Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bucks lawmaker: Unregistered home contractors could face felony charges

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2015
Sen. Tommy Tomlinson

On paper, John Chmielinski looked like a legitimate home-improvement contractor.
His company was registered with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which requires contractors to carry a minimum of $50,000 insurance coverage. His registration stated he had no prior civil judgments against him, no related criminal convictions and no bankruptcy filings.

But the 46-year-old Trenton man lied about his professional past, including a New Jersey conviction for failing to register as a contractor and more than $20,000 in prior civil judgments there. He also canceled his insurance coverage without notifying Pennsylvania.
None of that information surfaced, though, until after Chmielinski was arrested for ripping off three Bucks County homeowners for more than $22,000. He recently pleaded guilty to home improvement-related criminal charges in Bucks County Court and was sentenced to two to four years in prison.
Under the current law regulating more than 66,000 home-improvement contractors in the state, lying on a registration — or not registering at all — isn’t a crime. One Bucks County lawmakers wants that changed.
“Now, we’re letting them slip through the cracks,” said Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-8, who introduced the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, which took effect in 2009.
This week, Tomlinson said he plans to introduce proposed legislation in the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee he chairs that would add new criminal and civil penalties against contractors who violate the law. The draft amendment already has 10 cosponsors, including Montgomery County Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.
The amendment would make it a third-degree felony for a contractor to enter into a home-improvement agreement for more than $2,000 without first registering with the state. If the contact is for less than $2,000, the charge would be a first-degree misdemeanor.
The amendment would also give the Attorney General Office’s Bureau of Consumer Protection new power to refuse, suspend or revoke a registration if it can prove the applicant obtained it through fraud, deception, misrepresentation or otherwise violating the home-improvement contractor law, according to the draft legislation.
The AG could reject or revoke a registration for individuals convicted of a crime involving theft, deception, fraud, misrepresentation or “moral turpitude,” as well as for gross negligence, incompetence or professional misconduct. Contractors with a suspended or revoked license in another state for similar reasons also couldn't register in Pennsylvania.
Tomlinson cited Calkins Media's two-part series — "Building a Case"— with raising awareness of the law’s shortfalls and leading to his proposed amendment. The series, which ran in March, examined how lax enforcement and legal loopholes has led to slow justice for Pennsylvanians who allege home improvement fraud.
“We must continue to protect homeowners and the hardworking home-improvement business owners from unscrupulous contractors who seek to skate around the law and rob homeowners of their biggest investment,” Tomlinson said. “We think this is a very important tweak that will make the law stronger.”
The amendment is designed to close loopholes in the 2009 law that requires state registration for contractors who perform at least $5,000 worth of work annually. It also established new regulations, contract requirements, civil and criminal penalties for home-improvement crimes, as well as created an online public database of registered contractors and their information.
So far this year, at least five home-improvement contractors in Bucks County have been accuse of ripping off homeowners. Four of the accused had state registrations at one time, according to the state registry.
Over the last six years, at least two Bucks County contractors with theft and fraud convictions continued working in home repair and construction with valid state registrations — until they were arrested a second time for home-improvement fraud.
While contractors are required to provide business information, the AG’s office doesn't routinely check its accuracy unless a complaint is filed. Contractors caught lying on registrations — or failing to register — face fines of up to $1,000 to $3,000 per violation, but no criminal penalties under the current law.
The law also doesn’t keep contractors convicted of home-improvement crimes off the registry without a court order to do so. Court-barred contractors can petition to be reinstated to the registry after five years, according to the AG.
Following complaints of lax enforcement, the attorney general last year created a new consumer regulatory compliance unit: the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection. The office pursues civil actions, such as fines and restitution agreements, against contractors when a complaint doesn’t meet the threshold for criminal prosecution. Criminal offenses are handled at the county court level.
The Legislature also adopted the first updates to the original law, such as adding a 30-day window for contractors to provide changes in registration information, including phone numbers, addresses, civil judgments, or insurance coverage, or face fines. Previously, information updates were done when registrations were renewed every two years.
During the biennial renewal period that ended in September, 21, 305 contractors applied to renew registrations and were subject to the new update requirement, AG spokeswoman Sadie Martin said. Others may have updated information as well, but the agency’s database doesn’t track those changes, she added.
The AG’s office recently has cracked down on contractors, mediating 3,149 consumer complaints, opening 143 investigations and filing 37 legal actions. The Bureau of Consumer Protection also initiated its first-ever undercover sting operations targeting unregistered and non-compliant contractors. The sting resulted in the filing of 25 legal actions and the assessment of more than $25,000 in restitution and civil penalties.
Tomlinson said the initial purpose behind the law was to register contractors so if a complaint was made there was a way to find the individuals. But he didn’t anticipate contractors would use false or incomplete information to circumvent the law.
“Obviously that was a miscalculation,” he said.
He added that his office is discussing other potential updates, including whether to require municipal zoning and building offices to check contractor registrations before issuing building permits and the feasibility of creating a fund to help victims of crooked contractors.
Bucks County’s Director of Consumer Protection Michael Bannon believes Tomlinson’s amendment would give the law much needed teeth.
“It’s been very frustrating. While the law has certainly helped us, some of those issues have come up with contractors. This really needed to be tweaked and I think this is good the direction we’re headed in now,” Bannon said. “People will have more faith in the law.”
Peter Gallagher, president of the Pennsylvania Builders’ Association, declined to comment on the proposed amendment until it was introduced. But he said the lack of enforcement of the current law has been a disappointment for contractors who follow it.
“We believe in doing things the right way,” Gallagher said. “Builders are frustrated when our members follow the rules and there is no enforcement of those who do not. When this happens, it puts our members at an unfair disadvantage.”

