Thursday, March 28, 2013

Accused Bensalem school employees could keep part of their pensions

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When Jack Myers retired as Bensalem School District business manager in June, he could count on a government pension that he had built for nearly 40 years.
But his pension picture isn't so clear now.
The same goes for eight other current or former Bensalem school employees who were among 20 people recently charged in $1.5 million dual corruption probes involving the theft of district-owned auto supplies and ghost employees.
Jack Myers
They potentially could lose at least part of their state pensions, according to state officials. But the same law that docks pensions also gives public school employees a way around losing their own contributions and the interest they've accumulated on their money.
A school employee can withdraw the lump sum of his or her contributions and the interest on the pension account either before pleading guilty or a conviction, said Evelyn Tatkovski, press secretary for the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System.
Public school employees charged with a crime also can collect full retirement benefits if they meet eligibility up until a guilty plea or a sentencing if convicted, Tatkovski said. Upon conviction, the individual loses the publicly funded portion of the benefit and the interest on that money.
The 1978 law strips most Pennsylvania public employees and officials of their publicly funded pensions if they are convicted or plead guilty/no defense to crimes connected to their jobs. The list of crimes covered under the law includes theft, forgery, tampering with records, perjury, retaliation against a witness, official oppression, misapplication of entrusted property and sex crimes.
Convicted public employees can receive contributions they paid into the pension fund, but without interest, if they hadn't already taken the money in a lump sum. Bensalem school employees contribute toward their pensions, a spokeswoman confirmed.
An employee also could be forced to give up individual pension contributions, too, under the law if the court decided the money must be used to pay court costs, fines and restitution associated with a conviction.
The Bensalem employees charged in the corruption probes include four district school bus garage mechanics — one the chief mechanic and another the shop foreman — as well as three ground-keeping employees plus Myers and facilities manager Robert Moseley.
Before Myers was hired in Bensalem in 2000, he worked for the Philadelphia School District for 26 years. If he is convicted of misapplication of entrusted property, he could lose all that time and taxpayer-funded portion of his pension.
Others charged in the corruption probe have had similar long school district careers.
Former mechanic Roland “Tex” Angle who worked for Bensalem for 26 years before retiring in 2006, and chief mechanic and shop foreman Frederick Lange, who police say was the garage theft mastermind, worked in the district for 41 years.
They would not be the first Bucks County public officials or employees to lose part of their pensions because of a criminal conviction.
Last year, former longtime county register of wills Barbara Reilly, 76, her second deputy Rebecca Kiefer, 64, and Candace Quinn, 53, of Bristol were stripped of the publicly-funded portion of their pensions and interest.
Bucks County employees are required to contribute at least 9 percent of their salary annually to the retirement plan. The county guarantees a certain interest rate per year, typically about 4 percent.
The women were among four people who pleaded guilty in a scheme that forced office workers to work the polls for Republican candidates on Election Day and gave them off-the-books compensatory time. 
At her sentencing, Keifer said that the pension match cost her $300,000.
The county's retirement board has taken no action on the pension of the fourth person convicted in the register of wills case — first deputy Jim McCullen, 76, who was employed by the county from 1998 to 2010. Neither has the board taken pension action involving former deputy sheriff Gary Browndorf, 55, who was convicted last year of simple assault and perjury, said county spokesman Christopher Edwards, who didn't say why no action has been taken.
Between 2008 and last year, 37 Public School Employees’ Retirement System members had their pensions forfeited, including three from Bucks and Montgomery county school districts, Tatkovski said.
During that same time period, 45 Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System members lost pensions under Act 140, spokeswoman Pam Hile said. They included state employees, state police, judges, some lawmakers and members of the State System of Higher Education. 
State judiciary members also face additional forfeiture provisions, including if the member is suspended, removed or barred from holding judicial office for a conviction or a felony or misconduct in office or conduct that prejudices the proper administration of justice or brings the judicial office into disrepute, Hile said.
The Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System could not provide statistics on the average amount of pension forfeitures.
Between 2008 and last year, eight Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System members forfeited their pensions because of criminal convictions. The PMRS was unable to provide information about whether any of the eight who’ve lost their pensions were from Bucks or Montgomery counties.

