|Claire Risoldi (L) Mark Goldman|
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Jewelry appraiser denies doing 1983 work for Risoldi family
Posted: Friday, November 20, 2015
The question before a judge in the $20 million insurance fraud case against the politically connected Risoldi family Friday wasn’t only who signed 34 jewelry appraisals, but when did two defendants visit the retired appraiser to ask him to authenticate them?
The Pennsylvania Attorney General contended Mark Goldman, a private investigator, and client Claire Risoldi each visited Edward Foris after they and four others were charged with defrauding insurer AIG for claims related to an October 2013 fire at the family’s Buckingham estate, Clairemont.
Defense attorneys countered that a flower shop receipt and Goldman’s dated notes are proof the meetings occurred before the state unsealed its criminal indictment in late January.
The date difference is potentially significant for Risoldi, 67, of Buckingham, since contact with Foris could put her in violation of her bail conditions in the fraud case, prosecutor David Augenbraun said.
Following a three-hour preliminary hearing in Doylestown, Chester County Judge Thomas Gavin said he would make a decision no later than Tuesday on whether to hold Risoldi and 55-year-old Goldman, of Wayne, for trial on the new charges. Gavin is overseeing the Risoldi trial in Bucks County — scheduled for February — because all the Bucks County judges have recused themselves due to possible conflicts of interest.
Risoldi and Goldman are charged with witness intimidation, conspiracy and obstruction of administration of law for allegedly attempting to persuade Foris, 78, to verify his signature on 1983 jewelry appraisals that are part of the state’s evidence in the insurance fraud case. The documents, as well as others including blank, but signed, appraisal forms and ones with signature lines cut off were seized in November 2014 as part of the AG’s criminal investigation. Evidence presented in a preliminary hearing earlier this year in the fraud case found the appraisals had been altered before they were submitted in the 1984 insurance claim, which was ultimately paid.
On Friday, Foris testified that sometime between January 2015 and May 2015, Goldman asked if he would review the typewritten jewelry appraisals that Foris purportedly made and signed for Claire Risoldi. Foris said Friday that he agreed to look at them, but after inspecting them, he told Goldman he didn't prepare or sign them.
His appraisals were always handwritten, Foris testified, and he never signed blank or typewritten appraisals. Also, while the signatures resembled his, he said they appeared to be photocopied.
Foris told the court he met Claire Risoldi once, but her parents were regular customers at an auction business where Foris previously worked. He couldn't recall if he did jewelry appraisals for Claire’s parents, but he said he never did appraisals for her or her late husband, Carl P. Risoldi.
A day or two after Goldman’s visit, Foris said he received flowers and a fruit basket with cards stating Claire Risoldi had sent the gifts. Around the same time, he said he got a call from a woman identifying herself as Claire Risoldi and asking about the jewelry appraisals. Foris testified Friday that at a later date, a woman he described as having dark hair, being heavily made-up, wearing big sunglasses and speaking with a “rough” and “unmistakable” voice appeared outside his home and asked him to “help her out.”
“She was sort of begging me to admit I signed those (appraisals),” Foris said, adding the woman told him, “ ‘You gotta' help me out here. They’re looking to put me in jail.’ ”
Foris said he refused, then asked her to leave him alone before closing the door on her.
Under questioning by Risoldi’s attorney, Jack McMahon, Foris said no one asked him to lie about the appraisals and he didn't feel compelled to call police after the visits. Foris also couldn't positively identify Goldman or Claire Risoldi as the people with whom he spoke.
But when McMahon tried to get Foris to say the visits occurred in December 2014, he refused, saying: “That is a lie.”
McMahon also presented part of a 1984 insurance claim report, where a representative visited the Fairless Hills Auction and claimed he spoke to a man identified as Edward Foris who reviewed the Risoldi’s 1983 jewelry schedule and affirmed he saw and appraised each item. “That is a blatant lie,” Foris countered.
McMahon also showed how several signatures on the alleged forged appraisals had slight variations.
“It may be my signature, but I didn’t sign them,” Foris said.
“Then how did your signature get on there?” McMahon said.
“Heaven knows,” Foris replied.
Augenbraun said a handwriting expert determined the appraisal signatures were photocopies using several source signatures.
Through their attorneys, Claire Risoldi and family members who are defendants in the fraud case, have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the insurance claims.
There was no new testimony Friday in the state's attempt to reinstate the original charges against Goldman in the AIG fraud case. Gavin dismissed those charges earlier this year after determining he was improperly charged, but the state refiled them.
In addition to the witness intimidation, conspiracy and obstruction charges involving the appraisals, 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 in connection with the insurance fraud case. 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. Also charged in the fraud case is fabric vendor Richard Holston, 51, of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, who is accused of insurance fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia