Saturday, February 18, 2017

Former Lower Southampton official's criminal background check sought in 19-year-old civil suit

Posted Feb. 15, 2017
Robert Hoopes
A Bucks County judge has been asked to decide if Lower Southampton must produce employment records involving terminated public safety director Robert P. Hoopes for a 19-year-old civil lawsuit over a disputed hunting trip.

Hoopes, 70, was one of three Lower Southampton officials who were indicted in December by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He was terminated from his township job in January.
An attorney representing a defendant in the unrelated civil suit said he has filed a petition seeking Hoopes' criminal background check because it will confirm whether or not he lied under oath during a deposition in the civil suit that Hoopes and nine others filed against Rudy Blair, of Newtown Township, who helped arrange an elk hunting trip in 1997. Tony Montoya, of New Mexico, and Montoya’s business, High Country Outfitters, also are defendants.
David Juall, the attorney representing Blair, argues the township documents are “relevant evidence” for the suit’s allegations of liability and damages because it affects Hoopes’ credibility, which is a big part of the lawsuit. He filed a petition Friday in Bucks County Court seeking to enforce a subpoena issued last year for the township records.
The 1998 lawsuit alleges the defendants failed to deliver on contractual promises involving the New Mexico trip and they caused Hoopes and another plaintiff to shoot and kill elks in a prohibited area, resulting in their arrest and prosecution, according to court documents.
In the 2014 deposition for the civil suit, Hoopes testified that he was arrested during the hunting trip, processed, fingerprinted and taken to jail in Chama, New Mexico. He said he posted $1,000 bond to be released, according to deposition excerpts.
Hoopes also testified that two days after his release, he appeared at a hearing. His deposition said the judge found him guilty, but he added that the paperwork stated it was a nolo contendere plea, according to court documents. A nolo contendere plea is not an admission of guilt, but it carries the same weight as a guilty plea at sentencing. This news organization has made a public records request to the New Mexico Fish and Game Commission to clarify the plea and details of the incident. 
Juall said he didn’t attempt to verify Hoopes’ arrest claims until after he learned that Lower Southampton hired Hoopes in February. As a candidate for the public safety director position, Hoopes submitted to an extensive criminal background check, which should have included the arrest Hoopes alleges occurred, according to the petition.
Rather than go through the time and expense of confirming the alleged arrest through New Mexico authorities, Juall said that he filed a subpoena for Hoopes’ FBI background check from the township.
A Lower Southampton's records custodian was ultimately subpoenaed to appear at a September deposition with the requested records, but no one showed up, according to the petition. Juall alleges that Lower Southampton Township Manager John McMenamin has produced only a one-page October 2015 letter from Hoopes indicating his interest in the public safety director position, according to the court filing.
A New Mexico Fish and Game Commission official said that its law enforcement division confirmed its citations and arrests would not show up on a criminal background check. It would, however, appear on the state’s online court website, and Hoopes' name did not appear on the website in a check by this news organization.
According to Juall, though, Hoopes testified during an arbitration hearing in the lawsuit last year that after he was hired as public safety director he had his New Mexico arrest expunged.
This news organization was unsuccessful in attempts to reach McMenamin, township solicitor Michael Savona or Bradford Lare, the attorney representing Hoopes and the other plaintiffs, for comment through voice messages and emails.
Lower Southampton supervisors Chairman Patrick Irving said he doesn't remember if he reviewed Hoopes’ criminal background check, but that he had no knowledge of an arrest in New Mexico.
Last year, a federal grand jury indicted Hoopes, who lives in Doylestown, along with Bucks County deputy constable Bernard Rafferty, 62, and Magisterial Judge John Waltman, 59, both of Lower Southampton. Rafferty and Waltman are both on suspension. Rafferty doesn't get paid unless he works, and Waltman's suspension is unpaid.
The men allegedly conspired to launder $400,000 they believed to be proceeds of health care fraud, drug trafficking and bank fraud, but which was actually money they were given as part of an undercover investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The nearly two-decades-old civil case has lingered despite long periods of inactivity because the plaintiff renewed the certification every two years allowing it to remain on the docket. The court rejected motions to dismiss the case because of its age, Juall said. Last year, the case went to arbitration and each plaintiff was to be awarded $3,500 from High Country Outfitters only, but Juall said they appealed the arbitration decision.
A trial in the civil case is scheduled to get underway March 6, he added.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@calkins.com; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

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