Friday, March 22, 2013

8 from Bucks charged in $175K copper thefts, damage at PECO substations

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eight people are accused in a month long copper scrapping spree at 13 electric substations that police say put workers’ lives in jeopardy and resulted in a combined theft and damage loss of more than $175,000.
A joint police task force created to crack the copper caper described the suspects — all between 20 and 30 years old — as part of a “loosely” affiliated theft ring that committed 20 thefts at PECO substations between early November and mid-December.
The suspects were arraigned Tuesday before Bristol Township District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. on varying counts of burglary, criminal trespass, theft, receiving stolen property, criminal use of a communication device, risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, possessing an instrument of crime and recklessly endangering another.
Those arrested are: Bristol Township residents Jason Pallis, 29; William Bruck Jr., 23; Michael Gerretz, 23; David Hoffner III, 25; Christopher Weldon, 20; and Taylor Homan, 21; Falls resident Jamie Lynn Brown, 30; and Middletown resident William Brent Leone, 25.
All the suspects, except Bruck, were released on $500,000 unsecured bail. Bruck remains in Bucks County prison on $400,000 bail. He’s been there been since his Dec. 13 arrest after getting caught while allegedly trying to steal copper at the Emilie substation in Bristol Township.
Pallis also faces charges in a separate case, copper thefts at a Middletown housing construction site in November.
The arrests culminated an investigation led by Bucks County detectives and police departments in Bensalem, Bristol Township, Falls, Middletown and Newtown Township, where the grounding copper wire thefts occurred.
Grounding copper is used to ensure that voltage remains at safe levels under all operating conditions at electric substations, according to police. Damaging or removing one or more of the groundings increases the rise of potential failure of the system that would be visually undetectable.    
Removing even one of the grounding cables can place a person in danger if the exterior security fence is touched, police said. Grounding wire is about 1 inch thick, about 2 pounds per foot and is buried at various lengths underground.
The task force says its investigation found that the alleged ring members arranged thefts with each other during daytime calls. A driver often would leave the area during a theft and get a call when the others were ready to be picked up, police said.
Emilie Road in Bristol Township and the Woodbourne station in Middletown each were hit three times during the scrapping theft spree, police said.
The thieves used bolt cutters to cut holes in exterior security fences around the substations to provide not only a way in, but a way out in the event they were chased by police, according to an affidavit of probable cause. The ring members would pick areas that were secluded or hidden from view to enter the substations, police said.
The exact dates of the thefts, though, is unclear because the substations are not manned, monitored or inspected each day, police said.
Once inside the substations, the suspects would cut the copper grounding wire at the metal poles or fencing and pull up as much wire from under the ground as they could, then cut the other end, police said. In most incidents, at least $1,000 worth of copper was taken, but damage to each substation was at least twice as costly.
A theft at the Steel-Tap substation in Falls netted Bruck, Pallis and Brown $4,250 worth of copper, but the damage and repair costs were $16,375, police said.
Police say that Bruck taught several of the other suspects what he believed was a safe way to steal copper cable.
Gerretz was the first of the suspects to be arrested, when in November police said they caught him at the Emilie Road substation. There, nearly $3,000 in copper was stolen in one theft, and the damage and repair costs were nearly $12,000, police said. Pallis and Brown accompanied Gerretz in the theft, but escaped, police added.
Due to its scrap value, PECO Energy has taken additional steps in painting its ground wiring purple to make it easily identifiable. Also the utility has notified area scrap yards that the copper wiring is painted purple and should be considered stolen property.
But, according to the task force investigation, the suspects took all the purple-painted copper to the same Philadelphia scrap yard, which does not require identification and doesn’t ask questions about the source of the copper, police said.
The average scrap value for this type of copper is about $3 per pound, according to court documents.

