Friday, January 27, 2017

8th Ward Dems Tell Feds Farnese Didn't Have To Buy Votes

By Ralph Cipriano

A Democratic committeeman from the 8th Ward got his dander up today when a prosecutor asked if state Senator Larry Farnese had offered him money in exchange for his vote to make Farnese ward leader.

"Don't be silly," Sam Hopkins, a 20-year veteran of the ward, yelled at Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis on cross-examination. "It's just not done."

A minute later, Hopkins indignantly asked the prosecutor, "Young man, where are you from?" The prosecutor started to answer before he thought better of it, and shut up.

The defense was putting on its case today in the federal fraud trial of the state senator, which has struck many observers, including the judge, as a possible example of prosecutorial overreach. Farnese is charged with allegedly buying the vote of Ellen Chapman, a Democratic committee woman who is his co-defendant, by lining up a $6,000 scholarship for Chapman's daughter.

In the eyes of the government, that $6,000 scholarship, which came from a political action committee, was a bribe that helped Farnese get elected ward leader. But Farnese's lawyers have characterized the scholarship as a good deed, the type of thing that legislators routinely do for their constituents.

Chapman's daughter, Hannah Feldman, was the first defense witness of the day. She told the jury that she was a University of Pennsylvania freshman short on cash back in 2011 when she was trying to raise money to pay for a study abroad program in Kyrgyzstan that cost $24,000.

"There hadn't been a study abroad program in that region," Feldman told the jury. That's why Feldman, who had previously studied abroad in Moscow, wanted to go to Kyrgyzstan. To get into the study abroad program, which was being offered by Bard College, Feldman had to take a semester off from Penn, and write an essay on why she deserved to go. That essay won her a $10,000 scholarship, but she was still $14,000 short.

That's when her parents enlisted the help of the state senator, whom she referred to on the witness stand as "Larry."

"Lucky for me both my parents know him," she emailed another college student about Larry, so "access wasn't a problem."

Feldman was connected. Her mother was a committee woman in Farnese's ward. Her father, David Feldman, another Farnese constituent, is a prominent member of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club.

Her family could always count on Larry for help, Feldman testified. That's the politician her family turned to when Feldman needed a sumer job. And when Hannah lost her health insurance in college, it was Larry who helped her enroll in a government health care program.

Besides being connected, Hannah Feldman was a fast-tallker on the witness stand as she read emails into the record that were trial exhibits.

"That was impressive," Mark Sheppard, Farnese's lawyer said, after Feldman stopped talking.

"I can go faster if you want," Feldman said. "My mom joked I could be an auctioneer."

Judge Cynthia M. Rufe told the witness she was "glad we have a tape-recorder" in the courtroom, because Feldman was talking too fast for a court reporter.

The defense today called as witnesses several members of the Democratic committee from the 8th Ward, where Farnese was accused of buying Chapman's vote to become ward leader.

Stephen Stringer, a retired lawyer, testified that it was obvious that "Larry Farnese had this nomination locked up," so he didn't have to buy votes.

Did you ask for any money for your vote, the prosecutor asked.

"I did not," Stringer said.

Sam Hopkins, the Democratic committeeman who got testy with the prosecutor, testified that he was one of a group of volunteers who made phone calls to all 50 committee members, to see who they were supporting for ward leader.

The results of the straw poll: Farnese had "all but approximately 10 votes" locked up, Hopkins said. This was before Farnese made "one phone call" on his own behalf, Hopkins said.

The job of ward leader isn't exactly a glamorous job, Hopkins seemed to be saying. It doesn't come with any salary.

"Nobody seems to want it," Hopkins said about the post. Our ward, Hopkins told the jury, "is not a hotbed for political candidates."

"Except for Larry," he added.

Jovida Hill was another former committee woman from the 8th Ward who testified today in Farnese's defense.

In her view, Farnese did not have a serious competitor for the job of ward leader, which became vacant when former ward leader Stephanie Singer stepped down.

"He was our state senator," Hill said about Farnese. And he was honest.

"He's never lied to me," Hill said.

"There was no question Larry was the heir apparent," Avi Eden, another committeeman, told the jury.

