Archive for the ‘Press Release’ Category

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY APPOINTS DR. CLAUDE THOMAS AS OFFICE’S CHIEF COUNTY DETECTIVE

February 24, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 24, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today appointed Dr. Claude Thomas to serve as the next Chief County Detective for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO). The Office’s Chief County Detective has complete oversight of all law enforcement personnel assigned to the DAO, which includes approximately 60 Detectives.

“On behalf of the 600 men and women of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, I’d like to congratulate Dr. Thomas on his new appointment as the Office’s new Chief County Detective,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “Claude does not just have almost three decades of exemplary experience on the local, state and federal law enforcement levels; he has a powerful command of the work we do here in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. He is a leader inside and outside the Office to his fellow Detectives and community members. And, he is an outstanding officer and dedicated professional who has proven himself as a consummate public servant and role model to many of the students who have come into the Office to learn about what we do to keep Philadelphians safe.”

Thomas joined the DAO in 2013 as an Investigator responsible for conducting political and public figure criminal investigations. Before joining the DAO, he was a Senior Supervisory Special Agent for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office (AG). As a Special Agent, he conducted criminal investigations of secret and sensitive corruption cases, oversaw and guided the investigations of multiple AG Investigators and served as a resource for citizens, civic organizations, community groups, school districts and other organizations to help reduce drug abuse and crime in the Commonwealth. He was also a Narcotics Agent II conducting undercover criminal investigations of highly confidential and sensitive local and state criminal, street and organized crime and fraud cases. Before joining the AG’s Office in 1990, he was a State Police Trooper for the Pennsylvania State Police with a 96 percent criminal prosecution rate.

In addition to having his Doctor of Education from Wilmington University, Dr. Thomas has a Master of Sciences Degree in Administration of Criminal Justice from St. Joseph’s University, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Organizational Management from Eastern University. He has also received numerous law enforcement certifications and state and federal security clearances. Thomas is filling a position that has been vacant for the last three years.

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PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S STATEMENT ON RECESS LOUNGE INVESTIGATION

February 19, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 19, 2016) – The Philadelphia District Attorney today released the following statement about his ongoing investigation into the Feb. 7, 2016, fight that took place at the Recess Lounge (125 S. 2nd St.) in Old City Philadelphia:

My team and I are continuing to investigate the incident that took place at the Recess Lounge. Like with all investigations, I don’t comment about what I will or will not do until all of the evidence has been thoroughly reviewed.

I understand that people are interested in the outcome of our investigation, but we’re not going to rush because some people are impatient – and to say that I am unwilling to prosecute difficult cases is a little misinformed. I’m the DA who has prosecuted police, gone after priests who shielded pedophiles, lawmakers who were caught on tape taking money for political favors and the people who attacked a gay couple in Center City.

The people of Philadelphia elected me to charge the right people with the right crimes nothing more and nothing less. My only goal is to get it right, not fast. The last thing we need is a rush to judgment.

I can handle the challenge of difficult cases and I’m only going to operate on one timeline: The timeline that ends when all the evidence is collected, has been reviewed and I have made the decision to charge or not charge a case.

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WEST OAK LANE MAN CONVICTED OF RAPE AND SEX TRAFFICKING A MINOR

February 17, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 17, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today announced that 37-year-old Jason Guerra was convicted of Rape, Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Human Trafficking, five counts of Promoting the Prostitution of a Minor and related charges by a jury of his peers. Once sentenced by the Hon. Diana Anhalt on May 20, 2016, he will be a lifetime Megan’s Law registrant and faces a maximum possible penalty of 159 years in prison.

“This victim was just fourteen years old when these crimes were committed and I thank the jury for their verdict today,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “This child and the other young women who testified showed tremendous courage in facing their tormentor and holding him accountable for the devastation he wrought on their lives. The jury’s verdict sends a powerful message to traffickers who profit off of the suffering of their victims that they will be held accountable.”