Cops: Morrisville woman attacks fellow Parx slots player who refuses to stop smoking

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Secondhand smoke led to first-hand violence at a Bensalem casino after a Morrisville woman attacked a woman who refused to put out her cigarette, police said.
The smoker required three staples in her head to close a cut after Dana Sarne, 30, of South Pennsylvania Avenue, hit her with a beer bottle, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
The alleged incident happened March 4 at Parx Casino on Street Road when a woman claimed that Sarne repeatedly struck her and then hit her in the head with the bottle after a verbal argument over the woman’s smoking, police said.
The two women were playing slot machines next to each other when Sarne asked the woman to put out her cigarette because it was irritating her asthma, police said. The smoker refused and the two started arguing, police added.
Dana Sarne
The smoker admitted that she blew cigarette smoke in Sarne’s face, police said. In response, Sarne struck the woman in the face and head with her hand, according to a probable cause affidavit.   
Surveillance video showed Sarne hit the woman in the face four or five times with her hand, according to police.
The smoker’s husband told police he was playing slots nearby when he heard the argument between the two women. As the husband and Sarne’s friends injected themselves into the fight, the smoker felt something hit the back of her head and immediately felt dizzy, she told police.
Sarne later admitted to swinging at the smoker after she blew smoke in her face and “throwing” a bottle at her, according to the affidavit.
The woman’s husband grabbed Sarne after she tried to run away, police said.
When state troopers arrived, they said the smoker’s shirt was covered in blood and she was bleeding from the head and had a cut lips as well. The smoker’s husband sustained minor facial cuts after attempting to separate the women, police said.
Sarne later reportedly told police that she was not aware that the incident occurred in the smoking section of the casino.
“She related that she felt bad for yelling at (the smoker) because she was obviously within her rights to smoke in the smoking section,” according to the affidavit.
Sarne was arraigned Tuesday before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone on charges of aggravated and simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. She was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $25,000 bail.
Sarne is on probation after pleading guilty in Bucks County Court in April to simple assault, possessing an instrument of crime, and reckless endangerment, according to online court records. She also received probation in 2009 after pleading guilty to simple assault and harassment, and in 2008 after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, court records show.

