With almost half of the nation enduring dangerous record cold temperatures, many Pennsylvanians who are either unemployed, underemployed or on fixed incomes are in need of assistance in keeping their homes heated this year.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is among a growing bipartisan group of legislators that has called upon the Obama administration to increase funding for heating assistance programs, specifically the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the upcoming federal budget. Casey discussed county by county data showing the need for these funds across the state that helps seniors and working families across Pennsylvania.
In 2011 President Obama cut 30 percent of the federal funds to the heating assistance program. In 2013 the president’s budget provided $3 billion for LIHEAP. The additional $450 million over the 2012 request reflected expected home heating costs for winter 2012-2013.
“This week’s dangerously cold weather is a reminder of the need to adequately fund heating assistance in the coming year,” Casey said. “In the coming weeks, the administration has a chance to ensure that seniors and working families in Pennsylvania have the resources they need to stay warm during the next winter. Already this year seniors and working families in Pennsylvania have endured $95 million in cuts to heating assistance. I’m urging the administration and Congress to commit to adequately funding this program in the coming year.”
In a letter sent to the president, Casey and others have asked that the president prioritize LIHEAP in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget proposal. He suggested no less than $4.7 billion for the LIHEAP program that provides critical support to the most vulnerable citizens. In Pennsylvania in 2012, LIHEAP provided roughly 384,334 Pennsylvania households with financial heating assistance. In 2011 the program gave assistance to 626,969 homes. There are 1.5 million eligible households in the state. The average household assistance benefit was $408. Nationally, the average benefit covered only 8 percent of household energy bills, according to the senator. Of the residents who received assistance from LIHEAP, 33.4 percent are seniors, 18.5 percent are younger than five years old, and 28.5 percent have disabilities.
The assistance program helps low-income families pay their heating bills. The money can be disbursed as a grant sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat.
“LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months,” the legislators said in the letter to Obama. “LIHEAP households are among the most vulnerable in the country. According to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and 20 percent of households contain at least one veteran. For these households, LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times. Access to affordable home energy is not a luxury — it is a matter of health and safety.”
U.S. Representative Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Peter King, R-N.Y., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., have also joined those in calling upon the president to support funding for the federal program. U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and 38 other senators have joined the effort to pressure the White House.
“We need to keep the pressure on this administration to robustly fund this critical program so that thousands of families can keep their heat on in the winter,” Reed said in a press release.
A Pennsylvania state representative made good on his promise to proceed with an attempt to impeach the state’s attorney general for allegedly violating her oath this week.
On Tuesday, Republican State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe,R-Butler, introduced House Resolution 572, calling for the impeachment of State Attorney General Kathleen Kane. In his statement before the House Metcalf said that Kane’s refusal to defend the Pennsylvania State Constitution against a lawsuit seeking to strike down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act cannot be tolerated and violates her constitutional duties.
“All public officials in Pennsylvania swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of this commonwealth,” said Metcalfe. “Attorney General Kane’s repeated violation of her constitutional, statutory and ethical duties cannot be tolerated if our system of government is to work properly. Kane has created a constitutional crisis by refusing to perform her assigned role as the commonwealth’s chief law enforcement officer. Although impeachment is a rarely used legislative instrument, it is our duty as members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to stop her from engaging in further misbehavior in office by acting as a balance of power.”
The move against Kane stems from a press conference she held on July 11, 2013 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. At the time she announced that she would not defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act against a federal lawsuit. Her decision and declaration was based solely on her own personal opinion that this lawfully enacted Pennsylvania statute was wholly unconstitutional. Metcalf went on to say that no court has ruled that Pennsylvania’s legal definition of marriage between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on United States v. Windsor, declared the federal law to be unconstitutional because it intruded upon a state’s authority to define the marital relationship.
“This type of misbehavior in office cannot be allowed,” said Metcalfe. “If an attorney general can pick and choose which laws are constitutional and which laws she will defend or enforce, then the will of ‘We the People’ through our elected lawmakers is thwarted by tyranny.”
Metcalf may be on solid legal ground. According to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Attorney’s Act of 1980, Kane is legally bound “to represent the commonwealth and all commonwealth agencies and upon request the auditor general, state treasurer and Public Utility Commission in any action brought by or against the commonwealth or its agencies; to furnish upon request legal advice to the governor or the head of any commonwealth agency.”
Joe Peters, Director of Communications for the Attorney General’s Office said Kane’s response remains unchanged from an earlier retort to Metcalf she released in October. Kane said that Metcalf was seeking media attention and that his claims were misguided and he has little respect for the people of Pennsylvania.