At the age of 14, Guerra approached the victim on the street and subsequently recruited her into his human trafficking operation. Over a seven month period from 2012 to 2013, Guerra forced the child to engage in sex with men up to eight times a day at various hotels in Philadelphia and Chester while he kept all the money charged. After recruiting her, Guerra forcibly raped the victim and on several occasions, beat and threatened to kill her if she did not continue to work for him. On one occasion, Guerra beat the victim so badly that she miscarried a pregnancy. The victim was also intimidated by seeing Guerra beat other young women he was trafficking.

In 2013, the victim was eventually found by the FBI, and the investigation revealed Guerra’s trafficking operation. Three other women testified that Guerra forced them into sexual servitude at various times from 2007 through 2013. The women testified that Guerra would beat and threaten them if they did not comply with his demands to have sex with other men for money. The women suffered broken ribs and fingers in these beatings. Guerra further controlled some of the young women who suffered from addiction by giving and then withholding heroin and crack cocaine. These women identified four other young women whom they had seen Guerra trafficking, three of whom are now dead from drug overdoses.

This case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Rochelle Keyhan of the Office’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

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POLICE DETECTIVE CHARGED WITH AGGRAVATED ASSAULT SURRENDERS TO AUTHORITIES

February 17, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 17, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams announced that Philadelphia Police Detective Adam O’Donnell turned himself in today after being charged with Aggravated Assault (F1), Simple Assault (M2), Kidnapping (F1), Unlawful Restraint (M2), Obstructing Administration of Law (M2), and Official Oppression (M2).

On February 3, 2015, Theodore Life, Jr. (age 45) was being escorted out of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, located at 300 E. Hunting Park Ave., by Det. O’Donnell. Outside the view of security cameras, Det. O’Donnell grabbed Mr. Life and kicked him once in the knee. After falling to the ground in pain, Life regained his composure and found that he could stand but could not put any weight on his leg. Det. O’Donnell then put Mr. Life in an unmarked police vehicle and drove him to the Hunting Park section of the City where he dropped the injured Mr. Life off on a random roadside.

“A senseless attack on one Philadelphian is an attack on all Philadelphians,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I also hope that by charging Mr. O’Donnell he not only understands the severity of his crime but is reminded that when law enforcement does something to clearly hurt a complainant it will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mr. Life was unable to walk because of the pain, so he called his father to find him and drive him to the hospital. Mr. Life was treated at Albert Einstein Medical Center and Abington Memorial Hospital for a non-displaced femur fracture. As a result of his injuries, Mr. Life continues to walk with a limp and continues to undergo treatment.

Adam O’Donnell (date of birth: November 1, 1972) was hired by the Philadelphia Police Department in 2006.

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES TO HIS LEADERSHIP TEAM

February 11, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 11, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today, in an effort to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of his Office, announced the following changes to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) leadership team.

“Good people in the right positions make for an effective Office and strong prosecutions. It’s part of my commitment to the people of Philadelphia that the 600 men and women of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will do everything we can to keep our city safe,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “These organizational changes are a continuation of my ongoing effort to make this Office as impactful as it can be. Congratulations to these five Assistant District Attorney’s on their new positions and I thank them in advance for the good they and their teams will do.”

Ann Ponterio, Deputy of the Gun Trafficking, Public Nuisance Task Force and Community Engagement Division – ADA Ponterio began her career in the Office in 1984 and has spent the last 32-years of her career prosecuting cases starting in Municipal Court and continuing through Juvenile, Major Trials, Rape and the Homicide Units of the DAO. Ann has tried over 100 homicide and rape jury trials and was appointed Chief of the Homicide Unit in 2010. While Chief of the Homicide Unit, she supervised the Gosnell investigation and was appointed Deputy of Investigations in 2012.

Curtis Douglas, Deputy of the Investigations Division – Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Douglas began his career in 1980 as an IRS Special Agent investigating complicated, white collar crimes. He joined the DAO in 1990 as an ADA prosecuting rape, murder, aggravated assault, robbery and drug trafficking cases. He left the Office to spend ten years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuting Federal jury and bench trials. He returned to the Office in 2010 as the Deputy of the Investigations Division. Douglas was later appointed as the Deputy of the Gun Violence, Narcotics Trafficking and Community Engagement Division in 2013.

