Thursday, January 28, 2016

When crime doesn't pay: Thousands in restitution owed by former Bucks juvenile offenders

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2016

More than five years ago, a Bucks County judge promised Jerry Clabbers he would get financial justice.
Jerry Clabbers shows a  hole in his rental home
The promise came on the day nine young people -- eight of them under 18 -- were ordered to pay Clabbers $206,300, what is believed to be the largest amount of restitution in the county’s juvenile court history, for vandalizing his two rental homes and barn.
Clabbers, who is now 84, has collected less than half of what he's owed and he may not get much more because the vandals are now adults.
He isn't the first Bucks County resident in this situation. 
Since 1998, the Bucks County Juvenile Probation Department has filed at least 69 other civil judgments against juveniles who failed to repay restitution orders before they aged out of the juvenile justice system. The outstanding balances for those other 69 cases totals more than $200,000, according to civil court records. 
A loophole in Pennsylvania law relieves the juvenile court of responsibility for collecting court-ordered restitution once an offender turns 21 and that court's jurisdiction ends. After that, collection efforts fall to crime victims, who must pursue legal action on their own.
Offenders who age out of the juvenile court system also face few of the potential burdens that adults do regarding restitution. There's no threat of extending probation. Wages can’t be garnished. If they owe less than $1,000, the court isn’t required to file paperwork seeking repayment after probation ends. It's even possible the judgment can be deemed unenforceable.
“It’s a real slap in the face to the victim,” said Jennifer Storm, of the Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate. “It really feels, in many ways, a lie that the justice system tells the victims.”
Court records are updated for individual cases after restitution is satisfied, according to the Bucks County Prothonotary Office said, but no one keeps an overall tally of how many offenders continue to pay after they age out of the juvenile system. And the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission hasn't examined post-probation restitution collection rates.
“I haven’t seen any data in that regard,” said Keith Snyder, the commission's executive director. “We’ve never addressed that. It’s a systemic issue that I’m interested in now.”
Statewide over the last decade, the percentage of Pennsylvania juveniles who failed to fulfill restitution orders has ranged from 14 percent in 2008 to nearly 25 percent in 2013, according to the juvenile judges commission. The overall amount of restitution collected from juveniles has fallen since 2009, when it hit a nine-year high of $2.8 million; $1.8 million was collected last year.
A handful of bills that recently passed the state House and are in a Senate committee would give the courts more tools over former juvenile offenders and adult offenders who haven't paid court restitution, he said.
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, who has a restitution bill under Senate consideration, said: "These juveniles must be held accountable to the financial injuries they are causing their victims. This is about making the victim whole. The victim shouldn’t be forced to file a civil lawsuit. The criminal justice system should be taking care of our victims.”
The situation is different in New Jersey, where the state Probation Division is responsible for collecting court-ordered assessments and fees ordered as part of a juvenile’s probation sentence, according to New Jersey judiciary spokeswoman Winnie Comfort. Among 200 Burlington County New Jersey juvenile offenders who aged out with restitution balances, the state has, so far, collected $46,946 of the $121,401 owed, or roughly 38 percent, Comfort said.
After juvenile court jurisdiction ends in New Jersey, an outstanding restitution order is filed with the court, Comfort said. Offenders who don't make payments must appear at an administrative hearing, where a payment plan is created. Offenders who don't follow their payment plans face wage garnishment, withholding of their state tax refunds, suspended driving privileges and arrest, Comfort said. Wage garnishment is the only step available for civil judgments in Pennsylvania, but victims must initiate that action.
Rewind to Oct. 27, 2009, when Clabbers' neighbors noticed lights inside one of his two unoccupied homes on 10 acres in the 200 block of West Bristol Road in Lower Southampton. The neighbors called police, who found eight teens under 18 and one 20-year-old man in the property's driveway and the two houses and barn in shambles.
Clabbers' photos showed the damage inside the three-bedroom carriage house, including sections of drywall punched out to expose the framing, a ripped down ceiling and ceiling fan blades torn off motors. Electrical wires and plumbing pipes were ripped out of the walls. A beach ball-size hole was punched through an interior wall to the home's exterior. In both houses, every window and door frame was knocked out and toilets and other large items thrown out windows, Clabbers said. The two houses and the barn were marred with spray paint.
“I was absolutely shocked,” he said. “The extent of damage was tremendous.”
The youngest defendants were adjudicated as delinquent in September 2010, the equivalent of being found guilty in adult court. As part of their dispositions, the adult equivalent of a sentence, the court ordered each of them to pay a portion of the $206,300 ordered in restitution. Clabbers requested the names and contact information for the parole officers handling the cases so he could track restitution payments. 
“My wife and I are afraid that the offenders will not pay at all as ordered,” he wrote in his 2010 letter.
Those words came back to haunt Clabbers in 2014, when the first of the four juveniles with the highest restitution orders turned 21 and the court-ordered restitution was turned into a civil judgment. Of the original eight restitution orders, four offenders paid in full: $8,250 each. Clabbers received another $27,000 from the Bucks County juvenile court’s victim restitution fund, he said. As of mid-January, he's still owed more than $115,000.
Only one defendant has kept paying after his juvenile case closed. Most recently, he paid $100 in November and still owes $26,929, Clabbers said. Another defendant, who owes more than $20,000, stopped making payments nearly three years before his juvenile case was closed in January 2015.
