Monday, June 27, 2016

'Gifted' child case: 911 calls revealed little cause for alarm

Posted: Friday, June 24, 2016 

The young girls wore matching Amish-style clothing and had unkempt hair. They rarely were seen outside and didn't appear to attend school.

The only adult seen with the girls was a "creepy" looking man with long hair and a bushy beard who sometimes would hold an older girl's hand.
Those are some of the concerns that neighbors of Lee Kaplan claimed they reported to Lower Southampton police — long before another neighbor called Pennsylvania's child abuse hotline. That call led to a visit by county child welfare workers and police on June 16, and the discovery of a dozen children — including an 18-year-old who allegedly was "gifted" to Kaplan when she was 14, and the 3-year-old and 6-month-old children she had with Kaplan — living in a boarded-up, three-bedroom home on Old Street Road.
Police arrested Kaplan, 51, on charges of sexual assault and related offenses involving the oldest girl.
The parents of the oldest girl and nine other girls found in the house, who are former members of the Amish community in Lancaster, are charged with endangering the welfare of children. The father faces an additional conspiracy charge. This news organization is not identifying the girls' parents in an effort to protect the children's identities.
The trio remain incarcerated in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $1 million bail each.
The high-profile case has raised questions about how police departments process calls and respond to complaints and concerns from the public. It also highlights a disconnect within state law that holds child welfare agencies to a higher standard of information sharing than law enforcement, according to child advocates.
Lower Southampton police insist they investigated the neighbors' complaints about the Old Street Road home, but none involved suspected child abuse or neglect. Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes said last week that the neighbors' calls about Kaplan's home were mostly about nuisance issues, such as trash-burning, overgrown grass and animals. Hoopes said the complaints made only a passing mention of Amish girls, but nothing to suggest the girls were in danger.
Reached at his home Wednesday, retired Lower Southampton Police Chief William Wiegman Jr. confirmed that officers previously investigated nuisance complaints involving Kaplan, but nothing involving child abuse suspicions. He also denied meeting with a resident who claims he filed a report last year about the welfare of children at the home.
Bucks County emergency dispatch records for Kaplan's property from Jan. 1, 2008, through the present do not show any calls suggesting concerns about children.
The records, which this news organization obtained through a Right to Know request, show that police responded to nine calls involving the address, including a chimney fire, reports involving alleged violations of local ordinances, harassment and a civil complaint. There were no 911 calls involving the home in 2010, 2012, 2013 or 2015, according to the records. 
Lower Southampton police visited Kaplan in 2014 after they received a complaint about excessive smoke from an outdoor grill, according to police sources. During that visit, police officers saw a small child, a baby and an older woman, later identified as the mother of 10 of the children found at Kaplan's home. Kaplan, who claimed he was Amish, said the older woman was the wife of his business partner and the family would be living in his home while their Lancaster home was renovated, a police source said.
A separate Right to Know request this news organization filed with Lower Southampton police seeking access to public police call logs involving Kaplan's home from January 2009 to June 20, 2016, is pending.
This news organization was unsuccessful in attempts to reach neighbors who claimed in media reports that they previously contacted police with concerns about Kaplan and the girls at his house.
Hoopes did not return a call from this news organization this week asking about his department's procedures and policies for processing calls from the public involving nuisance or neighbor welfare concerns.
How a law enforcement agency handles its record keeping tends to be dictated by the technology it uses, according to Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Adam Reed. For example, an entirely electronic filing system allows for greater filing of more information than paper copies, he said.
The state Child Protective Services Law requires school employees, child care workers, and medical and health care providers to report suspicions of child abuse to police. At this point in the investigation, it is unclear if the children went to school or visited medical care providers while they were living in Kaplan's home.
Police are also mandatory child abuse reporters, but unlike others they wear two hats, said Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia. Police are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect to child welfare authorities, but they also have the ability to conduct a parallel criminal investigation.
Neighbor complaints about “creepy” or “suspicious looking” adults around young children who are dressed in unusual clothing does not meet the low-bar threshold to justify a civil investigation under the child abuse law, Cervone said.
Children not attending school, though, is information child welfare authorities would be interested in checking, Cervone added.
Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Berks County-based Center for Children's Justice, said "there are circumstances that are not abuse, but do open the door to General Protective Services."
General Protective Services are provided to families to prevent the potential for harm to a child in cases where abuse or neglect reports are unfounded, but other red flags exist involving child safety, health and development.
Palm suspects police officers might not always be clear about what circumstances are appropriate for child welfare involvement.
"Here is where there is some real need to address the shared information," Palm added.
A check of a statewide database that identifies families that had prior child welfare involvement or investigations, for instance, could help police determine if an unfounded complaint might merit additional child welfare attention, Palm added.
Cervone also believes assigning liaisons within child welfare agencies and police departments who would be responsible for handling information related to reports of suspected abuse and neglect could not only improve agency communication, but better track information. He sees such relationships as crucial in counties like Bucks and Montgomery where there are many independent police jurisdictions operating.
"The problem is that police — rightfully so — are focused on crime," Palm added. "Someone calling and saying these kids don't dress right or seem to be going to school, that might not rise on some law enforcement radar there is a potential crime there. But it might have Children and Youth going, 'We should be looking deeper into it.' "