Probation likely for Bristol Twp. mom whose boyfriend killed her toddler

Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013

A Bristol Township mother who police say knew her boyfriend was physically abusing her 18-month-old daughter for weeks before he killed her will likely receive probation under a negotiated plea agreement.
The deal for Nakia Adams, 28, of Haines Road, was outlined Thursday when she appeared before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone and waived to Bucks County Court a single charge of endangering the welfare of children.
If Adams fails to plead guilty, the recommendation for probation will be withdrawn, prosecutor Matt Weintraub said.
Bensalem police filed the endangering charge against Adams last month, shortly after her then-boyfriend Adrian Allen, 28, pleaded guilty in county court to last year’s murder of her daughter.
Police allege that not only did Adams know Allen was abusing the girl, but she lied to police, hospital and social workers about how the injuries happened and failed to get the girl prompt medical treatment.
Hospital and autopsy records show that multiple injuries were inflicted on Barbara Adams during the two months before her death. They included a broken arm, a broken leg, broken ribs and a human adult bite mark on her upper arm. Bruising and scars covered her body.
She died 11 days after Allen kicked her in the head on Feb. 25, 2012, after the girl soiled her diaper.   
Adams was “very well aware of (Barbara) suffering many injuries under her boyfriend’s care and still allowing him to care for her until the tragic death of the child,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
Police say that on Jan. 7, 2012, Adams took Barbara to Aria Health’s Torresdale campus, where she told hospital workers the baby appeared to be suffering side effects from vaccinations she received a few weeks before. She told the medical staff that Barbara had developed a full body rash a week after getting the shots and was lethargic for three days, according to an affidavit.
“Today, she can’t walk on her right leg,” she also told the ER workers, according to the affidavit, in which the mother is quoted as saying the girl also had favored her left arm.
Adams left the emergency room after a few hours, without allowing doctors to treat Barbara, police said.
The next day, Adams took the girl to St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown — not for treatment of her arm — but for a spiral fracture of her right leg. The primary report by the ER staff stated that Adams claimed her daughter’s leg and hip pain began the day before. The ER staff also found several old burn marks on the girl’s upper left leg and a spiral fracture of the leg, police said.
The mother also lied about who was caring for the child when she was injured, police said. She told St. Mary workers the injuries were caused by a babysitter whom she had since fired, court records show. She later admitted Allen was the babysitter.
St. Mary Medical Center notified police about the injuries. Police notified Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services, which investigated. The District Attorney’s Office said the agency was satisfied with Adams’ explanation that her two older daughters accidentally broke the girl’s leg while roughhousing. so the case was closed.
Barbara’s last trip to the ER was Feb. 26, after Adams told police she arrived at her Bensalem apartment about 6:45 p.m. to find her daughter in bed and unresponsive.
Adams told officials she left Barbara and her sisters — ages 5 and 8 — with Allen the weekend of Feb. 24 while she was out of town. Allen, who isn’t the father of any of the children, regularly babysat for Adams, police said. Initially, Allen told police the child became sick on Feb. 25, was throwing up and the next morning was “out of it,” police said.
Prosecutors alleged that Allen initially told them Barbara was injured after she knocked over four stacked wooden kitchen chairs while leaning against them to get up after a fall. The accident happened after Allen forced the child to walk on her broken leg to dispose of her dirty diaper because he was “mad at her mother,” according to the probable cause affidavit in his case.