AG: Risoldi, investigator tried to intimidate jewelry appraiser

Posted: Friday, October 9, 2015
Claire Risoldi (L) Mark Goldman
Claire Risoldi, the matriarch of a wealthy, politically connected Bucks County family who's awaiting trial in an alleged $20 million insurance fraud, faces new charges that say she attempted to persuade a jewelry appraiser to lie.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office on Friday filed charges that say Risoldi, 68, of Buckingham, and family private investigator Mark Goldman, 55, of Wayne, unsuccessfully tried to get the appraiser involved in a scheme to pass off altered documents for insurance purposes. The allegations say the two visited the appraiser earlier this year before Risoldi, three members of her immediate family and Goldman were brought before a preliminary hearing on fraud charges stemming from three fires at the family's Buckingham estate, Clairemont.
In a criminal complaint, the state alleges Goldman and later Risoldi each tried to convince appraiser Edward Foris to confirm that he had prepared and signed 34 typewritten jewelry appraisals from Fairless Hills Auction Inc., where Foris had worked. The appraisals, which purportedly bear Foris’ signature, were submitted to the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies in support of a 1984 jewelry claim submitted by the Risoldi family, the state alleges. The family maintained the jewelry was stolen in a November 1984 home burglary when they were living in Lower Makefield. Those same appraisals were later admitted as evidence during a preliminary hearing this past spring for the Risoldi defendants and Goldman, who are charged with defrauding insurer AIG for claims paid on an October 2013 fire at Clairemont.
The evidence presented over the seven-day hearing "established that the appraisals had been altered before they were submitted to Chubb," the state said in its criminal complaint. "Specifically, the values of the individual pieces of jewelry had been whited-out and typed over," and "the appraisals had been photocopied to render the alteration undetectable," the complaint alleges. The photocopied forms were ultimately submitted for reimbursement to Chubb, which paid the claim.
The criminal complaint also says:
Foris on Oct. 1 told state investigators that he was visited by Goldman sometime this past spring and that the private investigator presented him with multiple typewritten appraisal forms for jewelry that Foris purportedly appraised for Claire Risoldi in 1983. Goldman asked Foris to confirm that he had prepared and signed the appraisal forms. 
But after examining the documents, Foris told Goldman he didn’t prepare them. He said his appraisals were always handwritten. Also, he said he never affixed his signature to a typewritten appraisal.
Foris also told Goldman the signatures at the bottom of the form were similar to his, but that he didn’t sign them, and that the signatures appeared to be photocopies.
Additionally, Foris also told Goldman he wouldn’t lie about the appraisals, state authorities allege.
Goldman, however, became “very insistent” that Foris confirm he prepared and signed the appraisal forms, the complaint says. The private investigator reportedly tried to confuse Foris, claiming that he had gone to "Claire’s law office," where a secretary typed the appraisals and he signed them, court documents allege. No, that never happened, Foris allegedly told Goldman.
The day after Goldman visited him, Foris said he received a bouquet of flowers and a fruit basket with cards showing they were sent by Claire Risoldi, the state said in its complaint.
Around the same time, Foris told investigators that he received multiple calls from a woman identifying herself as “Claire Risoldi.” The woman insisted that Foris “help her out” and “do something for her” because she was in “serious trouble” and needed Foris to say he had signed the appraisals from the Fairless Hills agency where he had worked, the complaint said.
Again, Foris said he told Claire Risoldi he would not lie.
Foris also alleged that a woman matching Claire Risoldi’s physical description came to his home in Trenton “begging” him to identify the appraisals as signed by him. Again, he told her he would not lie, authorities said.
Additionally, Foris told authorities that the appraisal forms that Goldman and the attorney general investigators showed him not only did not contain his signature, but they were done in an incorrect format. All jewelry appraisals that he would have prepared and signed were written on appraisal forms with the header “Thomas Freitag Marketing” not “Fairless Hills Auctions,” according to the complaint.
Risoldi was arraigned Friday before District Judge Mark Douple on charges that include witness intimidation, criminal conspiracy and obstruction of the administration of law. She was released on $500,000 unsecured bail.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Risoldi’s attorney Jack McMahon at his office or on his cellphone Friday.
Through their attorneys, the Risoldi family defendants have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the insurance claims, and the family has filed a federal civil suit against AIG in connection with $10 million in missing jewelry in the 2013 fire, a claim the insurer has denied. The Risoldis originally accused firefighters of stealing the missing jewelry, but a police investigation found no evidence to support the allegation.
Goldman on Friday was arraigned before Douple on charges that include witness intimidation, criminal conspiracy and obstruction of the administration of law. He was released on $250,000 unsecured bail.
Also Friday, the attorney general refiled its original charges against Goldman, including insurance fraud, conspiracy, theft, and forgery in connection with the attorney general's insurance fraud case regarding the Clairemont estate. Last month, Chester County Judge Thomas Gavin, who is overseeing the Risoldi trial in Bucks County because all of the county's judges have recused themselves, dismissed the charges against Goldman, arguing that a district judge improperly held Goldman for trial.
Claire Risoldi faces 21 criminal counts, including theft by deception, corrupt organizations, false insurance claims, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activity and forgery.
Also charged in the insurance fraud case are Claire’s son, Carl A. Risoldi, 44; Carl's wife, Sheila, 44, both of Buckingham, and daughter Carla V. Risoldi, 49, of Solebury. They face felonies that include corrupt organizations and insurance fraud. 
Fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, is also awaiting trial on charges of insurance fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury in the alleged scheme to defraud AIG.
The trial for the Risoldi family and Holston is scheduled to take place in November.

