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Author Topic: Dr. Cyril H. Wecht--For Wecht, it's 1981 all over again  (Read 1975 times)
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« on: January 06, 2008, 02:22:20 PM »

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08006/847073-85.stm

For Wecht, it's 1981 all over again
Current charges very similar to ones he beat years ago; prosecutor wonders what he learned
Sunday, January 06, 2008

Former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, has been through all this before.

The settings may be different, but the circumstances -- right down to the reams of government evidence, the defense strategy of attacking the system, the prosecutors and the judge, and the defense that the activities were done for educational purposes -- are remarkably similar to a case he faced in state court in 1981.

And unchanged is the unique personality of the defendant with the daunting vocabulary.

In that first case, the world-renowned forensic pathologist fought -- and beat -- criminal charges that he'd misused his public office for personal gain.

It remains to be seen whether he can beat the charges in the new case, which is set to go to trial Jan. 28 in federal court.

"Am I surprised by the type of defense he is waging? The answer to that question is no," said Jim Lees, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Dr. Wecht in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in the spring of 1981.

But he is surprised that Dr. Wecht is back in the same situation -- charged now with mail and wire fraud for allegedly using public resources for private gain.

"[You] would think once you've been indicted for that and gone through that, you would do everything in your conceivable power to avoid even the appearance of that type of activity," Mr. Lees said.

"[That's] because governments, whether they be county governments or federal governments, have a long institutional memory. There are always going to be people left over who are taking a long, hard look at you and want a second shot at it."

The first inquiry into private work being done in the county morgue began in 1979, after the county controller said Dr. Wecht could owe the county as much as $100,000.

When a reporter suggested then that Dr. Wecht simply write a check to pay off the surcharge, his attorney at the time, John M. Feeney, laughed and said, "You don't know Dr. Wecht."

Instead, Dr. Wecht decided to take on the system, battling other county officials and employees, the grand jury system and the city's two daily newspapers.

On Sept. 4, 1980, a county grand jury recommended that six criminal charges be filed against him.

A question of specimens
They alleged that as coroner, Dr. Wecht made nearly $140,000 between 1974 and 1979 by using morgue employees to process slides and tissue examinations for his private business, then called Pittsburgh Pathology and Toxicology Laboratory Inc.

Most of the money, prosecutors alleged, came from the Podiatry Hospital of Pittsburgh, which submitted nearly 10,000 specimens to Dr. Wecht's private lab for processing.

The coroner, who had become a county commissioner in 1980, denied any wrongdoing and claimed then-District Attorney Bob Colville filed the charges as part of a "personal and political vendetta."

"You should realize that there are certain individuals who pursue political elevation at the cost of tremendous unwarranted anguish to others and their families," Dr. Wecht said at a news conference on Sept. 8, 1980.

He also claimed that the private specimens were studied at the public morgue as part of a teaching program to maintain the professional skills of the staff.

Dr. Wecht's defense then is strikingly similar to the one that he is currently waging against the federal government.

In January 2006, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that a federal grand jury had handed up an 84-count indictment against Dr. Wecht. It alleged that he billed private clients of his business, Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates Inc., for expenses he illegally charged to Allegheny County.

Prosecutors also accused him of using county resources -- such as office equipment and vehicles -- for his private business and used county employees to run personal errands for him, including walking his dog and shopping for sporting goods.

In the two years since, Dr. Wecht and his team of lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, have waged an aggressive defense.

They have alleged political motivation as the reason that Dr. Wecht was indicted in the first place, blaming an ongoing feud with county District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt wrote in an early filing in the case, "At age 75, Dr. Wecht now stands charged in the twilight of his career of rendering dishonest services to the citizens of Allegheny County, ironically because in fact he refused to render dishonest services to the county to keep political peace with'' Mr. Zappala.

Dr. Wecht also has claimed selective prosecution by Ms. Buchanan, a Republican, because he is a Democrat. Mr. Thornburgh even testified before two House judiciary subcommittees, saying that the charges against his client were not typical public-corruption counts usually handled by the federal government.

The defense has made repeated claims of bias against the judge in the case, Arthur J. Schwab, filing two separate motions with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to have him removed. Both were rejected.

And concerning charges that he improperly provided unclaimed bodies from the coroner's office to students in Carlow University's forensic sciences program, Dr. Wecht said there was nothing untoward about that practice and that the bodies were donated specifically for educational purposes.

"It's almost verbatim from 20-plus years ago," Mr. Lees said.