The last defendant who's still under juvenile court supervision is now 20. As of January, he owes $33,128 of the $46,425 he was ordered to pay. For the last two years, that man, whose name is being withheld because he was charged as a juvenile, has worked two part-time jobs, but still worries every month about making the payments, according to his father.
The father said he was shocked when his then-14-year-old son was ordered to pay more than $46,000, which the father called excessive. His son said he only kicked in the drywall, but received one of the higher restitution orders after admitting he previously entered the home, the father said.
Before his son was old enough to get a job, he worked weekends and summers for his father, who funneled that money toward the restitution. His son sold his quad, paintball and bowling equipment and a video game console to raise money toward the debt, his father said. One day, the man's father said, he believes the restitution will be paid, though he worries how long it will take.
“It could take him forever to do it,” he added. “I just tell him, you are paying a car payment each month and do the best you can.”
Meantime, Clabbers said the vandalized homes and barn have been left to deteriorate. He said his insurance didn't pay for the damage because the unoccupied buildings weren't covered for vandalism and he can't afford the repairs.
Last year, a juvenile probation official suggested Clabbers hire an attorney to collect the rest of the restitution.
"We cannot afford those costs,” Clabbers said, adding, “We consider this unacceptable and shameful behavior by the Bucks County court system toward us as victims.”
Roughly one-quarter of Bucks County juveniles who have been found delinquent have been ordered to pay restitution, according to the county officials. In 2014, 94 juveniles — roughly 20 percent of young offenders in the county — were ordered to pay a combined $69,090 in restitution.
Attorney Robert Mancini, who specializes in representing juveniles, said he has found most juveniles he deals with pay their restitution before they turn 21. He said the court regularly warns them that failing to pay will impact their credit rating.
"If you don’t, it hangs over your head forever," Mancini said. "Your credit is dead at 21.”
Juvenile offenders who owe restitution are typically kept on probation until they make full payment, said William Rufe, Bucks County deputy chief of juvenile probation. Juveniles who work are expected to make their own payments, he said.
Among the highest unpaid judgments still on the books in Bucks are three filed against teens who robbed a Bristol business in 2007, stealing $62,000 worth of jewelry that was never recovered. Each juvenile was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution. Eight years later, the men are adults and the owner of Another Tyme Antiques, Richard Vallejo, said he has collected only $2,173.88 and has received no payments since the juvenile cases were closed in 2010 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Vallejo said, he had to take a second mortgage to pay the jewelry vendor for the stolen items, which were not covered by his insurance. Vallejo said he'd be 126 years old by the time he was repaid under the repayment schedule the juvenile court judge set -- $15 a month for 750 months, which is 62.5 years.
Failure to pay a civil judgment can result in a person being held in contempt of court, with the maximum potential jail time being six months, according to Matt Weintraub, chief of prosecution for the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.
Justin Nelson, now 26, was the lone adult convicted in the Clabbers vandalism spree; he was ordered to pay $9,600 in restitution with minimum installments of $200 a month. His balance is $7,316 and his last payment was more than a year ago, according to court records.
Unlike his younger co-defendants, Nelson faces jail time. The county filed a bench warrant for him in June after he failed to appear at a probation violation hearing for, among other things, not paying his court-ordered restitution. Nelson also owes $2,138.33 in unpaid restitution from another criminal case when he was a juvenile, according to a civil judgment Bucks County juvenile probation division filed against him in 2010, the year he turned 21.
The juvenile probation departments in Bucks and Montgomery counties created victim restitution funds in the 1990s. The funds get their money from what juveniles offenders pay the court and the collection of unpaid court fines against juveniles for summary offenses.
Montgomery County, where roughly 40 percent of juveniles who have been found delinquent have restitution orders, has a system that includes three restitution funds, compared to one fund in Bucks. The three funds help repay victims when offenders can't afford to pay, can't pay immediately or when other special circumstances exist. The funds get money, in part, from court fees.
The funds allow Montgomery County to immediately fill restitution orders for most victims, said Steve Custer, head of juvenile probation. “We don’t want the victims to suffer again because kids can’t pay quickly,” he added.
The victim funds are one reason few Montgomery County juveniles age out of the system owing money, Custer said. Since 2013, Montgomery County has filed five civil judgments totaling $95,996.40 against offenders who aged out. More than $80,000 of that amount is owed by one person. 
The county pays juveniles without financial means to perform community service for $10 an hour, which goes into the victim funds.
“It’s not the money,” Custer added. “It’s that we are getting something out of the kids and they are thinking about what they did. That is the whole idea of restitution to begin with.”
Filing a civil judgment case is largely an empty gesture that requires a lot of paperwork, but often fails to collect more money, Custer said.
In 2013, a task force charged with examining Pennsylvania's restitution system recommended lawmakers strengthen existing tools to improve restitution collections from adjudicated delinquents between ages 18 and 21. The lack of court oversight is one reason that Storm, the Pennsylvania victim advocate, suspects juvenile restitution orders sit unpaid after they’re converted into civil judgments.
"Anytime you have someone who is no longer being supervised, it is much harder to collect,” she said. “There aren't any perceived penalties for failing to pay."
Lower Makefield attorney Scott Fegley agreed civil judgments are so notoriously difficult to enforce that most lawyers won’t take the cases from victims who want to pay them out of the restitution money that's recovered.
“It’s very difficult to enforce civil judgments in Pennsylvania. Especially if the person has no assets,” he said. “There is nothing to go after.”