Allen later told police that he “snapped” while trying to change Barbara’s diaper and he kicked the girl in the head while wearing heavy boots, causing her to begin having seizures.
When Adams returned home and found her daughter unconscious, she took her to St. Mary Medical Center, where doctors determined she had serious internal bleeding in her skull that required emergency surgery. There also was evidence of blunt force trauma to her head, a cut on her top lip, and other injures consistent with child abuse, police said.
Barbara was transferred to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where she died from the head trauma.
Adams cooperated with the police investigation into Barbara’s death and the prosecution of Allen, which is why the DA delayed filing criminal charges, Weintraub said.
“We didn’t want to rush into charging her,” he added.
Her two other children don’t appear to have been physically abused. Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services removed the girls from the home and they are in the custody of their grandmother.
In January, Allen pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and child endangerment, and no contest to first-degree murder in Barbara’s death. He will serve life in prison under a plea agreement.
Adams remains free on $75,000 unsecured bail.

Philly man accused of lending starter pistol used in robbery of teen

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013

At first, a Philadelphia man said he didn’t give his friends a starter pistol they used to rob a teen as he got off the school bus last month, Bristol Township police said.
“They stole it from me and they returned it to me,” Brian Pickup, 22, reportedly told a detective who showed up at his Worth Street house last month.
Brian Pickup
But after his sister told police that Pickup knew that the friends planned to use the gun in a robbery, he changed his story and admitted lending them the gun, according to court records.   
The sister said that, a few days before the robbery, Nicholas Ricciardi, 21, and Dennis Rose III, 19, both of Bristol Township, told Pickup that they were planning on “robbing a kid of his weed and money,” police said. She said her brother told the men to take his starter pistol to “scare the (expletive) out of the kid,” court records show.
Pickup now faces robbery, conspiracy and related charges in connection with the Feb. 20 robbery of a Bristol Township teen during which the starter pistol was used, police said.
Police said the robbery was connected to the so-called “Black Flag Family,” a group of young men whom Bristol Township police say has caused “a lot of chaos” in the town. Five members and a 17-year-old Newtown Township girl were arrested earlier this month for robbing the teen of money and marijuana, police said.
The teen told police that the men were waiting for him in two cars when he got off the bus at Aspen Lane. Three men, including Rose and Ricciardi, threatened to beat him up, according to police. The teen told the men he didn’t want trouble and kept walking, police said.
The men followed him until Ricciardi told the teen to “run his pockets,” which is street slang for “empty your pockets, this is a robbery,” according to court records. As the teen ran away, he said Rose threatened to shoot him with what he thought was a semi-automatic handgun if he didn’t stop, police said. It was the starter pistol, police added.
The teen heard a gunshot and ducked, police said. All the men then scattered, and got into several cars, police said.
The 17-year-old, who is being charged as an adult, is Caroline Kolb, Ricciardi’s girlfriend, police said. She allegedly drove Ricciardi and Rose to Philadelphia to return the gun.
After Ricciardi was arrested, he admitted to the robbery and Rose admitted chasing the victim and firing the starter pistol, “which caused panic to everyone around the area,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
Both men also told police they got the starter pistol from Pickup, whom they said knew they were using it in a robbery, the affidavit said.
Pickup was arrested and arraigned Monday before Newtown District Judge Donald Nasshorn, who sent him to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $100,000 bail.