“His priorities should be reforming education, job creation, fixing our transportation system, or making the streets safer for kids and families, and should also include cleaning up the good ol’ boys’ system of public corruption. Instead, he chooses to focus on wasting time and battling me because I had the gall to run for office, win and serve Pennsylvania as an independent watchdog over the government they desperately want to rule. It is also unfortunate and embarrassing that Metcalfe has such limited knowledge of the laws or perhaps poor understanding of time-tested, clearly enumerated legal principles. While he purports to know what actions I have taken, he is wrong. When he pretends to know the rules governing ethical conduct for attorneys, he again is terribly wrong. And, while Rep. Metcalfe pretends to understand the legal implications of my actions and others around the state, he could not be more misguided. I do not believe he cares about facts or the law.”
The parents of a 6-year-old boy who was beaten and starved to death were sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison this week.
Tina Cuffie, 45, and Latiff Hadi, 50, both of the 1800 block of South 22nd Street, were convicted in September of third-degree murder, assault and related offenses in the horrific death of Khalil Wimes.
The boy was pronounced dead on March 19, 2012 and weighed about 25 pounds at the time of his death. Physicians documented that the boy’s body was covered with scars and bruises. He had 15 visible scars on his face, according to Assistant Medical Examiner Aaron Rosen and that he died of blunt force trauma and malnutrition.
Khalil spent the first three years of his life in the loving care of foster mother Alicia Nixon and foster grandmother Larine Nixon. He thrived under their care but eventually a judge ordered the boy back into the hands of his parents.
Investigators allege that Cuffie physically punished Khalil every day. Sometimes she allegedly used a belt, other times she allegedly made him stand in a corner and threw books or shoes at him. Two years after the boy was returned to his parents he died.
“I can’t get out of my mind that Khalil suffered for a thousand days in one form or another,” Larine Nixon said during a previous interview. “Based on the decisions that the judges made to allow his parents to have Khalil — knowing their history of neglect and abuse with their other children, their history of drug abuse, there’s no rhyme or reason. Judges have a lot of discretion in these cases and we pleaded with them not to allow the parents to have custody. We did everything legally possible and they still did it and look what happened.”
Jury decides in cop’s pizza killing case
On Tuesday, a jury hearing testimony in the murder trial of former police officers Chauncey Ellison and robin Fortune handed down a mixed decision on the slaying of Lawrence Allen in 2008. Allen died from complications arising from a gunshot wound during an argument over a stolen pizza.
Jurors found Ellison not guilty of conspiracy to commit manslaughter and possession of instrument of crime. He was convicted of recklessly endangering another person. Fortune was convicted of recklessly endangering another person. The jury could not reach a verdict on the charge of conspiracy to commit reckless endangerment of another person.
Suspect arrested in 2011 murder case
Philadelphia homicide detectives said they have arrested a suspect in a two year old murder investigation. On Tuesday, Nov. 26, police arrested Joshua Dunn, a 23-year-old male from the 6100 Block of North 4th Street.
Dunn was arrested at 750 Race Street and charged with the murder of Franklin Lewis, 27. Dunn has been charged with first degree murder, weapons offenses and related charges.
Investigators say that on July 18, 2011, at 5700 North Park Avenue, police responded to a report of a shooting. Upon arrival police officers located Franklin Lewis, a 27-year-old male, from the 200 Block of East Shedaker Street suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso. Lewis was transported to Albert Einstein Medical Center where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Court documents show that Dunn is no stranger to law enforcement, with a history of drug and theft arrests throughout his young life. He was arrested in 2010 for carrying an illegal firearm, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 6 to 23 months and five years’ probation. In 2011 he was arrested again for unlawful use of a computer and conspiracy and under another negotiated guilty plea, got three years’ probation.
The tragic building collapse at 22nd and Market streets in June started with an $112,000 contract to demolish a building and ended with six deaths, 13 people critically injured, a suicide, a rising number of lawsuits, two arrests and ongoing investigations by city and federal agencies.
Where it will end is anyone’s guess, but many say the building collapse on June 5 is a textbook example of how human life and safety takes a back seat to profits. On Monday, during a press conference detailing the charges against contractor Griffin Campbell, District Attorney Seth Williams said the collapse was preventable, that the motive was greed and Campbell’s actions places him at “the center of culpability” for what happened. The property’s owner, Richard Basciano, who also owned a now demolished X-rated movie theater and a combination peep show and X-rated bookstore, has yet to be charged with any culpability. His architect, Plato Marinakos testified before the grand jury only after he was promised immunity from prosecution, and Williams made it clear that the investigation is far from over.
“Once again, this arrest is not the end of the grand jury’s investigation,” Williams said. “The District Attorney’s Office does not know at this time and cannot say whether the grand jury will find evidence of wrongdoing by other persons that would establish proof of criminal offenses.”