Who wants to be a billionaire? Everyone

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 

One thing about Roger Custer’s life hasn’t changed since he won a $50 million Powerball jackpot over three years ago.

He still plays the lottery, the former Levittown man said in a brief phone interview Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, an employee at the Falls store that sold Custer that winning ticket confirmed that he was there buying Powerball tickets Saturday, before the most recent drawing in the record-breaking lottery jackpot.
No doubt luck played a big part in Custer’s December 2012 win, but location also may have helped, too.
The Keystone State is among the luckiest in the nation with 17 Powerball jackpot winners and two Mega Millions jackpot winners since 2002, according to the lottery commission.
Plus, Bucks County has been one of the winningest counties for lottery players recently, according to Pennsylvania Lottery Commission data.
Roger Custer claiming his prize in 2013
The county ranked fourth among the 67 counties in the state for lottery payouts for fiscal 2014-15 with players receiving $89,289,740 in winnings. In third place was neighbor Montgomery County with $114,047,084 during the last fiscal year.
The top two Pennsylvania counties for lottery winnings for the last fiscal year were Allegheny County at $326.9 million followed by Philadelphia at $287.6 million, according to the lottery commission.
While the totals include all lottery games, including instant scratch off games, Bucks and Montgomery counties have their share of Powerball winners.
Last year, 10 people in Bucks each took home $10,000 playing the game. Montgomery County had five winners who hit for $10,000 each, two for $50,000 each as well as three Powerball Power Play winners last year who took home $20,000, $30,000 and $100,000.
That might be heartening news for players waiting in line for tickets Tuesday afternoon when the now record-setting Powerball jackpot reached $1.5 billion, with a cash value of $930 million.
Langhorne resident Matt Baker said he only plays when the jackpot hits more than $300 million. He was buying a ticket at Country Farms in Falls on Tuesday afternoon.
“I wasn’t going to play, he said, “but since I won on instant lottery I said I might as well try it out.”
Perkasie resident Rhonda Oetzel is among at least 50 people at the Souderton grocery store where she works who chipped in $5 each for tickets. They do the pool whenever the jackpot creeps past $100 million.
They won $68 in Saturday’s drawing, which they used to buy tickets for Wednesday’s drawing, she said.
Her husband also bought $15 in Powerball tickets for Wednesday, all computer picks, she said. The couple only plays when the jackpots are huge, she said. Even then, she usually just buys one ticket.
“I won’t spend a whole bunch of money,” Oetzel added.
Bensalem resident Michelle Heil also reserves lottery-ticket spending for massive jackpots. She has five tickets for Wednesday’s drawing.
She bought them with the winnings she got Saturday after two of her 12 tickets hit on the lucky “13” Powerball and the $2 from a scratch-off winner, she said.
She doesn’t plan to buy more tickets, adding that she knows the chance that she has a winning ticket is hair-thin, but…
If she wins, she’d take the cash payout and buy a recreational vehicle for her family -- and her closest friends -- so they can travel the country together. She also would create trust funds for college education for her kids.
That is if she survived the shock.
“I’m afraid if I had the winning ticket I’d have a heart attack before I claimed it,” she said.
But while the players in Pennsylvania and other Powerball states are busy compiling dream wish lists, statisticians forecast an 85 to 88 percent chance that at least one ticket will hit Wednesday.
That leaves a roughly 12 to 15 percent chance the jackpot will roll over for an unprecedented 20th time, mathematicians said.
Richard Mishelof is a retired mathematician, probability expert and lottery consultant who helped states -- including Pennsylvania -- monitor and fine-tune their games so people keep playing but revenue goals are met.