Six-week trial
Last week, the original 84 counts were reduced to 41 at the request of prosecutors. The government said it was trying to streamline the case and also had discovered that some packages identified in the mail-fraud counts actually had been hand-delivered without ever going through the postal system.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday, with opening arguments slated for Jan. 28. The trial will be heard by an anonymous jury, ordered by Judge Schwab because of what he called "unprecedented" media coverage.

The case, which could include as many as 130 government witnesses and thousands of pages of exhibits, is expected to last up to 10 weeks, more than a month longer that Dr. Wecht's 1981 trial.

That case stretched for six weeks, including five days of testimony by Dr. Wecht himself.

By the time the panel of seven women and five men got the case, it took them just 10 hours to acquit him on one count of theft of honest services -- the only charge that remained against him.

Mr. Lees said he believes there were a number of things working against him.

He contends that the Crawford County judge who was brought in for the trial was unduly influenced by Dr. Wecht's defense attorney, the nationally known Stanley Preiser.

Mr. Lees said he vividly remembers walking into court on the first day of trial to find Mr. Preiser and his assistants sitting at the table traditionally reserved for the prosecution, nearest the jury box.

When Mr. Lees objected, the judge asked him to cite any legal authority that gave the prosecution the right to have that table.

"It's funny now. It wasn't funny then," said Mr. Lees, who left the DA's office in January 1984 to work with Mr. Preiser in his Charleston, W.Va., office.

During its portion of the case, the prosecution, which had compiled 35 volumes of tissue-specimen reports to use in the trial, called 37 witnesses. Mr. Lees recalled that many of them proved to be more helpful to the defense under cross-examination than to the government.

"Many of the employees of the coroner's office at that time were very loyal to Dr. Wecht, and we viewed them as doing their best to put his activities in the best light possible," he said.

When it was time for the defense to present its case, Mr. Lees said, it had what he called a "rock-star" quality.

Among the defense witnesses called were Dr. David M. Paul, who at the time was known as "her majesty's coroner" in London, and California pathologist Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who did the autopsies on Marilyn Monroe and Bobby Kennedy.

"The jury would just sit there kind of star-struck," Mr. Lees said. "It was a big production, a big show."

Both men testified that Dr. Wecht's practice of having private tissue examined in the county lab was a great training program to keep his staff sharp.

In interviewing a number of forensic pathologists around the country, Mr. Lees found that "it was uniformly thought that defense was ridiculous." But, he continued, it was nearly impossible to find anyone willing to testify against Dr. Wecht and say so.

"In retrospect, we were young prosecutors, and he had a very experienced defense team," Mr. Lees said. "When you put all four of those things together, it made for a tough prosecution."

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.
First published on January 6, 2008 at 12:00 am
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2008, 01:24:31 PM »

Jurors in Wecht case won't be anonymous
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The names of the jurors who will decide the criminal case of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht will not be kept secret.

That was the ruling of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday in a challenge by local news organizations, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab issued an order last month that would have blocked the public and media from having access to the jurors' names, basing his decision on "unprecedented" media coverage.

The 3rd Circuit held yesterday that the news media should have access to the jurors' names prior to their swearing-in.

The news organizations had challenged Judge Schwab's order, arguing that an anonymous jury was unnecessary and limited the public's ability to ensure the trial was conducted fairly.

"Anonymous juries should be used, if at all, only when there is a compelling reason for confidentiality and no less-restrictive alternative," said Post-Gazette attorney David J. Bird. "Here, there is no compelling reason for withholding the names of jurors from the public."

The appeals court did not issue its supporting opinion on the matter, but said it would at a later date.

The three judges on the panel were D. Michael Fisher, D. Brooks Smith and Franklin Van Antwerpen.

Judge Van Antwerpen disagreed with the two-judge majority and said that he would have kept the names of the jurors secret until the conclusion of the trial.

"[The] findings and order of the trial judge concerning the relentless media attention, trial length, known enemies of defendant Wecht, and potential for juror intimidation in this marathon case are sufficiently compelling and narrowly tailored to allow the names and addresses of the trial jurors to be withheld from the media," he wrote.

The seating of an anonymous jury typically is reserved for cases involving violence and organized crime.

Such a jury has been used in the Western District of Pennsylvania twice -- in the retrial of the leader of a large cocaine ring and in the death penalty case of a man accused of killing the father of a witness against him.

As part of its challenge, the media also requested that the process for picking the jury be done in open court.

