Thursday, January 31, 2013

What's The Bet On Mob Trial Deliberations?

By George Anastasia

So it has come to this.

Does the jury in the trial of  mob boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi and six co-defendants want to deliberate on Super Bowl weekend, or will the panel, which finished its 16th day of deliberations this afternoon, come back with a verdict tomorrow?

The anonymously chosen jury of eight men and four women went at it for six more hours today without asking a question or requesting additional evidence. The panel has been holed up in the deliberation room off the 15th floor courtroom since Jan. 8.

Judge Eduardo Robreno told the jurors this afternoon that they will deliberate from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday if the process is still ongoing after tomorrow’s session. The trial, which began on Oct. 18 and extended over 10 weeks, included approximately 33 days of testimony.

Tomorrow the jury will have spent more than half that amount of time in deliberations, a virtually unheard ratio, according to veteran criminal defense attorneys.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jury Convicts Priest, Teacher On Nine Of Ten Counts

By Ralph Cipriano
The Happy DA

Even the district attorney was surprised.

"I'm overjoyed; I did not expect it," District Attorney Seth Williams told reporters today after a jury convicted Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic lay teacher Bernard Shero on nine of ten counts in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case.

Given the way "the victim in this case" was "vilified" and subjected to lengthy cross-examination, Williams said, he would have understood if the jury had reached another conclusion, say an acquittal or a hung jury, and not the verdict that had the district attorney beaming.

Williams talked about the suffering of the victim, "Billy Doe," the former 10-year-old altar boy who was "passed from priest to priest to teacher" for alleged sex sessions in a church sacristy, a supply closet, and the back seat of Shero's car. Engelhardt faces a maximum sentence of 37 years in prison, Shero, a maximum of 57 years, when both men are sentenced on April 18.

As far as the DA was concerned, however, the judge can't give the two defendants enough time. The district attorney at today's press conference also castigated the archdiocese for its official response to the triple rape of Billy Doe. "They protect them," Williams said of the convicted rapists, "and then they "cover up. It's disgusting."


Going In Circles At The Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

Gary Battaglini stood in the middle of the 15th floor hallway of the federal courthouse this afternoon and slowly turned in a circle. Once. Twice. Three times.

"This is where we're going," Battaglini, who along with mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and five co-defendants, has now been waiting 15 days for a jury to decide his fate.

The jury wrapped things up at 4:30 p.m. without a decision and will be back at it again tomorrow morning.

"Who knows?" Battaglini, 51, said when asked  where he thought the process was. Then he slowly turned in a circle again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jury Asks For Too Much

By Ralph Cipriano

The jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case today made the mistake of asking for too much.

First, the jury asked to see defendant Bernard Shero's suicide note. No objections were voiced to that request by either the prosecution or the defense.

Shero tried to commit suicide in 2011 by taking sleeping pills when detectives from the district attorney's office came to arrest him. When Shero didn't answer the door, the cops summoned firefighters to break in, and detectives placed the groggy Catholic school teacher under arrest.

The jury also asked to see Detective Andrew Snyder's notes. Snyder was the detective from the district attorney's office who arrested Shero. He was also the detective in 2010 who first interviewed "Billy Doe," the former 10-year-old altar boy who claimed he was raped by both Shero and Father Charles Engelhardt, the other defendant in the case.

Defense lawyer Burton A. Rose, representing Shero, objected, saying that Snyder's notes focus on "one aspect of evidence," presumably the attempted suicide.


More Tapes, More Food, No Verdict

By George Anastasia

Two more tapes, another lunch and still no verdict.

Despite unfounded rumors and rampant speculation that they had reached a decision, jurors in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants wrapped up another day of deliberation this afternoon without reaching a decision.

"I think they're playing a high stakes game of chicken," said one defense attorney, speculating that the panel has broken into two camps, one favoring conviction and the other acquittal. "The question is will either side blink."

With Judge Eduardo Robreno announcing on Monday that deliberations would continue through the weekend -- including Super Bowl Sunday -- the conventional wisdom is that the anonymously chosen jury will announce something by Friday at the latest.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Judge In Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case Keeps Jury Questions Secret

By Ralph Cipriano

She sealed the pre-trial hearings. She sealed the pre-trial motions.

