On Tuesday, August 22, 2012, the first stage of prosecution of “Operation False Comfort” took place in Courtroom B at the Montgomery County Courthouse. The hearing, a Preliminary Hearing, was not to establish guilt or innocence, but rather to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the case for trial. The standard applied is whether, if all the facts alleged by the prosecution are true, they amount to a crime. Whether or not the testimony presented is truthful is an issue to be determined at trial. Although still held on bail, the defendant is still presumed innocent.
Although a preliminary hearing usually takes place at the District Justice's Office, this case was moved to the main courthouse to accommodate the press and the public. Honorable Paul N. Leo, the Magistrate from Hatboro where the first crime took place, presided over the hearing. Surprisingly, two of the defendants waived the preliminary hearing; the reason they did this was revealed by the end of the day.
Operation False Comfort involved the following co-defendants: Thomas J. Muldoon of Broomall; Robert P. Lerner and Bruce H. Cherry of Philadelphia and Ross M. Rabelow of Upper Southampton. Tuesday’s hearing was held for co-defendant Ross M. Rabelow only. The prosecuting attorney from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office was Senior Deputy Attorney General M. Eric Schoenberg (assisted by a staff including intern Tyson Mott of Villanova Law School). Mr. Rabelow was represented by Frederick S. Schofield of Trevose PA (assisted by Arthur Rabelow, Esq. the father of the defendant).
Most attendees at Tuesday’s hearing seemed surprised that, although the Commonwealth alleged over 250 counts of theft, not one victim appeared to testify they were swindled of money. Instead, agent Karen Tempinsky from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office explained how she investigated the case. After several complaints, she interviewed over 100 witnesses and examined over 1,000 documents produced from September 2008 to May 2012. She painstakingly interviewed witnesses in 46 Pennsylvania counties. She discovered that defendant Rabelow and Muldoon were both licensed to sell insurance in Pennsylvania, but the latter had his licensed revoked. She outlined a scheme were over 250 seniors were defrauded.
Defense counsel attacked the fact that most of her testimony was hearsay and not subject to cross examination by him. When Agent Tempinsky introduced evidence that the operation ran from a post office box address and an “800 telephone number” he also questioned whether criminal behavior could be imputed simply by that fact, as many reputable small business owners use an “800 number” and a post office box.
Then the hearing then took an unexpected turn when Co-defendant Bruce H. Cherry of Philadelphia appeared to testify against his business partner, Mr. Rabelow. Cherry admitted that he is being held in a high security prison, but denied that any deal had been made for a lenient sentence in return for his testimony. Mr. Cherry explained the entire operation, and how the business model was not viable to support the services they were selling to seniors. Whenever he complained to his partners, they told him to simply keep selling insurance policies and services so they could collect enough money to make the enterprise viable. Cherry said the original intention of the operation was to undercut other competing services such as Americare; there was an issue whether the defendants were just poor businessmen trying to compete at an unrealistically low price, or crooks stealing from seniors.
The preliminary hearing was expected to continue into Wednesday. While the defendants will most certainly be held for trial in about six months, it remains to be seen whether the Commonwealth proves it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether the defendants were crooks or poor businessmen. Either way, hundreds of seniors lost a substantial amount of money, and the Attorney General’s Office provided a valuable service to seniors by stopping the operation after complaints were lodged.
Stay well until the next post.
Bob Gasparro is an Elder Practitioner (Lawyer and Accountant). He can be reached at email@example.com of (484) 297-2050.