Police: Bensalem man tells judge to jail him or he'll castrate his ex's boyfriend

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013

A Bensalem man told a district judge to send him to jail or he’d cut off the penis of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, according to court records.
Nicholas Leach III allegedly made the statement to Lower Southampton District Judge John Waltman at his arraignment last Friday on charges of violating a protection from abuse order for a second time.     
Less than a week later, while still sitting in Bucks County prison on $100,000 bail, Leach was charged a third time, and now faces multiple counts of stalking, harassment and defiant trespassing. He will be arraigned at a later date.
Nicholas Leach III
The last time, which was before his imprisonment, Leach called the woman more than 30 times and left more than a dozen voicemails over a two-day period, Lower Southampton police said. He also allegedly visited her home several times and took a shop vacuum out of her garage, sent her text messages and showed up at her job.
Police say the harassment started after a Bucks County judge granted the woman the final PFA order Feb. 20, prohibiting Leach from direct or indirect contact.
But hours after the order was granted, the woman and her son were driving home when she saw Leach in his car parked in front of her home, police said. She turned onto a nearby road to avoid him.
He followed her, sped past her, stopped his car, then started backing up toward her car, police said. The woman pulled into a nearby driveway and Leach reportedly drove off.
The next day, Leach allegedly appeared at the woman’s workplace and dropped off a set of spare keys to her car and a handwritten note that read: “I let you into my heart. We NEED to talk as friends. I’m sick with cancer, stomach liver and prostate. I love u not going to hurt you! U helped me now I owe U!”
That day, she received eight phone calls within four hours at work and four calls on her cell phone, according to court documents. About 11:40 a.m., she received a call from an auto parts store, court records show, but hung up when she heard Leach’s voice. Three more calls from the same store number followed.
Two days after the PFA was finalized, the woman’s son called police to report that Leach was standing in the street in front of the house. Leach started chasing him down Lake Road as police arrived, according to court records.
Leach was arrested and sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $200,000 bail.
During his arraignment, Leach told the judge he would not follow the PFA order and threatened to “kill” the victim’s boyfriend, according to court records. He was found guilty on March 6 of civil contempt for violating the PFA and received a 72-day suspended sentence with time served.
True to his word, less than a week later, Leach resumed his harassment, police said.
On March 12, Leach allegedly called his ex-girlfriend 18 times and left nine voice mail messages. She answered one call during which Leach told her he wanted to talk about his illness and truck, and she told him to stop calling her, court records show.
The next day, the woman said she saw Leach take a shop vacuum from her garage, so she filed a report. That day she received 13 calls and six voice mails from him, police said.
About 6:30 a.m. March 15, the woman said Leach was sitting in his car in her driveway, according to police. When police contacted Leach, he told them he was there to give her flowers, according to the affidavit. He was arrested and charged with violating a PFA.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Power of Attorney: 'People don't realize the extent of the power they're giving'