Today, Judge Ellen Ceisler kept three out of four jury questions a secret, as she invited lawyers on both sides of the case back to her chambers for a couple of private discussions.

Since there's a continuing gag order in the case, lawyers on both sides are precluded from talking to reporters.

The one jury question read out in public today was why did the older brother of "Billy Doe" not honor a subpoena from the defense, which set off an argument between the prosecutor and a defense lawyer.


Big Trial Reports - Examining The Evidence in the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial

After two weeks of testimony, the jury has started their deliberations. Big Trial reports on the events leading up the trial, the evidence presented in court by both sides, and the potential impact on the already convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn.


Mob Jurors Focus On Lunch

By George Anastasia

Lunch was clearly on the minds of jurors as they entered the 13th day of deliberations this morning in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

Sticking with a routine established two weeks ago, the jury placed their orders shortly after arriving in court at 8:30 a.m. They also asked if Olive Garden and Red Lobster could be added to their luncheon options, according to several courthouse sources.

The answer was "no." Lunch is supplied by vendors who own businesses close to the courthouse at 6th and Market Streets.

Later the jury panel asked to rehear several tapes, including a 40-minute secretly recorded session from a mob lunch meeting at LaGriglia, an upscale -- this is no Olive Garden -- Italian restaurant in Kenilworth, N.J.

The lunch meeting, in May 2010, was recorded by Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli, a Gambino crime family soldier who was wearing a body-wire for the FBI.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Prosecutor Tries Vainly To Plug All The Holes In His Case

By Ralph Cipriano

It was a telling sign in the prosecutor's closing statement that he spent as much time attacking a social worker for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as he did the two defendants in the case.

But Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti had to address glaring discrepancies between what "Billy Doe," the alleged victim in this sex abuse case, told the social worker, Louise Hagner, back in 2009, and what he subsequently told law enforcement authorities.

Cipolletti also had to call into question the testimony of former priest Edward V. Avery, who showed up in court in a prison uniform last week to tell the jury that he never touched Billy Doe.

Avery may have pleaded guilty last year to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with the former 10-year-old altar boy, the former priest testified, but he only did it because he was facing 20 years in prison, and the prosecution offered him a sweetheart deal -- 2 /12 to five years in jail. Incredibly, nobody ever asked the 70-year-old defrocked priest if he actually was guilty of committing the crime he pleaded guilty to until last week.

The assistant district attorney also had to explain away another factual discrepancy between what Billy Doe told this jury, and what he told a detective in the district attorney's office.

In short, Mark Cipolletti has his work cut out for him today as he used a rambling 82 minutes to try and plug all the holes in a case that a jury is now deliberating. And although he went through the academic exercise of reading from his notes to make sure he had addressed all the leaks, his speech was flat and strangely passionless. That prompted partisan observers on both sides of the case to question whether the prosecutor's heart was fully in it.


Big Trial Reports - Philadelphia Mob Trial Key Witnesses

While the jury is out deliberating the fate of Joe Ligambi and his associates, George Anastasia recaps the key witnesses and evidence he observed during the 10-week trial. 


The Mob Mouse That Roared

By George Anastasia

It was an underworld version of The Mouse That Roared, a less than flattering look at mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino captured on FBI wiretaps that were replayed today for the jury deliberating the fates of Massimino, mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and five co-defendants.

Massimino, 62, has been one of the more verbal defendants throughout the three-month trial, drawing smiles and laughter from friends and family members with his quips and asides, predicting not guilty verdicts and telling everyone to "keep those martini glasses on ice" for the victory party.

But the career criminal had little to say today -- other than calling a reporter a "jerkoff" -- when he strode into court to hear the tapes the jury had asked to be replayed.

What those in the courtroom heard was not the easy-going and glib defendant, but rather what the prosecution alleges was the volatile, take-no-prisoners underboss.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two Defendants Elect Not to Testify in Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case

By Ralph Cipriano

The court crier swore in Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero as witnesses.

Judge Ellen Ceisler then asked if the two defendants were electing not to testify on their behalf at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial.

