e CommonSense: October 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Did Curt Weldon Benefit from Tom DeLay's Money Laundering Scheme?

PA GOP representatives on Tom DeLay's payroll

Pennsylvania members of the Republican caucus who are alleged to have received money from Tom DeLay's laundering scheme according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

Charles Dent
Phil English
Michael Fitzpatrick
Jim Gerlach
Melissa Hart
Tim Murphy
Donald Sherwood
Bill Shuster
. . . and . . .
(drum roll please)
. . .
Curt Weldon

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In case you missed the Sunday Inquirer

Greetings Sports Fans! How about them Eagles?

The Sunday Inquirer carried a story that no fan of Delco politics should miss. We are excerpting parts of it here. You can read the whole story at www.phillynews.com.

Commerce weaves web in Pa. suburbs
The bank got government money, officials got loans.
By Tina Moore
Inquirer Staff Writer

When Commerce Bank set out to conquer the city's Pennsylvania suburbs, executives had a simple strategy: Make friends with the elected officials and power brokers who could help deliver deposits of public money.

It worked. By 2003, Commerce Bank Pennsylvania had increased its stash of government cash fivefold. [And then a whole bunch of people went to jail.]


In Delaware County, which is dominated by Republicans, one Commerce executive correctly predicted, a year ahead of time, that the bank would snare all county cash once a new chairman of the County Council took over. [Did he have a really shiny crystal ball, or do you think it was his connections?] Two months before the county moved the money, the chairman received a $220,000 Commerce loan. His lawyer says there was no connection. [Oh. It was the crystal ball.]


As part of a wide-ranging investigation into Commerce, the FBI is scrutinizing the bank's relationships with officials in Philadelphia's Pennsylvania suburbs.


Commerce's political action committee, Compac NJ, gave less than $20,000 in Delaware County between 1995 and 1999. Over the next three years, the PAC gave more than $69,000 to the county's reigning Republicans.


Commerce bankers also forged relationships with such suburban power brokers as Delaware County's Charles Sexton, Springfield Township Republican Party leader and former county chairman.

Sexton was named a member of the bank's Pennsylvania advisory board in June 2002 - a position that paid $500 a meeting, stock options, and $100,000 of permanent life insurance.
By then, Commerce was already lining up Delaware County business. [Including the personal accounts of several judges!]

In an October 2001 memo, Holck wrote: "$6 MM payroll account being moved to us from F/U [First Union]. Will look to move entire relationship once McFadden assures chairmanship in January."

That was John McFadden, then vice chairman of the County Council and a Sexton ally in Springfield Township. He became head of the County Council in January 2002, three months after that memo was sent. Over the next three months, Commerce poured $25,000 into the county's main Republican finance committee.

In November 2002, McFadden received a $220,000 Commerce loan for the purchase of a $400,000 tract of commercial land just outside Media. Two months after that, the County Council voted unanimously, without a word of public debate, to shift $54 million to Commerce.

Let's look at this:

  • In October 2001 Commerce gets the $6 million payroll account, and figures it has the rest of the County's money locked up.
  • In January 2002 McFadden becomes head of County Council.
  • By April 2002 Commerce has given the Delco Republicans $25,000.
  • In June 2002 Charlie Sexton gets a paid position on Commerce's board.
  • In November 2002 McFadden gets a loan.
  • In January 2003, Commerce gets $54 million in County business.

McFadden would not comment, but referred questions to his lawyer, Joseph M. Fioravanti.

  • Isn't that the same Joe Fioravanti who is also one of the three partners in Solutions North America, along with Karen Weldon and Charlie Sexton?
County Controller Cynthia Leitzell said that a committee supervised by McFadden evaluated proposals from six banks and picked Commerce because it charged no fees and offered better service.

"I feel that we made the right decision on a purely objective basis," said Leitzell, who was a committee member and who also received a Commerce loan. "Nobody said a word to influence my decision."

The team that made that pitch included Albert J. Melfi Jr., Commerce's regional vice president. Melfi also played a role in McFadden's and Leitzell's personal Commerce loans.

Fioravanti said that McFadden and Melfi are friends and that McFadden's loan had nothing to do with the bank's receiving county business. Melfi prepared McFadden's loan for him, Fioravanti said, adding that McFadden received no special treatment. McFadden's interest was 7 percent, the market rate, documents show.

