar boy was allegedly assaulted at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Father Brennan  served as assistant pastor. The crimes, according to the D.A., supposedly took place in the church sacristy, the priest's bedroom in the church rectory, a storage area on parish property, and in a movie theater.

The victim in this case, now 26, came forward in January 2013, six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the latest victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict. Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. The allegations in the new arrest are eerily similar to the Billy Doe case.

Meanwhile, D.A. Williams used the press conference to again attack Msgr. Lynn for not reigning in abusive priests. But when push came to shove, Williams said his office had declined to indict Lynn on another child endangerment charge, because the crime in this latest case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.

With that statement, the district attorney abruptly reversed the course of his self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the original indictment of Msgr. Lynn, the D.A. missed the statute of limitations by 9 years in the case of one alleged 14-year-old victim, Mark Bukwowski, but that didn't stop Williams from prosecuting Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child. So why did the D.A. decline to indict Lynn this time?

If you listen to the lawyers on the other side of the Lynn case, the district attorney chickened out because he fears his conviction of the monsignor is about to be reversed by an appeals court.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Appellate Judges In Msgr. Lynn Case Ask Philly D.A. Some Questions He Can't Answer

Monsignor William J. Lynn
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

In a sunlight-drenched courtroom this morning, a couple of state appellate judges asked the Philadelphia district attorney's office to explain the pretzel logic of its suspect prosecution of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

After four years of hiding behind a secret grand jury and multiple gag orders, the D.A. finally had to answer some tough questions during oral arguments in broad daylight. Seth Williams wasn't there, but his top appellate lawyer was. He responded with a litany of legal citations. But when the judges attempted to pin him down, the bottom line was, the D.A.'s office had no real answers. It's hard to explain the illogical and the politically expedient.

Msgr. Lynn is now serving a 3 to 6 year prison term for his June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Could the appellate judges be contemplating a ruling that might free the defendant? There was a moment today during the intense 40-minute hearing that quickened the pulse of every defense lawyer in the packed courtroom.

It came when John T. Bender, the president judge of the 15-member appellate court, asked defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom how long his client had been in jail. It was a question that seemingly came out of nowhere. The answer was 15 months. But it left defense lawyers wondering whether the appellate court was sending a signal that it would entertain a new bail motion to be filed on behalf of Msgr. Lynn.

"I don't know what to do; I don't want to be precipitous," a smiling Bergstrom told reporters after the hearing. Bergstrom said he would wait until the court issues a ruling on the Lynn appeal. And if that ruling favors his client, Bergstrom said, he'll be filing that bail motion about "five minutes later."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hell In A North Philadelphia Row House

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Nine years later, Joe Finley still remembered.

Testifying at the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage back in April, Finley told a jury what he was thinking as he entered a burning row house in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street around 5 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2004.

"This is what hell looks like," the 28-year Philadelphia Fire Department veteran said.

"The whole room was like glowing...in a way that I hope I never get to know. But it seemed like it was ... hell. That's what it would remind you of. It was like being in hell. The whole room had this eerie glow to it."

Finley was wearing protective, fire retardant bunker gear, an air pack and a mask and camera that allowed him to see images through the smoke and fire. A ladderman working out of the fire house at Front and Luzerne Streets, he was the first one through the door of the two-story house. His job was to look for people and hopefully bring them out alive.

When the first trucks arrived, he said, the house was fully involved.

"You rarely see them this bad," he told the jury.