Eden testified that Farnese wasn't the type of politician who did anything underhanded. In fact, Eden said, people worried that Farnese was too nice a guy.

"Many of us are surprised that he [Farnese] survived this long in politics," Eden said.

The last witness of the day, Valerie Singleton, told the jury about how for the past three years, that nice guy Farnese had been a big brother to her grandson.

"He's very honest," she said about the state senator.

After the defense ran out of witnesses, the judge adjourned court until 9:30 a.m. Monday. The judge announced she was taking under advisement a defense motion to dismiss the case.

In court Thursday, according to Jeremy Roebuck of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the judge said during a break that the defense had made "strong" arguments on why the case against Farnese and Chapman should be dismissed. And that the legal battle over whether to toss the case was going to be "terribly close."

The judge is expected to rule on that motion after the defense puts on its final witnesses Monday.


  1. "Lucky for me both my parents know him."

    I don't know, Ralph, but that sure looks like special treatment. Would she have gotten the same help if neither of her parents knew him?

    This looks like the in-crowd taking care of each other while the out-crowd goes to Temple or CCP. Unless the jury is stacked with UPenn students or grads, I can't see this witness helping the defense much.

    The defense suggests this was routine - that Farnese helped out plenty of constituents. Was any evidence of this presented?

  2. I say, the State Senator is guilty as charged. If he is found not guilty, it opens the door for other politicians to spend money that doesn't belong to them. What would be the cut off amount $6,000, $10,000, $50,000 of other peoples money you could spend without being charged. It is time to send a message to all politicians to keep their hands out of the cookie jar or pay the price.

  3. Any idea how much this trial is costing us taxpayers?

    1. The feds will never tell you that. I've tried to find that out as far back as the Fumo trial.

      They are accountable to no one.

  4. I think this case is a load of crap. My ward leader helps all of us committee people. Pays for funerals tuitions electric bills whatever. People need help who cares. Don't be hating get yourself involved. HE EASILY COULD HAVE HANDED HER A BAG OF CASH HE DIDNT. He didn't need the dam vote so where's the quid pro quo ?!!!

  5. I don't have a problem with him helping a student to better herself, is it any different than using the money to clean a street or make a donation for a street fair or a carnival to benefit the neighborhood. So what if her parents knew a politician, maybe more people should get off their backsides and help out or become more involved. I have no problem with the donation of the money for the girls education. Helping one another is part of the job.
    What I do have a problem with is paying federal prosecutors salaries to waste our tax dollars on ridiculous cases. Again ethical issue not criminal.

  6. Federal prosecutions, at least of the white collar variety, are actually very cost effective. They prosecute the most winnable, highest profile cases they can, and let the others slip.

    So while a single case may cost a lot, the objective is to have fewer cases in the first place, and more plea bargains in the cases they take. The Fed could not possibly nail every tax cheat - that's why they focus on entertainers and politicians. Send a message to thousands for the price of one prosecution.

    I would not be surprised that if a state senator from the middle of nowhere had done the same thing, they'd never be prosecuted because nobody would pay attention. But a state senator from the largest city, who holds an office that the last two occupants left as a result of their own convictions? That's a better story.

  7. I can't agree with the use of the word cost effectiveness when used in prosecuting a human being, regardless of the desired outcome for the prosecution. There still has to be a better way to handle an ethical violation instead of turning them into a crime and landing in federal court.

    There is no justification for ruining a defendants life and the lives of their family to hold control over the public. The sentence does not fit the "crime", I don't think any jail time or the threat of jail time should be attached to this type of violation.

    Since federal prosecutors, FBI and IRS agents are not held accountable for the tactics they use to incriminate a defendant whatsoever. When we have a level playing field and all are held to the same standards, I would consider changing my mind.
    Its not acceptable to me that team prosecution is allowed to invent crimes,threaten witnesses to testify, use the media to taint the jury and all the while we realize that they have lied to get an indictment in the first place on many many cases.

    I don't want a justice department that uses strong arm methods to get a conviction to keep the citizenry under their thumbs, I want justice, not what we have been witnessing recently.