"There isn't any this-for-that," Fioravanti said. "It just doesn't exist."

Shepard said there was nothing strange about a vice president preparing a loan himself.

"There's nothing wrong with Al Melfi preparing loans," Shepard said. "He's a banker."

The bank has since changed its policies, however. Bankers seeking public business are no longer permitted to write loans for the town's officials, Shepard said. And loans for government officials must be approved by a senior vice president.

"As the bank grows, we need to ensure that we have the gold standard of procedure," Shepard said.

In February 2004, Leitzell received a Commerce business loan for her accounting firm, Leitzell & Economidis. She said it was for about $30,000.

Leitzell said she also talked to Melfi about a loan after his presentation; he referred her to a branch manager. She said she didn't get any favors.

Bankers sometimes courted government business at lunch meetings and other social events. Leitzell said that has changed for her.

"I saw what happened to Corey Kemp," she said. "I don't even go out with these guys anymore." [Very wise, Cindy! Buy your own dinner and Phillies tickets, and you won't need that Get Out of Jail Free card!]

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Very Scary Idea

It's funny yet creepy to watch Judge Clouse parade around the Courthouse like he is some paragon of virtue.

After all, this is a guy who brings a date to a viewing.

(Yes, Judge, we saw you and she-who-shall-remain-nameless-because-she-is-a-nice-person-and-we-don't-want-to-embarrass-her at Kathy Coulston's husband's viewing back in the spring.)

However, there is something extra-creepy-but-not-funny about Judge Clouse's treatment of Beatty Chadwick. We didn't know much about this until the recent spate of articles in the Daily Slime, according to which Chadwick has been in prison for ten years because he won't tell where some money is, although maybe he really doesn't know now even if he did know ten years ago.

When someone of questionable virtue like Judge Clouse can hold you in prison for life because he doesn't like your answer to a question, that's scary.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Fix? Fred Moran, George Twardy and the registered sex offender

Readers in Havertown sent us a link to their blog with the following story.

Notes for people who don't know Havertown politics:

District Justice Lisa Lacianca is Judge Kenneth Clouse's "stepdaughter" because she is the daughter of Lynn Cohen-Clouse.

Fred Moran is Clouse's longtime friend as well as Commissioner for Havertown's Fourth Ward and Vice-Chairman of the Havertown Republican Party.

George Twardy is Clouse's friend too as well as Commissioner for Havertown's Sixth Ward and Chairman of the Havertown Republican Party.

The Clouses, Morans, and Twardy's are all longtime friends.

So you decide: does it look like a "fix" was attempted?
  • MG is a registered sex offender who lives in the Fourth Ward of Haverford Township. MG is on the Megan's Law website.
  • MG was arrested in Chester County in 2003 and pled guilty to statutory rape, involuntary deviate sexual assault, and similar charges arising from his sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl he met in a chat room. At the time, MG was 21 years old.
  • MG was sentenced to ten years probation, with one year on house arrest, and to sex offender treatment.
  • In the Chester County proceedings, MG was represented by an attorney named Robert Donatoni.
  • In August 2005 MG, by this time age 23, was arrested by Haverford Township police on two charges of harassment. The allegations were that he obtained the phone numbers of young teenage girls from the computer at his place of employment, a retail store, and then called the girls to try to arrange to meet them.
  • MG was taken to the Chester County Prison because he was in violation of his parole.
  • A preliminary hearing was scheduled for August 11, 2005, before Judge Lisa Lacianca.
  • At the preliminary hearing, MG was represented by Michael McDermott, who has practiced law with George Twardy for about twenty years. Note: MG was not represented by Donatoni this time!
  • MG is the son of SG, who is a business partner and neighbor of Joseph L. DiTomo, Jr., who has also practiced law with George Twardy for about twenty years.
  • Twardy, McDermott, and DiTomo all practice law from 1026 Winter Street, a building that Twardy owns in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia. Note: McDermott is not even a Delco lawyer!
  • Because MG was in prison, the District Attorney wanted the preliminary hearing continued to a later date. The District Attorney also planned to reassign the case to Michael Galantino, head of the Special Victims Unit. Note: the DA must be taking this case seriously!
  • Fred Moran was at the hearing, and allegedly announced in the presence of several listeners, "I am here to be a character witness for this young man." Note: does Moran even know the man?
  • It is not possible to give character testimony at preliminary hearings.
  • At the September Commissioners' meeting, when asked about why he would offer character testimony for a registered sex offender just a few days after he had directed the Codes Enforcement Officer to draft an ordinance restricting where registered sex offenders can live, Fred Moran denied that this had happened.
  • Instead, Fred Moran said the question was "politically motivated" and that he had merely been in Lisa Lacianca's courtroom that day to go out to lunch.
  • Fred Moran works in Media, about a 20 minute drive to Lisa Lacianca's courtroom. Note: kind of a long drive to have lunch with someone you see almost everyday anyway, isn't it Fred? Or were you not in Media that day? Some folks around here say you rarely are!
  • Fred Moran was Lisa Lacianca's campaign treasurer.
  • George Twardy was Lisa Lacianca's campaign manager.
  • So now, draw your own inferences about what role, if any, George Twardy and Fred Moran played -- or attempted to play -- in this matter. Note: We don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure this one out.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Who's That In Fred Moran's Office?