The appeals court denied that request. Instead, Judge Schwab will follow the original plan he set out, which is for members of the jury pool to fill out a 25-page questionnaire.

Attorneys for both sides, who will be forbidden from knowing the jurors' names until the pool of 400 is down to 40, will then go through the forms looking for possible conflicts that would render a person unsuitable for service.

Jury selection begins today. Opening statements are set for Jan. 28. Dr. Wecht faces 41 counts, including mail and wire fraud and theft of honest services. Prosecutors contend he used his public office for private gain.

Dr. Wecht denies the allegations.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08010/848081-85.stm
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« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2008, 07:09:50 AM »

Mistrial declared...
Many questions surround Wecht retrial, set for May
Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht has lived to fight another day, and that's exactly what he'll have to do.

Moments after U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab announced yesterday that an 11-member jury was deadlocked on the 41 federal counts against the former Allegheny County coroner, the judge asked whether the government had a decision about retrying the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings jumped from his seat and said: "We do, your honor, and we will."

The judge set the trial for May 27.

Knowing that Round Two looms tempered any sense of triumph among Dr. Wecht and his attorneys. They had battled the government to a standstill during a seven-week trial in which the defense did not call a single witness.

"There's no real celebration," Dr. Wecht, 77, said at a news conference in his attorneys' Downtown offices, his wife, Sigrid, by his side. "We're very serious. We're very somber."

Dr. Wecht said he had been "hurt badly" by the federal investigation and trial. That said, he appeared relaxed, unworried, and as talkative as ever in his first public comments about the case since his trial began Jan. 28 on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds.

"Call and cancel your luncheon appointments," Dr. Wecht joked as he began his remarks, poking fun at his propensity for lengthy ad-libbing.

Dr. Wecht's attorneys spared no adjectives in criticizing the trial, the judge, the speed with which the government decided to try again, and what they perceived as political motivation that led Republican U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan to prosecute Dr. Wecht, a lifelong Democrat.

"The government has utterly failed to prove their case, and it's time, in my view, for these charges to be dismissed and for Dr. Wecht to be able to get on with his life," said former U.S. Attorney and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, a member of the defense team.

Mr. Thornburgh, himself a Republican, called the prosecution a "miscarriage of justice" and said he had been in touch with U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

"He knows what our grievances are," Mr. Thornburgh said. "I think we can make a persuasive case that this prosecution should be dismissed forthwith."

More than 25 years ago, Dr. Wecht fought similar state charges. All but one charge was dismissed and he was acquitted on the final count. This time around, Dr. Wecht faces a foe with perhaps a steelier resolve.

Ms. Buchanan was out of town but issued a brief statement that said her office is "committed to eliminating the culture of corruption that prevails when officials at the highest levels abuse the public trust. Allegations of wrongdoing by public officials can be both challenging to investigate and to prove."

Lead defense attorney Jerry McDevitt had a quick response: "Well, that's nothing more than Ms. Buchanan putting lipstick on a corpse."

Prosecutors accused Dr. Wecht of misusing the resources of the coroner's office to run his private autopsy and consulting business. They also claimed he defrauded private clients by billing for inflated plane fares and fake limousine rides he never took.

With 44 witnesses and hundreds of documents, Mr. Stallings and Assistant U.S. Attorney James R. Wilson portrayed Dr. Wecht as a cheapskate who treated his staff like servants and availed himself of every opportunity to cut his private business costs by transferring them to taxpayers.

Current and former coroner's office employees testified about performing a myriad of personal errands while on county time, being drafted for political fund raising on behalf of Dr. Wecht's son, Common Pleas Court Judge David Wecht, and handling the books and records for Cyril H. Wecht & Pathology Associates.

Prosecutors also contended that Dr. Wecht wrongfully sent 16 cadavers from the morgue to Carlow University, where he had established a program for autopsy technicians, in exchange for free lab space for his private autopsies.

The government never put a total dollar figure on how much Dr. Wecht allegedly cost the county, although Mr. McDevitt did -- a mere $3.96 for faxes.

Prosecutors argued that the more important figure was the hundreds of thousands of dollars Dr. Wecht reaped from the invoices his secretaries wrote and transmitted from a county fax machine at the coroner's office.

But the government did not prove that Dr. Wecht's secretaries, whom they suggested ran his private business while on county time, did not fulfill their public duties.

And the prosecutors' own best witness about the alleged cadaver deal, former Carlow President Sister Grace Ann Geibel, lauded Dr. Wecht, denied any quid-pro-quo pact and criticized how the case was handled.

