|Claire Risoldi (C) Carla Risoldi (R)|
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Judge declined to revoke Risoldi bail; revises decision on separate trials
Posted: Monday, February 8, 2016
A judge on Monday declined to revoke bail for a Buckingham socialite after she reportedly defied his directive and contacted a fourth potential witness in her upcoming $20 million fraud trial.
“Fortunately for her, I am a patient man,” Chester County Senior Judge Thomas Gavin said, before warning Claire Risoldi that any further contacting of witnesses “by any means” would result in a contempt of court charge. Gavin is overseeing the Risoldi trial after all Bucks County judges recused themselves due to possible conflicts of interest.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office filed a motion seeking to revoke the $100,000 bail for the 68-year-old Buckingham woman, saying she once again contacted a potential prosecution witness, eight weeks after Gavin warned her to discontinue her “self-help practices.”
The decision was the second time that prosecutors sought to have Risoldi’s bail revoked for contacting a potential witness, court records show. Prosecutor Matt Connolly argued that after the third time, which resulted in witness intimidation charges for Risoldi, the judge had warned her attorney, Jack McMahon, to make sure his client understood she should discontinue contacting potential witnesses associated with the fraud case.
But she didn't, the attorney general alleged. On Jan. 26, just six days after the AG's Office sent McMahon a report documenting its contact with Sharon Greenberg, Risoldi called the woman, who is the sister of a late jewelry appraiser who purportedly completed "numerous" appraisals for Risoldi. The appraisals were then submitted to AIG for items Risoldi was adding to her insurance policy, the AG's Office said.
Greenberg told state investigators that Risoldi called and asked what she told the AG, claimed Risoldi had a close relationship with Greenberg's late brother, Steven, and apologized for “putting (Greenberg) through this,” referring to the questioning by the AG's Office, according to court documents.
Sharon Greenberg, who reported the contact to the AG the next day, told investigators she had spoken to Risoldi only three times over seven years.
“This was after you specifically warned her counsel” against contacting witnesses, Connolly told the judge.
But Gavin countered that while the contact may have violated the spirit of his directive — potentially placing Risoldi at risk of a contempt of court charge — he didn’t see how the call “crossed the line.” He also asked what role Greenberg would play for prosecutors in the fraud case.
Whether Greenberg is called as a star witness is irrelevant, Connolly countered, adding that the contact represented Risoldi’s continued attempt to manipulate witnesses in the case. He added that Greenberg found the call unsettling, especially since Risoldi called her at home.
“What other reason is she calling? You have to look into the context of the whole case,” Connolly added. “Why is she calling and talking about a relationship with her dead brother?”
But McMahon countered that his client’s call to Greenberg was not connected with his office getting the AG’s report and that he was out of town when the material arrived. He added that Greenberg has “nothing to do with this case” and if Risoldi’s contact was so egregious why wasn’t she charged with witness intimidation this time.
“What occurred with her was an innocent conversation,” McMahon added.
The state has accused Claire Risoldi, her son, Carl, 44; daughter, Carla, 49; Carl’s wife, Sheila, 44 with falsifying and inflating the value of items lost or damaged in an Oct. 22, 2013, fire at Clairemont, the family’s Buckingham estate. Claire Risoldi also is accused of engaging in fraud related to previous insurance claims starting in 1984 and separate charges of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to persuade another jewelry appraiser to affirm he signed appraisals for her in 1983 that are evidence in the fraud case. The man, now retired, has testified that he never did appraisals for Claire Risoldi.
In a separate pre-trial motion Monday Gavin modified his earlier decision to separate the trials for Claire Risoldi and the other defendants based on the date of alleged criminal conduct. Instead, Gavin ordered that Claire Risoldi will be tried alone and first for all the charges against her, and the remaining defendants will be tried later.
The earlier decision meant that Claire Risoldi would have had two trials — one with her children in connection with alleged crimes related the 2013 fire at Clairemont and another trial for alleged criminal conduct between 1984 and 2013.
The Risoldi children and daughter-in-law had originally requested the judge separate their trial from Claire Risoldi's, arguing 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.
Since their arrests, the defendants have steadfastly denied wrongdoing through their attorneys.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia