Friday, December 30, 2016

Will 12th Juror Flap Keep Chaka Out Of Jail?

By Ralph Cipriano

Lawyers for former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah are arguing that he should stay out of jail while an appeals court decides whether Judge Harvey Bartle III abused his authority by dismissing a dissident juror who didn't think that the government had proved its political corruption case against Fattah beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fattah, a former 11-term congressman, was sentenced earlier this month by Judge Bartle to 10 years in prison after a jury in July convicted Fattah of conspiracy to commit racketeering, wire fraud and honest services fraud, as well as falsifying records and laundering money. Fattah, currently free on $100,000 bail, is scheduled to report to prison on Jan. 25th.

But according to Fattah's lawyers, who filed a motion for bail today, there is a "substantial question" on appeal likely to result in a reversal of the former congressman's conviction. That question: whether Judge Bartle committed an "abuse of discretion" when he booted dissident Juror No. 12.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Inside The Jury Room

By Ralph Cipriano

On the first day of deliberations in the political corruption trial of U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, the jurors were screaming at each other.

After an 11-1 vote, the jury foreman told the lone holdout, Juror No. 12, to sit down and shut up. The next day, the jury foreman apologized. But the jury continued to argue, and  continued to split 11-1 on eight straight votes.

As far as two jurors were concerned, the majority was ganging up on the lone holdout.

"In my opinion, the rest of the jurors pounced on the gentleman with the . . . dissenting opinion," Juror No. 3 told Judge Harvey Bartle III.

"I mean, it was mayhem," the jury foreman agreed. "It was everybody pretty much against this guy."

In the end, the judge decided to join in the pile-on, and kick the dissident juror off the jury, for having the temerity to disagree with the majority.


"Godfather" Galati Loses Another One

By George Anastasia

This has not been a good month for wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati.

The South Philadelphia auto body owner with the Godfather complex was sentenced a few weeks ago to a maximum of 29 years in prison in a Common Pleas Court insurance fraud and murder-for-hire case.

And on Monday a three-judge panel with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal of an earlier federal murder-for-hire conviction for which he is serving a 22-year stint.

The only break the 66-year-old mob associate has gotten from the legal system is a ruling that his Common Pleas Court sentence will run concurrently with his federal time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Obstinate Juror? Or Henry Fonda In 12 Angry Men?

By Ralph Cipriano

Was Juror No. 12 in the Chaka Fattah case being obstinate? Or was he reprising Henry Fonda's role in 12 Angry Men?

Did Juror No. 12 violate his oath as a juror? Or was he just following the dictates of his conscience?

It's an argument that won't be settled by a newly released Dec. 16th memorandum from Judge Harvey Bartle III. And it won't be settled on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer or the Legal Intelligencer.

Instead, it's an argument that will most likely play out in appeals court. While former Congressman Chaka Fattah sits in jail, anxiously awaiting the outcome.


Retired Detective Joe Walsh Will Testify Jan. 5th About "Billy Doe"

By Ralph Cipriano

At 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5th, retired Detective Joseph Walsh is scheduled to appear under subpoena as a witness in the courtroom of Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright.

At the Jan. 5th hearing, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom will get to question Walsh on his investigation of Danny Gallagher, AKA "Billy Doe;"  specifically on Walsh's continued questioning of the former altar boy that wasn't reported to defense lawyers.

Judge Bright is presiding over the retrial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, scheduled for May 1, 2017. Bergstrom is trying to use the testimony of retired Detective Walsh to prove prosecutorial misconduct in support of a defense motion to dismiss the case.


Judge To Release Transcript Regarding Dismissal Of 12th Juror

By George Anastasia

A federal judge said Friday that he will unseal all documents explaining how and why a holdout juror was dismissed in the Chaka Fattah corruption case.

Judge Harvey Bartle III, responding to a motion filed by lawyers for Philadelphia Media Networ, said he will file a formal notice "promptly" to unseal the court record.

The information could provide legal fodder for appeals that are expect dot be filed by Fattah, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday. He will remain free on bond pending the outcome of his appeal. His four co-defendants are also facing jail time.

The rest of the story can be read here.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Judge Harvey Bartle III Sets Hearing On Philly Inquirer Motion To Unseal Transcript Involving Judge's Dismissal Of Juror No. 12

By Ralph Cipriano

Judge Harvey Bartle III has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Friday on a motion by Philadelphia Media Network to unseal "records and information relating to the dismissal of Juror No. 12."