Lower Southampton police: No evidence siblings in 'gifted' child case abused

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interviews with nine young girls found living in the home of a Lower Southampton man accused of fathering two children by their older sister do not immediately reveal signs of abuse, police said Tuesday.
That older sister — now 18 — allegedly was "gifted" to Lee Kaplan, 51, by the children's parents when she was 14 in return for his assistance in helping them out of "financial ruin."
A custody hearing for the children, who range in age from 3 to 17, was held Tuesday morning in Bucks County court. Court personnel reported that at least 30 members of the Amish community where the family once lived spent about two hours at the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown. A court seal prevents authorities from discussing what took place during the hearing.
Kaplan faces sex crimes charges, including statutory sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault. Lower Southampton police have charged the girls' mother with endangering the welfare of a child, and their father with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. This news organization is not identifying the couple in an effort to protect the identity of their daughters.
Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services placed the children in protective custody last week after a neighbor of the home on Old Street Road called child welfare officials and police found the children living with Kaplan.
The children are living in Lancaster, but not with family, according to Lower Southampton Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes. He did not know if the now 18-year-old woman and her children with Kaplan, who are 3 years old and 6 months old, were among them. Hoopes said police interviewed the woman; she told police she considered him her husband.
However, it remains unclear if Kaplan is divorced from a woman he married in December 1993 in Trevose, according to county marriage records.
Lower Southampton police interviewed the children Monday, though without the promised assistance of Lancaster social workers with experience dealing with the Amish, Hoopes said.
Hoopes said the children appeared to have had some educational instruction, including music and Hebrew lessons. The children asked for their musical instruments and sheet music, which police retrieved from Kaplan's home and returned to them, he added.
The interviews indicate the children lived in Kaplan's house for at least two years, Hoopes said. The children's mother also lived in Kaplan's home, but their father did not, Hoopes said. Police spent a day searching the home, Hoopes said, and found no evidence of birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children.
Police believe the children's father was living in a home the family has been renting in Quarryville, Hoopes said. No search warrant has been executed at the Quarryville home, he added.
While some of Kaplan's neighbors told media they previously reported concerns about the children to police, Hoopes insisted earlier complaints were nothing out of the ordinary. He claimed police investigated a chimney fire at the home about four years ago and had received "a couple" complaints about Amish children living on the property.
This news organization requested access to the police call logs from January 2009 to June 20, 2016, for calls involving Kaplan's house. Hoopes initially declined, then requested a Right to Know request be filed. This news organization has made the request.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Experts: "None of this, in any way, reflects traditional Amish practices"

Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016
Lee Kaplan

Amish men do not wear mustaches. Amish women always wear a headcovering.
Most significantly, Amish parents absolutely do not "gift" away their children.