Defense attorneys chalked up any problems to innocent billing errors by a brilliant and unusually busy man whose forte was science, not administration.

Dr. Wecht sarcastically confronted one part of the government's allegations about making deputy coroners drive with him to the airport when he went out of town on business trips.

"I can tell you this, some of them used to push and shove, literally, certainly figuratively, in seeing who would drive with me to the airport to tell me about their problems, to complain about the way they were being treated by one of their supervisors, to ask me about another shift. ... And all of a sudden I'm sitting there in the court, and gee, all of these horrendous things."

When the trial began, Mr. Stallings told jurors that the case was "simple."

But the deliberations, which dragged on for 10 days -- jurors convened at 8 a.m. yesterday, Day 11, just long enough to inform the judge they were at an impasse -- proved to be anything but.

One juror was dismissed for medical reasons in the thick of deliberations, and the panel indicated as early as the sixth day there might be problems reaching a verdict. On Thursday, each juror told Judge Schwab the group could not come to a unanimous decision. They were sent back for more.

Mr. McDevitt, who twice tried to have Judge Schwab removed before the trial started, said he would "probably" again endeavor to have him yanked.

He also said plenty of problems cropped up at trial that he would present to Judge Schwab in motions, but he held out little hope things would go his way.

"He hasn't granted any yet," Mr. McDevitt said. "It was a very peculiar trial, to say the least, with the rules of evidence essentially thrown out the window. The prosecution was allowed to do anything it wanted to do."

Attorneys gathered at 9:15 a.m., about 20 minutes after being summoned by the judge.

Judge Schwab ordered everyone to remain seated and quiet and then told the packed courtroom that the jury was hung. Before declaring a mistrial, he asked jurors not to speak to anyone -- including reporters and attorneys -- before the retrial ended.

Mr. McDevitt, who described yesterday's courtroom proceedings as "Kafkaesque" and the case as "disgraceful," vowed he would not back down.

Dr. Wecht's attorneys denounced the snappy decision for a retrial -- particularly since attorneys did not have a chance to speak with jurors and learn whether they might have been leaning toward acquittal or conviction -- and called the move "orchestrated."

Dr. Wecht said the case took a drastic personal, professional and financial toll. He said only his family -- four children and 11 grandchildren -- and his extensive private work, which has continued unabated, kept him sane since he came under investigation in late 2004.

"The toll on my family has been horrendous," Dr. Wecht said. "We've been living under this cloud for all that time. The emotional drain has been absolutely unbelievable."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08100/871605-85.stm
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One who doesn't trust is never deceived...

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« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2008, 07:10:57 AM »

Wecht supporters criticize prosecution decision to retry
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
By Torsten Ove and Milan Simonich, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, forensic scientist, author, expert witness and television personality, is too big a catch to avoid a retrial on federal corruption charges, legal experts say.

The 11 jurors deciding his fate deadlocked, unable to reach a verdict on any of the 41 counts. The judge declared a mistrial yesterday, and federal prosecutors immediately said they would retry the former Allegheny County coroner.

Members of the legal community familiar with the federal court system expected as much. Few federal cases end in mistrials, and when they do, prosecutors almost always retry.

Anything less, especially in a case as prominent as this one, would embarrass an office that wins more than 95 percent of its cases.

"Having put the prestige of the office, as well as millions of dollars in federal resources on the line, it's hard to imagine that the prosecution will now let it drop, though it seems evident that the jury didn't see the case the way they wanted it to," said former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman.

The amount of time and resources that U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has devoted to prosecuting Dr. Wecht make it politically impossible for her to back down, said John M. Feeney, who helped to win an acquittal for the famous pathologist in a similar state case in 1981.

"If they don't go forward with another trial, they will be admitting that they didn't have anything," Mr. Feeney said. "They're not in a position to simply say, 'Well, we did it once and we're giving up at this point.' "

Stanton Levenson, a criminal defense attorney who has often battled federal prosecutors here, agreed: "In a high-profile case like this, you can't walk away."

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab asked the jurors not to talk to either side or the media.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors will likely reach out to them anyway. Without knowing why they could not reach a decision, neither side can effectively prepare for the next trial.

That's especially true for the prosecution because the defense didn't call any witnesses.

"Unfortunately for [prosecutors], they won't know what was strong or what was weak," said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris.