On Monday morning, the same day Bartle sentenced former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah to 10 years in prison for racketeering and corruption, Philadelphia Media Network filed a motion to intervene in the Fattah case, in order to obtain "records and information related to dismissal of juror."

Philadelphia Media Network owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and The 12th Juror in the Fattah case was dismissed after he was accused of refusing to deliberate. But in an interview with this reporter, Juror No. 12 insisted he wasn't refusing to deliberate, he was refusing to change his mind after he came out on the short end of eight straight 11-1 votes, the last of which was over whether Karen Nicholas, one of Fattah's aides was guilty of falsifying records. That prompted speculation as to whether the case should have ended in a hung jury.

Monday, December 12, 2016

At The D.A.'s Office, It's About To Hit The Fan

By Ralph Cipriano

Seth Williams should bring an umbrella to work.

Why? Because our corrupt district attorney, already under investigation by the FBI, the IRS and a grand jury, is about to see his proudest achievement get splattered by what's about to hit the fan.

What does Seth Williams consider to be his proudest achievement? Why his self-described "historic" prosecution of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Catholic cleric in the country to be sent to jail, not for touching a child, but for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. It's an achievement that has caused church haters and so-called victims advocates to swoon over Seth. At the height of this adulation, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd proclaimed Seth, raised Catholic, to be the "avenging altar boy."

But there's long been a problem with the Lynn case, namely that the alleged victim -- former altar boy Danny Gallagher AKA "Billy Doe" -- is a transparent fraud, as revealed in his copious medical records, legal depositions, and in two interviews with a couple of psychiatrists. It's a classic fake news story for anybody who wants to look into it.

Today, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, filed a motion in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that seeks to take the pre-trial testimony of retired Detective Joseph Walsh. Here's why alarm bells are about to go off at the D.A.'s office as soon as they read Bergstrom's motion -- Walsh was the lead investigator in the Msgr. Lynn/Billy Doe case. And, according to Bergstrom's motion, Walsh has already talked to defense lawyers and "provided exculpatory evidence" never revealed to defense lawyers during two previous archdiocese sex abuse trials.


Fattah Gets Ten Years In The Slammer

Matt Rourke/AP
By Ralph Cipriano

It was a prison sentence that seemed to please both sides.

"I'm personally satisfied," said U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger today, after Judge Harvey Bartle III hit former Congressman Chaka Fattah with a 10-year prison sentence for his conviction in a racketeering and political corruption case.

"That's a significant sentence," Memeger told a media horde outside the federal courthouse. The feds had asked the judge to put Fattah away for between 17 and 22 years, but 10 years is "a long time to be sitting in prison," Memeger said. He added with a prosecutor's glee that going from Congress to prison would be "a long fall for Chaka Fattah."

Inside the courtroom, Albert S. Dandridge, one of Fattah's lawyers, turned to the congressman's supporters after Judge Bartle had imposed sentence and said, "That's about as good as we could have expected."

As he exited the courthouse, the former congressman seemed to agree. "We respect the court's decision," Fattah said. And then the former congressman thanked his defense lawyers, the nine character witnesses who showed up to testify in his defense today, as well as the more than 200 supporters who wrote the judge on Fattah's behalf, requesting leniency.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Big Trial In The News

It was a good week in the media for Big Trial.

First, The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered by reading Big Trial that former L&I Deputy Commissioner Dominic Verdi had been found not guilty of the political corruption charges against him.

The Inquirer, which had hung Verdi out to dry publicly when he was indicted, but didn't bother to cover the trial that exonerated him, remedied that injustice by putting Verdi on the front page two days after a jury found him not guilty.

Then, the rest of the media pounced on a story that Big Trial's Ralph Cipriano and George Anastasia wrote for our partners at, about the mystery of the 12th juror in the Chaka Fattah case. That's the white guy from Lancaster County who was convinced that the government hadn't proved its case against Fattah, but the trial judge booted him off the jury. The news peg: the former congressman is due in court Monday to be sentenced, and faces 17-22 years in the slammer.

First, a bunch of Fattah's former staffers put up a website,, to raise questions about the case, starting with the mystery of the 12th Juror. Then, the Inquirer's Clout column weighed in on the mystery, and whether the congressman had gotten railroaded.

Finally, The Philadelphia Tribune followed up with a great column by lawyer Michael Coard, that went through the applicable legal standards and concluded it was high  time for the trial judge to clear up the mystery by unsealing a transcript of a closed-door hearing with that 12th Juror.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Verdi Not Guilty On All Counts

By Ralph Cipriano

A jury deliberated for just a couple of hours today before unanimously acquitting Dominic Verdi on all the political corruption charges against him.

