Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joe Vito Mastronardo, Gentleman Gambler, Heads To Court

Joe Vito
By George Anastasia

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

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

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 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

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 website.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Owners Brawl Over Inky

By Ralph Cipriano

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, 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

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

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

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

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

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.