Experts in Amish culture say that details like those that emerged last week after the arrest of a Lancaster couple accused of "gifting" their then-14-year-old daughter to a Lower Southampton man are proof none of them are active in the strict religious sect that established major settlements in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
Authorities say the parents "gifted" the child to Lee Kaplan, 51, of Lower Southampton, in return for his assistance in helping them out of "financial ruin," and he then fathered two children by the girl.
"I've never ever heard of that (gifting a child to someone) before in Amish history," said Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, who is internationally recognized for his knowledge of the Amish. "They may still be dressing Amish. I don't know if they still use a horse and buggy or not, but none of this, in any way, reflects traditional Amish practices."
Lower Southampton police have charged the girl's mother with endangering the welfare of a child, her father with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Kaplan faces sex crimes charges, including statutory sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault. This news organization is not identifying the couple in an effort to protect the identity of their daughter, who is now 18 and has a 3-year-old and a 6-month old daughter with Kaplan, as well as her nine sisters who also were found in the home. 
Removing their then-underage daughter from the protection of the church community and placing her "at the mercy of a worldly man" violates everything the Amish teach about love and family, said Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor of anthropology at State University of New York, Potsdam, and an expert in Amish family life. "No Amish group would sanction this behavior."
"Certainly 'gifting' one's 14-year-old daughter to anyone, much less a non-Amish man to whom one owes money, is not in any way Amish behavior," Johnson-Weiner added.
The Lancaster couple both were raised in the Amish community, but left the church in 2003 after a falling out with church elders, according to a 2009 federal lawsuit the couple filed. But it appears the couple continued to strongly identify as Amish.
Lower Southampton police said Kaplan told them about two years ago that he also was Amish.
The question arose when officers visited his home on Old Street Road to investigate a complaint from the fire marshal about excessive smoke from an outdoor grill on the slightly more than one-third acre property, according to police sources. Kaplan accused the neighbors of complaining because he was Amish and they didn't like his lifestyle. Police also found a small child, a baby and an older woman, later identified as the mother of the 10 girls. Kaplan told police the woman was the wife of his business partner, and the family would be moving into his Lower Southampton home in phases while their Lancaster home was renovated, the source said.
While police believe the 18-year-old had been living with Kaplan at the Lower Southampton house for the last four years, it remained unclear Monday how long the other nine girls — her sisters — had been there. A source close to the investigation said the children's mother had been living at the home for "quite a while." The couple and their children reportedly moved back and forth between Kaplan's home and a rented farmhouse in Quarryville where a 19-year-old son is living, according to an article on
Other township officials have visited Kaplan's home in response to nuisance complaints, records dating back to 1991 show.
The township's zoning officer has cited Kaplan for high weeds four times since 2008, most recently in May 2014, according to violation notices. In July 2008, he was cited for violating the township's open burning ordinance, and he was fined in 1991 after police responded to four false alarms on the property, according to records.
State business records show Kaplan registered two businesses located at the Old Street Road property: The Brass Caboose, registered in 1996, and Kaplan Precision Machine Co., which was registered in 2001, according to state records.
No documents filed with Lower Southampton indicate a home-based business operated on the property and if one did operate, it should have been registered with the township, zoning officer Carol Drioli said.
Federal court records detail the financial struggles the Lancaster couple faced after they left the Amish church. They lost their mortgage financing through an Amish-related financial institution and fell behind in payments on their home, which was sold at sheriff's sale in 2007, records show.
The couple filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in November 2008, but the filing was dismissed four months later after they failed to make a payment plan, according to records filed with the U.S. District court in Philadelphia.
In April 2009, the family was forced out of their house, which they continued to live in after the sheriff's sale until all appeals were exhausted. Four months later, the couple sued the Amish church and related organizations for $1 million, alleging it conspired to ruin the husband's business and seize his property; the suit was later dismissed.
The husband told a Lancaster newspaper in 2009 that he and his family were shunned by the church after its leaders found out about his business relationship with Kaplan, who is Jewish.
But the allegations in the federal suit do not make sense to Erik Wesner, the founder of Amish people typically have business dealings with non-Amish people, including Muslims and Jews. The vast majority of Amish customers are not Amish, he added.
Authorities continue to investigate how the couple and Kaplan came to do business together, and why the siblings of the 18-year-old were in Kaplan's home.
Investigators and social workers from Lancaster who are familiar with Amish culture were expected to interview the children Monday. Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services has the children in protective custody and they are living in foster homes in Lancaster.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Risoldi attorney claims he has proof first responders lied about jewelry bag