Brian Zarallo, Chief of Special Investigations – ADA Zarallo has been with the Office since September of 1997. After several years in the Major Trials Unit, Brian spent two years in the Investigations Division where he was cross-designated as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting wire and bank fraud. Zarallo then worked in the Office’s Repeat Offenders Unit and was transferred in 2008 to the Homicide Unit where he served with distinction and was awarded the Roger King/Judy Rubino Award for Excellence in Homicide Prosecution in 2011. Zarallo was the Assistant Chief of the Homicide Unit in Nov. of 2012 until Jan. of 2016.

Yvonne J. Ruiz, Chief of the Insurance Fraud Unit – ADA Ruiz has more than 32-years of prosecutorial experience in the Office. Before being appointed as the Chief of the Insurance Fraud Unit, she had been assigned to the Investigations Division’s Economic and Cyber Crime unit since 2007 where she investigated and tried embezzlement cases. Previous to the Investigations Division, she was in the Trial Division, specializing in child homicide cases from 1994-2007. Yvonne has tried over 100 child abuse and homicide jury trials and was a supervisor in the Child Abuse Unit from 1992-94.

Harold “Rich” Bauer, Chief of the East Division – ADA Bauer has been with the Office since August of 2000. After being promoted through several trial units, Rich was transferred to the Repeat Offenders Unit in 2006 where he was assigned to East Division. In March of 2013, he was selected to serve as the Assistant Chief of the South Bureau. Later that year, he was selected to serve as the Chief of the Pretrial Unit and continued to run the Office’s Veterans Court program. In addition to his work in the DAO, Rich is a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Through his work in the military, Rich has served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for both the Western District of Texas and the District of New Jersey.

The above staffing changes began to be implemented in the DAO last month and are effective immediately.

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KATHRYN KNOTT SENTENCED TO FIVE TO TEN MONTHS IN CENTER CITY ATTACK CASE

February 8, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 8, 2016) – The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced that the Hon. Roxanne Covington today sentenced Kathryn Knott to serve five to ten months of incarceration followed by two years of reporting probation, in addition to paying $2000 in fines, for her role in the attack of a gay couple at 16th and Chancellor Sts. in Center City Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2014.

On Dec. 18, 2015, Knott was found guilty by a jury of her peers of two counts of Recklessly Endangering Anther Person, Simple Assault and Conspiracy for Simple Assault; all misdemeanor crimes.

“This case is one of those cases that is not just important on its merits – the sentencing of Kathryn Knott for her role in the heinous attack of a gay couple in Center City Philadelphia – but it is important because it has forced us to think about race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation and what kind of city we want to live and work in,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “I think we all want to raise our families in a city that respects everyone equally, and yes we have a long way to go to make that a reality, but I hope today’s sentencing takes us one step closer.”

This past October, Knott’s co-defendants pled guilty for their role in the attack. Kevin Harrigan pled guilty to one charge of Simple Assault and one charge of Conspiracy. He was sentenced to three years of reporting probation and had to pay $314 in restitution. Phillip Williams pled guilty to one charge of Aggravated Assault and one charge of Conspiracy. He was sentenced to five years of reporting probation and had to pay $628 in restitution. Harrigan and Williams also agreed to perform 200 hours of community service at a LGBTQ organization/cause and are prohibited from going into Center City Philadelphia for the duration of their probation.

Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Mike Barry, Chief of the Office’s Central Bureau and ADA Allison Ruth who is in the Office’s Homicide Unit prosecuted the Center City attack case.

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Letter to the Editor Responding to DA Settles Lawsuit (01/26/16)

January 27, 2016

I want to set the record straight about the Daily News’ 01/26/16 story entitled DA Settles Lawsuit. In the story, the reporter failed to mention two things. First, that he was the reporter who received the leaked information in 2011 from the individual profiled and failed to disclose that in his article. Second, that the individual who was not fired was treated differently because he was honest, remorseful and admitted that he conspired with the profiled employee to improperly share expungement information that could harm another assistant district attorney. I am proud of my record, my decisions and the way I have run the District Attorney’s Office.