The odds of winning a jackpot -- whether it’s $40 million or $2 billion -- are no different, though the higher the jackpot climbs, the greater the statistical probability someone has the winning number combination, he said.
“It’s like predicting snow or rain. When they predict rain, they’ll say a 60 percent or 50 percent chance and it’s a bright day,” he said. “It’s the same concept.”
No one has won at Powerball since November 4, a phenomenon that Mishelof calls a “black swan event.”
On Nov. 4 -- when the jackpot was $40 million -- the lottery likely sold about $20 million in sales that translates to roughly 10 million tickets, Mishelof said. With only 10 million players, there was a 95 percent chance no one had the winning number, he said.
The more times a jackpot rolls over, the more people will start playing. More players increase the number of possible number combinations. The greater the number combinations sold, the greater the probability that one of those combinations will be picked, Mishelof said.
As an example, he pointed out that Saturday’s drawing had 28 second-tier winners where five numbers matched but not the Powerball. It’s highly probable that some of those 28 people also picked the same Powerball number, he said.
Then there are anomalies like the Chinese Cookie Event in 2005, Mishelof said. Lottery officials discovered an unusual number of second-tier winning Powerball tickets were sold in 29 states where the game was played at the time.
There were 110 winners instead of the statistically anticipated four or five, he said. An investigation found the winning numbers were in a fortune cookie made in the same Queens factory.
With the number of tickets sold for Wednesday’s drawing, it's likely more than one ticket has the winning number combination, according to Curtis Bennett, a mathematics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Maryland.
“The likelihood of a ticket split is pretty high,” he added.
With 600 million tickets sold, the odds are 1 in 4 that either one or two tickets will be winners Wednesday, with a tiny statistical advantage that it's two winners, Bennett said. The odds jump to 1 in 10 there will be four winning tickets and 1 in 25 for five winning tickets, he said.
If a billion tickets are sold for Wednesday’s drawing -- assuming most are computer-generated tickets -- the odds the jackpot rolls over again are only 3 percent, he added.
But buying every possible number combination for Wednesday’s drawing – which would cost you about $580 million –would, statistically, guarantee a win, but it wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a second winner, Bennett said.
With two winners sharing the $900 million cash payout, there is no profit made on that $580 million investment, he added.
When Custer hit the Powerball jackpot on Dec. 5, 2012, it was on one of two tickets he bought at the Levittown News & Tobacco in Bristol Township, where the line was eight customers deep Tuesday afternoon. The store’s reputation as lucky keeps its lottery business booming, manager Ashok Kaul said.
While waiting in line for her Powerball tickets, Leslie Miller, of Falls, said she usually stops in to Levittown News & Tobacco about once a week to let the machine pick her numbers
"I had to get my tickets, so good luck to me,” she said. “I just played $20 on the Powerball, I thought that was enough.”
Custer was the first -- and, so far, only -- Bucks Powerball jackpot winner. He took that $33.1 million cash value.
He is also the 20th largest jackpot winner in Pennsylvania history just above Edward Varley of Montgomery County who won $30.7 million in 2002 and below No. 7 -- the Robert Shemonski family -- who won $86.1 million in a Super 6 game in 1999, according to the lottery commission.
Custer, who has been retired 14 years, said Tuesday that he didn’t make any extravagant purchases with his winnings. He added that after taxes he received about $15 million.
“All the grandkids are taken care of,” he said. “Everything is going great.”
Meanwhile, Levittown News & Tobacco employee Raka Raraina, who sold Custer his winning ticket, hopes another customer gets lucky again.
“You never know,” she said.
Staff writer Anthony DiMattia contributed to this story

