Monday, April 20, 2015

Teen admits to deaths of three Council Rock teens

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The first time Ed Lesher laid eyes on the teenage girl who caused the death of his son and two other boys was Wednesday afternoon in a northeastern Pennsylvania courtroom.
The adjudication hearing in Wayne County for Julia Ware was also the first time most of the family and friends of the three 15-year-old Council Rock High School South students killed in a rollover accident last summer saw the now 16-year-old girl who was driving her father’s SUV without a license when she lost control of the vehicle, killing three and injuring two others.
When Julia entered the fourth-floor courtroom, flanked by her mom and lawyer, she was shaking, her face red and tear-stained. She did not look at the 30-plus people in the audience.
She didn’t look at the poster placed on an empty seat in the front of the courtroom that featured photos of the boys who died: Ryan Lesher, Cullen Keffer and Shamus Digney. The three were incoming sophomores who lived in Northampton.
“I can’t tell you what I thought,” Lesher said following the hearing during which Julia, of Pleasantville, New York, admitted to five charges, including three counts of felony homicide by vehicle, related to the Aug. 30 fatal accident.

Shamus Digney, Cullen Keffer, Ryan Lesher
Julia was 15 when she was driving too fast down winding Goosepond Road near Lake Wallenpaupak in Paupack Township. She failed to negotiate a left curve, sending the 2001 Chevy Suburban off the road where it rolled over several times before coming to a stop, police said.
Cullen died at the scene. Ryan and Shamus were taken to a hospital, but later died. Julia, a 15-year-old female passenger and Ryan Keim, another 15-year-old Council Rock South student, were injured.

Adjudication hearing for Julia Ware
Julia, charged as a juvenile, who initially faced 12 offenses, also admitted to two misdemeanor counts of accidents involving death or injury as an unlicensed driver. The seven other offenses were dropped against the 10th-grader in exchange for her admission.
Julia’s disposition — the equivalent of sentencing in adult court — will take place in 30 days following an evaluation by the probation department, presiding Wayne County Judge Raymond Hamill said.
Hamill has various options he can impose on Julia, including placing her outside the home. Juvenile sentences are indefinite, must be reviewed every six months, and everything ends at age 21.
Hamill told Julia that as a result of her admission to the crimes, she would not be allowed a driver’s license for a “long, long” time — at least four years.
Juvenile court proceedings are typically closed to the public, but Julia’s case fell under an exception since she was at least 14 at the time of the accident and her crimes would have been graded as felonies in adult court.
“This is terribly tragic and terribly hurtful for many, many people and I’m sorry for that,” Hamill said.
Of the 30-some family members and friends who filled the courtroom, including Lesher and his wife, Lisa, many wore specially designed T-shirts that read: “I Can I Will I Must” on the front and “CRS” on the back with the boys’ initials and jersey numbers.

Adjudication hearing for Julia Ware
The T-shirts are sold throughout the Council Rock district and the money goes toward scholarships in honor of the boys.
Some carried signs: “Be a parent to your child before being a friend” and “Charge Julia Ware as an Adult.” The latter sign is one Lesher has posted in a window of his nearby vacation home.
“There is a whole school suffering here,” said Mike Leonporra, of Churchville, a friend of the Lesher family. “I feel as though she should go to jail. Everybody here is suffering. Why should she go to a senior prom? Why should she enjoy herself?”

Adjudication hearing for Julia Ware
Julia and her mother left the courthouse through a backdoor and were rushed into a waiting car.
“(The Ware family has) done nothing but express the deepest of sorrows since this happened,” said attorney John Stieh, who represented Julia. “You saw the torment that girl had today. You saw the upset.”
After the hearing, Ed Lesher, who had wanted Julia prosecuted as an adult, said her admission doesn’t offer him any consolation. It won’t bring back the boys, he said.

