Philly Judge Admits He Lied to the FBI

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

“Justice” engraved on Philadelphia’s City Hall. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Municipal Court Judge Joseph O’Neill admitted today he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during an investigation into wrongdoing in the courts. He pleaded guilty to making false statements during the federal corruption investigation.

O’Neill, 65, admitted that he lied to the FBI on two occasions when they investigated former Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. earlier this decade. Waters abruptly resigned his position and pleaded guilty to fraud in September 2014.

During that investigation, investigators twice asked O’Neill if Waters communicated with him about a case involving Donegal Investment Properties. The owner of Donegal was Sam Kuttab, an ally of Waters, and the FBI had intercepted a conversation where Waters asks O’Neill to “take a hard look at it.” Kuttab pleaded guilty last year. Read more »

Gov. Tom Wolf: “Free the Six-pack” in Gas Stations

Tom Wolf - six pack of beer

Six pack photo by Alan Levine, used under a Creative Commons license

You soon might be able to buy gasoline and beer at the same location — though not at the same time.

In a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board titled “Free the Six-pack,” Gov. Tom Wolf asks the PLCB to allow gas stations to sell six packs of beer at attached convenience stores. The liquor code currently forbids the LCB from approving any new licenses “where the sale of liquid fuels or oil is conducted.”

But, Wolf writes, the LCB should approve 12 such gas station licenses to sell up to 192 ounces of “malt or brewed beverages.” Though the law says the board should not approve such licenses, Wolf says a recent court case has reversed one item in the liquor code: Read more »

Philly’s Court-Appointed Attorneys Are Getting Screwed

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

If the world has learned anything from Saul Goodman, it’s that the road to prosperity sure as hell isn’t paved in the salaries of court-appointed attorneys.

The first season of AMC’s Better Call Saul began with Goodman in his past life as James McGill, a court-appointed attorney whose frustration with the court system — and life itself — went through the roof when his expected trial payments turned out to be a lot less than what he’d expected. Turns out similar scenes have been playing out in Philadelphia for quite some time.

A handful of court-appointed lawyers recently told the Legal Intelligencer that the city has been quietly slashing their fees during during the last several months. But the problem actually stretches back years, according to Benjamin Lerner, the former Common Pleas Court judge who serves as the city’s deputy managing director for criminal justice. “I’ve been hearing complaints like this going back to at least 2012,” he told Philadelphia magazine on Tuesday.

Read more »

The Please Touch Museum Is Out of Bankruptcy

Please Touch Museum - Philadelphia - Memorial Hall

The Please Touch Museum in 2014. (Photo: Jeff Fusco)

The Please Touch Museum’s 2008 move to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park did not work out as planned. Revenue from admissions did not reach projected levels. Neither did donations. And the old Please Touch building did not sell for what the museum had originally hoped for.

Financial problems dogged the Please Touch Museum, and last year it filed for bankruptcy. It was $60 million in debt, but had negotiated it down to $11.25 million.

Today, a judge approved that plan: The Please Touch Museum is out of bankruptcy; its debt has been reduced. Almost $8 million was raised, exceeding what the museum needed to pay off its debt. In all, the museum paid $8.25 million, with an additional $3 million in reserve funds also going to bondholders. Read more »

Pa. Judge Rules: Ted Cruz’s Name Stays on Primary Ballot

Ted Cruz

Photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license

One of the (many!) subplots to this year’s presidential race is the status of Ted Cruz‘s eligibility to be president. The constitution requires the president to be a “natural born citizen,” i.e. an American by birth. But Cruz was born in Calgary — which is actually in Canada. His mother was American, though, so he’s fine, right?

Not according to opponents! Some say the Constitution says Cruz is not eligible to serve. Mary Brigid McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener, wrote a Washington Post op-ed that argued Cruz was not eligible. Obviously, that Cruz is a “strict Constitutionalist” gives this story an extra bit of drama (and, if you like, levity).

Some who oppose a President Cruz have gone as far to file a federal lawsuit challenging Cruz’s eligibility. And, yesterday, a Pennsylvania judge heard a lawsuit from a Pittsburgh man who challenged Cruz’s eligibility to be president.