Posted: Monday, June 13, 2016

The attorney for a politically connected Bucks County woman accused in a $20 million insurance fraud case claims he has photographic proof that nearly three dozen Bucks County first responders lied under oath about jewelry that is alleged to have been stolen. 
Jack McMahon, who represents Buckingham resident Claire Risoldi, also alleges that his client's June 1 arrest on charges of witness intimidation was the state Attorney General Office's response to being notified of what he called an "overwhelming fabrication" of evidence that he believes is an essential aspect of the state's fraud case against Risoldi and three of her family members. The witness intimidation charges have been held for trial.
The evidence, McMahon writes in a court document filed Wednesday, is a photo taken by a member of a local fire department that shows a "large white bag on the first chair" in the entryway to Risoldi's home, Clairemont. The Risoldi family claims the bag contained $10 million in jewelry. McMahon said the photo was taken when firefighters began to fight the fire that heavily damaged Clairemont on Oct. 22, 2013. The Risoldi family accused firefighters of stealing the bag; a grand jury ruled there was no evidence to substantiate the claims.
"The photo corroborated what all of the Risoldis have said regarding that bag and shows upwards of 25-30 first responders have fabricated the 'no bag on the chair' testimony," according to the filing. McMahon added that those individuals now could have "5th Amendment" issues, referring to the amendment that says a person cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.
The document does not identify which of the five responding Bucks County volunteer fire companies provided the alleged photo. Midway Fire Co. and Lingohocken Fire Department each have been subpoenaed in the fraud case.
McMahon said one of his employees hand-delivered the photo to the AG's office May 27. He refused to provide a copy of the photo to this news organization.
Attorney Jack McMahon
McMahon believes the AG's response to the delivery has been to "engage in the vindictive malicious arrest of petitioner (Claire Risoldi)," the filing stated.

"The Attorney General has had this photograph for a long time," McMahon wrote. "There are only two possibilities: One, they enhanced it as we did and saw the bag and intentionally did not provide this information to the defense. Two, they engaged in a willful blindness to even the most basic and simple investigative technique because the truth is not what they are seeking."
Pennsylvania Attorney General spokesman Jeffrey Johnson said in an email that his office cannot comment on the allegations at this point because the case is ongoing.
The insurance fraud charges stem from the October 2013 fire, the Risoldis' accusation that first responders stole the bag of jewelry and related insurance claims.
A state grand jury investigated the case and interviewed more than 60 first responders who were at the scene of the fire. The grand jury's presentment says none recalled seeing the bag, seeing jewelry, seeing anyone take jewelry or anything at the house. The document also indicates the first responders said no "civilians" at the scene mentioned that jewelry was in the house.
The grand jury found that Claire Risoldi, 69, falsely reported the jewelry as stolen by firefighters who battled the blaze.
The state charged Claire Risoldi, her son, Carl A. Risoldi, 44, his wife, Sheila Risoldi, 45, all of Buckingham, and Claire's daughter, Carla V. Risoldi, 49, of Solebury, for allegedly falsifying and inflating the value of items lost or damaged in the 2013 fire. The family was arrested in January 2015 and through their respective attorneys, has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the case.
Claire Risoldi, who will be tried first and separately from her other family members, also faces accusations of insurance fraud dating back as far as 1984.
Chester County Judge Thomas Gavin is hearing the case because all of the Bucks County judges recused themselves due to their familiarity with members of the family. Claire Risoldi hosted several fundraisers at Clairemont for local Republican candidates.
Gavin has instructed Risoldi not to contact any of the witnesses in the case.
The AG's office, which has sought several times to have Risoldi's bail revoked, alleged that she attempted to contact witnesses in the insurance fraud case despite Gavin's warning and "illegally" issued subpoenas.

On Friday, Gavin found Risoldi in contempt of court for her involvement with the issuance of subpoenas in her fraud case. Risoldi is free on 10 percent of the $1 million bail set when she was arraigned on the contempt charges.

Judge finds Claire Risoldi violated no-contact order

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2016 

A politically prominent Bucks County woman will spend 30 days in jail for violating a court order that prohibited her from contacting witnesses in a $20 million fraud case in which she’s a defendant.
Chester County Senior Judge Thomas Gavin issued the penalty Friday after finding Claire Risoldi, 69, of Buckingham, in contempt of court for using the subpoena process to skirt the judge’s order. Gavin is hearing the Risoldi fraud case and related matters after all Bucks County judges had recused themselves last year.