“She knew she was wrong. She murdered three boys,” he said. “It was his 16th birthday two weeks ago and I spent his birthday at the cemetery. She should be punished like her father.”
vPennsylvania State Police, who handled the investigation, say the accident wasn’t the first time Julia got behind the wheel of a car without a license. The previous day, Julia’s father, Michael Ware, allowed her to drive from their suburban New York City home to a vacation home on Lake Wallenpaupak, according to court documents.
Michael Ware, 53, of Scarsdale, is awaiting trial on three counts of involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, false reports and related charges. He is free on $100,000 unsecured bail. No trial date has been scheduled for him.
State police say Michael Ware lied about Julia taking the SUV without his permission. The police investigation found Ware gave his daughter permission to drive the day of the accident and at other times, authorities said.
Witnesses interviewed after the accident told troopers they saw a dark SUV speeding down a hill in the 3000 block of Goosepond Road, near St. Mary Church Road, before hearing a loud crash.
The accident scene is near the resort community of Wallenpaupak Lake Estates, where both the Ware and Lesher families have vacation homes. Ed Lesher was staying with the four boys at the home for the Labor Day weekend.
Ryan Keim told police Julia was “flying” and he and his friends told her to “slow down,” court documents note.
The teen girl passenger told police she and Julia went to Dunkin’ Donuts around 9:30 a.m. and then returned to the Ware house, before going to the Lesher home to pick up the boys and drive to a nearby barbecue restaurant. On the return trip, as the SUV rounded a turn, the front passenger side tire went off the road and onto the grass, then the vehicle flipped and landed on the driver’s side, the passenger told police.
Michael Ware appeared at the accident scene shortly afterward and told state police he was in the house cleaning when his daughter took the SUV without his knowledge, according to court documents. He reportedly told police he had allowed her to drive the vehicle only on private roads in the resort under his supervision.
Initially, Julia backed up her father’s story, telling authorities she took the vehicle without his permission to the nearby barbecue restaurant, the affidavit said.
Two months after the accident, an attorney representing the female teen passenger notified state police his client told him Michael Ware let Julia drive the SUV to Pennsylvania once they were outside New York City, according to the affidavit. The teen also claimed Michael Ware walked Julia and her to the car before they left for the barbecue restaurant the day of the accident.
Julia, through her attorney, later submitted a written statement that indicated she had her father’s permission to drive the SUV to Dunkin’ Donuts and then the barbecue restaurant.
Julia also said when her dad showed up at the accident scene, she overheard him tell police he didn’t know Julia took the car so “she (and the teen girl passenger) thought they were supposed to say they had the car without permission so as not to get him in trouble,” court documents allege.

Troopers in construction trucks to nab speeders in PA Turnpike work zones

Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015

Every day, Mike Gallagher worries about dying on the job. He works on a Pennsylvania Turnpike road crew.
Most recently, he’s been working in the Philadelphia region filling potholes along the toll road. Despite traffic cones, trailers mounted with digital signs warning of upcoming work zones, and orange flag waving, neon-vest wearing workers, many drivers still fail to slow down, he said.
Drivers ignore the posted warnings, enter closed lanes, stop, then try to enter an open lane at a high rate of speed, Gallagher said.
“It’s been scary,” he added. “It’s very challenging and it’s very frustrating sometimes to get the public to pay attention to see what is really going on and try to respect what we are doing out there and trying to make the roadway better for them.”
The deaths last year of two turnpike workers in the Philadelphia region — among 30 workers who’ve died statewide on the highway in construction zones since it opened — has prompted the state agency to initiate a new public awareness campaign warning motorists to slow down or face fines.
The campaign was announced Thursday at a news conference at the Turnpike’s Trevose Maintenance Center in Bensalem where officials unveiled two public service announcement commercials that will begin airing next month on television in this area before spreading statewide over the summer.
Nearly 60 active construction projects are planned to start this year along the 360-mile stretch of highway.
“We are determined to do whatever we can to get motorists to slow down,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said. “There is no greater priority for this commission than the safety of our workers. We hope our message will impact how drivers act in all work zones, not just the ones on our roadway.”
Most recently, worker Bill McGuigan was killed June 1 when he was struck by a truck that apparently entered a closed lane in which he was working on the turnpike in Chester County. Before that, Michael San Felice was killed in 2012 in Montgomery County when a vehicle left the roadway and hit a maintenance vehicle, which then hit San Felice, who was picking up debris on the highway shoulder.