Police: Others knew, failed to come forward in 1984 Bensalem murder

Posted: Saturday, October 3, 2015

Barbara Rowan 

Where is my daughter?
That is what the angry father banging on the front door of a Bensalem apartment in August 1984 wanted to know.

More than 30 years later, Bob Rowan found out that his 14-year-old daughter, Barbara, was being raped and suffocated inside that home at the time, police said. 
But six other people knew for at least a decade before him, police added, and all but one kept silent.
George Shaw (L) Robert Sanders
They included George Shaw Jr., 55, of Seminole County, Florida, who is now accused of homicide and rape, and Robert Sanders, 51, of Stroudsburg, who is charged with hindering apprehension of prosecution, Bucks County and Bensalem law enforcement officials said during a news conference Friday morning. The others are Sanders' brother, his girlfriend, one of his drug buddies he told, and a friend who went to police after Shaw told him about the murder while they were drinking at a Montgomery County bar, authorities said.
That is until last week when, Bensalem police say, Sanders finally spilled the whole story, not long after testifying before a Bucks County Grand Jury that was convened in the unsolved murder case.
Shaw had been suspected in the rape and murder from the beginning, but could never definitively be tied to the case, police said. After the murder, he moved back to Hatboro, where he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 69-year-old woman two months after Barbara’s killing.
The catalyst for the Hatboro assault was a TV news segment on Barbara's murder, according to Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran. Shaw moved to Florida about a decade ago, where police arrested him Tuesday after a brief struggle. He is expected to be extradited to Pennsylvania, though a date is unknown.
Sanders is incarcerated in Monroe County in connection with an unrelated case.
Bob Rowan, and his wife, Patricia, did not attend the news conference announcing the arrests. Police said they requested privacy. The Bensalem couple still grieves the loss of their only child. Barbara’s childhood photos still cover the walls of their home today, Harran said.
“Thirty-one years to bring a case to closure is unbelievable,” Harran said. “After 31 years, there is hopefully closure.”
Barbara's decomposed body was found along a roadside almost two weeks after her Aug. 3 disappearance.
The week before, police were interviewing neighbors in the apartment building where Shaw lived, which is about 500 feet from the Rowans' faded pink mobile home. Some neighbors told police that Barbara was regularly seen at the Shaw house. Sometimes she baby-sat his 3-year-old daughter; other times she was seen just playing with the toddler.
One neighbor said that she last saw Barbara around 5 p.m. on the day of her disappearance, as the teen was on her way to talk to Shaw about baby-sitting his daughter. Barbara told someone else that Shaw asked her to baby-sit and asked the person not to tell her parents because her mother thought she was too young to baby-sit, police said.
Until Tuesday, the Rowans didn't even know their daughter had been watching the child of a man they never met, Harran said. 
Police said they talked to Shaw, who claimed that Barbara was outside his apartment that night, but left around 4:30 p.m. to return a borrowed radio to a friend, according to a probable cause affidavit. Police interviewed him two more times, and he mostly stuck to the original story, though some details came and went, they said.
But Sanders' testimony and later conversation with police painted a different picture.
Bensalem detectives first learned about Robert Sanders two years after the murder.  A friend came forward claiming that he was at the Neptune Bar in Upper Moreland the previous night and Sanders told him that Shaw was involved in the death of a teenage girl in the Trevose area, according to the affidavit. In 1998 police interviewed Sanders' brother who also claimed he heard Shaw "date-raped a girl and killed her when he was high on meth," but he didn't think his brother was involved, court documents said. 
Police interviewed Sanders in 2004 when he was incarcerated in Montgomery County prison on unrelated charges. He claimed that he and Shaw got high at his house the day Barbara disappeared but he never saw her. Shaw then left the apartment for a half-hour. He also mentioned a man banging at the door looking for his daughter, a new detail, police said. 
The detectives caught up with Sanders again last month; his story mostly stayed the same: Shaw picked him up near his Upper Moreland home on the night of the murder, they went to a nearby McDonald’s in Hatboro, then to Shaw’s Trevose apartment where they used meth, and that he never saw Barbara, according to police.