In his decision, Gavin said he found Risoldi had violated his no-contact order "beyond any question."
Claire Risoldi, center
For now, Risoldi remains free on her own recognizance. Her attorney, Jack McMahon, will have until Wednesday to file an appeal of the contempt finding. If there is no appeal filed, Risoldi is to report to the Bucks County prison on Wednesday, Gavin directed.
During the proceeding, a prosecutor for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office told Gavin he wanted Risoldi incarcerated for up to five months in order to stop her from contacting witnesses in her upcoming fraud trial, scheduled for late November.
"There is no other way to respond to this situation," state prosecutor Matthew Connelly said. "This is witness intimidation over and over again. There is just no end to it."
The fraud case itself is just one of Risoldi's legal problems. On Thursday, she was held for trial on two counts of witness intimidation and criminal use of a communication facility for allegedly sending "illegitimate" subpoenas to two Buckingham police officers who are prosecution witnesses in the fraud case. The case involving the subpoenas led to the state filing the contempt of court and bail revocation requests Gavin heard on Friday.
Risoldi has already spent five days in the county prison following her June 1 arrest and arraignment on the witness intimidation charges. She was released Monday after posting 10 percent of her $1 million bail in that case. She is also free on bail from two criminal cases filed earlier.
Throughout the two-hour proceeding Friday, McMahon steadfastly maintained that his office had authorized the subpoenas in question. He blamed confusion for two sets of nearly identical subpoenas being sent out to witnesses while he was working out of state for several weeks.
"She has a right to defend herself. She has a right to be involved in her defense," McMahon argued. "This woman, in this instance, has done nothing wrong."
McMahon pointed out that requesting Buckingham police Lt. J. R. Landis' personnel records was not unusual because he's a key prosecution witness. McMahon said he had no problem with what has been described as "editorializing" language in one of the subpoenas that suggested Landis had been promoted in exchange for his testimony to the grand jury that ultimately recommended criminal charges against Risoldi and members of her immediate family.
McMahon confirmed during the hearing that part of the defense strategy in the insurance fraud trial will be to show that key prosecution witnesses, including Landis, lied to the grand jury about what they saw Oct. 22, 2013, the day a fire heavily damaged the Risoldi family estate, Clairemont. The fire was the third in five years at the estate.
Claire Risoldi, her daughter, Carla Risoldi, 49, of Solebury, son Carl A. Risoldi, 45, and his wife, Sheila Risoldi, 44, both of Buckingham, are accused of fraud and related offenses in connection with alleged false insurance claims filed following the 2013 fire. Through their respective attorneys, the family members consistently have denied any wrongdoing in the state’s fraud case.
Claire Risoldi, who will be tried separately from her other family members, also faces charges of insurance fraud dating back as far as 1984.
McMahon, as he did at his client's preliminary hearing Thursday, repeatedly emphasized that it is not a crime -- rather it’s his client's constitutional right -- to subpoena records and participate in her criminal defense.
But prosecutors -- and ultimately Gavin -- believe that Claire Risoldi crossed the line when she participated in the preparation of a set of subpoenas for seven witnesses in the fraud case.
McMahon's secretary, Brenda Johnson, confirmed Friday in court that Claire Risoldi offered to have her daughter Carla's law firm create the subpoenas, which were then faxed over for McMahon's office for review on April 7.
"Claire offered her help with the subpoenas and you said, 'Yes,'" said Connelly, the state's prosecutor.
"Yes" Johnson replied, saying that she had welcomed the help.
But Johnson also testified that her boss, McMahon, had previous discussions with her about filing the subpoenas seeking records in the Risoldi case, including the Landis personnel file.
"It was told to me," she testified.
After she received the faxed subpoenas prepared by Carla's office, Johnson said she reviewed the documents to make sure they were prepared correctly, but she did not read them "word for word." After Johnson approved them, Claire Risoldi, again, offered to help by hiring a process server her daughter's law office uses to have them served, Johnson testified.
She did not forward copies of the faxed subpoenas to McMahon, Johnson said. She added McMahon never discussed or reviewed the subpoenas after they were faxed.
Johnson also testified that she was not aware that McMahon had contacted attorney Brian McMonagle's office to have what turned out to be a second, nearly identical set of subpoenas delivered to the same witnesses. She recounted a conversation with Claire Risoldi on April 4 during which the women agreed they didn't think McMonagle — who's representing Carla Risoldi in the fraud case — could authorize and send out subpoenas from his office since he didn't represent Claire.
McMonagle also testified Friday that he agreed to serve the subpoenas as a favor to McMahon, who in early April was in Maryland for a trial in federal court. McMonagle also confirmed that in previous meetings with the Risoldi attorneys they had discussed serving subpoenas in preparation for Claire Risoldi's fraud trial, which, at the time, was scheduled to start in June.
In emails, though, the prosecution contended that McMahon agreed that the witnesses who received the double-subpoenas could ignore them. The attorney general's office maintains they are not convinced that McMahon authorized or knew about the subpoenas.
McMonagle said he received an email from Carla Risoldi containing seven attachments, which were subpoenas that McMahon purportedly approved. McMonagle said he contacted a private investigator his office uses and she prepared, using Carla Risoldi's email, and then served the subpoenas.
McMonagle also testified that he made sure that he had McMahon's "blessing" before arranging to have the subpoenas served, but that he did not review them and forwarded them to his private investigator.
McMahon continued to insist throughout the hearing that his client had adhered to the February no-contact order involving witnesses, but that as her attorney he is bound to follow her direction when devising her defense, if what she requests is relevant.
But Gavin was unconvinced. He contended that Claire's involvement with the subpoenas was outside the boundaries of attorney-client privilege.
The judge said that he made it clear in previous court appearances that the no-contact order was all-encompassing to avoid "hair-splitting" over whether contact was direct or indirect.
"The court's directive was as clear as it can be," Gavin said. "Mrs. Risoldi was to retire to the sidelines."

