Friday, June 28, 2013

D.A. Finally Has To Explain Flip-Flop On Child Endangerment Law

Hugh J. Burns Jr.
By Ralph Cipriano

It's one of the enduring mysteries of the current district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

How could the former district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and one grand jury back in 2005 look at the state law for endangering the welfare of a child [EWOC], and decide it didn't apply to Msgr. William J. Lynn, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, or any other high-ranking official at the archdiocese?

And how could the current district attorney, Seth Williams, and another grand jury in 2011 look at that same exact EWOC law and decide it did apply, not only to Msgr. Lynn, but also to Father James J. Brennan, Father Edward V. Avery, Father Charles Engelhardt, and Bernard Shero?

In the appeals battle over the conviction of Msgr. Lynn, District Attorney Seth Williams finally had to answer the question that he had previously been dodging. The D.A.'s official explanation for the flip-flop was spelled out in a 63-page brief filed June 25th in Superior Court.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Author of Archdiocese Grand Jury Reports Departs D.A.'s Office

By Ralph Cipriano

Mariana Sorensen, author of two high-profile grand jury reports on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has resigned from the district attorney's office. Her last day of work was Friday, June 21.

Sorensen, an assistant district attorney in the special investigations unit, declined to be interviewed. A polarizing figure, she was regarded by victims advocates as a champion crusader, and by church critics as a Catholic-hating zealot.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Judge Denies Appeal Of "Excessive and Unreasonable" Sentences

By Ralph Cipriano

On June 20, defense lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero filed motions to appeal Judge Ellen Ceisler's "excessive and unreasonable" sentences.

On June 21, Judge Ceisler denied both motions. The defense can now appeal the judge's decisions to Superior Court.

The court documents, however, lay out for the first time the details on how brutally the judge clobbered the defendants.


"It Finally Feels Good To Make My Family Proud Of Me"

Here is the victim impact statement submitted to Judge Ellen Ceisler by Billy Doe, as read in court by Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos:

Dear Your Honor,

My name is [Billy Doe]. I'm the victim of these horrendous men. My life and childhood have been destroyed by these men and the things they did to me. I went through something no child or anyone should go through. They have taken from me, and I will never get back, a lot of those things. For the past 14 years, I have tried to numb the pain and forget what they did to me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Deja Vu At Ligambi Retrial?

Uncle Joe
By George Anastasia

Federal prosecutors want to retry mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi on racketeering conspiracy charges built around the same evidence that a jury largely rejected in the mobsters' first trial.

In a motions filed late yesterday, prosecutors argued that the issues of collateral estoppel and double-jeopardy do not apply to the conspiracy charge that is at the heart of the case. A jury in February could not decide on that charge against Ligambi and Borgesi.

Four other defendants were found guilty and one was acquitted.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How Two Innocent Men Wound Up In Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
The D.A.'s Star Witmess

Judge Ellen Ceisler just sent two innocent men to jail.

Even people inside the district attorney's office know that Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero are innocent.

It should have never gotten this far. Billy Doe told an unbelievable story about a former altar boy being passed around like a pinata among three rapists. It's an x-rated fractured fairy tale that makes no sense in any of its various versions. Billy Doe should have been laughed out of the D.A.'s office.

Instead, when Billy told his improbable tale, the D.A. and a couple of gullible prosecutors bought it. Whether they were blinded by misguided empathy, political ambition, or hatred of the church, it doesn't really matter. It was as if they all got high on whatever Billy was peddling.

It was a story with no corroborating witnesses or evidence, just the tales of a drug-addled goofball who had been in and out of 23 drug rehabs in the past 10 years and had once bragged to a drug counselor that he was a natural salesman. In court he proved his point; perhaps he'll switch from selling drugs to selling used cars.

The end result is that two innocent men are sitting in jail today. When a travesty of this magnitude occurs, there's always plenty of blame to go around.

In today's post-mortem, we're going to try not to miss anybody.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vince Fumo Sues Feds, Alleging Collusion Between U.S. Attorney's Office And IRS

By Ralph Cipriano

Former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo sued the federal government today, alleging that the U.S. Attorney's office colluded with the IRS to seek revenge on him.

In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Fumo's lawyer, Mark E. Cedrone, charged that the IRS had no "plausible, legitimate justification supporting its decision to employ the draconian and infrequently used jeopardy assessment process" against his client, Vince Fumo.