Bucks' first baby of 2016 arrived almost on time

Posted: Friday, January 1, 2016
Already, her parents can see that Camilla Benzie is one determined child.
The newborn has even claimed her first title: First Baby Born in Bucks County 2016.
The race was a close one. Only 15 minutes — and 15 miles — separated the arrivals of Bucks County's first and second baby of the new year.
But parents Julie and Matt Benzie say their first child showed her steel will before she was born.
Camilla Benzie and her parents
Julie’s due date was the last day of 2015, but Camilla had been in the legs-first breech position for 39 weeks. Doctors didn’t want to wait, so a cesarean section was scheduled on Dec. 28.
Three day after Christmas, the couple arrived at Doylestown Hospital, the same hospital where Julie was born 34 years ago. The medical staff prepped the operating room. Matt slipped into his scrubs, ready to go.
Then an ultrasound revealed that Camilla turned herself into the head-first position.
“So, we went home,” Julie said.
On Thursday night, the couple planned to spend New Year’s Eve at a neighbor’s house. Around 6 p.m. Julie was running behind, so she told her husband to head over without her.
Soon, she was calling him to come home. Her water broke. Twelve hours later — at 8:47 a.m. — her husband delivered the news: They had a 6-pound, 2-ounce healthy daughter.
“She is perfect,” Julie said.
As is her birthday, according to her parents.
“It kind of suits her because she has definitely had her own agenda. We kind of think she is headed for greatness,” Julie said. “She knew she was going to be the first baby born in Doylestown. She wanted to hold out.”
Meanwhile, at nearby Grand View Hospital, Lauren Huckett also was in the last stages of labor.
She and her husband Paul, who live in Perkasie and were also expecting their first child, had arrived at the hospital around 7 p.m. Thursday. While Lauren’s due date wasn’t until Jan. 3, her doctor decided to induce labor.
Son Jack Patrick arrived via C-section at 9:02 a.m., weighing 6 pounds, 15 ounces.
While he was not the first baby, his parents can say he is the first Bucks County baby boy of 2016.
Not that his birth date matters to them. They just wanted a healthy child.
“We were absolutely excited,” Lauren said.
St. Mary Medical Center's first baby of the new year arrived at 7:08 p.m. Friday. Bensalem resident Oluwbukola Akla delivered her first child, a 5-pound, 3-ounce girl named Faizah Bello, according to hospital spokeswoman Kate Smith.
In eastern Montgomery County, Holy Redeemer Hospital delivered its first baby of the year at 7:14 a.m. The baby girl, whose name was not released, was the first of six babies — three boys and three girls — delivered Friday, spokeswoman Mary Anna Rodabaugh said. 
Jesiah Sealy and dad
Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health delivered four New Year’s Day babies before noon on Friday, and two more women were in labor early Friday afternoon, according to hospital spokeswoman Linda Millevoi.
The hospital’s first baby of 2016 arrived at 12:35 a.m. to a Huntington Valley couple, the second at 1:55 a.m. to a Yardley couple and the third at 2:04 a.m. to a Philadelphia couple, Millevoi said.
Jesiah Isaac Sealy wasn’t due on New Year’s Day, let alone anytime in January.
The first child of Regina and Cyrus Sealy arrived Friday, six weeks before his scheduled due date and one day later than doctors anticipated, becoming Abington Hospital's first baby of the new year.
Regina Sealy had been hospitalized since Dec. 30 when her blood pressure dangerously spiked during an pregnancy appointment, Cyrus Sealy said. The doctors admitted her to monitor her, and decided to induce her labor on New Year’s Eve day.
But the birthing ward at the hospital got busy. Regina was stable, so Cyrus went to work. He returned to the hospital New Year’s Eve.
As they watched the ball drop at New York City’s Times Square on the hospital room TV, Regina suddenly felt pressure in her lower abdomen, her husband said.
They called a nurse who found Regina was fully dilated.
“OK, let’s get it going,” Cyrus Sealy said he responded.
Five good pushes later, Jesiah arrived.
The 4-pound boy will remain in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a week. But Cyrus Sealy said his son is doing better than expected, and nurses think he may be released sooner. Regina is on 24-hour bedrest but also doing well, he said.
“It’s amazing. It’s simply amazing. It was something that was totally unexpected. I’m blessed,” he said. “The best New Year’s Day.”

