Thursday, October 1, 2015
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.
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.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia