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Wednesday, May 20, 2015
AG seeks to remove prominent defense lawyer in Risoldi criminal case
Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015
A Chester County judge is expected to decide whether a prominent Philadelphia criminal defense attorney can represent one of the Risoldi family members in a $20 million insurance fraud trial in Bucks County.
At issue is whether Philadelphia attorney Jack McMahon can represent matriarch Claire A. Risoldi, 67, of Buckingham, who is facing felony charges of corrupt organizations, fraud, theft, witness intimidation, obstruction and related offenses. McMahon should be removed because the state plans to call him as a witness, prosecutor David Baughman, of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, told Senior Judge Thomas G. Gavin at a hearing Monday in Doylestown.
Besides Claire Risoldi, there are five other defendants awaiting trial in the fraud case, including Risoldi’s children, Carla V. Risoldi, 48, of Solebury, and Carl A. Risoldi, 43, and his wife, Sheila, 44, both of Buckingham, as well as private investigator Mark Goldman, 54, of Wayne, and fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey.
The state alleges the defendants filed false insurance claims and conspired to commit insurance fraud related to three fires in five years at the Risoldi family’s Buckingham mansion, Clairemont.
The judge, who is overseeing the criminal trial, indicated that he anticipates having a decision within two weeks. He also urged Claire Risoldi, who was in the court Monday with daughter Carla, to have a contingency plan in the event McMahon is dismissed.
Calkins Media was unable to obtain the legal filing that seeks to remove McMahon because the document remains under seal, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which declined further comment. The fraud trial is scheduled to start next month, but the date is expected to be pushed back, attorneys said.
McMahon’s attorney, Arthur Donato Jr., said there is no legitimate reason prosecutors would need his client to testify at the trial and that removing him as attorney would pose an undue hardship for Claire Risoldi.
“Her right to counsel of her choice wins out here,” Donato said.
McMahon represents the Risoldi family in a bad faith civil lawsuit filed last year against insurer AIG, which has denied homeowner and jewelry insurance claims the family filed following the most recent fire at Clairemont, in October 2013. Those insurance claims form the basis of the attorney general’s criminal case.
McMahon also appears to have, at different times since last May, represented Claire Risoldi in legal matters related to the criminal case, Baughman said. Most recently he re-entered the case in March.
At the preliminary hearing, Claire Risoldi was represented by Philadelphia attorney Judd Aaron and was also represented by attorney Matthew Haverstick, but it was revealed Monday that Risoldi had discharged the two attorneys two weeks ago.
Baughman told the court during Monday’s proceeding that McMahon most recently filed a legal document in March related to one of the AIG civil suits involving claims that were denied by the insurer and related to replacement costs for murals and drapes the family alleges were destroyed in the 2013 fire.
As an attorney, McMahon has inserted himself as the conduit between AIG and the family in the civil case and the state plans to call him as a witness to testify on where, how and from whom he obtained information that he submitted to AIG for the homeowner’s claim, Baughman argued.
McMahon was also with Claire Risoldi during a heated confrontation she had with AIG adjuster James O’Keefe. She allegedly asked McMahon to tell O’Keefe what happens to “rats” and “snitches.” McMahon replied, “snitches get stitches,” according to a grand jury report that recommended criminal charges against the Risoldis and their co-defendants.
Claire Risoldi at a Clairemont party
Baughman also told the judge that the AG’s Office is seeking McMahon’s removal as attorney because of his status as a “potential accomplice” for possibly and knowingly submitting false information to AIG as part of a claim. The prosecutor added that the evidence, so far, isn’t enough to bring charges against McMahon, and that the allegations are not the “main” reason behind the request to remove McMahon as Claire Risoldi’s attorney.
Baughman suggested that McMahon has continued to file documents related to the civil suit involving the insurance claim after he realized — or should have realized — the claim included false information involving the cost to replace drapes and murals at Clairemont. In filing the proof-of-loss statements, McMahon vouched for their accuracy, the prosecutor contends.
“It would be very problematic for Mr. McMahon to stay in this case as counsel,” Baughman said.
Donato countered that facts concerning documents that McMahon submitted to the insurance company are not in dispute. He added that the AG’s Office presented the “snitches get stitches” allegations involving McMahon out of context.
The attorney further argued that the family stands by claims submitted to AIG that include the estimated cost to replace damaged drapes and murals at Clairemont. The AG’s Office in its grand jury indictment alleges the estimates submitted to the insurer were artificially and intentionally inflated.
Donato added that if the prosecution wants to know where McMahon got his information for the insurance claims, he would provide it without being called as a witness.
“We keep saying we will tell you that,” Donato said.