Risoldi kids succeed in separating fraud trials with family matriarch

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Risoldi family members enter court
A Bucks County socialite will face two trials — one alongside her family in a $20 million insurance fraud case and another alone for alleged criminal acts that occurred before a 2013 fire.
The order for separate trials came from Senior Judge Thomas Gavin earlier this month in response to a Jan. 4 motion filed by Claire Risoldi’s children and daughter-in-law. The younger Risoldis sought separate trials from Claire Risoldi on the grounds that being tried with a co-defendant “who is alleged to have engaged in insurance fraud for 29 years” would be prejudicial, according to court documents.

The order separating the defendants’ cases by date of alleged criminal conduct prompted more legal objections from Claire Risoldi’s lawyer — who called it prejudicial to his client — and the state prosecutor, who opposes separate trials for any defendants. In a legal brief requesting Gavin reconsider his order, the prosecution argued the court had no authority to separate the cases by date since no defendant requested that.
The Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the cases, has declined comment. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Risoldi defense attorneys for comment Wednesday.
Claire Risoldi, 68, will be tried with the other defendants, including her daughter, son and daughter-in-law, for the alleged offenses arising out of the Oct. 22, 2013, fire at Clairemont, the family’s Stony Hill Road estate.
Insurer AIG has paid the family $10 million in claims related to that fire so far, and another roughly $10 million for claims related to 2009 and 2010 fires at Clairemont.
Claire Risoldi faces charges of 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 filed in January 2015. She alone faces separate charges in that trial of witness intimidation and obstruction administration of law in a related case.
Carl A. Risoldi, 44, and his wife, Sheila, 44, both of Buckingham, and Carla V. Risoldi, 49, of Solebury, also face felonies that include conspiracy, theft, corrupt organizations and insurance fraud.
Claire Risoldi also will be tried separately, after the trial involving the 2013 fire, on charges of fraud for offenses that the Pennsylvania Attorney General alleges occurred between Nov. 29, 1984, and September 2013, according to the order.
The Attorney General's Office has accused the Risoldis of falsifying and inflating the value of items lost or damaged and the reconstruction costs for financial gain in the 2013 fire. Claire Risoldi also is accused of engaging in fraud related to previous insurance claims starting in 1984.
The first trial is scheduled to start Feb. 8. Gavin, of Chester County, is overseeing the Risoldi trial after all Bucks County judges recused themselves due to possible conflicts of interest.