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013

Before a Bensalem man entered Bucks County prison to serve a 10-month sentence, he asked his fiancée to watch over his finances.
She made sure his bills were paid -- as well as her own, unbeknownst to him, police said.
Cecillia Sarchilli (left), Virginia Marquardt
In a matter of months, the woman spent nearly $230,000 on vacations, breast implants, home repairs, furniture, school tuition and financial penalties, police added.
She cashed in certificates of deposit and bonds in his name; withdrew money from his IRA, incurring penalties; and she wrote checks for her business and personal attorneys, authorities added. She opened credit cards in his name, too, they said.
The woman even attempted to obtain a loan on the man’s home, according to Bensalem police, who filed theft, forgery and related criminal charges against her in December.
But recently, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office withdrew all charges against the 51-year-old Warrington woman, a decision that didn’t surprise some attorneys.
That's because the woman had the legal authority to spend her boyfriend’s money. And that is the power behind the power of attorney, a legal document granting its holder the ability to act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business or legal matters.
When used appropriately, the document is a valid tool to protect assets and pay bills for someone who's unable to oversee or control his or her financial interests. It also avoids the more drastic measure of appointing a legal guardian, legal experts and consumer advocates say.
But there are many misconceptions about how power of attorney works, said Debra Kroll, a law professor at Temple University’s James Beasley School of Law.
Among the most prevalent mistakes is the belief that once granted power of attorney, the person has sole control over the representative’s financial decisions. Not true, said Kroll, who teaches about law and aging. The agent can make financial decisions only if the person is mentally incapacitated.
But as recently as 15 years ago, Pennsylvania courts had a different opinion of the documents. Generally, the courts held that agents acting under broadly worded power of attorney couldn't be held liable for misusing the assets of a person they represented, legal experts said.
As a result, police and district attorneys were less inclined to prosecute individuals with power of attorney for using the assets they controlled for their personal benefit.
"People took advantage of them (powers of attorney) and the law didn’t recognize it the same way," Kroll added. "Now, there has been so much abuse of them and so many problems, now it’s becoming recognized."
The alleged misuse of power of attorney has led to several high-profile criminal cases in which the victims — or their heirs — were bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last year, Bensalem resident Virginia Marquardt, 65, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $300,000 from a 67-year-old neighbor who put her in charge of her finances after she was diagnosed with brain cancer and placed in a nursing home.
Prosecutors say Marquardt transferred the woman's money into her bank account and used it to save her husband's failing businesses, buy him gifts and send him on vacations. The victim now has a court-appointed attorney as her guardian; the guardian will handle her estate as well as the restitution payments from Marquardt.
The thefts went undiscovered until 2011, after Marquardt, who was eventually sentenced to house arrest, stopped paying the woman's nursing home bills.
In January, 52-year-old former banker Cecilia Sarachilli of Bristol was charged with using her financial knowledge to steal nearly $300,000 from the estate of a former friend who died in 2011. The woman had made Sarachilli her power of attorney and trust executor.
But rather than pay the woman’s beneficiaries, Bensalem police said, Sarachilli diverted money from the trust accounts, took out a line of credit on her friend’s home and used credit cards in the name of her friend. Last week, charges of forgery, theft and related offenses against her were forwarded for trial to Bucks County Court in Doylestown.
Bucks County assistant district attorney Marc Furber says his office is seeing a trend with criminal allegations involving unrelated third parties who are granted control over the assets of incapacitated people. The common thread among the cases is that the victim is often vulnerable, isolated and without close family members, he added.
Kroll, the Temple University law professor, said she doesn't see a lot of unrelated third-party power of attorney situations, but she predicts that one of the biggest looming problems that baby boomers will face is no one to name as power of attorney, which leaves the courts to appoint a legal guardian.
"(Older adults) ask my students, will they be their power of attorney," Kroll added. "They’re desperate. I get asked all the time."
Using a third-party power of attorney "greatly" increases the chances of financial exploitation, said Bensalem Detective Stephen Clark, who leads the department’s financial investigations.
“(It’s) greed,” he added. “People think that they won’t get in trouble or no one is watching.”
Bensalem's Clark said people now do realize they can be charged criminally for misusing money.
One man who had power of attorney for an elderly woman in a nursing home called police when he found the woman had no money left. He didn't want police to think he had used it inappropriately. After an investigation, police found the woman gave away the money before she went into the nursing home, he said.
“My point is, he read an article and saw that people are now being charged criminally and he called police to report it.”
About 10 percent of the 50 calls the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging’s protective services unit receives each month involve financial exploitation involving power of attorney, supervisor Chuck Danfield said. Most complaints come from parents who claim reckless spending by their adult children or other family members who control their assets.
"Some people don't realize the extent of the power they're giving" with power of attorney, Danfield added.
Often, parents or grandparents are reluctant to pursue criminal charges because the person with power of attorney is a family member, said Kroll, the Temple law professor.
Bucks County deputy district attorney Antonetta Stancu declined comment when asked why the charges were withdrawn against the Warrington woman. Stancu said only that the DA's office didn't feel it had enough evidence to pursue the case. Bensalem Detective Clark, who handled the case, declined comment on the decision to drop the charges.
The woman's private attorney, Ray McHugh, said his client didn't commit a crime since she had legal control of her fiancee's finances under his power of attorney. McHugh added that his understanding is that the DA believed the issue was a matter for the civil courts to resolve.
Falls attorney Ron Elgart agreed that people who misuse power of attorney can be held accountable in civil court, but by the time the theft is uncovered, he said, there often is little money left and little hope for full restitution.
Elgart added that he's "always" hesitant about drafting a power of attorney for a client.
"If the power of attorney is broad, it can cover every asset you own," he said. "This person is handling all the money you have in the world."
Historically, most disputes involving power of attorney ended up in civil court, said Katherine Pearson, a law professor at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law.
That changed in 1999, when the Legislature amended the law creating a “presumption” against the rights of someone with power of attorney to use those "powers" to make "self gifts," said Pearson, who has written a book on financial exploitation involving power of attorney.
State law now provides that, in most cases, people using power of attorney are agents with a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the person they represent. Unless the person specifically waives informed consent, a power of attorney agent is legally required to use “reasonable caution and prudence,” she said.
The Bensalem Police Department has been conducting criminal investigations into power of attorney and executrix of trust accounts cases only for the last five years, Clark said.
"In the past ... I don't think anyone was really policing the POAs,” Clark said. “Most law enforcement agencies don’t have the manpower, resources or knowledge of how to pursue these investigations. Cases like these are long, confusing and involve retaining a lot of financial documentation."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bristol Township busts 'Black Flag Family' in robbery of teen