In addition to the deaths, 150 crashes last year occurred in work zones statewide, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFabo said. Also, more than two dozen drivers struck attenuators — trailer-like vehicles mounted with digital signs that are used to warn drivers of upcoming construction zones.
“That is in a closed lane where people are working,” he added.
In addition to TV spots, the work-zone safety campaign will include other advertising and public outreach, officials said. As part of the initiative, the turnpike is teaming up with Pennsylvania State Police Troop T, the unit in charge of patrols on the road, to expand its “Operation Orange Squeeze.” The work-zone traffic enforcement initiative was launched in 2013.
A state trooper will be stationed inside turnpike construction vehicles, including the orange dump trucks, running radar within work zones while a second trooper will wait outside the work zone to pull over drivers who violate the rules, officials said.
The fine for traveling 11 mph or higher over the speed limit in a work zone is around $200 plus a 15-day suspension of the driver’s license.
Last year, Pennsylvania state police issued 9,486 citations for speeding and careless driving in work zones along the turnpike statewide and handed out 3,836 warnings, said Trooper Sgt. Michael Chambers. Among those citations were 487 as a result of Operation Orange Squeeze.
Compton, the CEO, said the hope of the work zone safety blitz is that it will remind motorists that people are working inches away from their vehicles.
“We really need more than hard hats and vests to protect these people,” he added. “We need our motorists to be aware that there are lives that are out there only inches from these people they need to slow down and be cautious.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bristol Township man accused of harassing, stalking prison employees

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2015 
When a male caller asked a Bristol Township auto shop employee if she had nice feet, the woman answered yes, believing it was a prank, police said.
That is until the caller asked to suck on her toes, they said.
She hung up the phone, but an hour later the same guy called back, asked for the woman by name and, when she answered, started making sexually explicit comments, authorities allege.
She wasn't his only target, according to Pennsylvania State Police. They believe the same 35-year-old Bristol Township man made harassing and sexually explicit calls to 24 other women — all of those employees of the state and Bucks County prison systems — between November 2014 and April 1.
Suspect Carl Gaither is now facing more than two dozen counts each of misdemeanor stalking and harassment charges and tampering with records or identification for allegedly placing nearly 1,000 calls to the women. At least three of the women were called two dozen times, according to court records. He frightened some of the women when he provided personal details about them, state police said.
The investigation began after employees at State Correctional Institutes at Coal Township in Northumberland County, Camp Hill in Cumberland County and Houtzdale in Clearfield County received “numerous” phone calls from an anonymous male that were described as lewd, lascivious, unwanted and sexually explicit, according to police. The caller appeared familiar with employees and would ask for a specific woman or directly call her extension, police added.
In late January, a trace was set up at Houzdale Correctional Institute which captured the caller's phone number, which was registered to Gaither, court records note.
Gaither's ex-girlfriend also was a recipient of Gaither's calls, police said. She had been getting harassing and threatening phone calls from him since ending the relationship in 2013, they added. She eventually contacted Gaither's parole officer and he was arrested on a parole violation, police said.
While in Bucks County prison in 2013, Gaither allegedly sent the ex-girlfriend letters and tried to call her numerous times. She turned in the letters, which included explicit statements involving feet and toes, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Gaither served time in state prisons in Coal Township, Camp Hill and Houtzdale, authorities said.
In the recent investigation, state police found three correctional counselors at Houtzdale who each received at least two dozen calls from the same unknown man between November and March, the affidavit said. The caller asked for the women by their first names and made sexually explicit comments, including ones involving their feet, police said.
At Camp Hill prison, a nurse reported that a male regularly called her between December 2014 and February and made lewd and sexually explicit comments about her feet. The caller also referred to a sports team bumper sticker on her car and that he knew her husband worked at the prison, police said.
Most recently, Gaither was incarcerated in Bucks County prison from Feb. 25 to March 3 after he was arrested on burglary and related charges. After his release on bail, authorities say, he made 278 harassing and sexually explicit calls to 13 female prison employees, including nine correctional officers, between March 10 and 19. Almost all involved their feet, court records show. One woman reported the man identified himself as “John the foot guy,” the affidavit said.
Gaither was arraigned Friday before District Judge Joanne Kline and sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000 bail.