Both defendants confirmed they had decided to take a pass.

The judge asked if either man was on drugs or alcohol, or prescription medications, or was mentally disoriented in any way.

To each of these three questions, each defendant replied, "No, Your Honor" three times. The judge assured both defendants that she would instruct the jury to draw "no adverse inference" from their decision not to testify.

After the two defendants testified, the defense today closed out its case with five more character witnesses on behalf of Father Engelhardt. The prosecution called a rebuttal witness, a cousin of the priest who said that Engelhardt had a "horrible reputation" in the community, without any explanation of what he was alluding to. Then it was on to the first closing statement from Burton A. Rose, on behalf of Bernard Shero.

A Mobster And His Money

By George Anastasia

Damion Canalichio onced boasted on a secretly recorded covnersation that he was in the "collection" business for the mob.

Jurors in the racketeering trial of Canalichio, mob boss Joe Ligambi and five others spent part of their deliberations today listening in on how Canalichio allegedly conducted that business.

"I'm gonna go crack his fuckin' head," Canalichio said on one tape recorded conversation from 2002 in which he discussed a deadbeat with a cooperating government witness who was wearing a body-wire.

On another tape, Canalichio's part of a phone conversation with another debtor it picked by the same cooperating witness.

"I gave you fuckin' money and you've been fuckin' me ever since," Canalichio yells into the phone. 'You're a lyin' fuckin' junkie."
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Billy Doe" Told Archdiocese Social Workers Wild Stories About Violent Sex Attacks From Predators

By Ralph Cipriano

Before he ever told his story to detectives, the district attorney, the grand jury, or the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case, "Billy Doe" gave an interview to a couple of social workers from the archdiocese.

And the story he told was pretty wild, and full of violence. According to one of the social workers, Billy claimed a predator priest sat on his chest, cutting off his air, before the priest pummeled the 10-year-old altar boy with hours of anal sex. Billy told the social worker another predator priest punched him in the face and knocked him out, and when he woke up, he was naked and tied up with altar sashes. Billy also claimed a Catholic teacher punched him in the face, and wrapped a seat belt around his neck before raping him.

By the time Billy Doe told his story to authorities, many of the colorful details were gone and many of the facts had changed. The jury in the archdiocese sex abuse case may have to figure out why.


Still No Verdict In Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

Ten days and counting.

The jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and six co-defendants headed home this afternoon after completing a tenth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict in the high profile case.

What's more, for the first time since deliberations started on Jan. 8, the anonymously selected panel did not ask a question or request to hear a tape that had been played during the 10-week trial.

What does it mean?

Depends on who you ask.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Five Teachers Say "Billy Doe" Was A Happy Kid At St. Jerome's, And Not Some Dark, Depressed Loner

By Ralph Cipriano

"Billy Doe" never underwent any drastic personality change while attending St. Jerome Catholic School.

That was the testimony today of five of Billy's former teachers from St. Jerome's who paraded through the witness stand as the defense began presenting its case at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial.

Billy Doe is the pseudonym in the 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report for a ten-year-old altar boy who was allegedly raped in fifth grade by two priests who lived in the St. Jerome rectory -- Father Edward V. Avery and Father Charles Engelhardt. The following year, Billy was allegedly raped by his sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome's, Bernard Shero, after the teacher supposedly offered Billy a ride home.

The prosecution has alleged that after being raped by three predators, Billy changed from a happy-go-lucky extrovert into a dark, depressed loner. But that's not what the faculty at St. Jerome's saw.

"He was a happy child," said Joann Hayes, a teacher at St. Jerome's who taught Billy art and music from second grade through eighth grade. "I never had any problems with him," Hayes said. She remembered Billy as part of the cast in a 1999 school musical, "Christmas Show Around The World."


More Questions, Few Answers In Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

More questions, few answers today in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and six co-defendants.

The anonymously chosen jury panel wrapped up a ninth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict in the case. Deliberations, however, were marked by a Casablanca moment when the panel asked the judge to "play it again."