Verdi, the former deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, had been accused in a seven-count federal indictment of conspiracy under the Hobbs Act to commit extortion and honest services fraud. But the case had all kinds of problems, which the trial judge, Berle M. Schiller, pointed out to the jury.

Verdi's problems began in 2006 when he sunk $20,000 into Chappy's Beer, Butts & Bets, a beer distributorship that was out of business by 2010. Verdi complicated the problem when the city's Inspector General asked him about it in 2007, and he denied having any ownership interest in Chappy's.

So Verdi was guilty of a conflict of interest, and lying about it. Not exactly exemplary conduct, but ethical violations. The feds, however, overreached by charging Verdi with criminal acts -- conspiracy to commit extortion and honest services fraud -- but failing to prove any of it.

When the verdict was announced, Verdi sat there stunned while his wife started crying.

"The truth finally came out," Verdi said outside the courthouse. "After six and a half years of being harassed, after six and a half years of my family being harassed, after six and a half years of my friends being harassed."

"To all my friends and family, thank you for standing behind me the way you did," Verdi said. "And to all the people out there who didn't believe me, karma's a bitch."

Monday, December 5, 2016

As Verdi Trial Winds Down, Judge Keeps Stopwatch On Prosecutor

NYTimes/Mark Makela
By Ralph Cipriano

During closing arguments today in the Dominic Verdi corruption case, U.S. District Court Judge Berle M. Schiller was keeping a strict stopwatch on a verbose prosecutor.

The judge had previously warned Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf last week that "You don't know how to control your time."

But Wolf apparently didn't learn her lesson. She continued to run over time limits imposed by the judge, who was clearly losing patience with her. So Judge Schiller took to loudly warning Wolf when her time was about to run out.

"Wind up," the judge warned Wolf when she was five minutes away from what should have ben the end of her 45-minute closing argument. "One minute or less," the judge warned when Wolf was nearing the end of the time allotted for her 10-minute rebuttal.

The judge's strict approach clearly flustered the disorganized prosecutor. But what may be more damaging to the government's case was the judge's editorial comments about missing prosecution witnesses delivered while Wolf was trying to wind up her all-too-lengthy cross-examination of the defendant. What the jury makes of this not-ready-for-prime-time act is yet to be determined.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

As Sentencing Nears, Debate Continues Over Chaka Fattah

Matt Rourke/Associated Press
By Ralph Cipriano

On Dec. 12th, former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, convicted of corruption last June, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Harvey Bartle III.

Fattah is facing as much as 20 years in prison. But a group of the congressman's former staffers say he got a bum deal.

In a detailed analysis of more than 300 pages obtained by Big Trial, the staffers, who are anonymous, assert that the congressman who served 11 terms was convicted on non-existent evidence. To prove their point, the former staffers rely on excerpts from 3,000 pages of trial transcripts.

At 6 p.m. Monday on radio station 900AM-WURD, Barbara Grant, a former TV and radio reporter, and former director of communications for Mayor John Street, plans to delve into the issues raised by this analysis. Why?

"I've known Chaka for a long time," Grant said. "I don't think he deserves to go to jail, I've seen other people walk away having done more."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Verdi On Stand: "Stupidist Thing That I Ever Did In My Life"

By Ralph Cipriano

Dominic Verdi, who took the stand today in his own defense, admitted that he had a conflict of interest when he bought Chappy's Beer, Butts & Bets, and tried to keep it a secret.

"It was the stupidest thing that I ever did in my life," Verdi said.

The 61-year-old former deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, is on trial for corruption in federal court. On the witness stand, Verdi admitted he lied when the city's Inspector General asked him about whether he had an interest in the South Philly beer distributorship.

"I should have told the truth," Verdi said.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Convicted Killer Testifies That Verdi Protected Strip Club

By Ralph Cipriano

The government's latest star witness in the Dominic Verdi corruption trial showed up in court today wearing a prison jump suit.

Other featured cooperating witnesses in the Verdi trial this week included a husband-and-wife team of former night club owners who have pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion, owing the feds as much as $1 million in back taxes, fines, and penalties.

But John Pettit had them beat. The former strip club manager was convicted this past June of third-degree murder after he punched a drunk patron in the head during a 2009 fight outside the Oasis Gentlemen's Club.  John Koons, 31, suffered a depressed skull fracture from the punch, and when he fell backward, he fractured his skull. He died two weeks after the brawl, without ever regaining consciousness.