Crime sometimes pays with state pensions

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2015
When a 40-year state pension is at risk, not all crimes are treated as equal in Pennsylvania.
In 2013, former Bensalem School District head mechanic and shop foreman Frederick Lange — a 41-year district employee — pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to felony charges of theft by unlawful taking and conspiracy for stealing district-owned tires, batteries and other auto supplies over at least a 10-year period.
He lost his job, but kept his full state pension.
The reason, according to state Rep. Scott Petri, R-178, of Upper Makefield, Lange’s felonies are not on a list of theft-related crimes that result in a Pennsylvania public worker being forced to forfeit the taxpayer-funded part of his pension.
Rep. Scott Petri
Petri wants to change that. He has proposed House Bill 17, which the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Tuesday.
The bill would close a loophole that allowed Lange and other public employees in Pennsylvania convicted of felonies to keep their full pensions.
If voted out of the committee, the bill would be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
But even if Petri’s bill is signed into law, it would not address other loopholes in the law that allow public employees to collect full interest on their pension contributions or avoid forfeiture altogether if they withdraw the money before a conviction or plea.
At least 18 Bucks and Montgomery county public employees charged in theft or sex scandals related to their jobs since 2004 have kept their full pensions after they were either convicted or accepted into a first-time offender program, according to state data. They include most of the 14 Bensalem school employees or retirees, like Lange, who faced charges in dual corruption probes involving the theft of district-owned auto supplies and ghost employees in the grounds-keeping department.
The 1978 law known as Act 140 strips most Pennsylvania public employees and officials of their publicly funded portion of a pension if they are convicted or plead guilty/no contest to crimes connected to their jobs.
The list of 27 crimes covered under the law includes theft by deception, theft by extortion, theft of services and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received. Also included in the forfeiture list areseven sex crimes involving students. The law also includes felony offenses that are “substantially” similar to the listed crimes.
A public employee in the state can also be forced to give up individual pension contributions under the law if a court decides the money must be used to pay court costs, fines and restitution associated with a conviction related to his or her job.
Since 2004, 84 Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) members in the state had their pensions forfeited including at least eight from Bucks and eastern Montgomery county school districts, according to a PSERS spokeswoman.
Between 2009 and 2014, 72 Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System (SERS) members lost the publicly funded portions of their pensions following criminal convictions that fall under Act 140. They include state workers, state police, judges, lawmakers and State System of Higher Education members.
An additional five SERS members also forfeited their pension contributions during that time span under the judicial forfeiture provisions. No county breakdowns are available.
State judiciary members also face additional provisions for forfeiture including if the member is suspended, removed or barred from holding judicial office for a conviction of a felony, misconduct in office or conduct that prejudices the proper administration of justice or brings the judicial office into disrepute, SERS spokeswoman Pamela Hile said.
Locally, former longtime Bucks County Register of Wills Barbara Reilly, her second deputy, Rebecca Kiefer, and employee Candace Quinn were stripped of the publicly funded portion of their pensions in 2013. The women were among four people who pleaded guilty to forcing office staff to work the polls for Republican candidates on election day and giving them off-the-books compensatory time.
At her sentencing, Kiefer said that the pension match cost her $300,000, according to reports.