If the investigation into Judge Clouse is over and he's been cleared, then what was that nice man from Harrisburg doing in Fred Moran's office?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Distress in Domestic Relations: Playing Games with Child Support

What’s a person to do when his income isn’t keeping up with his expenses? How can he find enough money to hire old friends and new girlfriends, when all Andy Reilly will let him have is a measly $42.3 million?

Judge Kenneth Clouse found himself in this painful dilemma last spring, and he has found a solution: annex Support Enforcement and its $5.2 million in federal funds.

Just one problem: Judge Clouse’s plan requires replacing Angela Martinez, a very competent 50 year old Latino woman with 20 years experience, with a younger white man.

(Bells should be going off right about now at Holsten & Associates! Better put on your thinking caps, friends, and figure out how you are going to explain this one to the EEOC!)

And not just any younger white male either, but Josh Waterston, Upper Darby’s own Boy Genius who has already done tours of duty in Domestic Relations and in the Public Defenders Office.

(Joshie wasn’t very successful in either place, but mediocrity has never been a barrier to a bright political future in Delaware County, especially for lawyers. The more mediocre they are, the more they need a County job, so there is an endless supply of lawyers willing to do the Party’s bidding.)

Judge Clouse’s plan has outraged Senior Judge Robert Wright, who spoke at a judge’s meeting for the first time in many, many years to condemn the shabby treatment of Angela Martinez.

Of course, Judge Clouse has the support of de facto Vice President Judge Kathryann Durham, who loves playing games with people’s lives, just for fun.

Judge Harry Bradley will go along with anything that doesn’t threaten his daughter Mimi Bradley Walker, and this plan actually increases Mimi's power. High pay, low hours: it’s the ideal situation for a Lexus-driving princess!

All of this would be just business-as-usual in Delco and could be shrugged off, except that Delco consistently ranks at the bottom of Pennsylvania's 67 counties in terms of child support enforcement effectiveness, and this will only make it worse.

Hmmm - while he's looking for a receiver to manage the Chester schools, maybe Governor Rendell could find one for Delaware County, too?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chester: We Were Wrong! Santa Delivers to Kirkpatrick & Lockhart

When we are wrong we will admit it. We thought Santa would be coming down Rocco Imperatrice's chimney and unloading his bundle of goodies there. Instead, the Daily Times reports that Michael Gillen, never one to spend a dime if he can spend a dollar, as long as its taxpayer money, has retained the pricey law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart to keep him and his buddies on the Board of Control in power. We are sure those kids in Chester won't mind Mike paying Jack Krill $450 per hour to keep Mike and his guys in power. After all, they've done such a super-duper excellent job improving the Chester schools that we're all thinking of moving our kids to Chester!

Of course, we jest. The only thing the Board of Control is really good at is transferring money from the taxpayers, and the children of Chester, to Vahan Gureghian.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chester: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The impoverished citizens of Chester have long been a source of wealth for Delco's politicians, and the Board of Control is just the latest example. Vahan Gureghian extracts $2 million per year, and Mike Gillen $50,000 per year, from money intended to educate the poor.