Tape, that is. The panel wanted to rehear recordings that had been played during the trial and again during deliberations on Friday. Judge Eduardo Robreno turned down the request, telling the jurors to rely on their own recollections of what was said.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prosecutors In Never-Ending Fumo Case Back In Court Seeking To Extract Another $783,264 From Vince

By Ralph Cipriano

The feds aren't done with Vince Fumo, not by a long shot.

The former state senator, now doing his 40th consecutive month in a Kentucky prison, has already paid $411,000 in fines and $3,435,548 in restitution, for a total of $3.8 million.

But prosecutors were back in the U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday morning Dec. 14th seeking to extract from Fumo another $783,264 in restitution.

"Mr. Fumo is the one who took all the money," argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer to a panel of three appellate judges for the Third Circuit. "This is someone who has all this money."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jury Back To Business In Mob Case

By George Anastasia

They went back to the beginning ... again.

For the second time in the past three days, the jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi started deliberations anew after another juror was replaced today by an alternate.

But it appeared the panel wasted little time getting back up to speed. By 1 p.m. it was again asking to rehear tapes that it had requested yesterday before controversy over a juror's comment about a defense witness derailed the process.


Moms Say Former Teacher Was "Touchy-Feely" With Kids

By Ralph Cipriano

Two moms who volunteered as school lunch room aides told a jury today that they thought former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero was creepy.

Bernard Shero leaving the courthouse 
"He's always been awkward, touch-feely," Denise Sosalski said. She met Shero when he was a teaching assistant at Nazareth Academy. Sosalski said she volunteered at Nazareth when her son Roman, now 24, was 8 or 9.

While working in the lunchroom, Sosalksi said, she noticed Shero "had a tendency to want to put his hand on their backs," meaning elementary school kids. Then, when her son was in sixth grade, he was out skateboarding with some friends, Sosalski testified. He came home and said that Shero, who lived in their Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, had invited the boy and his friends into his house.

Sosalski said she walked over to confront Shero. "He was out on his lawn," she told the jury. She said she told Shero, "I'm Roman's mother; stay away from my kid."

Defense lawyers asked Sosalski when she decided to come forward to testify against Shero about events that happened back in the late 1990s. This week, she said, when a detective knocked on her door.

Apparently the district attorney's office never stops working a case.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Former Priest, Now A Prisoner, Sets Himself On Fire

By Ralph Cipriano

Ed Avery looked the prosecutor in the eye and said he didn't do it.

He said he never touched the 10-year-old altar boy known as "Billy Doe." The defrocked priest today rode a bus from the state prison up in Laurel Highlands, Somerset County, all the way to the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, at least a four-hour trip, just to tell a jury it was all a lie.

Avery said he only pleaded guilty because if convicted at the first Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial last year, he was facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years. And the prosecution was offering a sweetheart deal -- only 2 1/2 to 5 years in jail.

So on March 22, 2012, Avery pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child -- the alleged victim of both crimes was Billy Doe -- "to avoid a more lengthy prison term," Avery said.

"I did not want to die in prison," the 70-year-old former priest told an angry prosecutor. 

Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti was incredulous. "You're sitting in state prison today because of [Billy Doe's} allegations," he said.

"I chose to take the plea," Avery corrected him. 

When Cipolletti attempted to cut off Avery's answer, a delighted defense lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, stood up and told the judge that Cipolletti can't do that to "his witness."

Judge Ellen Ceisler had a pained look on her face as she glanced over at Avery, and then back at the defense attorney.

"I think he's a hostile witness at this point," she said.


Mistrial In Mob Case?

By George Anastasia

The case against Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants appeared to be teetering on the brink of a mistrial today as lawyers met behind closed doors with the judge for several hours to discuss the possible dismissal of up to three jurors who have been deliberating for more than a week in the high-profile case.

Lawyers were tight-lipped as they emerged from the session, held in the courtroom but behind locked doors. Jurors were released for the day shortly before 4 p.m. and were told to report to court tomorrow morning at the usual 8:30 a.m. starting time. But they were cautioned not to begin deliberations.

Lawyers, meanwhile, are expected to show up for a hearing -- which again may be closed to the public -- at which the future of the trial will be determined.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Defense Lawyers Put "Billy Doe" In Wayback Machine

By Ralph Cipriano

Defense lawyers today took the 24-year-old sex abuse victim known as "Billy Doe" on a one-way trip back to Catholic grade school, courtesy of what one lawyer jokingly referred to as "the Wayback machine."