When I chose to prosecute Dr. Kermit Gosnell, people thought I did it for political reasons. I did not, I did it because he was committing horrific crimes.

When I chose to charge Monsignor William Lynn with shielding pedophile priests, people thought I did it because I was anti-Catholic; that is outrageous. I did it because priests who rape and victimize young boys should not be hidden.

When I chose to prosecute six African-American Philadelphia elected officials – men and women – who were taking bribes for political favors, people thought I did it because I was against African-American elected officials. I chose to proceed with the case because what they did was illegal.

When I chose to stand up for and support a young African-American Assistant District Attorney, some thought I was wrong, but now that young lawyer has made a great success of himself in our legal community.

When I prosecuted a police lieutenant for punching a Hispanic woman at a parade, I was not anti-police or pro-Hispanic, I was just doing my job.

When I reorganize my office and put women at the top of my organizational chart, I’m not anti-male.

When I did to not fire career prosecutors who participated in the exchange of offensive emails at a previous job, people said I’m anti-black, anti-women, anti-gay and pro-white; which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When I choose to discipline employees – men and women, black and white – to differing degrees; I’m not pro- or anti-anything, I’m attempting to be fair and not discriminatory.

And when the Philadelphia Daily News says that I’m pro-black, anti-woman and someone who regularly uses discriminatory practices to run my office, I can’t help but be disappointed.

I want to make this clear; I treat everyone in my office equally and make decisions based on the merits and facts at my disposal. My number one job is to keep all Philadelphians, regardless of gender, race, age or political affiliation, safe from crime, fraud and corruption and I take that role seriously.

 

Seth Williams, Philadelphia District Attorney

http://mobile.philly.com/beta?wss=/philly/opinion&id=366728761

CORRECTIONS OFFICER CHARGED WITH FILING FALSE REPORTS SURRENDERS TO AUTHORITIES

January 26, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 26, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams announced that Corrections Officer Yolanda Grier turned herself in today after being charged with Tampering with Public Records [F3], False Reports to Law Enforcement Authorities [M2], Unsworn Falsification to Authorities [M2], Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function [M2], Official Oppression [M2] and Harassment [S].

“What Yolanda Grier did, making up an incident and then allowing an innocent inmate to be falsely charged, is outrageous and a complete failure of her duties and the oath she took to serve the Philadelphia Prison System and the citizens of our City,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I’d like to thank our partners in the Philadelphia Prison System for helping us with this investigation and today’s arrest.”

Grier alleged that she was threatened by a female inmate at the Riverside Correctional Facility on October 7, 2014. In her statement to the police, Grier alleged that the inmate responded to her request to turn over the pass she was using to see a visitor with cursing, screaming and threats to shoot Grier. Based on Grier’s statement, detectives obtained an arrest warrant for the inmate and arrested and charged her with one count of Terroristic Threats.

In actuality; after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO), Special Investigations Unit reviewed surveillance video from the incident; Grier’s description of the incident turned out to be false. The video shows that the inmate quickly produced her pass and Grier, after taking it from the inmate, taunted the inmate by pretending to give and take back the pass multiple times. Eventually, Greir escalated her harassment of the inmate by pulling out her mace despite the lack of any threatening behavior by the inmate. In addition to filing charges against Corrections Officer Grier, the criminal case against the inmate has been withdrawn.

Yolanda Grier (date of birth: March 28, 1964) was hired by the Philadelphia Department of Corrections in 1993 and has worked at the Riverside Correctional Facility since 2009. Grier is no longer employed as a Philadelphia Corrections Officer due to her arrest.

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY LAUNCHES NEW WAY TO DISPOSE OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

January 20, 2016

Drug return boxes are safe, secure and will help prevent prescription drug and heroin abuse

PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 20, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today launched a pilot program in six Philadelphia Police Districts so anyone can safely and anonymously dispose of unwanted prescription drugs. In addition to a public safety issue, unwanted and unused prescription medications are a public health risk because prescription drug abuse often leads to opiate and heroin abuse.