Neither has any shame about it: they are just continuing the long tradition of exploiting the poor in Chester, a tradition that made the Nacrellis very wealthy people. Gureghian and Gillen are more sophisticated than your everyday political hacks: they sell a vision of safe schools and effective education to beleagured, inexperienced Chester parents who are just happy to see their kids get through a day safely, and who wouldn't know a good education if it smacked them in the face. What passes for quality in Chester would never be accepted in Marple or Radnor or Ridley. Gureghian and Gillen are so deeply into this they might have even convinced themselves they are doing the right thing by Chester's children.

Now Governor Rendell has just handed the politicians a new way to extract money from the system for the benefit of one of their cronies: a lawsuit. Which politically-connected firm will get this plum? Our money is riding on Dilworth Paxson, and Judge Clouse's travel buddy Rocco Imperatrice, but we are sure that many of Delco's favored children are lining up to ask Santa for this extra-special, early Christmas present!

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Judicial Conduct Board and how it works

This post is going to be long, because we did some research that we want to share. As most of you know, Judge Clouse has been under investigation by the Judicial Conduct Board for various allegations of misconduct, most related to engaging in partisan politics. Judge Clouse and his wife/girlfriend/consort, the omnipresent Lynn Cohen-Clouse, have insisted that all the allegations are false and politically motivated. They are also claiming that the Judicial Conduct Board has completed its investigation and that Clouse has been exonerated. This is far from true.

The investigation is ongoing, and we know of two persons who were interviewed, for several hours each, last week, by the investigator for the Judicial Conduct Board, himself a former FBI agent.

Let's look at the process, as described by the Judicial Conduct Board in its website:

The first step in the discipline process involves a preliminary inquiry into a complaint by the Board's staff. During this stage, you or other witnesses may be interviewed and documents other than those provided with your complaint may be reviewed. Once there is sufficient information to conclude the preliminary inquiry, the full Board will review the complaint.

At this stage, the Board is most likely to make one of two choices: Dismiss the complaint because it is clear that the allegations do not warrant disciplinary action against the accused judge; or Authorize a full investigation to determine if there is "clear and convincing evidence" of misconduct that warrants disciplinary action against the accused judge.

Clearly, the Board made its preliminary inquiry and decided to authorize a full investigation. That's why every third person in the Courthouse has been interviewed by that nice man from Harrisburg.

When the investigation is concluded, the Board will decide whether or not to file formal charges against Judge Clouse:

After a full investigation is authorized and conducted, the Board makes one of two choices: Dismiss the complaint because there is not "clear and convincing evidence" of judicial misconduct; or File formal charges against the accused judge with the Court of Judicial Discipline following a determination that there is "clear and convincing evidence" of judicial misconduct.

Based on other cases we have seen on the Judicial Conduct Board's website, or read about in the press, we think the Board will file formal charges with the Court of Judicial Discipline. We hear that the allegations are so numerous, and the evidence voluminous, and corroborated by multiple witnesses.

Look at some of the examples here: http://www.judicialconductboardofpa.org/PressReleases.html

Also look at this story from Allegheny County where it seems that the judges have a far lower threshold for bad behavior than our judges do: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05274/580839.stm

The allegations we have heard about Judge Clouse are far more widespread and severe than anything we can find on the Board's website or in the press. We have heard that he pressured attorneys appearing in his court to buy tickets to a fundraiser, that he personally vetted all candidates for commission in Haverford, and that he uses his office to reward the politically compliant and punish those who don't obey his will.

If we were Judge Clouse, we wouldn't be so cocky. The Judicial Conduct Board might have some teeth.

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Unsung Heroes: Gerald Montella

    Readers of this blog might think that we have nothing positive to say about Delaware County government. Therefore we are posting this, the first in an occasional series of tributes to the "unsung heroes" of Delaware County, the people who make things work. These are the people who do the real work, while the politicians occupy the high-paying jobs with big-shot titles.

    First up is Gerald Montella, Court Administrator. Gerry manages a critically important department, and does it with grace and charm. Gerry is now President of the Delaware County Bar Association, and is associated with the law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP. Not a political hack, but still politically active, along with his recently-retired cousin Josephine Laird of the Election Board, Gerry represents the best tradition of public service in Delaware County.