Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cops: 2 women charged in separate heroin-related deaths

Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013

Bensalem police have charged two women who allegedly supplied heroin that killed two people in separate incidents hours apart earlier this month in what may be among the first local prosecutions under an enhanced law for drug delivery deaths.

Nicole Marie Lavery, 39, no fixed address, admitted buying the drug in Philadelphia and providing a bag to Megan Boni, 26, who subsequently overdosed and died early Sept. 1, according to authorities.

Later that same day police say Bensalem resident Rhiannon Radetzky, 22, admitted buying heroin and providing it to her friend — 23-year-old Francisco Lopez — who later died of an overdose at her home.

Nicole Lavery (left) and Rhiannon Radetzky
The first incident happened at the Radford Motel in the 4000 block of Bristol Pike in Bensalem. Police responded to the motel for an unresponsive woman — later identified as Boni — around 5:30 a.m. Lavery and Boni’s boyfriend were also in the room and told police they were watching TV, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Boni was taken to Aria Health’s Torresdale campus where she died shortly before 7 a.m. police said. A subsequent autopsy determined the cause of death was “drug intoxication,” according to the affidavit.

When police interviewed Lavery, she said the two met in drug rehab and she believed Boni was addicted to “benzos and crack” referring to benzodiazepines, a drug that treats various conditions such as anxiety, depression and muscle relaxation, and crack cocaine.

“When asked about drug use, Lavery originally denied any drug use, stating she had been sober for months,” according to the affidavit.
Boni’s boyfriend, though, provided a different series of events prior to the fatal overdose, police said. The man had not been charged in the case as of Thursday.

He claimed that Lavery and Boni were at a bar in Delaware County and Lavery kept talking about wanting to “get high,” court papers said. The three drove to Philadelphia where Lavery bought heroin. The trio then headed to the Radford.

Soon after the three got to the motel, the boyfriend said he noticed something was wrong with Boni, though he didn’t see her take any drugs. Boni was snoring loudly, which wasn’t normal for her, the man said, according to the affidavit.

The snoring eventually stopped and he checked on Boni. He woke up Lavery, who told him that Boni just needed to “sleep it off,” court papers said.
When the boyfriend checked on her 20 minutes later he found her unconscious and her lips turned bluish, police said.

Again, the man said he woke up Lavery and told her to call 911. Instead of immediately calling for help, the man said that Lavery went into the bathroom two or three times first, according to police.

Police responded to the second overdose shortly after 10 a.m. when they were dispatched to an Allison Court home for a report of a man in cardiac arrest. 

When police arrived they found Lopez dead on the floor of a bedroom.

Officers found blue wax paper bags commonly used to package heroin on the floor next to him and in an adjacent bathroom and other paraphernalia common among heroin users, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

An autopsy later determined that Lopez died of “drug intoxication.”

Radetzky, who lives at the home, told police she was with Lopez the previous night and he stayed overnight. They went to sleep around 2 a.m. and when she woke up shortly before 7:30 a.m. she found Lopez on the floor making a “gurgling” noise, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with police, Radetzky told police that when she found Lopez unconscious she asked a roommate what she should do. He told her to call 911.

But Radetzky said she thought that Lopez “just had to sleep it off,” according to court documents. She put a blanket over him and a pillow under his head, police said.

When she checked on Lopez again around 9 a.m. she heard him making “gurgling” noises “so she thought he was fine,” Radetzky told police, court documents said.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Radetzky’s grandfather came over to the house and he called 911, police said.

Radetzky admitted that there “might be” text messages or phone calls in her cellphone in reference to buying drugs, court documents said. She also told police she set up a purchase of heroin from a drug dealer she knows in Philadelphia and bought the heroin the night before. She also gave some of the heroin to Lopez at her house.

Lavery was arraigned Wednesday night before Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski on drug delivery resulting in death, recklessly endangering another person and related charges. She was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000.

Radetzky was arraigned Thursday before Bensalem District Judge Joseph 
Falcone on drug delivery resulting in death of victim, recklessly endangering another person and related drug charges. She was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail.

Under a July 2011 change in state law, the grading for drug delivery resulting in death was increased from a third-degree felony to a first-degree felony. It also doubled the maximum prison sentence from 20 to 40 years and made it easier to prosecute cases.

Previously, the law required that prosecutors prove a defendant showed “malice” — meaning the person acted with extreme disregard for human life — to get a conviction on the charge. Now prosecutors have only to prove a defendant delivered the drug and that a death resulted from that drug.

Police: Firefighter paid friend $200 to set fire

Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013

A 19-year-old Bensalem probationary firefighter faces arson charges after police say he paid a friend $200 to set a fire in the laundry room of an occupied apartment building after firefighters failed to respond to the first fire they set.