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013

They call themselves the “Black Flag Family.” Bristol Township police call them wannabe armed robbers.
Bristol Township police say five of the “family” members robbed a teenager last month after he got off a school bus on Aspen Lane. One member allegedly fired a gun at the kid but missed.
Throughout the week, police reportedly arrested four members of the reputed family and a 17-year-old Newtown Township girl, who police say drove one of two cars to the alleged robbery. An arrest warrant has been issued for a fifth Bristol Township man, the girl’s boyfriend.
Police also believe some of the group’s members might be responsible for other crimes in the township, and an investigation is continuing.
“This Black Flag Family has caused a lot of chaos in our town,” Bristol Township Lt. Terry Hughes said, adding that the joint investigation is being conducted by Bristol Township and Bensalem police with help from Middletown police.
Police said they received numerous 911 calls about gunshots in the area of Aspen Lane Feb. 20, and kids running away and fleeing in two cars.
One resident described one of the cars as a blue Ford Mustang. She also found the alleged victim crouched over at her front door breathing heavily. He told the woman he had been chased.
Members and associates of the "Black Flag Family" 
When police interviewed the boy, he described a “feud” with the suspects over a girl that had been ongoing for several weeks. He told them that the men were waiting for him in two cars when he got off the school bus that afternoon, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Two of the men whom he knew — Nicholas Ricciardi, 21, and Michael Kurfuss, 19, both of Bristol Township — and a third man he didn’t know stopped him and threatened to beat him up, according to police.
The teen told the men he didn’t want trouble and kept walking, police said. The men followed until Ricciardi announced the robbery by telling the victim to “run his pockets,” which is street slang for empty your pockets this is a robbery, according to the affidavit.
The teen told the men he had only a cellphone, which he refused to give up, according to court records. The third man, Dennis Rose III, 19, of the township, forcibly took a marijuana cigar off the teen, police said.
The teen started to run away and turned around to take a punch at Ricciardi when he saw Rose with what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun, court records show.
“Stop or I’ll shoot you,” said Rose, who later told police he was trying to scare the teen, according to court documents. Soon after, the teen heard a gunshot and ducked, police said.
All the men then scattered, and got into the cars. The girl, later identified as Caroline Kolb, 17, of Newtown Township, drove the Mustang, police said. A man — identified as Joseph Collora, 24, of Middletown, was driving the other car — a white Chevy Cavalier — they added.
Police said other teens who got off the bus in the same area corroborated the boy’s version of events, police said.
Police, who interviewed Kolb with her mother present at her home, said she admitted to being involved in the robbery and shooting on Aspen Lane. She told police that she was aware that Rose and her boyfriend Ricciardi, Kurfuss, Collora and another man, went to Aspen Lane to rob and beat up the teen, according to the affidavit.
After the gun was fired, Kolb drove her Mustang with Ricciardi and Rose to Philadelphia to return the gun — which turned out to be a replica starter gun — to its owner, who was not identified, according to court records.
Kolb also told police she was at a party Saturday night at Collora’s house and that she, Rose, Collora and Ricciardi bragged about the shooting and “other crimes committed in the area,” according to the affidavit.
On Tuesday, police interviewed family founding member Collora, whom they said admitted driving his Cavalier to Aspen Lane with several members of the “Black Flag Family,” police said. Collora also admitted that he knew Ricciardi and Rose had a gun when they went to the fight, court records show.
“Collora was aware that Ricciardi and Rose habitually rob victims and assault them,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
Four of the five suspects have been arrested and charged with robbery with immediate threat of serious injury and related crimes. Kolb was charged as an adult and sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $150,000 bail.
Collora was sent to county prison in lieu of 10 percent of $150,000 bail; Rose, Kurfuss and Michael McKearnan, 20, of Bristol Township were sent to county prison in lieu of 10 percent of $750,000 bail.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Ricciardi on the same charges, police said.

Police: Northampton man arrested after 28 pot plants found in 'grow' house

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013 

Tips about suspicious vehicles in a Northampton neighborhood turned out to yield quite the harvest: 28 marijuana plants, bulk-packed marijuana and other drug paraphernalia, police say.
It also led to the arrest of a 20-year-old man who lives in the three-bedroom ranch-style home in the 500 block of Sackettsford Road where police said they found a growing operation. More arrests are likely, Northampton Lt. Mike Clark said Friday.
An investigation started after the tips and police obtained a search warrant for the house. It was executed Thursday, and police said Scott Fosmire and his two roommates were there. The roommates weren’t arrested. The three have rented the home since November, police said.
Also inside the house, police said, were three growing rooms in the basement and in closets equipped with special lighting, a ventilation system and marijuana plants — some as high as 5 feet, as well as bulk-packed marijuana, which Clark described as a “substantial” amount. The landlord is not a suspect and has cooperated with police, Clark said.
Police also said they found other paraphernalia associated with marijuana throughout the house including pipes, scales, books about growing marijuana and two pictures of the late reggae musician Bob Marley, a marijuana user.
After Fosmire was taken into custody, he admitted he owned, and grew, the marijuana plants, according to a probable cause affidavit. He also admitted to selling the drug and told police he had five regular customers to whom he typically sold quarter ounces.
Fosmire also told police he usually buys about one pound of marijuana at a time in Philadelphia for about $3,000, according to the affidavit.
Fosmire was arraigned late Thursday before Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski on multiple counts of manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, use and possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of small amount of marijuana. He was released from Bucks County prison after posting 10 percent of $75,000 bail.
The arrest is the second in six months connected with a marijuana growing operation in the township.
In September, police said they discovered a large-scale operation in the basement of a Holland townhouse.
In that case, police arrested Michael Komar, 29, of Springwood Place, who is awaiting trial on charges of manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, firearms not to be carried without a license and related offenses.