Five of eight former Bucks or Montgomery county teachers convicted of engaging in sexual conduct with students since 2004 also lost the state portion of their pensions. The three ex-teachers who kept their full pensions were convicted of corruption of minors or child endangerment, which are not on the forfeiture list.
Robert McCord
Petri, a former House Ethics Committee chairman, said his motivation to close one of the law’s loopholes, in part, stems from cases like that of former state treasurer Robert McCord. The Montgomery County Democrat pleaded guilty in February to two felony charges of attempted extortion, which is not on the list. The plea deal allowed him to keep his full state pension.
“It’s too easy for a prosecutor to make a deal for someone (with a crime) that is not on the list,” Petri said. “The game is you say, ‘OK, let’s pick something not on that (Act 140) list ... I’m a 30-years employee.’ ”
Under his proposed legislation, any criminal offense classified as a felony or one punishable by a prison term exceeding five years would be included as an offense that would result in forfeiture of the public portion and interest on a state pension if there’s a conviction. His bill also would add magisterial district judges as being covered under the law.
As with the current law, the worker would need to be convicted of a crime related to public office or their public employment; a conviction would include a guilty or no contest plea.
In researching his legislation, Petri said he found most states include felonies involving a public employee’s job as an offense that would result in forfeiture of the state portion of a pension.
Under the legislation, a public employee’s benefits would be immediately forfeited as soon as a plea of guilty or no contest or a guilty determination is made and would require the court to notify the pension plans.
“Many times we found the plan doesn’t know — unless someone tells them or they read an article — that someone has been convicted,” Petri said.
His bill also includes language ensuring that all public pension benefit systems funnel forfeited money first to victims in cases involving restitution orders, and then, whatever is left, into government coffers.
Petri said that he has a second version of his amendment that would include all crimes committed involving a state employee’s office or job, but he doesn’t believe that one would get lawmaker support.
While Petri’s bill includes any felony and crimes punishable by a prison sentence of more than five years, it does not prevent prosecutors from negotiating guilty pleas for lesser offenses, including ones that would not be covered under Act 140, the lawmaker said. He didn’t want to tie the hands of district attorneys to negotiate deals when they believe they are appropriate, Petri said.
That kind of negotiation appears to be how two high-ranking former Bensalem School District administrators — among 14 district employees either convicted or entered into a special probation program in the 2013 theft probes — kept their pensions. Only three former district employees lost part of their pensions when they were convicted of crimes that fell under the forfeiture law, according to PSERS records.
Business Manager Jack Myers
Former business manager Jack Myers, who had nearly 41 years vested in his state pension, was initially charged with misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, a crime covered in the forfeiture law. But he was accepted into a special probation program for first-time nonviolent offenders, so he got to keep his full pension, according to Evelyn White, a PSERS spokeswoman.
Former Bensalem director of facilities, Robert Moseley, who had worked for the district since 1994, was also initially charged with misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions. But after Moseley’s case reached the Court of Common Pleas, the charge was changed to theft by unlawful taking, which is not covered under the forfeiture law. He pleaded no contest, meaning he didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict.
Another way employees get around the law is by withdrawing the lump sum of their pension contributions — including interest — either before pleading guilty or a conviction, according to PSERS. And retired state employees charged with a crime can continue collecting full retirement benefits, if they meet normal eligibility, up until a guilty plea or conviction. After a conviction, they would lose the publicly funded portion of the benefit and the interest on that money.