For those of you who missed the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the Wayback machine used to transport Mr. Peabody the time-traveling mutt and his pet boy Sherman back to famous moments in history.

In Courtroom 304 at the Criminal Justice Center, Billy was confronted with blown-up copies of all his report cards from grades five through eight. He was quizzed about his attendance record, the names of his old grade school teachers, and they even handed him a parochial school uniform, with a monogrammed blue short-sleeve polo shirt and pants, just like the one he used to wear back when he was a fifth and sixth grader at the St. Jerome Catholic School in Northeast Philadelphia.

It was all part of a rigorous two-hour cross-examination that found many inconsistencies in Billy's story, but landed no knockout blows. At the end, a deflated-looking Michael J. McGovern seemed to cut short his questioning prematurely. Prosecutors appeared surprised and elated by how well Billy had held up on cross. And Billy's supporters left the courtroom saying the defense hadn't laid a glove on their boy.


Back To Square One In Mob Trial Deliberations

By George Anastasia

The jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants had to start over today when an alternate juror was designated to replace a panelist who had fallen ill.

Frankie the Fixer and Bent Finger Lou 
And one of the first acts of the newly constituted panel was to ask, late in the afternoon, for all the exhibits that had been introduced by the proseuction and defense during the three-month long trial.

"It looks like they really are starting over," said one defense attorney.

In fact, that's what the panel is required to do when an alternate, who has not been part of the deliberaitons, is added.

The developments today set up the real possiblity that deliberations, which began on Jan. 8, could extend well into next week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Confident "Billy Doe" Returns to Courtroom 304

By Ralph Cipriano

The victim dubbed "Billy Doe" in a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report returned to Courtroom 304 today after an absence of nine months. Billy was back at the Criminal Justice Center to testify against Father Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero in the second round of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case.

He was a slender, dark-eyed 24-year-old who sported close-cropped hair and a wispy goatee. He was also a much more confident witness this time around as he grimly and methodically recounted the horror of being a 10-year-old altar boy passed from one child rapist to another.

For nearly two hours, Billy told his story, and it seemed to have a profound effect on the jury. One man lowered his head and buried his face in his hand as Billy related the gory details of one rape, while other male jurors averted their eyes in embarrassment. When Billy talked about his descent into drugs, another male juror sadly shook his head.

In short, it was a great day for the prosecution, but the big test is yet to come. On Wednesday, Billy Doe will be cross-examined for the first time by defense lawyers for Engelhardt and Shero. Whether his story holds up will probably decide the case.


Juror Out Sick in Mob Trial

It looks like the flu bug has scuttled deliberations in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

The trial was put on hold Tuesday when one of the jurors called out sick. The panel is due back in court Wednesday morning when U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno will decide how to proceed.

If the juror reports, the deliberations will likely pick up where they left off Monday afternoon. If the juror calls out sick again, then some decisions may have to be made.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Former Altar Boy Faces A Grilling

By Ralph Cipriano

In the first Archdiocese of Philadelphia abuse trial, nobody got to cross-examine a key witness known as "Billy Doe," a former 10-year-old altar boy whose lurid testimony about sex sessions in a church supply closet led to the historic conviction of a monsignor.

At that first trial, defense lawyers in the case, facing a hostile judge, ultimately decided that the price of cross-examing Billy was too high, so they reluctantly gave him a pass. That decision preceded the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for the sexual sins of the clergy.

But this time around, at the second Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, Billy Doe is going to be tested, probably severely. And the fate of two additional defendants, a priest and a former Catholic teacher, will depend solely on whether the jury buys Billy's story, because there's not one shred of physical evidence in the case, or any other accuser.

That's the message delivered today in the opening statements of the second Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial.


Jury Still at It in Mob Trial

Are they being meticulous or is someone being obstinate?

Are they assessing all the evidence or have they split into groups arguing over its relevance?

Are they close to a verdict or are the caught in a stalemate?