But one former juror provided some insight into what occurred in the early part of the deliberations. Stanley Albright II, who was excused during the deliberations because doctors thought he may have been having heart problems, said jurors agreed on three counts at one point before he left.

"They must have changed their minds after that because they told the judge they couldn't agree on anything," he said.

For his part, Mr. Albright, 71, of Monroeville, said Dr. Wecht's actions may have been questionable at times but not criminal.

"I had a hard time finding a crime," said Mr. Albright. "The problem I think we had is we almost had to base our opinion on Cyril Wecht's intent. All the charges were prefixed with it being an overall scheme to defraud. How am I going to know what's in his head?"

The defense will be powerless to stop a retrial, though it probably will try. Throughout the case, Dr. Wecht's lawyers have flooded the court with motions.

The defense has already tried another gambit: appealing to a higher authority. Dr. Wecht's defense team includes former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who said yesterday he has approached Justice Department officials, just as he did before the indictment.

Legal observers said the Justice Department would likely hear him out but the appeal probably won't make any difference. U.S. attorneys have considerable autonomy.

Some experts have suggested that prosecutors could cut some kind of deal with Dr. Wecht.

Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean emeritus of the law school at Duquesne University, said Ms. Buchanan's office ought to look for a civil remedy, such as a fine or settlement, that would spare Dr. Wecht another trial.

"Given his age and his outstanding service to the community over the years, I would advocate for a noncriminal solution," said Mr. Cafardi, who described himself as a friend of Dr. Wecht but said his position is practical, not personal.

But a civil settlement in the Wecht case probably is impossible given the stand not only of prosecutors but of Dr. Wecht and his supporters.

His son, Ben Wecht, 43, said as much yesterday.

"The only acceptable resolution is for the government to back off, to spend its own resources fighting drug trafficking, child pornography and terrorism," he said.

Ben Wecht works at the Duquesne University institute of forensic science and law named for his father. He said he has watched his parents age before his eyes because of the stress of an indictment and trial.

"It's been horribly draining, demoralizing, debilitating," he said.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08100/871542-85.stm
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One who doesn't trust is never deceived...

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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2009, 05:48:58 PM »

Wecht's lawyers push dismissal
Friday, January 30, 2009
ERIE -- Lawyers for Dr. Cyril H. Wecht on Thursday pressed a federal judge to dismiss public corruption charges against the former Allegheny County coroner as both sides prepare for a retrial.

Short of a dismissal, defense lawyers want U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin to drop some counts and bar certain evidence from being introduced at trial.

"The government has the burden to prove their case, and they didn't in the first trial," defense attorney Jerry McDevitt argued.

McLaughlin did not say when he would rule on those motions and one by federal prosecutors who asked the judge during the daylong hearing to move the case to Erie. The U.S. Attorney's Office argues that the intense news coverage the case received makes it virtually impossible to pick an unbiased jury in Pittsburgh. Wecht's lawyers disagree.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab declared a mistrial in April after jurors failed to reach a verdict on 41 fraud and theft counts after seven weeks of testimony and three weeks of deliberations. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later removed Schwab, whom Wecht's lawyers repeatedly accused of bias.

Wecht, 77, of Squirrel Hill is accused of using his public office for private gain.

His lawyers want McLaughlin to reconsider rulings Schwab made. Prosecutors said McLaughlin should not rehash settled issues.

"I think that's largely what you've been presented here, repackaged arguments," Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Dillon said.

McDevitt said prosecutors failed to present direct evidence at trial on four counts alleging Wecht's use of a county car to travel for private business. He said the government failed to quantify what the county lost financially when its employees or resources were used for Wecht's private cases.

"They had their chance and didn't do it right the first time," McDevitt said.

Dillon acknowledged that prosecutors failed to quantify the loss for jurors, but said evidence was presented showing county employees worked on Wecht's private cases on county time.

"If you had it to do over again, you would have wheeled in charts or other visual aids. That's what you're telling me?" McLaughlin asked.

"That's what we hope to do," Dillon said.

Wecht's lawyers contended prosecutors provided evidence at trial that Wecht allegedly misappropriated about $1,600 in county money, including $3.96 in faxes sent from the coroner's office over five years. The government argued that Wecht cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

McLaughlin is considering whether to limit evidence mostly pertaining to Wecht's private clients because of claims investigators seized the materials with faulty search warrants.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_609474.html
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Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware/Of giving your heart to a dog to tear  -- Rudyard Kipling

One who doesn't trust is never deceived...

'I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind' -Edgar Allen Poe
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