Bensalem police connected Alberto Acevedo, of Knights Road, with the Aug. 20 fire that evacuated 80 people at the Bucks Meadow apartments after his friend, who was arrested last week on burglary and arson charges, implicated him, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The fire was reported around 11:30 p.m. in Building 1 of the Knights Road complex.
Alberto Acevedo

A police officer who arrived first at the scene tried to enter the laundry room but the door was locked. He forced open a locked window and climbed inside the burning room where he found thick paper and other materials on fire, according to police.

The officer stomped on the fire and used a trash can to smother the flames. He then filled the trashcan with water from a laundry tub to extinguish the fire. Meanwhile, police evacuated the building and fire departments arrived on scene.

No one was injured in the fire. A subsequent investigation determined that the fire was intentionally set and resulted in $2,000 in damages.

The case remained unsolved until last week, when police interviewed Robert Schaeffer, 19, in connection with a burglary. During the interview, Schaeffer admitted setting fires, two in the laundry room at Bucks Meadow a month earlier.

He told police that he set trash and other debris on fire, left the laundry room, then called 911 to report the fire, according to the affidavit. He and Acevedo then walked to a nearby shopping center to watch firefighters extinguish the fire, police said.

Robert Schaeffer

Schaeffer also said that Acevedo gave him $200 to set the fire after the fire department didn’t respond to a fire the two men had set in the same laundry room earlier that day, according to police.

On Thursday, Bensalem police interviewed Acevedo, who admitted he was with Schaeffer drinking Baccardi Limon Rum the afternoon of Aug. 20 in the laundry room of Building 1 at Bucks Meadow. Acevedo gave Schaeffer his black undershirt and watched him douse it with the rum and place the shirt and other items into a dryer and set them on fire, according to court documents.

The two ran away and waited for the fire department to respond, but the fire burned slowly, Acevedo told police, according to court documents. No smoke showed for 15 minutes.

A short time after the smoke appeared, an apartment maintenance man discovered the fire and extinguished it, the affidavit said.

Later that day, Schaeffer told Acevedo that he was going to start another fire in the laundry room and “cause a wreck,” court documents said. Acevedo never made any attempt to contact emergency services after the fires were set, police said.

Acevedo is a probationary member of the Eddington Fire Co., which serves the Bensalem area including the Bucks Meadow apartments. He is also a former member of the Third District Fire Co. in Bristol Township, police said.

Acevedo was arraigned Thursday before Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski on arson and related charges. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000 bail.

Baranoski arraigned Schaeffer Sept. 21 on arson, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges. He also is in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000 bail.

How crooked contractors skirt state law

Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013

A state law designed to protect against home improvement fraud contains loopholes that allow contractors convicted of fraud to continue working, even possibly appear on the state-required registry, according to Bucks County's head of consumer protection office.

Director Michael Bannon also questioned how closely the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is vetting and monitoring registered contractors under the state’s four-year-old Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.

He cited two recent home improvement fraud cases where the contractors with prior histories of civil complaints and criminal convictions continued working in home repairs and construction. Bannon said he’s also found other contractors with customer complaints filed against them on the registry.

“In many cases there are situations where someone owns the business and runs the business, but doesn’t do contracting work. I understand why it’s that way, but what happens is homework not being done on some contractors,” Bannon said.
John Salvatico

Since 2009, contractors in the state who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvement work have been required to register with the Attorney General's Office every two years. 

The law also requires contractors to provide the state detailed background information including criminal complaints, civil judgments and bankruptcy filings, imposes new, harsher penalties for offenders and lets homeowner easily verify that a potential contractor is state registered.

Melissa Etshied, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Builders Association, which helped write the law, pointed out the registration should not be interpreted as a state endorsement of a contractor.

“We are not aware of loopholes in the Act that would allow convicted or accused contractors to remain on the list,” Etshied added.

Not so, according to Bannon. Among the biggest holes, he says, is the law doesn’t automatically bar a contractor with criminal convictions for fraud or theft from obtaining a state registration.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office confirmed that it has no power to “deny” a registration because of previous crimes, civil judgments or bankruptcies without a court order.

Rather, the law “expressly directs” the office to issue a registration certification after an application is completed and the fee paid.

While the state can “deactivate” a registration if a contractor provides false information on an application or fails to pay the $50 application fee, the contractor can reapply to be listed, again, unless there is a court order that prevents it, according to the Attorney General’s Office. As of last December, 2,768 contractor registrations in the state had been deactivated since 2009, according to the AG’s office.

There also is the lack of any provision in the law that requires registered contractors accused or convicted of home improvement crimes to immediately cease operations without a court order.