Mobsters Mount Legal Battles As Sentencings, Retrial Loom

By George Anastasia

Mobsters Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and Damion Canalichio have to wait at least another month before finding out their fate, but the convicted wiseguys are going to go down swinging.

Lawyers for both Philadelphia crime figures have filed motions challenging pre-sentence reports that suggest each should be sentenced to from 17 to 21 years in prison for their February convictions on racketeering conspiracy charges. Their lawyers argue the guidelines should be in the four- to six-year range.

Their sentencings, postponed for a second time, are now scheduled for July.

Two other defendants in that case, mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, who are to be retried on those same conspiracy charges -- the jury hung on those counts against Ligambi and Borgesi -- are also in pitched legal battles that could set the tone for their retrial in October.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Judge Ceisler Puts Away Engelhardt And Shero

Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos
By Ralph Cipriano

Judge Ellen Ceisler today gave onetime Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero a jail sentence of 8 to 16 years for raping a former altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe." The judge threw out one charge against Father Charles Engelhardt, a bogus conspiracy rap, as unproven, but still hit the priest with 6 to 12 years in jail for sexually abusing the former altar boy.

The judged handed out the sentences even though a mandatory Commonwealth psychological exam had determined that neither defendant was a sexually violent predator. The judge tacked on five years of probation to each defendant's jail sentence.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"An Easy Target"

By Ralph Cipriano

Bernard Shero can be alone in a room with somebody, but he doesn't know who's there until he hears a voice.

"He can't distinguish faces," his mother Bonnie says. "He's done that all his life. He doesn't know it's them until they start talking."

"He has to get this close," his father, Bob, says. He's leaning on his wife's shoulder, peering over her at a menu she's holding inside a Bucks County diner. If Bernard was walking into the diner today, Bob says, he would have had to tell him, "Watch out, Bern, there's a step coming."

Bernard Shero was born with congenital cataracts. Between the ages of six months and seven years, he had 23 eye operations. He's worn glasses since he was 18 months old. He's legally blind in his right eye, and can't drive at night.

Bernard Shero has spent a lifetime peering at the world through thick lenses, and getting too close to people. That's why, Bonnie Shero is convinced, Billy Doe accused her son of rape.

"I think he was an easy target because of his handicap," his mother says of her son. After five years of legal drama, Bonnie Shero is worn out.

"It's been hell, it's been a nightmare," she says. "You wake up in the morning thinking about it. You go to sleep thinking about it. It's on your mind constantly."

And it's about to get worse. On Wednesday, June 12th, the 49-year-old Shero will be sentenced after being convicted Jan. 30 on five sex abuse charges. He's facing up to 57 years in jail.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Listen to Anastasia On Radio Times 06/05/2013

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Priest's Ordeal

By Ralph Cipriano

In the last five years, Father Charles Engelhardt has lost 50 pounds.

But as his boss, Father James J. Greenfield, will tell you, "This is a weight loss program I wouldn't wish on anyone."

It began in 2009, when a man subsequently identified in a grand jury report as "Billy Doe" accused Father Engelhardt of raping him back when the alleged victim was a 10-year old altar boy.

In 2009, the 5-foot-11 priest weighed 220 pounds. He had a double chin and a pot belly. But last week, according to his family, when they visited him in jail, Father Engelhardt looked frail and barely weighed 170. His arms, sticking out of a bright-yellow jumpsuit, were skinnier than his baby sister's.

The priest wore a bandage from a recent blood test. A prison doctor told the family he had ordered an EKG. The 66-year-old priest suffers from hypertension and acid reflex. When his family visits him in jail, he is often moved to tears.

It's stress, his family said, the cumulative toll of being unjustly accused of rape by somebody the priest can't even remember.

Father Engelhardt is an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales. He's taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Father Greenfield, the provincial who leads the Wilmington-Philadelphia province of the Oblates.

On Jan. 30, a jury convicted Father Engelhardt on four counts of sexual abuse of a child. Next week, on Wednesday, June 12th, the priest will be sentenced by Judge Ellen Ceisler. He faces a maximum jail term of 37 years.

Father Engelhardt's family is braced for the worst. And yet from his cell at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia, the priest remains hopeful.

"His faith is so strong that he truly believes that the truth will win out," says Elaine, his older sister.

His family, however, has their doubts.

"I think God's taken a vacation on this one," Elaine said.