Friday, February 28, 2014

"He Was Like A Wounded Animal"

By Ralph Cipriano

A tearful mom and dad told a jury today about the noose they found hanging in their son's closet.

They were followed to the witness stand by a grandfather who was a retired detective.

It was "Pop" who took the first statement from the alleged victim in this case, the 26-year-old man who has accused Father Andrew McCormick of sexually assaulting him back in 1997 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.

"He was like a wounded animal," the silver-haired detective said of his grandson. "He was so filled with anxiety."

In short, it was a great day for the prosecution as three relatives of the alleged victim took turns burying "Father Andy."


Is The Mob Dead In Philly?

By George Anastasia

Mob boss Joe Ligambi is back in his stylish corner townhouse in Packer Park, the one with the black, front-door awning embossed with a bold, white letter "L."

The 74-year-old crime boss has also been spotted, on occasion, driving around South Philadelphia in a late-model black Cadillac sedan, his car of choice for years.

But is the veteran wise guy in the driver's seat when it comes to the local crime family? More important, does he -- or anyone for that matter -- want to be?

History indicates that the job of Philly mob boss leads to a jail cell or a coffin. Of the six mob bosses who preceded Ligambi, two were brutally murdered and the other four ended up doing long prison terms.

Read the rest of the cover story in the Philadelphia City Paper here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Father Andy" Faces His Accuser

St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg
By Ralph Cipriano

His troubles with "Father Andy" began when his mother confided to the priest that her son might be gay.

The alleged victim, now 26, testified in court today that when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, the priest brought him to his room in a church rectory, and sexually assaulted him.

Then, after the alleged attack, the victim testified the priest would repeatedly tell him on the playground that homosexuality was a sin, and so was masturbation.

How did that make him feel, the prosecutor asked?

"Horrible," the young man testified. "As a homosexual, if it's a sin, it means I'm going to hell."

To the alleged victim, the priest's words meant that what happened in the rectory must have been the altar boy's fault.

"I thought that was supposed to happen to me because of what I am," the tearful man told the jury.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jury Sworn In For Father McCormick Sex Abuse Case

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
By Ralph Cipriano

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright today swore in a panel of 12 jurors and 4 alternates. Then, the judge gave the jury a cold case to solve, namely whether a Catholic priest had sexually assaulted a former altar boy about 17 years ago.

The cold case comes with a media spotlight. "This is what's called a publicity or media case," Judge Bright warned the just-picked panel of 12 women and 4 men.

The judge informed the jury that it was one of the most "important and solemn duties of citizenship" for them to sit as jurors who will decide the fate of Father Andrew McCormick. The 57-year-old priest is accused of sexually assaulting a former 10-year-old altar boy during the 1997-98 school year at St. John Cantius Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

McCormick was arrested on July 26, 2012, after the victim in the case came forward about 14 years after the alleged crime. The victim told the district attorney's office he was motivated by the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was convicted on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, another former 10-year-old altar boy known as "Billy Doe."

Lynn, whose conviction was overturned last Dec. 26th by an appellate court, was mentioned in court as a potential witness in the trial of Father McCormick. But whether Lynn shows up in the courtroom may be another story. To date, he has not been served with a subpoena.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scarfo Family's Troubled History Now Part Of FirstPlus Trial

By George Anastasia

He was nearly killed in one of the  most infamous gangland shootings in the violent history of the Philadelphia mob.

His older brother has changed his name to get out from under the family stigma.

A younger brother tried to commit suicide for the same reason and has been comatose for 25 years.

That's part of the depressing personal history of Nicodemo S. Scarfo, a story that has made its way into testimony in the now seven-week old racketeering and fraud trial playing out in federal district court in Camden.

Scarfo, 47, is the lead defendant in the case. He and Salvatore Pelullo, a 45-year-old Mafia wannabe, are charged with orchestrating the secret takeover of a Texas mortgage company in 2007 and then ripping it off to the tune of $12 million.