Bannon learned about that glitch after the owner of Doylestown Roofing & Siding, an unregistered home improvement company, was convicted a second time of bilking a homeowner.
Steve Dunner

Steven Dunner, 34, was on probation for a prior contractor-related fraud conviction in 2011 when he took $28,000 in deposits from three Bucks County homeowners but never performed the work he was paid for. Dunner was sentenced to two to 10 years in state prison last year.

Dunner, who has other theft-related convictions, also managed to obtain state registration after his 2011 conviction, Bannon said. At his sentencing last year it was revealed that he lied about the past convictions on his registration application.

Bannon said he was shocked to learn after the second fraud conviction that Dunner could apply to be a registered contractor. His office requested and received a court order from a Bucks County judge to get, and keep, Dunner off the registry.

Another way that contractors can skirt the law is getting a third party, like a friend or relative, to register as a contractor and then hire the questionable contractor as an employee.

That appears to be how Doylestown contractor John Salvatico allegedly continued working in home improvement after his most recent conviction in 2008 for deceptive business practices related to a family contracting business. 

Salvatico and his brother Joseph pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to bilking six homeowners and were each sentenced to 11½ to 23 months of jail time and 10 years of probation.

Recently, Salvatico was accused again of fraud, theft, deceitful business practices, forgery and related offenses in at least four towns in Bucks and Montgomery counties involving his failure to complete work he was paid for. In at least one of the cases, officials said, Salvatico told the homeowner and township that his name was John Farabella.

Salvatico allegedly was working as an employee of Eastern Construction & Roofing LLC in Doylestown, which has been registered as a state contractor since May. The state lists Eastern Construction’s owner as Virginia Schaffer, who authorities say is Salvatico’s wife.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office says it monitors the activities of its registered contractors primarily using information provided by the public, including local police and district attorney offices. Contractors are also required to report to the state any disciplinary action taken against them and a state website includes those details.

As of Friday, though, Eastern Construction & Roofing LLC in Doylestown is still listed on the state registry; it also lists the company’s “associated individuals” including managers, as not involved in any home improvement related crimes or recent civil judgments.

Bannon, who also helped draft the contractor law, believes it’s a great tool for identifying contractors when complaints or concerns are filed with his office. It has made tracking down crooked contractors far easier, he said.

“But it hasn’t been able to stop them,” Bannon added. “I would think if you have a conviction of home improvement fraud, that would prevent you from getting a registration number."

More child porn charges filed against 80-year-old Lower Makefield man

Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 

An 80-year-old alleged child pornographer is headed to trial with 30 more sex crime charges against him.
Thomas Holliday, of Edgewood Road in Lower Makefield, initially was charged with 62 counts each of sexual abuse of children and photographing or videotaping a child sex act on a computer, as well as charges of indecent assault on a person under age 16, sexual contact with a minor and related child sex charges.
The additional counts were added Wednesday during a brief court appearance in Morrisville District Judge Michael Burns' courtroom. Now the total counts against Holliday stand at 92. 
Holliday waived all the charges to Bucks County Court for trial. He remains in Bucks County prison in lieu of $5 million bail.
Lower Makefield police allege that Holliday sexually abused a girl starting when she was 15 years old and captured the abuse on still images and video.
Detectives reviewed more than 70 CDs that were turned in to police, which, they allege, show an underage girl engaged in sexual activity with Holliday. Several CDs showed Holliday allegedly taking still photos of the girl.
All the CDs were dated and time-stamped before the girl turned 18, police said.
Thomas Holliday
Police also viewed three CDs made before the girl turned 16 in which Holliday can be seen groping or touching the girl in a sexual manner and the girl is heard or seen on the video telling him “no,” and “stop,” as she pushed, kicked or slapped Holliday, according to court documents.
After the hearing, Holliday’s attorney, Ron Elgart, said he and prosecutors are working to negotiate a plea deal. He added that Holliday’s health has significantly deteriorated since his arrest.
Holliday, who appeared thin and frail, used a cane to walk and he had a loud cough, which he attributed to emphysema.
Lower Makefield police started investigating Holliday after allegations surfaced that he had been abusing the girl since 2009, according to a probable-cause affidavit. An adult relative of the girl turned over CDs she took from Holliday’s house and that the girl claimed captured the abuse, according to police. The earliest CDs were dated 2009 and the most recent January 2011, police said.
On the CDs, Holliday also is seen labeling and packaging CDs in brown wrapping paper. The girl asks Holliday whether he is mailing them, and he tells her yes, according to the affidavit.
During the video he also asked the girl if she knew what he was doing when he wrapped a piece of paper around something on his desk, court documents said.

“So the trash men don’t find it,” she replied, according to court documents.