But police didn’t believe him. They handed him a subpoena to appear before the grand jury on Sept. 3.
Before the grand jury, Sanders testified he saw Shaw take Barbara, who was alive at the time, into his bedroom. Shaw told him he drugged the girl, he said. While they were in the bedroom, Bob Rowan knocked on the door and then burst into the apartment looking for his daughter, he testified. Sanders told him Barbara wasn’t there, he told the grand jury.
After Bob Rowan left the apartment, Sanders said he heard a ruckus and loud banging in the bedroom. About 20 minutes later, Shaw emerged from the room sweaty and panicked, closed the door and told Sanders that "he (expletive) up," the affidavit notes.  He also saw Barbara lying on the bed not moving. Next he watched Shaw pull his car to the rear of the house, then leave, Sanders testified. When Shaw returned he took Sanders home. 
Last week, though, police said, Sanders admitted that he helped Shaw load a black trash bag containing Barbara's body into Shaw's car and disposed of it on a nearby road. He also admitted that Shaw had told him on the ride to his Trevose home that he drugged the baby sitter and planned to "take advantage of her," the affidavit said. 
Sanders also told the detectives that he should have admitted what happened "a long time ago," the affidavit said. 
In his testimony before the grand jury, Sanders also admitted that he eventually told his longtime girlfriend what happened the night Barbara was murdered. The girlfriend kept his secret for 15 years, police said. Sanders also later admitted that he told his brother about the rape and murder, too. 
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn said those who knew, other than Shaw and Sanders, won't be charged with a crime. She said just hearing about a crime isn't a crime.
Bensalem Detective Christopher McMullin and Bucks County Detective Michael Mosiniak took over the Rowan investigation in 2002. They zeroed in on Robert Sanders as a key to getting to Shaw — and the truth about what happened.
"You can remember a lie for a while," McMullin said. "They lose track of their lies, but we keep track."
In June 2004, they obtained search warrants for copies of recorded phone calls Sanders made between April and June while he was incarcerated in the Montgomery County prison on charges unrelated to Barbara's murder. Three of the calls were pertinent to the Rowan case said.
In them, Sanders made references to Barbara's murder — at one point claiming, “there’s three people that know about it: me, the Lord and the person who did it,” police said.
In one call to his brother, police allege Sanders is heard asking what him he told police in 1998. During the conversation, Sanders allegedly admitted to being at the murder scene — “Just cause I was there, you know what the (expletive) am I supposed to do about it,” he said, according to court documents.
Besides the phone records and Sanders' testimony, police said they also have other evidence to physically tie Shaw to the murder.
Soon after Barbara's body was found, a friend of Shaw’s told them that months earlier, he had given Shaw some rolls of specially manufactured heavy-duty tape, they said. Tape was found around Barbara’s skull, neck, hands and feet, police added.
In late August 1984, police said they obtained a search warrant and secured rolls of similar tape from Shaw’s apartment. Decades later, forensic testing connected the tape found on Barbara with the tape found in Shaw’s home, police said.
Such evidence, while compelling, wasn’t enough to bring charges against Shaw at the time, police said. Through the years, though, the new leads continued to slowly develop like an old-fashioned Polaroid.
On Friday, McMullin credited police officers before him who worked the case with the arrests.
Detective Chris McMullin
“If they didn’t do their job in 1984, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
McMullin added that he never met with the Rowan family until Thursday, though he spent the last 13 years trying to solve their daughter’s murder. He didn’t want to bother them until he had enough evidence to close the case, he said.
Harran emphasized that the investigation into Shaw isn’t over. He suggested there may be evidence he was involved in other unsolved crimes in Bensalem, though he didn’t elaborate.
Police also believe that more people still know something that can help with the prosecution of Sanders and Shaw. Harran is hoping an anonymous person who left a message on 1984 describing a key piece of evidence in the murder will contact Bensalem police.
“It would help put the nails in the coffin,” Harran added.