Nicky Sr.
Along with testimony about corporate structure, SEC filings and lawyerly due diligence, the anonymously chosen jury panel of 18 (six are alternates) has been getting a primer on the turbulent history of the local mob.

Scarfo and his jailed father, Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, are at the center of that story.

"You're aware, aren't you, that he was shot in 1989 and almost killed?" Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, asked his client's probation officer, Sharon O'Brien as she testified earlier today.

O'Brien, who is due back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow, said she was. One can assume the jury is also aware since this was not the first time Riley has mentioned the Halloween night shooting at Dante & Luigi's Restaurant that left the younger Scarfo with seven bullet holes in his body.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Problems Ahead For Auto Shop Don

By George Anastasia

Ron Galati, the Don Corleone of the South Philadelphia auto repair business, was arraigned earlier this week on murder-for-hire, conspiracy and witness intimidation charges.

The wannabe wiseguy pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail pending trial. He is also the target of two other investigations, an insurance fraud probe in Philadelphia and another murder-for-hire and fraud case in New Jersey.

Galati, if the District Attorney's allegations prove true, has apparently turned an insurance fraud pinch that could have landed him in jail for from five to six years into an attempted murder-witness intimidation fiasco that could result in a prison sentence of up to 30 years. That's not a pleasant prospect for the 63-year-old mob associate who underworld sources say always talked a better game than he played.

Two reputed hitmen allegedly hired by Galati have given him up in what investigators say was a plan to murder two rival auto body shop owners -- a father and son -- who may have been cooperating with the DA's office. Those hits were never carried out, but a third shooting in Atlantic City is still under investigation.

A "Vanity Asset" Heads To The Auction Block

By Ralph Cipriano

The Philadelphia Inquirer is a "vanity asset" that should be disposed of at a private "English-style" auction.

That auction should feature "open, ascending serial bidding" restricted to the two current feuding ownership factions, who presumably between servings of tea and crumpets, would have the option to buy each other out.

With an English-style auction restricted to the current owners, continuity and confidentially would be preserved, and the struggling newspaper would have a chance to succeed economically, according to the ownership faction led by South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross.

The rival ownership faction of  Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest disagrees. They seek court appointment of a receiver, who would oversee a public auction with sealed bids. After all the envelopes are opened, the city's paper of record would be sold to highest qualified bidder. The primary goal of the Katz-Lenfest faction would be to obtain the highest sales price. Katz and Lenfest say the limited English-style auction proposed by Norcross would "artificially restrict" that sales price.

The two alternative auction proposals were outlined in court papers filed today in the Delaware Court of Chancery, where Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. will oversee the sale of Interstate General Media [IGM], owner of the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the website. Predictably, the feuding ownership factions can't agree on anything.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jurors Hear Of Serenade For A Takeover

By George Anastasia

It was mood music for a corporate takeover.

A few hours after a rowdy shareholders meeting formalized what federal authorities allege was Salvatore Pelullo's secret takeover of FirstPlus Financial, Pelullo hosted a celebratory dinner for company officers and members of the board of directors at a posh steakhouse in Dallas.

As he sat at the head of a long table in a private dining room at DelFrisco's on that night in October 2007, a violinist serenaded  Pelullo repeatedly with the same song, said Robert O'Neal, then chairman of the board and president of FirstPlus.

O'Neal, testifying for the prosecution at the racketeering trial of Pelullo, mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo and five other defendants, said the song was all too familiar and somewhat ominous.

"It was the theme from The Godfather," he said in response to a question from Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Small.

O'Neal was the second FirstPlus official to take the stand in the now month-old trial. Among other things, he told the jury that his signature had been forged on at least two company documents authorizing the $1.8 million purchase of a financial company.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Msgr. Lynn's Lawyers Say Philly D.A. Is "Hysterical"

By Ralph Cipriano

Lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn say the Philadelphia district attorney is resorting to "hysterics" and "histrionics" in his legal appeal to send their client back to jail.