Five days into deliberations in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants, those are the questions buzzing around the 15th floor hallway in U.S. District Court where family members, friends, defense attorneys and prosecutors gather each day waiting for word of a decision in the case.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tapes, Post-its, Markers and Gum; Is the Jury Settling In?

They asked to listen to more tapes.

They wanted a pack of post-it notes.

And then they said they would need multi-colored magic markers, mints and gum.

Those were the requests of the jurors Friday as they rounded out their third full day of deliberations in the racketeering conspiracy case of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

The consensus?

"It looks like they're settling in," said one defense attorney.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Toilets Flush and Tapes Roll as Mob Jury Deliberates

A federal prosecutor in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants said in his closing arguments last week that secretly recorded conversations made during the 12-year investigation were a linchpin to the case.

"Their words define them," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han told the jury.

On Thursday, the third day of jury deliberations, the jurors asked to listen again to the words of co-defendant Anthony Staino, described as a mob capo and Ligambi's "right arm."

What Staino said is not in dispute in conversations he had with cooperating witness Henry Scipione and an undercver FBI agent posing as a corrupt financier named "Dino."

But what the jury believes Staino meant could determine his guilt or innocence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not Wanted on the Archdiocese Sex Abuse Jury: Faithful Catholics and Bible-Thumping Protestants

By Ralph Cipriano

When it comes to picking a jury, it's interesting to see who doesn't get picked.

As far as the prosecution in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case is concerned, it wasn't exactly a plus to be a faithful, practicing Catholic.

The prosecution today bounced another earnest young woman who told the judge she went to Mass every Sunday. Lapsed Catholics, however, seemed to fare better; the prosecution even approved as an alternate juror a former altar boy who no longer attends church, and was convicted of assault at an Eagles game.

As far as the defense was concerned, defense lawyers on Tuesday rejected a born-again Protestant minister who proclaimed that she herself had been healed of sex abuse. Today, defense lawyers bounced the wife of an ordained Baptist minister. They also used a preemptory challenge to pass on an openly gay prospective juror who had previously served as a juror in a child rape case, and found it to be emotionally draining.

By the end of the day, however, lawyers in the case had signed off on 12 jurors and six alternates. Opening statements in the case against Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic teacher Bernard Shero are scheduled to begin Monday.


Massimino Smiles as Jury Deliberations Continue

Give him this, he's an optimist.

Mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino continue his upbeat banter and chatter Wednesday as jury deliberations rolled on in the racketeering conspiracy case against him, mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and five others.

"Frank, you look a little nervous over there," Massimino quipped to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor as the defendants filed into the courtroom to hear a question that had been posed by the jury panel. "Don't worry. Everything will be alright."

Massimino, 62, has spent the last week talking about the "party" he hopes to attend after the jury returns with an not guilty verdict and he and the other defendants are freed.

"Keep those martini glasses chilled" has been one of his constant refrains.

One of five mobsters being held without bail, Massimino showed up in court Wednesday dressed in a neatly tailored camel-hair sport coat and a tan, turtle-neck sweater, looking more like a literary figure than a mobster. The civilian dress is provided by family members and friends for the jailed defendants who are being housed in the Federal Detention Center across the street from the federal courthouse where the trial is being held.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Prospective Juror Has A Priest Cousin Who Wrote A Love Letter To An Altar Boy

By Ralph Cipriano

Prospective Juror No. 61 told a judge today that his first cousin was a priest who got in trouble over "something he wrote to a fifth-grader."

The prospective juror mentioned to the judge that he had talked over his potential jury service last night with his wife, something the judge had specifically asked him not to do, and that the wife suggested that maybe you should mention your first cousin. 

Father Michael Murtha was a priest at St. Anselm's in Northeast Philadelphia who in 1995 was found by a roommate to have a trove of pornographic magazines and videos stashed in his rectory bedroom. The roommate also discovered a love letter that Father Murtha had written but never sent to a seventh-grade altar boy that described the priest's sexual fantasies involving the youngster, signed your "secret lover."

Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti challenged the candidacy of Prospective Juror 61. "I am disturbed about that relation,"Judge Ellen Ceisler said, as well as the fact that "he talked with his wife."