Cops: Man arrested in Bensalem for assaulting, trying to kidnap teen girl

Posted: Monday, October 5, 2015
A teen spooked a would-be kidnapper when she called out his name after he broke into her Bensalem house and was assaulting her Sunday night, police said.
But before that, police said, the man used rope to tie her grandparents' second-floor bedroom door shut, calling them “his biggest threat.”
The 17-year-old girl recognized Shane McMichael, 21, of Philadelphia, as a former neighbor, even though he was dressed in head-to-toe black, including a mask that revealed only his eyes, according to court documents.
Shane McMichael

Police said McMichael entered the home in the 2500 block of Forrest Avenue shortly before 10 p.m. through an open window on the first floor. The girl said the man was standing in the kitchen when she was heading to her second floor bedroom after doing laundry on the first floor, court records note.
He charged at her, punched her in the face several times, forced her to the ground, choked her and banged her head against the floor, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Police said that after realizing the girl knew who he was, McMichael stopped the attack and tried to force her to leave with him. He took off after hearing noises from the upstairs bedrooms of the girl's grandparents and great-grandmother, the girl said.
Police said the girl had visible injuries on her face and neck when they arrived. They also found a black rope had been tied on the knob of the grandparents’ bedroom to stairs banister, preventing the door from opening from the inside, police added.
During a police interview, McMichael allegedly claimed he left the Cornwells Fire Company, where he is a volunteer, around 9 p.m., an “impulse kicked in” and he went to the house looking for the girl.
Police said they found McMichael at his Philadelphia home, along with a black mask and a black rope and a .22 caliber rifle in his vehicle.
McMichael is charged with Kidnapping of a minor, aggravated assault, burglary, unlawful restraint of a minor and related offenses. He was arraigned Monday before District Judge Joseph Falcone and sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $2 million bail.

Pope weekend visit price tag for Bucks towns: More than $140K

Posted: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 
For the tens of thousands of religious faithful, the recent weekend papal visit created priceless memories.