Claire Risoldi: More witness intimidation charges held for trial

Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2016 9:15 pm
Gary Gambardella (L) Claire Risoldi 
Not long after the first subpoena from Claire Risoldi's attorney arrived at the Buckingham police station in April, Lt. J.R. Landis was immediately suspicious. The document had correction fluid marks, grammatical errors and off-set type, he said.

"It just didn't look like it was done professionally," Landis testified Thursday during the latest criminal case involving Risoldi, 69, the Buckingham woman accused of participating in a $20 million insurance fraud case involving claims related to a fire Oct. 22, 2013.

The subpoena requested his police personnel file records and included language that referenced a promotion Landis received, suggesting it was a reward for testimony he provided in the fraud case, which Landis said he also found strange.
After a second, near-identical subpoena arrived two days later, also purportedly from Claire Risoldi's attorney's office, Landis testified he believed he knew what was happening.
"It was like, I could hear Claire's voice in that written text. It sounded like something she'd say," he said.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office agreed. It charged Claire Risoldi with two counts of witness intimidation and criminal use of a communication facility alleging she used "illegitimate" subpoenas to harass and intimidate Landis and retired Buckingham police Chief Steve Daniels, in violation of a court order that she not have contact with prosecution witnesses. 
The AG's office contends that Risoldi improperly used the subpoena process to skirt the same no-contact order and reach out to five other witnesses, including prosecutor David Augenbraun and Midway and Lingohocken fire companies.
Her attorney, Jack McMahon, disagreed, often passionately launching into loud tirades that had District Judge Gary Gambardella calling for calm. He described the prosecution's latest criminal filing against his client "personal and vindictive."
"This is so bogus on their part," McMahon said. "They cannot understand what they thought was true was not true. You know they were authorized. That is shocking behavior. It is beyond the pale."
Following five hours of testimony Thursday -- after a 75-minute hearing where Gambardella refused to recuse himself from the case over McMahon's objection -- Gambardella took about 10 minutes to review his notes before holding Risoldi for trial on all charges. She remains free after posting 10 percent of her $1 million bail.
The subpoenas -- their purpose, source and legitimacy -- were questioned throughout the hearing.
McMahon repeatedly insisted his client committed no crime. She was exercising her Sixth Amendment right to subpoena records in her defense. He maintained that he provided prosecutors last month with documents showing that his office authorized and prepared the two sets of near-identical subpeonas.
He said the double set was the result of "confusion" that occurred when he was at an out-of-town federal trial. In his absence, McMahon said, he arranged to have Brian McMonagle, the attorney for Risoldi's daughter and co-defendant, Carla Risoldi, prepare and send out subpoenas, but Risoldi also arranged to have a second set delivered.
McMahon also said that the subpoena containing the "editorializing" comment about Landis' promotion came from McMonagle's process server, not the one Risoldi hired.
At one point, McMahon pointed to a copy of a handwritten note dated April 7 -- the Buckingham police subpoenas were dated April 6 and 7 -- purportedly written by Claire Risoldi to "Brenda" -- who McMahon identified as his secretary. In the note, Risoldi indicated she was faxing over the subpoenas McMahon authorized for his review.