The judge granted Cipolletti's challenge to boot Prospective Juror No. 61. It was the most peculiar interview of the day as the judge and lawyers in the case slogged through questionnaires from 129 prospective jurors, before finally choosing six more, for a total of ten jurors in the case.


No Verdict in Mob Trial

Uncle Joe
Jurors deliberated for about three hours Tuesday before deciding to pack it in for the day in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

The panel of seven men and five women are due back in court Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. to begin their first full day of deliberations.

The jury got the case shortly after noon following a lengthy explanation from Judge Eduardo Robreno about the laws that apply to charges contained in the 52-count indictment on which the case is based. These include a racketeering conspiracy charge that all seven defendants face.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Prospective Juror Doesn't Buy Celibacy

By Ralph Cipriano

Prospective Juror No. 17 in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case wrote on his questionnaire that he had grave doubts about whether men could abstain from sex.

"Men, no sex? I don't believe it," he wrote. When Judge Ellen Ceisler asked Prospective Juror No. 17 what he meant by that, he said, "When I found out about sex it was the last thing I'd give up."

That prompted a smile from the judge before she dismissed Juror No. 17 for cause.

Prospective Juror No. 21 wrote on his questionnaire that he was taking medication for schizophrenia.

Is there any chance, the judge wanted to know, that you could have a relapse?

"A whole lot of stress" like a trial, yeah, sure, that could bring it back, he said.

Prospective Juror No. 21 was struck for cause.

It was a slow day in Courtroom 304 at the Criminal Justice Center where the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers questioned a pool of 129 prospective jurors before picking four. They have to choose a total of 12 jurors and six alternates by Friday.


Mob Hit Again an Issue at Racketeering Trial

Suspected mob hit man Anthony Nicodemo is sitting in a city prison awaiting a preliminary hearing in a homicide case that could have a dramatic impact on the Philadelphia mob.

Since his arrest on Dec. 12, underworld and law enforcement sources have been speculating on whether the 41-year-old South Philadelphia wiseguy would become a government cooperator in order to get out from under the charges he faces.

That speculation has created an undercurrent in the ongoing racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants. Ironically, the trial ended Monday with Nicodemo's name being mentioned by a federal prosecutor and defense attorneys crying foul.

"To highlight it now is unduly prejudicial," Paul Hetznecker Jr., the lawyer for co-defendant George Borgesi, said of the reference to Nicodemo made by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han in a closing rebuttal argument to the jury late Monday afternoon.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Defense in Mob Trial Rips the Government Case

They're already planning the victory party.

On a day when five different defense attorneys ripped into the govenment's witnesses and evidence in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants, family members and friends who have crowded the 15th floor federal courtroom during the 10-week trial were openly optimistic about the outcome of the case.

So, in fact, were some of the defendants.

"Feeling good today," said mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino. "I'm tellin' ya...I gotta have a suit for the party...Get those martini glasses chilled."

Massimino's comment came during an exchange with several friends prior to the start of the afternoon session Friday, a day in which lawyers for five of his co-defendants made their closing arguments.

All five challenged the government's version of the case.

Christopher Warren, the attorney for mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata, also challenged the veracity of comments made by both witnesses and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han in the government's closing argument Thursday.

"The messages that these guys are sending out," Warren said as he pointed to the prosecution table, "are flat out lies."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Closing Arguments Begin in Mob Trial

A federal prosecutor urged jurors on Thursday to rely on dozens of secretly recorded conversations in finding mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants guilty of racketeering conspiracy charges.

"Their words define them," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han told the jury during a three and one-half hour closing argument that marked the start of the final phase of the ten-week old trial.

Mob Lawyer Seeks Apology
Han asked the jury to consider "the words that came out of the mouths" of Ligambi and most of the other defendants who he said had been "caught in the act of being themselves."

The secretly recorded conversations, from body wires worn by cooperating witnesses and from wiretapped conversations, were gathered during an investigation that began in 1999 and concluded with the indictment of Ligambi and the other defendants in May 2011.

The defendants are charged with gambling, loansharking and extortion that the government alleges were part of an ongoing racketeering conspiracy.