But for the Philadelphia suburbs in which Pope Francis never set foot — including Bucks County municipalities — the historic event created more than a total of $100,000 in unanticipated costs, according to local officials.
In the five towns where SEPTA regional rail lines shuttled papal pilgrims into Philadelphia, officials are estimating the two-day visit cost each between $12,000 and $65,000. Most of the expenses are related to police overtime costs, the added.
But counties and municipalities may be able to recoup the papal-related costs through a promised $5 million state allocation, according to a Montgomery County official.
The Montgomery County Commissioners last week estimated that county's preliminary costs related to the papal weekend at more than $240,000. The county hosted Pope Francis overnight at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Merion and had two SEPTA train stations operating during the papal visit.
Most of that ballpark total — $205,000 — is for labor-related costs such as overtime for county employees and the rest are costs associated with supplies, officials said.
Meanwhile, Bucks County estimates it spent about $20,000, also mostly related to overtime, according to Scott Forester, director of emergency services. The county secured from the state equipment it loaned to individual communities such as light towers, electronic traffic signs, barricades and all-terrain vehicles, he added.  
Among local municipalities, the costs varied dramatically.
SEPTA train stations in Middletown, Bristol Township, Bensalem, Tullytown and Warminster were among the 18 in the Philadelphia region operating during the weekend visit. An estimated 11,883 people took SEPTA trains to Philadelphia at the five Bucks County stations, roughly half the estimated 21,000 who bought the special $10 passes needed for the ride.
Middletown — which was home to the second busiest train station during the weekend — had the highest papal price tag: approximately $65,000, with all but $10,000 related to overtime costs, township Manager Stephanie Teoli Kuhls said.
The busiest Bucks County train station during the papal weekend was in Warminster. Interim township Manager Steven Wiesner estimated the township spent $12,000 to $16,000 in additional costs, primarily as a result of employee overtime.
Wiesner added that the township saved some money through donated time and supplies. Twenty national guardsmen as well as fire police from the Enterprise Fire Department also assisted with traffic control near the train station. The county donated all-terrain vehicles and electronic traffic signs. A local supermarket donated food to volunteers and staff.
Bensalem estimates it spent $23,000 in police overtime during the papal visit, Director of Public Safety Fred Harran said. In addition to 12 officers working throughout the weekend at the Cornwells Heights train station, police were also stationed outside the National Shrine to St. Katharine Drexel off Bristol Pike in anticipation of more visitor traffic related to the World Meeting of Families. Bensalem police also loaned Philadelphia police eight officers to help with crowd control in Center City.
Bristol Township estimates it spent $12,000 to $15,000 in police overtime costs between Friday and Sunday. One officer alone accumulated 30 hours of overtime posting “No Parking” signs and barriers around the streets near the Croydon train station, Lt. Ralph Johnson said.
Johnson added that when he learned the Croydon train station was among those chosen to shuttle potentially as many as 5,000 people a day, he shut down officer-leave requests for the papal weekend.
On Saturday, the first day of the visit, eight officers and a sergeant were working around the clock, but after it became apparent that the number of rail-users was not as heavy as anticipated, Johnson said he eased off staffing for Sunday.
The township shelled out a couple hundred dollars for “No Parking” signs, but those signs can be reused, Johnson added.
Tullytown police Chief Daniel Doyle, who is also in charge of emergency management, said the borough had not calculated its additional costs, but added that the lower-than-anticipated ridership helped significantly control costs.
On Saturday morning — when he wasn’t sure what to expect — Doyle scheduled 12 police officers and four public works employees at the Tullytown train station; another two police officers were sent to Center City, he said. But the far-from-overwhelming crowds meant that for the Saturday evening return trip from Center City Philadelphia, Doyle needed only two police officers and two public workers employees.
On Sunday, which had been anticipated as the more heavily attended day, Doyle had six police officers and two public works employees working at the train station in the morning. For that evening's return trips, Doyle said he again scheduled only two police officers and two public works employees.
He added that the borough incurred “minimal” costs — less than $1,000 — for other supplies such as “No Parking” signs.
“Everything we spent, we can re-use,” he added.
At a meeting last week, Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro announced that Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers had agreed to allocate $5 million to help local governing bodies defray their costs related to the papal visit. Shapiro said the allocation — through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency — was in keeping with a state tradition to help with costs related to events that require large security efforts.
For Philadelphia's suburbs, the budget impact of the papal visit is a drop in the bucket compared with the $12 million in related costs for the host city. But the World Meeting of Families is expected to reimburse the city for what it spent to prepare for the papal visit, according to city officials.
The nonprofit also paid $230,000 in fees to use locations such as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was closed to the public for the papal Mass on Sept. 27. The WMOF set a fundraising goal of $45 million for the week-long World Meeting of Families and papal-weekend events. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Suit: Bucks prison provides inadequate inmate detox treatment