District Attorney Seth Williams has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a unanimous Dec. 26th opinion from a panel of three Superior Court judges that reversed Msgr. Lynn's prior conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. 

In its appeal to the state Supreme Court, the district attorney said the reversal by the Superior Court panel sent a "dismal message" to the survivors of sex abuse. Also, because of the Superior Court's overly broad language and "misapplication of law," the district attorney warned that the state may not be able to protect future victims of child abuse.

Lynn's lawyers saw it differently.

"The Commonwealth willfully the distorts the Superior Court's decision, which "simply concluded" that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn, as he was "neither a parent, guardian, nor other person supervising the welfare of a child," Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis argue in their 27-page response to the D.A.'s petition filed today.

"In the absence of law and fact to support its position, the Commonwealth hopes to trick this Court into hearing its appeal on the basis of hysterics," Bergstrom and Khaskelis argue to the state Supreme Court. Lynn's lawyers also accuse the district attorney of employing "histrionics" and making "an irrational appeal to emotion."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Grand Jury Cites L&I "Neglect" In Death Of Two Firefighters

By Ralph Cipriano

A Philadelphia grand jury has ripped the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections for a policy of  official neglect that allowed a large vacant factory in Kensington to go up in flames in 2012, killing two firefighters.

The 110-page grand jury report issued Monday Feb. 3rd said L&I failed in its primary mission to protect public safety. The report said that during a four-year period preceding the fire, L&I sent four different inspectors out to the abandoned factory at 1817-41 York St. The inspectors kept issuing threatening violations that were never followed up on, or taken to court.

As a result, owners Nahman and Michael Lichtenstein, a father and son team of real estate moguls from Brooklyn, N.Y., were allowed to "thumb their noses" at the Nutter administration. The city permitted the Lichtensteins to slowly turn the factory "into a fire trap," the report says, while the Brooklyn slumlords racked up almost $400,000 in unpaid taxes.

The former Thomas W. Buck hosiery factory occupied almost a full city block on East York St. just off Kensington Avenue near a Market-Frankford El station, before it went up in flames on April 9, 2012. When 40 fire companies arrived the night of the fire, they were venturing into a "war zone," a fire battalion chief told the grand jury. Winds of 35 miles per hour swept flames through the abandoned factory as firefighters battled to save the neighborhood. Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney died after they were buried under tons of falling bricks. Two other firefighters trapped in the rubble were seriously injured.

The grand jury report is another political disaster for Mayor Nutter, much like last year's City Council hearings on the fatal building collapse on Market Street that killed six people, injured 14, and prompted an L&I building inspector to commit suicide. This week's grand jury report blasts Nutter's current and former L&I Commissioners, Carlton Williams and Fran Burns, for not prioritizing the danger posed by large abandoned buildings like the one on York Street. The grand jury report excoriated both L&I commissioners and the city for not having the will power to take slumlords like the Lichtensteins to court.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Philly Judge Ships Inky Dispute To Delaware

By Ralph Cipriano

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia McInerney has declined a petition to preside over the dissolution of Interstate General Media [IGM], owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and

In a one-paragraph order entered into the record Friday afternoon, Judge McInerney wrote, "It hereby is ordered and decreed that this court declines to exercise jurisdiction" over the petition for dissolution sought by IGM minority owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.

Although it does business in Philadelphia, IGM was incorporated in Delaware. According to its governing agreement, the company is to be dissolved under Delaware corporate law. That means it will be up to Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. of the Delaware Court of Chancery to decide how to proceed with the dissolution of IGM under its feuding owners.

Friday's decision was a victory for a majority group of IGM owners that includes Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph Buckelew. In Delaware, Vice Chancellor Parsons will now have to decide whether to order an open auction, as sought by Katz and Lenfest, or a private auction, as sought by Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew.

An open auction would be open to outside bidders; a private auction would be limited to the feuding owners.