Risoldis among the few to keep insurance policies after state reviews

Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2015
The Pennsylvania Insurance Department rarely forces private insurance companies to reinstate canceled homeowners or personal property policies like it did three times with the Risoldis, who are accused in a $20 million insurance fraud scheme, according to department data.

Last year, for example, only 22 of the 1,561 cancellation reviews the department’s Consumer Services Bureau conducted — fewer than 2 percent — resulted in an insurer that had met all procedural cancellation criteria being told to reinstate policy coverage, the data shows.

Most of the time after such reviews, the Consumer Services Bureau sided with insurances companies that canceled homeowner and personal property policies. Roughly 60 percent, or 904 of the 1,561 complaints filed, resulted on the side of an insurance company following a full review.
Another 158 cases concluded with an insurance company rescinding a termination request, and 110 cases resulted in the companies ultimately reinstating the policy on their own, according to the data.

Consumer Services reviewers may also side with the customer – as it did in 367 cases in 2014 – because the cancellations were deemed “deficient.” That happens when a cancellation is found to be untimely, meaning the insurer failed to follow procedural rules, such as providing 30 days notice before canceling a policy and disclosing evidence and reasons for a cancellation.
The issue of insurance cancellations emerged earlier this week during a preliminary hearing for members of the Risoldi family and two others accused of filing false insurance claims and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in connection with three fires at the family’s 10-acre Buckingham estate known as Clairemont.
An adjuster for the family’s insurance company, AIG, testified that the company attempted three times to drop the Risoldi family as clients, since the first fire at Clairemont in 2009. But the state insurance department wouldn’t allow it after complaints from Claire Risoldi, the 67-year-old socially prominent family matriarch.
AIG paid the Risoldis $1.8 million for damage and replacement costs after a 2009 fire, more than $8 million following a 2010 fire, and $10 million, so far, after the most recent fire in 2013. The family has filed a civil suit against AIG seeking an additional $10 million in unpaid claims.
An insurance department spokeswoman confirmed that its Consumer Services Bureau refused to allow AIG to cancel the Risoldis’ homeowners and other property coverage three times, but the specific details about why it sided with the family are not public information. The department also does not disclose the names of bureau employees involved in right of review proceedings.
“I cannot discuss why AIG was not permitted to cancel the Risoldis’ policy,” spokeswoman Alison Fogarty said.
AIG appealed the state insurance department’s decision only after the 2013 cancellation attempt, and that review is still pending before the Administrative Hearings Office, she added.
An AIG spokesman from the company’s New York office declined comment on the appeal Wednesday, citing the pending litigation.
The purpose of the right of review is to ensure that consumers are not arbitrarily dropped from a policy, Fogarty said. Insurance companies cannot “preemptively” cancel a policy when an investigation is ongoing.
“This is designed as a consumer protection process,” Fogarty added. “If the company’s notification is deemed deficient for any reason, the department advises the company to continue the policy.”
There is no timeline for an average cancellation review because individual circumstances unique to each case must be taken into account, Fogarty said. With the Risoldis’ pending criminal proceedings, the hearing process could possibly be delayed, she added.
None of the Risoldis or co-defendants — private investigator Mark Goldman, 54, of Wayne, and fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey — is charged with arson in connection with the fires, which were each ruled “undetermined” as to the cause by Buckingham’s fire marshal.
The charges against Claire Risoldi, her daughter, Carla Risoldi, 48, of Solebury, her son, Carl A. Risoldi, 43, his wife, Sheila, 44, and Goldman were held for trial Wednesday in connection with the insurance fraud case. Holston’s preliminary hearing was continued, and Roth will make a separate determination on his charges.