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2015 
The mother of a Bucks County prison inmate who died during heroin withdrawal in 2013 has filed a wrongful death suit accusing county officials and a private medical contractor of providing inadequate detox treatment despite knowledge her daughter was a heavy drug user.
Loretta Lopez contends that her daughter, Vallia Valene Karaharisis, 29, of Philadelphia, died as a result of the actions — and inactions — of county and PrimeCare Medical Inc. three days after she was admitted to the jail on a probation violation, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Philadelphia earlier this month.
Vallia Karaharisis
Karaharisis was incarcerated Sept. 26., 2013, less than three months after PrimeCare took over as the medical service provider at the county prison. Previously the county health department handled inmate medical services. She was found dead in her cell Sept. 29, and an autopsy and a toxicology report found she experienced “sudden death during heroin withdrawal,” according to the suit.
“We can all agree that in 2013 a person with a chronic substance abuse issue should not end up dead while detoxing in a prison,” said attorney Jonathan Feinberg, who represents Lopez. “The fact that Vallia ended up dying three days into her period of incarceration suggests very serious breakdowns in care.”
Todd Haskins, a vice president of operations at PrimeCare Medical Inc., of Harrisburg, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Bucks County spokesman Chris Edwards for comment. PrimeCare also is contracted to provide medical care at the Montgomery County prison.
In her suit, Lopez alleges that PrimeCare failed to take any action to ensure Karaharisis would be monitored or evaluated while undergoing detox. She contends that medical professionals at the jail failed to adequately assess her daughter.
The suit cited PrimeCare medical documents for Karaharisis as showing no record that vital signs were taken or medical observations “of any kind” were done between Sept. 26 and 29, 2013. It also contends the lack of medical monitoring was the result of a prison policy that used other inmates who lacked medical training or knowledge to monitor inmates on medical watch for drug or alcohol detox.
Karaharisis underwent an intake medical exam conducted by licensed practical nurse Kristin Szuch Hui shortly after arriving at the prison. Hui is also listed as a defendant in the suit. During the exam, Karaharisis told Hui that she was a “heavy” heroin user, injecting up to 20 bags of the drug daily for at least two years, the suit said. 
The information about Karaharisis was recorded in an electronic medical record maintained by PrimeCare that noted the inmate was at risk for heroin detoxification, the suit alleges.
Following the death, prison officials said Karaharisis was under normal medical watch and last spoke to a prison staff member around 4 a.m. the day she died. She had a fever, which is a typical symptom of opiate withdrawal, the prison said.
Opiate withdrawal is generally not considered dangerous for otherwise physically healthy users, according to medical and substance abuse experts. But it can have potentially life-threatening consequences for individuals with chronic medical conditions. There are also risks associated with withdrawal side effects, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, neurological arrhythmia and cardiac arrhythmias, according to medical experts.
“Such dangerous medical consequences are particularly likely to be present in persons who are long-term heavy users of heroin like Ms. Karaharisis,” the suit said.
Approximately one-quarter of prisoners entering the Bucks county jail system require detox, PrimeCare estimated. Karaharisis was the first of two Bucks inmates who died during heroin withdrawal in the eight months after PrimeCare took over medical care for Bucks County prison.
Marlene Yarnall, 49, of Bensalem, had a fatal cardiac arrest in March 2014, also the third day of her heroin detox at the prison. Yarnell had heart disease, an enlarged heart and high blood pressure that contributed to her death, according to an autopsy. She also had a heart attack during heroin withdrawal at the prison a year earlier, officials confirmed.
Following Yarnall’s death, the newspaper filed a Pennsylvania Right to Know request to obtain PrimeCare’s medical protocols and drug lists used for inmates undergoing drug or alcohol detoxification at the county jail. The county denied the request, but after an appeal, PrimeCare reached a settlement privately and provided the information.
Those PrimeCare medical protocols include a medical screening on inmates performed by a medical staffer, at least a licensed practical nurse, to determine if an inmate requires a detox protocol. A more comprehensive medical screening is done no longer than 14 days after an inmate is admitted, according to the protocol.
PrimeCare generally does not use narcotic substitute tapers as part of its detox protocol for non-pregnant opiate users. Instead, its standard protocol calls for an antihistamine drug called Vistaril, which reduces activity in the central nervous system, to be administered for 10 days.
Inmates who are medically judged to need a narcotic during detox receive Tylenol 3, which contains acetaminophen and codeine, according to the protocol. Detoxing inmates who cannot be medically managed or who experience “extenuating complications” are transferred to a hospital for treatment, PrimeCare previously said.
Pregnant opiate users are transported to a licensed methadone program until they are stabilized; the methadone maintenance treatment is continued while they are incarcerated because detox is too risky to the inmate and fetus. PrimeCare medical staff administers the methadone, according to the protocol.
Additional drugs may be given to ease withdrawal symptoms including Bentyl for stomach cramps, the anti-nausea drug Zofran, and Pepto-Bismol, according to the protocols.
Other standard opiate taper orders include assigning the inmate to the bottom cell bunk for 30 days, in-person medical checks twice a day that include taking the body temperature, blood pressure, respiration and pulse ox levels. An inmate also sees a physician assistant, certified nurse practitioner or medical doctor the next business day after entering the prison, and again on the third and last day of detox, which generally lasts 10 days.
Last year, PrimeCare added a third medical visit during the 10-day detox treatment period at the Bucks County prison, a change the company claimed was the result of changes in the inmate population, not the two inmate deaths.