    I would however change my mind if the cost effectiveness of prosecuting a federal prosecutor or an FBI agent for their crimes to show the public what really happens during a federal trial, that would be cost effective in preventing useless trials and would give a defendant a fighting chance with a jury. No longer would the government have the stranglehold they enjoy now.
    What does the last two occupants that held the office have to do with this defendant other than show prejudice on the part of the prosecution.

  8. Whether the prosecution is cost effective is an entirely different story than whether it is "just."

    I agree that the punishment in most of these cases may be too harsh. I suspect he has 6-12 months coming if he loses, but more importantly is the economic damage. As a lawyer he will get his license back in 5 years. I think these are draconian punishments.

    But prosecutors don't make the laws. Tasked with enforcing them, they have to pick cases carefully and that's where the cost effectiveness comes in.

    As for this merely being unethical, enough already. We rely on politicians to be ethical. Farnese is a lawyer and can understand the rules. He's not charged with an accidental failure to report.

  9. As near as I can determine, there is no oversight of any kind over prosecutors. They can, like Seth Williams, put innocent men to jail based on the lies of a fraudulent witness, as amply demonstrated in the Billy Doe case.

    They can criminalize all kinds of previously permissible behaviors. And when they have a string of failures, such as the rogue cops case, the Verdi case, and nearly another failure with the Fattah case, nobody holds them accountable for their actions.

    Lease of all the media. Something is terribly wrong here.

  10. My thoughts exactly, if Seth Williams got a fine from the ethics board and I don't think his law license is in danger why should Farnese be held to a different standard. The money Williams took benefited himself, not a constituent. Williams is a lawyer, he should have known better, when can we expect his federal trial. As Farnese is a lawyer he did know better than to bribe Chapman, seems he did not need her vote.
    Picking the cases is correct, seems like this was an easy one for the prosecution, South Phila and the prior convictions of the seat held before, slam dunk for the prosecution.
    This trial should never have gotten off the ground, 6,000 dollars did not go in his pocket,and its not a bribe. This comes under the heading of the prosecution "making work" for themselves, always need a high profile corruption case in front of the public to make them think the feds are going their jobs and keep everyone safe from politicians .

    Jurors need an education before they decide the fate of a defendant, just because the prosecution says its so does mean it has any resemblance of being the truth. If jurors only knew how prosecutors operate and the lengths they go to get a conviction it would open their eyes. An hour of a juror time before being allowed to sit should be mandatory, starting with facts or a film from the Innocence Project showing the other side of prosecutors would do wonders, or have an innocently accused person speak to the jurors as well.

    1. While the 6k did not go in Farnese's pocket, the Feds think he benefitted from it. That's part of their case, and that's probably the weak part. The other part is he listed it as a donation to Bard College when it was actually used for a single student. Would you call your own tuition payments a "donation" on a form that requires a signature under penalty of perjury and jail time? Most people recognize the distinction between donation and payment. I haven't heard of anybody being prosecuted for "donating" to ACME, for example.

      Meanwhile, I don't think Mr. Williams is particularly comfortable right now. The next 48 hours will be very interesting. The wolf at his door is not going away, and if the Fed succeeds in ringing up Farnese, Seth is in for a long ride.

  11. The system is set up all wrong, a prosecutor benefits from a conviction, he has a motive to succeed at the expense of a defendant . He also has no reason to be completely honest as he has no chance of being held accountable for lying or deceiving the defendant and the jurors.

    Prosecutors also fly the flag of the United States government, deemed to be honest and true and a pioneer of human rights, no one would think that representatives of our government would do something so heinous to benefit themselves.
    Hiding evidence seems to be taken for granted as laws have been passed and are still being passed for the prosecution to share evidence with the defendants lawyers.

    This concept has escaped the Inky, as they have benefited the prosecution in their quest for a conviction, hence the extremely high rate of plea bargains. What confounds me is how the Inky can miss the overwhelming evidence all around us showing the opposite of what they present to the public. They have us believe all other professions are at fault but it seems inconceivable to them that a prosecutor could be lying, unless your caught accepting a new roof and vacations. How can seemingly intelligent people not see this blatant fact. Each and every Inky reporter owes it to the public to do more research and explore recent facts, go to the Innocence Projects website, The Quattrone Centers website, read the Marshall Project everyday, its by the former editor of the New York Times and is named after Thurgood Marshall,pay attention to defendants and the stories they have to tell. Continuing to blindly support the prosecution is antiquated and had not earned the Inky the respect of other publications trying to wake America up to our new reality.