He ruled Cruz was eligible. Read more »

2 Brothers Admit Peddling Bootleg Jerseys on Wildwood Boardwalk

Bootleg jerseys - Wildwood - counterfeit jerseys - U.S. Department of Justice photo

The game on the Wildwood boardwalk where the Strothers brothers gave away counterfeit basketball jerseys as prizes. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

As an expert in Wildwood boardwalk T-shirts, it’s time to let you readers in on a little secret: Not all of the shirts are officially licensed products. Logos are used without permission, store owners swipe T-shirt ideas from one another and — maybe because infringers can escape into the sea — the boardwalk is generally a copyright lawlessness zone.

But not always. In the past two weeks, two South Jersey brothers have pleaded guilty to purchasing at least 16,700 counterfeit basketball and football jerseys and giving them away as prizes at three outposts on the boardwalk in Wildwood and North Wildwood. To which I say: It’s actually possible to win those prizes on the Wildwood boardwalk’s basketball games?! Read more »

Ex-Philly Teacher Cleared of Most Charges in Cheating Trial

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Ary Sloane, a former Philadelphia School District teacher accused of illegally changing answers to improve test scores, was found not guilty of most charges on Thursday in Common Pleas court. Her attorney, Michael Coard, called it a “stunning victory for justice” and a “stunning defeat for the attorney general.”

Sloane was found not guilty of tampering with public records and forgery, but received a guilty verdict on conspiracy charges.

“Guilty of conspiracy,” Coard wrote in a text to Philadelphia magazine. “To do what? We’ll fight to get that inconsistent — and illegal — verdict reversed prior to the 5/9 sentencing. And we’ll win!” Read more »

Feds: Philly Municipal Court Judge Lied to FBI

Chris Potter | Wikimedia Commons

Chris Potter | Wikimedia Commons

Federal prosecutors have charged a Philadelphia municipal court judge with lying to investigators in a corruption case.

The indictment (see below) against Judge Joseph O’Neill, 65, says a fellow judge, Joseph C. Waters Jr., tried to influence him in a small claims civil case against an ally of Waters’, Samuel Kuttab. (Prosecutors say Kuttab asked Waters to use his influence in exchange for political support.) Read more »

Lawyers for Amtrak Crash Victims Rip Engineer’s Statements

Robert J. Mongeluzzi (left) and Tom Kline - Amtrak 188 press conference

Robert J. Mongeluzzi (left) and Tom Kline, lawyers for victims of the derailment of Amtrak 188, speak at a press conference today. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

Lawyers for 29 victims of last year’s derailment of Amtrak 188 say Brandon Bostian‘s statements, released today by the National Transportation Safety Board, are an insult to the victims.

“He had absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events [right after the crash],” Robert Mongeluzzi told reporters today at a press conference. “Now, after months pass after the accident he now has a sudden memory. That, for the victims, is going to be a bitter pill to swallow.”

Mongeluzzi and Tom Kline, who both represent victims in a lawsuit against Amtrak over the crash last year, gave a press conference about an hour after the NTSB released its findings. They zeroed in on Bostian’s statements; one was taken just days after the crash in May, while another was on November of last year.

“Unfortunately, the last memory I have on the way back is approaching and passing the platforms in North Philadelphia,” Bostian said in May. “I remember turning on the bell, and the next thing that I remember is when I came to my senses I was standing up in the locomotive cab after the accident.” Read more »

Prosecutors Want Years of Jail Time for Chaka Fattah Jr.

FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2014 file photo Chaka Fattah Jr., walks from the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 14, 2014 file photo Chaka Fattah Jr., walks from the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Federal prosecutors want Chaka Fattah Jr. in prison for years.

In court papers filed this week, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul L. Gray and Eric L. Gibson are seeking about six years in prison for the Congressman’s son. Fattah Jr., who goes by “Chip,” was convicted of 22 counts in federal court last November.

Fattah Jr. was chared with offenses including filing false income tax returns, stealing from the School District of Philadelphia, making false statements to banks in order to obtain loans, and failing to pay federal taxes. He faces four to six years in prison, per the Inquirer, and prosecutors are asking for a sentence on the higher end.

“The evidence demonstrated incontrovertibly that Fattah was a habitual schemer, liar and fraudster, obsessed with wealth and material possessions — the opposite of the picture of the well-intentioned legitimate businessman and entrepreneur that he tried to sell the jury at trial,” Gray and Gibson wrote. Read more »

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