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August 28, 2000

Mobbed-Up?

By James Ridgway de Szigethy


James Ridgway de Szigethy is a writer who lives in New York City

In the Spring of 1997 Philadelphia Detective Tom Augustine’s career lay in ruins; the crusty, award-winning veteran of numerous homicide investigations had suddenly found himself the target of a Justice Department investigation into allegations that he savagely beat five young men, two of whom claimed he forced them to sign false confessions to a brutal murder. Attorneys for the five men would eventually file lawsuits against Augustine seeking millions of dollars in damages. But the most stunning claim leveled against Augustine was that the Detective was “mobbed-up” and that the local Mafia utilized Augustine and crooked co-horts in law enforcement to help frame two men for a murder that was actually committed by a serial killer who was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. In just a matter of months, Detective Augustine had gone from being a hunter of those who commit crimes to being one of the hunted and he knew that if the authorities investigating could establish these claims in a Court of law, he would be facing decades in prison.

Was Detective Augustine a “Mobbed-up” out-of-control violent cop involved in a vast conspiracy to protect a serial killer?


     On a cold November day in 1995 a man walking his dog found the body of 26 year old Kimberly Ernest, who lay dead on a sidewalk in one of Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods. Kimberly had been brutally beaten to death. The murder of what became known as the “City Center Jogger” stunned Philadelphia, in particular those who knew Kimberly well. The young paralegal was an accomplished athlete who was outspoken in her opposition to drugs and by all accounts had a bright future ahead of her. Within days of Kimberly’s murder, a career criminal named Herbert Haak III, back in prison on a parole violation, confided to his counselor that his associate Richie Wise had killed Kimberly. Haak’s story would change several times over each retelling; in some versions he was an accomplice; in others, he played no role at all. The big break in the case came just weeks later, when Haak’s own step-father went to the authorities to claim that Haak had confessed to him his role in this sensational murder.

     Just 3 days before Kimberly’s murder, Haak and Wise threatened to kill a young man in a gay bashing assault in the same neighborhood where Kimberly would later be killed. Wise, who sports White Supremacist tattoos, and Haak chased down their victim that night, targeted because of his slight build, and beat him repeatedly with a blunt object. Haak would later claim that he was just there as an observer, while Wise carried out the assault. Thus, when Detective Augustine got the opportunity to interrogate Haak, he saw an opportunity he had seen many times before, where a partner in crime tries to blame everything on his accomplice. After several hours of interrogation by the skilled and experienced Detective Augustine, the cops had two signed confessions to the murder of Kimberly Ernest.

     The arrests of the two men for the murder of Kimberly Ernest sent sighs of relief throughout the communities of Philadelphia, but that ease would not last long. The day after Richie Wise was arrested, his father got word that a former employee, Billy Liberatore, had a sensational story to tell him. Liberatore was a crack cocaine addict who paid for his habit through his work as a male prostitute. Although Liberatore would change his story significantly with each telling, in essence he claimed that on the night of Kimberly’s murder, his roommate, John Lambert, while high on crack, left their apartment and when he returned had blood on his clothes, explaining it away by saying that he had just killed a young woman. Wise’s father, desperate to prove his son’s innocence, championed Liberatore’s claims.

     Fred Ambrose, Wise’s attorney, then sprang into action, hiring several private investigators, including Stephen Stouffer, who claims to have worked for the FBI, and William Acosta, a former member of the New York City Police Department. By the time the trial started in February of 1997, the attorneys for Haak and Wise and their private detectives had quite a sensational story to hawk to the Media, the Philadelphia community, and, ultimately, the jury. Haak and Wise now claimed that Detective Augustine had beaten them until they agreed to sign blank pieces of paper, which the cops supposedly later filled in with their respective confessions. Although mug shots taken of the two criminals after the alleged beatings showed no signs of their having been brutalized, the Judge in the murder case allowed the defendants to recant their signed confessions.

     Then Detective Augustine was hit with another bombshell; Haak’s stepfather now admitted that he made up most of what he had told the Detective about his stepson’s confession. Although the stepfather tried to get Augustine to cover this up, the Detective disclosed this information to the Prosecutor in the troubled case. The Prosecution’s case had already been shaken before going to trial when it was learned that DNA found inside Kimberly’s body did not match that of Haak nor Wise.

     Yet another bombshell awaited Detective Augustine; on the day the trial started he was ambushed on the steps outside the Courthouse by reporters who had been tipped off as to a lawsuit that had just been filed by a New Jersey lawyer, Sam Malit, who represented three young men who now claimed that they had been beaten a few months earlier in an alleged altercation with Detective Augustine. The stunned Detective categorically denied the allegations but knew his credibility had been shot, and like the rest of Philadelphia, expected the jury verdict that would later come down in March of 1997; not guilty. A month later, Malit filed a $75 million lawsuit alleging that Detective Augustine had also violated Richie Wise’s civil rights.

