Monday, March 9, 2015
Judge denies AG's request to skip hearing in Risoldi fraud case
Posted: Monday, March 2, 2015
A $20 million insurance fraud case against a prominent Bucks County family and two associates will first be heard in district court, against the wishes of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
Judge Thomas G. Gavin on Monday turned down the AG’s request to bypass a preliminary hearing for four members of the Risoldi family and two associates who are accused of bilking insurer AIG in claims filed for three fires at the family’s Buckingham mansion, and fraud allegations in a 1993 insurance claim. Gavin, a senior judge from Chester County, was brought in to hear the case because of the Risoldis’ ties to the county Republican Party.
Claire Risoldi, 67, her son Carl, 43, and his wife, Sheila, 43, all from Buckingham, daughter, Carla, 48, of Solebury, and family associates Mark Goldman, 54, of Wayne, and Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, are accused of more than a dozen felonies, including corrupt organizations, filing false insurance claims, and theft by deception.
The AG’s office wanted the court to move the fraud case directly to trial in the Court of Common Pleas in Bucks County. Doing so, though, would have meant bypassing the preliminary hearing, during which a magisterial judge decides if the prosecution has presented enough evidence to show that a crime did occur and whether the defendants likely committed it. If there isn’t enough evidence, a case is dismissed.
A defendant can request to waive their right to a preliminary hearing and send a case directly to trial, but it’s unusual for a prosecutor to seek court permission to skip the legal step, said Michael Engle, an attorney representing Carl Risoldi.
“Our position is (the AG filed the request) because they know they don’t have a case,” Engle said after Monday’s hearing at the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown.
Deputy Attorney General Matt Connolly refused to comment after the hearing. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching the AG’s Office in Harrisburg for comment.
Engle said he was thankful the judge believes his client — like everyone else — is entitled to a preliminary hearing.
“These defendants should be no different,” he added. “I think what we have here is a case where we will have a chance to present our side. It will allow us to have our day in court”
A preliminary hearing for the defendants is scheduled for March 10, but Engle said it will likely be continued because Gavin ordered an outside magisterial judge to hear the case.
Another county hearing scheduled for later this month on an AG request to freeze four pieces of property, which it believes the Risoldis have interest in, as well as a counter request from the Risoldi family to unfreeze more than $6 million in assets also likely will be continued until after the preliminary hearing, Engle said.
The Attorney General’s Office impaneled an investigating grand jury to examine evidence from a 2013 fire as well two earlier fires in 2009 and 2010 at the $1.2 million Georgian-style home owned by Carl and Carla Risoldi on Stony Hill Road. Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office reported that “the official cause of each fire was ‘undetermined,’ which could include that the fires may not be accidental.”
After each fire, the Risoldis filed claims with their insurer, which, to date, has paid out more than $20 million for the three fires, officials said. But those payments were based on falsified claims, according to the grand jury. The attorney general alleges that the Risoldis used insurance payouts from AIG to purchase items unrelated to the 2013 fire, including three Buckingham properties on Danielle Drive through straw buyers and exotic and antique cars. The defendants are also accused of inflating the value of items lost or damaged in the fire and reconstruction costs for financial gain.
The Risoldis are also seeking an additional $20 million for the October 2013 fire, which insurer AIG has denied. That additional claim included $10 million for jewelry that the grand jury found Claire Risoldi had falsely reported as stolen by volunteer firefighters who extinguished the blaze.