But prosecutor Matthew Connelly contended that it was not clear that McMahon authorized the subpeonas. He said the AG's office didn't pursue forgery and obstruction of justice charges against Risoldi because it couldn't prove them.
Augenbraun and lead investigator Louis Gomez each testified that they were unsuccessful in attempts to interview "Brenda" about the letter.
Augenbraun also pointed to a series of emails between himself and McMahon after his office was alerted about the "irregularities" involving subpoenas delivered to Buckingham police. McMahon's response, the prosecutor said, was that he didn't know anything about subpoenas being issued.
After he learned about more witnesses receiving similar sets of subpoenas from McMahon's office, Augenbraun again contacted McMahon, who didn't dispute the prosecutor's request to ignore them.
Landis testified that he felt uncomfortable enough about the subpoenas he received that he filed a suspicious occurrence report. "I found it disturbing. I was concerned, this is a public record. It impugns my character," he said before adding there was nothing in his personnel file that "I wouldn't want my mother to see."
Daniels, who retired in December, testified that he never saw the subpoena delivered to the police department that referenced him until earlier this week, but he read about it in the newspaper following Risoldi's latest arrest on June 1. The retired chief testified he recommended Landis for a promotion, but the final decision rests with a three-member panel.
Prosecutors played a 1-minute snippet of a 10-minute recorded telephone conversation between Claire Risoldi and her son Carl Risoldi during the five days she was in jail before posting bail on Monday. In the recording, which was played in court, Risoldi asked her son about the news stories detailing her latest arrest.
Carl Risoldi was heard quoting Landis stating he felt the language used in the subpoena was designed to show that he was always within Claire's reach and that she was unstoppable.
"Yeah, too bad," Claire Risoldi replied on the recording.
McMahon argued that prosecutors presented no evidence that Claire Risoldi attempted to intimidate Landis or Daniels to get them to withhold information or testimony in the fraud case. He added it is not a crime to use "excess verbiage" referring to the phrasing to request Landis personnel file in one subpoena.
He said his client requested Landis' personnel records after receiving a photo of Landis with his arm around Sheila Risoldi, a co-defendant and Carl Risoldi's wife, outside the family's estate the day of the 2013 fire. Someone wrote on the picture that Landis was bucking for the police chief position.
"There has not been one single piece of evidence," McMahon added. "This is not a crime. This is clearly not a crime."
Risoldi, her son Carl A. Risoldi, 44, and Sheila Risoldi, 45, all of Buckingham, and Carla V. Risoldi, 49, of Solebury, were charged in January 2015 with various offenses for allegedly falsifying and inflating the value of items lost or damaged in an Oct. 22, 2013, fire at the family's estate called Clairemont. Through their respective attorneys, the family members consistently have denied any wrongdoing in the state’s fraud case.
Claire Risoldi, who will be tried separately from her other family members, also faces accusations of insurance fraud dating back as far as 1984 and three charges of witness intimidation stemming from the fraud case. Her trial has been moved until at least November.