Adjuster: Home insurer AIG trying to drop Risoldis since

Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015 
An AIG insurance adjuster testified the company tried to drop the Risoldi family as clients ever since 2009, following the first of what would be three fires at the family’s Buckingham estate.
James O’Keefe told a Bucks County District Court judge Monday that the insurer paid out $1.8 million for the first fire, more than $8 million in 2010 for the second and $10 million in 2013 for the third. Each time, the company canceled the policy, he said. And each time, defendant Claire Risoldi complained to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, which sided with the family, O’Keefe added.
The three fires occurred at Clairemont, the Georgian-style mansion that was home to Risoldi, 67, her late husband Tom French, Claire’s son Carl A. Risoldi, 43, his wife, Sheila, 44, and their two children. Carl A. Risoldi owns the property with his sister, attorney Carla V. Risoldi, of Solebury. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has charged the Risoldis and two co-defendants with orchestrating a more than $20 million insurance fraud related to the fires.
O’Keefe, testifying on the fifth day of the defendants’ preliminary hearing, said he became involved in the Risoldis’ 2013 fire damage claim after Claire Risoldi had disagreements with Anthony Amoroso, an AIG adjuster who investigated the earlier fires and who testified last week. The disagreements included Claire Risoldi’s lack of documentation with the fire claims, O’Keefe said.
“Claire told me Anthony was never being fair with her,” O’Keefe said before before the hearing recessed for the day.
Testimony before District Judge C. Robert Roth, of Quakertown, is expected to conclude Tuesday and a decision is expected about whether part — or all — of the prosecution’s case will move forward for a trial in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.
The four Risoldis, private investigator Mark Goldman, 54, of Wayne, and fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, are charged with filing false insurance claims and criminal conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. French was among the accused, but he committed suicide Feb. 5 and left notes purportedly written by him that maintained his innocence.
None of the defendants are charged with arson; Buckingham’s fire marshal ruled the cause of each fire “undetermined.”
The fire marshal, James Kettler, testified Monday to finding six similarities between the 2010 and 2013 fires at the mansion: time of day (around lunchtime); location (attic dormers); method of notifying fire department (alarm system); no one home at the time the fire was reported; Claire Risoldi was the last person seen leaving the house; and “multiple” cases of aerosol hairspray found in the house, near where the fire started.
In addition, Kettler testified that he saw French inside a second floor bedroom before the 2013 fire was out, and ordered him out of the house. The fire marshal later learned from a fire chief that Carl A. Risoldi was also inside the house before the fire was out.
None of the Risoldis or French asked to enter the building while firefighters were fighting the blaze, Kettler added. And no one from the family mentioned anything about missing jewelry, either, he said.
The first time Kettler said he heard anything about missing jewelry was about five weeks after the 2013 fire, when a Buckingham supervisor noticed a flier alleging a jewelry theft. When Kettler checked the phone number on the flier, he said it belonged to Goldman.
“I was very surprised. Shocked,” Kettler testified. “I had not heard about any type of jewelry theft up to that point.”
Following the 2013 fire, the Risoldi family falsely accused volunteer firefighters of stealing jewelry, according to the grand jury and several firefighters who testified last week.
The day after that fire, Kettler said that he spoke with Carl A. Risoldi about possible causes, and asked if his mother, Claire, could possibly be involved.
“He was very upset and emphatically said he didn’t think she was involved in the fire,” Kettler said, describing Carl’s anger level as going from a “five to a 12” after he had asked if Claire could be involved.
Carl Risoldi soon calmed down after Kettler said he was doing his job as a fire investigator, adding, “it was a difficult question but we needed to know.”
After filing his 2013 fire investigation report, Claire Risoldi asked him to change the findings, claiming his report was the only one that said the cause was “undetermined” and “he had to change it,” Kettler testified.
Several days after that fire, Kettler added that Claire Risoldi confronted him “yelling and screaming” and vowing to use “all her $80 million to get him fired,” Kettler said. He said Claire Risoldi got within inches of his face during the confrontation, and Carl Risoldi stepped between the two in an attempt to calm his mother.
Eventually she calmed down, and apologized and hugged Kettler, he said, adding that Carl Risoldi never threatened him or gave him a hard time about doing his fire investigation.
On cross-examination, Kettler testified that other items were also stored in the attic, besides the cases of hairspray, but they were too damaged to identify. He also testified that he did not ask anyone in 2010 or 2013 how long the cases of hairspray were stored in the attic.
Defense attorney Jud Aaron, who represents Claire Risoldi, posed several questions to Kettler about whether he agreed that Claire Risoldi wears hairspray almost every day.
“I’m not a hair stylist,” Kettler replied. “I’m a fire marshal. I don’t know hair care products.”
Also Monday, two soot-stained canvas bags containing empty jewelry boxes were emptied onto a courtroom table.
State Attorney General Special Agent Louis Gomez testified that the boxes, which contained jewelry when they were found, were discovered when authorities executed search warrants in Claire Risoldi’s rented Danielle Drive home in Buckingham in November 2014. Gomez recalls the day he went to retrieve the items.
“She (Claire) said it was a political ploy and she would sue every single person in her residence at that time,” Gomez testified.
None of the jewelry from boxes was reported stolen, Gomez testified, a point the defense emphasized.