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Judge denies motion; Risoldi family members heading to trial in fraud case

Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
A judge has denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against a prominent and politically connected Bucks County family in a $20 million insurance fraud case.
In an opinion released Tuesday, Senior Judge Thomas Gavin said the state presented sufficient evidence at a preliminary hearing earlier this year in Doylestown to hold Claire Risoldi, 68, her son, Carl Risoldi, 44, Carl's wife, Sheila, 44, both of Buckingham, and daughter Carla Risoldi, 49, of Solebury, on charges including felony corrupt organization and insurance fraud involving an October 2013 fire at the matriarch's Buckingham estate, Clairemont. He also ruled that Claire Risoldi and her son will stand trial on charges of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities related to 2009 and 2013 fires at the estate.
Charges including filing false insurance claims, forgery were dismissed against a family associate, though. In his opinion, Gavin found that Mark Goldman, 55, of Wayne, was improperly held for trial after the preliminary hearing in April, saying that evidence did not support the state’s suggestion that the private detective and Risoldi confident acted in the role of “public adjuster” for the family in an attempt to further the scheme to defraud insurer AIG.
On the contrary, hearing testimony showed Goldman functioned as a documents courier or “go-fer who was asked to do certain things by Claire and did so,” the opinion said. He added there was no evidence he prepared or reviewed documents he delivered or stood to gain financially from defrauding AIG.
“The fact that he corroborates a position Claire and other Risoldis take … is hardly evidence of his participation in a conspiracy of the scope and complexity of this conspiracy,” Gavin wrote.
Gavin also found that District Judge Robert Roth, who presided over the 10-day preliminary hearing, “erred” in holding Claire Risoldi for trial on a separate corrupt organizations count related to her alleged fraudulent activity involving insurance claims in connection with three burglaries and the two other fires at Clairemont.
In a separate preliminary hearing last month, Roth held Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, for trial on charges of felony insurance fraud, obstruction, conspiracy and perjury in the alleged scheme to defraud AIG following the three fires over four years. A felony charge of corrupt organizations was dismissed, according to court records.
Gavin, of Chester County, was assigned to hear the criminal case after all Bucks County judges were recused because of the Risoldi family’s connection with the local Republican scene.
The judge's opinion followed a July hearing during which attorneys for the Risoldi family and Goldman sought to dismiss some, or all, charges against their clients on the grounds that the state failed to present enough evidence at the preliminary hearing to prove its case.
Mark Goldman
Claire Risoldi faces 21 criminal counts, including theft by deception, corrupt organizations, false insurance claims, receiving stolen property and forgery. Carl and Carla Risoldi are each charged with conspiracy, corrupt organizations, and filing a false/fraudulent insurance claim.
Additionally, Carl is charged with theft by deception, criminal attempt at theft, receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy, conspiracy, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, forgery, tampering with records, and filing false reports. Shelia Risoldi is charged with theft by deception, criminal attempted theft, conspiracy, corrupt organizations, and two counts of filing false insurance claim.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching attorneys for the Risoldi family for comment Wednesday. The Risoldis have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the insurance claims, and the family has filed a federal civil suit against AIG in connection with $10 million in missing jewelry in the 2013 fire, a claim the insurer has denied.
In his opinion, Gavin noted that the Oct. 22, 2013, fire is a central theme in the state’s case against the defendants and its theory that the Risoldis engaged in a multi-year course of conduct intended to defraud the insurers of homes she owned or occupied and that she used the proceeds to fund her “extravagant” lifestyle. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office largely built its case against the Risoldis on statements they made during insurance company examinations under oath about the 2013 fire, which, coupled with the Risoldi family's alleged false allegations that firefighters stole the $10 million in jewelry. The investigation led to a state grand jury in January recommending criminal charges.
In his opinion, Gavin agreed with the state’s assertion that the conduct of the four Risoldis in “presenting a united front” regarding actions surrounding the 2013 fire is evidence of their involvement in a “corrupt organization.”
“We have multiple actors pursuing a common goal, to wit, to defraud AIG. As such, defendants were properly held for court on the corrupt organization count relating to the 2013 fire,” Gavin wrote,
Gavin also appeared to have reversed an opinion he expressed at the July hearing involving one of the witness intimidation charges involving Claire Risoldi involving AIG insurance adjuster James O’Keefe.
During the proceedings, Gavin suggested that he didn’t believe the charge, which stemmed from a heated confrontation between Claire Risoldi and O’Keefe last year during the fraud investigation rose to the level of criminal conduct. He noted, at the time, that adjusters such as O’Keefe should be more “thick skinned” than the average person.
“I made that observation without the benefit of Mr. O’Keefe’s preliminary hearing testimony,” Gavin wrote. “Having had a chance to review it, (it) clearly supports Judge Roth’s decision to hold Claire for court.”
The trial for the Risoldi family and Holston is scheduled to take place in November.