State task force releases recommendations for voluntary certification of recovery houses

Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2016 6:45 pm

A Pennsylvania task force has released a long-awaited proposal for creating the state's first voluntary certification process for recovery houses, an unregulated industry that has come under public scrutiny in recent years.
The report — submitted earlier this month to the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs by the Certified Drug and Alcohol Recovery Housing Task Force — includes a definition for recovery residences and building standards, an ethics code and minimum policies and procedures for operating the homes, which house individuals recovering from substance addiction.

"We have worked very hard on these preliminary recommendations," said William Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, who served as the task force chairman.
If the recommendations are implemented, recovery house owners would decide whether to sign up for the certification. If they don't sign up, they likely would lose state funding and referrals.
Nationally, recovery houses have become a lucrative and fast-growing area of the housing industry that available behavior research has shown can be an important transitional step toward maintaining long-term sobriety for many people.
But most states, including Pennsylvania, lack operating standards, employee training requirements, a review process or certification for the homes, whose residents are protected from discrimination under federal housing and disability laws. The lack of third-party oversight has made it difficult for families and local officials to know much about recovery houses, including where they're located, who runs them and if they provide a sober and safe environment for residents.
In Bucks County, at least 121 recovery houses are operating, according to an analysis this news organization did earlier this year. More than three-quarters of the homes are located in Bristol Township — many concentrated in adjacent Levittown neighborhoods bounded by Route 413, Route 13, New Falls Road and Levittown Parkway.
Some states recently have enacted a voluntary certification process as a way to bring more supervision and consistent standards to recovery residences and weed out poorly run operations. In those states, behavioral health, drug treatment and courts can refer clients to only certified recovery houses. Certified houses in those states also have access to additional state funding and resources.
The Pennsylvania task force is calling for new rules and regulations designed to oversee and track the progress of recovery house residents. The rules would include creating a formal orientation process and keeping track of residents' medical and personal histories, fees, activity logs, treatment referrals and case management services. House operators would be required to maintain resident records in a secured storage area.
Certified houses also would be required to collect basic data, including when residents arrive and leave and the reason they moved out. Residents who are involuntarily removed from a house must be provided a written notice that includes the reason for getting booted. The termination notice also must be maintained in the resident's record.
New residents who are not referred from a drug treatment center would have to undergo an assessment by the county's state-funded drug and alcohol services provider within 14 days after admittance, under the recommendations. Recovery residences that provide services beyond housing would be required to develop written recovery plans for residents that must be updated every 90 days and detail the specific service planning, educational approaches, support and treatment referrals used. Operators would be required to develop written policies involving medication used by residents including drugs with abuse potential.
Any unusual incidents — including overdoses, deaths, suicide attempts, sexual or physical assaults, outbreaks of contagious diseases, alleged misuse of resident's funds or property, fire or structural damage — would have to be reported to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs within 48 hours, under the requirements. 
The new standards for certified homes would apply not only to owners and operators but also house officers and employees.
House operators would be required to have a written description of duties, including minimum qualifications and responsibilities, and undergo a criminal background check. They also would be required to post their contact information in a common location inside the recovery home.
Under the new requirements, owners, operators and employees who are in recovery would have to maintain sobriety, and hire other individuals who have maintained sobriety for at least one year. They also would submit to alcohol and drug testing at the DDAP's request.
Former residents also would have to maintain sobriety for at least 18 months before they could be hired to work in the same recovery house where they once lived.
Under the ethical code, anyone who works for or operates a recovery house would not be able to engage in any financial benefits with other health care providers that involve incentives for patient referrals.
Owners and employees also would not be allowed to get involved in a resident's financial affairs and would be barred from any romantic or sexual involvement with any resident or anyone the house is assisting, even after the person leaves the house.
The draft standards also require that certified recovery houses maintain housing quality "consistent" with the nature of the immediate neighborhood. The regulations set time limits for addressing maintenance or mechanical problems and requires homes to carry general liability insurance.
The building recommendations include requirements that homes have a living room with furnishings that are in a good state of repair and that garbage be stored in non-combustible covered containers and removed at least weekly.
Recovery homes would have a limit of four residents per bedroom, which must have a source of natural light, one bathroom for every eight residents and no group showers or open toilet stalls.
Homes would be required to have a minimum of two exits on every floor, including a basement, at least one smoke detector and fire extinguisher on each floor, and a carbon monoxide detector with heating systems involving gas as a byproduct or with an attached garage. Houses also would have to have a written fire safety policy that includes evacuation procedures, and unannounced fire drills every 90 days.
Along with its draft standards, the task force recommended additional funding allocations to county level drug and alcohol service providers for case management services. It also recommended that DDAP consider providing funding assistance to recovery home operators who could be required to upgrade their houses and obtain additional training to meet the voluntary standards.
The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs allows its county agencies to use state grants for the delivery of drug and alcohol prevention services to pay for temporary stays at recovery houses. Bucks County is one of 12 counties during the most recent fiscal year to use the DDAP money for that purpose.
The task force itself was an outgrowth of a 2014 Pennsylvania House bill introduced by state Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, of Langhorne. The bill sought to statutorily require the DDAP to define recovery-based housing and create statewide standards for it.
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching drug and alcohol programs Secretary Gary Tennis for comment on the next step. Earlier this year, a department spokesman said the full set of recommendations would be reviewed by the DDAP, which then would determine what regulatory body should oversee the implementation.
The DDAP licenses and oversees only drug and alcohol treatment centers and programs that provide medical care.
State Rep. Tina Davis D-141, of Bristol Twonship, who has introduced two bills in the House addressing recovery house regulation, believes the task force did a thorough job with its recommendations, though she still has concerns, particularly involving the proximity of house locations.
"When you have four or five on one street, it affects people's parking, the amount of trash, and possibly other things," she said.
Don Colamesta, chairman of the Bucks County Recovery Housing Association, which promotes peer self-regulation of recovery houses, had not seen the new draft standards Tuesday and declined to comment on them.
"We support regulation of recovery houses," he added. "That's why we have been doing it for years."