    Help Philadelphia and the region move forward, spread the word of the good works of these three groups working to right injustice. Sitting back and letting the prosecution run the show has eroded our faith in the justice system.

  12. Whether you were for Donald Trump or against him, we can all agree that the media completely blew the campaign, the election, and in general, was one hundred percent wrong about Trump from day one.

    But has the media spent one second of introspection pondering what went wrong? Hell no. They are still in attack mode, going hysterical 24/7 about everything he does. He's just been in office one week and already it's time for impeachment.

    The Inky was one hundred percent wrong on the rogue cops case, and the Billy Doe case, and the Dominic Verdi case, just for starters. Have they spent one minute of introspection trying to figure out what they got wrong? Hell no. They are just continuing on their merry way, pretending none of it ever happened. There's something wrong with that.

    1. The thing is, so many people saw Pennsylvania swinging red. Anybody that didn't see it coming was watching the news instead of paying attention. Days before the election, Republican elders were downright giddy, while their Democratic counterparts were sweating bullets. And it had nothing to do with Comey.

      The final tip should have been the Springsteen/Bon Jovi concert used to rally the young millennials and Black voters. #Fail.

      It is really disturbing that the Inquirer can't strike a balance and can't even get the objective truth straight. The murder rate "Falsometer" string of articles was the latest failure - whether it is increasing or decreasing depends on how you subjectively frame the timespan.

      But Trump's comment was reasonable enough when you consider which time frames make it true or false. Lost on the Inquirer was the idea that new residents, from Brooklyn for example, would be appalled to hear that the rate was the highest since they got here and at least FOUR TIMES that of NYC. To the people who have led the city back to growth, the murder rate is a "disaster," to borrow a word.

      But hey, some folks are content in knowing it's not 1990 anymore.

    2. I would not expect any time soon for the Inquirer to agree with us, their incestuous relationship with the prosecution makes them ineffective in reporting the facts accurately. They are firm in their belief that they got the matters correct as they have information directly from the prosecution that convinced them they are right.

      I have decided that I now know why their reporting is so disinterested and they use biased language while reporting the events in the courtroom, why alter your opinion when you already have the full prosecution side of the story.

      Assuming the Inquirer speaks for all of us is incorrect and insensitive, I agree they have the right to say what they believe is true but that leaves the rest of us out without being able to express our opinion and the readers believing only their version of a case or trial.
      I would love to see the defense side paid for by the federal government like the prosecution side, a defendant should not have to pay to defend themselves against prosecutors that bend the truth. All judges should be former defense attorneys. All media involvement would cease until after a trial.Prosecutors found guilty of distorting facts and hiding evidence will go to jail.

  13. Seth Williams took out a full page ad in the Public Record asking for our forgiveness and his pledge to work hard to get our trust back. He mentions his family who had to endure unwarranted attacks for his shortcomings.

    Interesting he mentioned his family,I wonder if he thought of families when he gives information to the Inky on a defendant. Maybe not printing the prosecution side would save families the humiliation and ordeal of living though the horror of being labeled by the media. Hopefully he will think of families before he authorizes incriminating evidence on anyone.

    Let me say you can't ever win back my trust, you lost it when you prosecuted an old woman, who was set up, for accepting a bracelet when you were doing much worse, and knew better. Trivializing payments from previous employers and gifts from friends, while sending others to prison only highlights the audacity of a prosecutor.

    1. He can ask for forgiveness at his sentencing, if and when the Feds finish up their work.

      Notice how many times Seth tells us that none of his donors ever got anything in return.

      Imagine if you saw smoke and somebody kept repeating, "But there's no fire!" There's fire. The guy sounds like a nervous wreck, not a guy that just settled up with the Ethics Board and is moving on.

  14. Fact, the murder rate in Philadelphia as of today stands at 61% higher than last year at this time. I know this to be a fact. Trump was right on target. The media is either purposely not giving the actual facts or they do are being lied to by certain individuals to make it appear the Police Department has it under control. They do not!


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