“Overdoses don’t discriminate based on race, gender or economic status. Prescription drug, opioid and heroin abuse have created victims in all walks of life in our City and throughout our Nation. In fact, the crisis was one of the very first points President Obama mentioned in his recent State of the Union Address,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I thank all of the partners who are here today and I know all of us are looking forward to bringing drop boxes to every Police District in the City so we can reduce the availability of unwanted prescription drugs and slow the spread of heroin abuse in Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia has the highest rate of drug overdoses in Pennsylvania, nearly 42 people per 100,000. There were more than 650 overdose deaths in Philadelphia in 2014 and approximately 370 of those who overdosed had prescription opioids in their system. Heroin was found in the system of more than half of those who overdosed.

“The Philadelphia Police Department is happy to take part in this pilot program, which will provide a safe alternative for disposing of unwanted or expired prescription medications as opposed to them being left in a place where they can fall into the wrong hands,” added Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

“We need to get the word out about the potency of today’s prescription drugs. Too many families have learned the hard way the dangers of not properly securing or disposing of powerful medications,” Council President Clarke said. “I encourage all Philadelphians to audit your medicine cabinets and take advantage of this disposal program – especially if you have kids in the house, or have been touched by drug addiction. And I thank District Attorney Williams and Police Commissioner Ross for their leadership on this critical public health and safety issue.”

The pilot program is beginning with boxes in the 1st, 15th, 19th, 22nd, 25th and 35th; and once concluded and evaluated, it will be expanded into every Police District throughout the City.

“We know, The United States of America, accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 75 percent of prescription drugs in the world. Another fact I find very troubling is that one in five teens have abused prescription medications. In 2010, I introduced a resolution to explore the creation of a drug take back program in Philadelphia. My staff and I commend District Attorney Seth Williams and his team, the Philadelphia Police Department, Bernie Strain and all partners who worked tirelessly to craft a process for citizens to safely dispose of prescription drugs in the City of Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman At-Large Blondell Reynolds Brown.

The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) will house the boxes and Philadelphia District Attorney (DAO) County Detectives will collect the medications and transport them to Covanta, which is located in Conshohocken, where they will be burned at no cost. The boxes were made available to the DAO through a grant from the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

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CAMPBELL AND BENSCHOP SENTENCED IN SALVATION ARMY BUILDING COLLAPSE CASE

January 8, 2016

 

PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 8, 2016) – The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) today announced that Griffin Campbell was sentenced to 15 – 30 years in prison and Sean Benshop was sentenced to

7 1/2 -15 years in prison for the death of six people, and injury to others, in the June 5, 2013, Market St. Salvation Army Building collapse. Campbell’s and Benshop’s sentence reflects the nature of their crimes and the suffering of the victims. We now know justice has been served.

“I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and grief Mr. Campbell and Mr. Benshop caused the friends and families of those who lost their lives, and those who were injured, when the Market Street Salvation Army Building was crushed by a four-story, unsupported masonry wall in June of 2013,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “The Assistant District Attorneys who prosecuted this case and me hope that today’s sentences make clear the need for safe demolitions in our city and, most importantly, it helps to bring closure to the victims’ loved ones who are still dealing with this tragedy.”

In October of 2015, Griffin Campbell was found guilty by a jury of his peers of six counts of Involuntary Manslaughter, 13 counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, one count of Causing a Catastrophe and one count of Aggravated Assault. Campbell was responsible for the demolition of the property that was located at 2140 Market St. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations at the site, Campbell put in place a demolition plan that left a four-story masonry wall unsupported above the Salvation Army Building.

In July of 2015, Sean Benschop plead guilty to six counts of Involuntary Manslaughter and the additional charges of Aggravated Assault, Conspiracy, Causing a Catastrophe and thirteen Counts of Reckless Endangerment. Benschop was the operator of an excavator that was used to demolish the building next to the Salvation Army building when it collapsed killing Juanita Harmon, Roseline Conteh, Mary Simpson, Kimberly Finnegan, Anne Bryan and Borbor Davis. Mariya Plekan suffered serious and permanent injury.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber who is the Chief of the DAO’s Homicide Unit and Edward Cameron who is the Assistant Chief of the DAO’s Homicide Unit prosecuted the collapse cases.


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