     It was only a matter of time before Detective Augustine learned the FBI, the U. S. Attorney’s office, and his own Philadelphia Police Department were investigating him. Yet the most staggering charges against Augustine were yet to come; private investigators for Wise began circulating a photograph which they claimed showed Detective Augustine attending the funeral of alleged Mafia figure Anthony Turra. Augustine was said to be “Mobbed-up” and that he was working with members of the Mafia as well as crooked members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Philadelphia Police Department, City Hall, and the District Attorney’s office to cover-up the facts as to the ‘real’ killer of Kimberly Ernest. That person was said to be John Lambert, the son of a politically connected Philadelphia family.

     What’s more, investigators for Wise began spreading their claim that they had conclusive evidence that Lambert was in fact a serial killer responsible for the murders of at least six women in the Philadelphia area, including Kimberly Lambert. Included in this smear campaign were allegations that the victim, Kimberly Ernest, was involved with Lambert in the abuse of drugs. The family and friends of Kimberly vehemently deny Ms. Ernest ever used drugs. Said Kimberly’s mother Dorothy: “It hurts me inside when someone says that about her. I know that’s not true. It makes me want to cry. They beat her to death. What more do they want?”

     Mrs. Ernest’s anguished plea was given to Howard Altman, an award-winning reporter for Philadelphia City Paper, a publication that has been on the cutting-edge of investigative journalism in the city of Brotherly Love. In 1999 Altman published a three-part series on his investigation into the various allegations in this case. Among Altman’s findings:

***The photograph of the funeral of Turra depicted a man named Anthony Garafalo, NOT Detective Augustine, as the private investigators were claiming.

***DNA evidence showed no link in the 6 murders the private investigators were trying to pin on a single serial killer.

***Several people, including a respected reporter and the mother of Lambert had complained about the harassment and intimidation they claimed to have received from the investigators working for the Wise Defense team.

     While investigators for Wise and Haak repeatedly claimed to have information from various “un-named sources,” Altman could only find one private investigator, William Acosta, willing to go on the record as to his belief that Lambert was a serial killer. Altman wrote:

“ After a two-day visit to Philadelphia, Acosta told Stouffer that the Ernest killing "was that of a serial killer, not the work of two people, because there are similarities in the cases that have been popping up around Philadelphia and the surrounding area" since Ernest was killed. "He selects at random women fitting almost the same characteristics as this female," claims Acosta. To bolster his argument, he says that whoever killed Ernest was sending a message that he hates authority by dumping her body off near a law office.”

     Who is William Acosta? The fact is that for many years, Acosta and his associates have been making sensational and bizarre claims, often accusing high-ranking members of law enforcement of being “Mobbed-up!” In 1990 Acosta joined the NYPD and began making allegations of corruption against his fellow police officers. After being accused of falsifying evidence, Acosta resigned in 1991.

     In 1993 Acosta was involved in one of the most bizarre legal cases in New York history; the murder for hire trial of Dr. Thomas R. Stevens, President of the New York Young Republican Club. Wearing a wire, Acosta had approached Stevens claiming to be “Louie the hitman” from the Luchese Mafia Family and offered to murder one of Steven’s Young Republican rivals in exchange for Stevens’ agreement to launder Luchese drug money through the Young Republican Club bank accounts. Acosta then took his tape of this conversation to the U. S. Attorney’s office and Stevens was indicted on murder solicitation charges. However, on the eve of the trial, this reporter turned over to Stevens’ private detective secretly recorded tape recordings of two government informants who threatened others and myself for not agreeing to offer Perjured testimony against Stevens. The U. S. Attorney’s office then asked for a trial Adjournment and the Federal Judge in the case threw out the charges “With Prejudice.”

     William Acosta was next re-hired to work as an investigator in the Internal Affairs Bureau of the NYPD under the Administration of the newly elected Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. Acosta soon made the stunning allegation that Chief Louis Anemone, one of the highest–ranking members of the NYPD, was “Mobbed-up,” having allegedly taken bribes from organized crime figures in Harlem. After an investigation, the charges against Anemone were not pursued, but Acosta was placed on departmental trial on charges he fabricated evidence. Acosta was acquitted but once again resigned from the Police Department.

     Acosta then took his allegations to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, but that office also decided not to pursue Acosta’s claims against Chief Anemone and others. Acosta then joined forces with Congressman James Traficant (D-Ohio) and his private investigator, Boris de Korczak. Previously, private investigator Juval Aviv, who claimed to have been a spy for the Mossad, and Lester Coleman, who claimed to have been a spy for the DIA and DEA, had championed Traficant’s elaborate conspiracy theory that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was the result of a CIA operation gone awry. When Aviv was indicted on Federal fraud charges by the U. S. Attorney’s office, Boris de Korczak then assumed Aviv’s role in Traficant’s office.

     Boris is best known for the lawsuit he filed against the CIA in 1996, in which he claimed he was recruited by the CIA back in the 1970s as a double agent against the KGB and was thus entitled to a U. S. government pension. Boris also claimed that his CIA case officer demanded a $300,000 bribe from him in exchange for a promise to help him get this pension. Boris claims he turned over the bribe, only to be shot in the kidney four months later by an unknown assailant armed with a pellet gun. The CIA denied Boris’ claims he was entitled to a pension and no one was ever charged with shooting Boris with a pellet gun. Boris’ lawsuit was later thrown out of Court.

     Congressman Traficant, Boris, and Acosta then embarked on an investigation of the case of a Georgia cop, Mike Chapel, who was convicted of robbing and murdering a 52 year old woman. This team soon announced that according to their ‘sources,’ Chapel had been framed by a vast conspiracy involving drug dealers and their ‘Mobbed-up’ co-horts within the Gwinnett County Police Department and the D. A.’s office. District Attorney Danny Porter was not amused, telling the press: “The are not prepared to discuss their evidence with the press, and they haven’t come to me with information, and they haven’t made it known to the police department. All of that tells me they don’t know what they are talking about. This tells me they are just trying to get some publicity out of the case for their own reasons!”

     It’s true that Traficant’s claims about Chapel did receive some media attention, just as Traficant received publicity over his public defense of accused Nazi concentration camp murderer John Demjanjuk. However, when the ‘evidence’ that purportedly proved the conspiracy against Chapel was presented in Court, the Judge was unimpressed and refused to grant Chapel a new trial.

     Acosta’s next major investigation was the Kimberly Ernest murder and the vast conspiracy alleged to be in place to protect a serial killer from prosecution, including a celebrated homicide detective accused of being “Mobbed-up!”

     In the meantime, the U. S. Attorney’s office in Cleveland began an investigation into allegations that James Traficant was “Mobbed-up.” To date, several of Traficant’s associates have been indicted and convicted for being Associates of the Pittsburgh Mafia Family. Among them: Charles O’Nesti, who ran Traficant’s Congressional office in Youngstown for 13 years; Lenny Strollo, the Pittsburgh Mafia figure who contributed to the $163,000 in bribe money Traficant accepted from the Mafia during his 1980 run for County Sheriff; Sheriff Philip Chance, first hired by Sheriff Traficant as one of his Deputies; George Alexander, the disbarred attorney who advised Traficant during his 1987 trial in which he was convicted for failure to pay income taxes on the $163,000 in bribe money he accepted; Ed Flask, who Traficant claimed on secret tapes he gave $10,000 of the bribe money to launder through his law firm; and David Arthur Sugar, currently under indictment for allegedly trying to cover-up his financial dealings with Traficant.

     How has the Congressman responded to these events? By going on the national TV talk show Hannity & Colmes in August to claim that Attorney General Janet Reno is guilty of Treason and is ‘Mobbed-up.’ Specifically, Traficant claims the Mafia is blackmailing Reno through possession of a secretly-recorded videotape in which Reno is seen having sex with a Mobbed-up call girl and that the Mafia used this tape to prevent Reno from appointing a Special Prosecutor to investigate the illegal transfer of secret nuclear and missile technology to the government of Communist China.

     Confused?

     So were those in Philadelphia who for two years listened to private investigators and lawyers pitch a tale about how Kimberly Ernest was murdered by a serial killer protected by a vast conspiracy which included a “Mobbed-up” Detective.

Epilogue

     Richie Wise and Herbert Haak are currently serving lengthy prison sentences for their various assaults, robberies, and other crimes.

     John Lambert died of an apparent drug overdose in 1999. His DNA was then found to have no link to the murder of Kimberly Ernest nor any of the other murders he was accused of committing.

     The parents of John Lambert have filed a lawsuit against lawyer Fred Ambrose, his private investigator Stephen Stouffer, lawyer Sam Malat, and Richie Wise’s father Len, alleging they participated in a smear campaign against their son.

     Detective Tom Augustine was acquitted by a jury in the civil trial in which he was alleged to have beaten three young men. The Justice Department in its investigation also cleared Augustine of charges Augustine had violated Haak’s and Wise’s civil rights by allegedly beating them. The veteran detective is now working on the Fugitive Squad as he tries to put back together the pieces of his life that was turned upside-down when he was falsely accused of being “Mobbed-up.”


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