According to Williams and the findings of the grand jury, for Campbell the entire demolition job was about deadlines and preserving salvageable materials for re-sale. The contract with STB Investments Corporation, an entity owned by Basciano, dated Dec. 20, 2012, called for the completion of the demolition within 90 days after work began. Payments were contingent upon completion and submission of invoices for completed work. On the day of the collapse work on the other buildings had been done and $71,000 was paid to Campbell Construction. That left 2136-38 Market St. which stood connected to the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
The grand jury’s report states that in his effort to salvage valuable materials from the site Campbell removed wood floors throughout the building and the internal joists throughout the front half of 2136-38 Market St. before commencing with the lowering of the external brick walls. Removing hardwood floors and wooden joists in advance of the actual demolition, assured less damage and a faster re-sale. Hundreds of joists were removed intact for salvage.
All of these actions, the report stated, virtually guaranteed a disaster because, as a witness testified, the joists held the building up. Expert witnesses told the grand jury that the safest way to demolish a four story building adjoined to another structure was to take the building apart by hand from the top down. The walls must be taken down to each floor before the removal of floors or beams and allegedly Campbell didn’t do this. No external scaffolding was in place for additional support.
“That demolition method is expensive and time-consuming, and Campbell had agreed to a deadline and a flat-fee contract plus salvage rights,” Williams said. “He chose to maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors. The joists were valuable for resale. But taking the joists out first meant dismantling the building from the inside out, rather than from the top down. That left the exterior walls without sufficient support. On the day before the collapse he removed bricks and braces that had provided the minimal remaining support for the west wall. That evening Campbell was specifically warned by an architect that the largely free-standing west wall had to be immediately addressed, right now. Campbell promised that he would rectify the problem at once, before the next morning, by erecting scaffolding and reducing the west wall by hand down to the one-story roofline of the Salvation Army building next door.”
In the aftermath of the collapse Ronald Wagenhoffer, an L&I building inspector and the last city official to visit the site took his own life one week later. Kary Roberts, also known as Sean Benschop, has been cooling his heels in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing. In October, Mayor Michael Nutter announced the forming of a commission to investigate the procedures of the Department of Licenses and Inspection. On Nov. 14 the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration proposed a total of $397,000 in fines and 12 citations against Campbell and Benschop. Griffin turned himself in to authorities on Monday. He’s been charged with six counts of third-degree murder, six counts of involuntary manslaughter and multiple counts of related charges.
“How could L&I have granted a demolition permit in this instance if it did due diligence on those involved? How could L&I have permitted the demolition to continue up to and on June 5 given the fact the site had previously been inspected and cited for violations? How was it possible that a catastrophe could be risked on Market Street in plain view for weeks, of which the city received repeated warnings, and there was no public safety response?” said City Treasurer Nancy Winkler on Nov. 18 before City Council. Winkler’s daughter Anne Bryan perished in the tragedy. “How could an excavator — in broad daylight — been allowed to operate on site when the permit application clearly did not call for one given the nature of the demolition project? It was strictly a case of when that wall would come crashing down. Not if. It was a case of who would be killed. Not if anyone would be killed.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said that agents from the Child Predator Section have arrested a Chester County man as part of an ongoing effort to target the online sharing, downloading and distribution of child pornography. The suspect had been identified as Robert Ray Horsch, 27, of 12 Comanche Lane, Honey Brook, Chester County. This arrest was the culmination of a two-month investigation, Kane said.
“Our efforts to catch child predators continue to make Pennsylvania safer for our children,” Kane said, “Thank you to the dedicated agents of our Child Predator Section for their work to get this predator offline and off the streets of Chester County.”
Investigators alleged that while conducting an online investigation they found numerous files containing depictions of children engaged in extremely sexually graphic acts and poses. Agents later determined the files were allegedly downloaded to and shared from Horsch’s computer.
During the search of Horsch’s residence, three computers and an external hard drive were found. Those devices were examined by agents of the Office of Attorney General’s Computer Forensics Unit. During the examination of the computers agents found evidence of child pornography on the external hard drive.
Horsch is charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse of children for distributing child pornography, 10 counts of felony sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography and one felony count of criminal use of a communication facility. He is the 107th child predator arrested this year by Attorney General Kane’s expanded Child Predator Section.
Northeast family robbed
Philadelphia police are investigating the armed robbery of a family who had just returned home from a Thanksgiving Day celebration.
Investigators said it happened outside a residence in the 2700 block of Spring House Road. The couple and their child were returning home from church when they were approached by an armed unknown man wearing a ski mask who demanded money. The gunman made off with jewelry before fleeing the scene and fortunately no one was injured.
As of Tribune press time no one is under arrest.
Man robbed in Old City
Central Detectives Division is asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect who robbed a 23-year-old male in Old City on Nov. 17, 2013, at 2:45 a.m.
The victim told police that he was walking along with two other friends on the 700 block of Sansom Street and entered 723 Sansom St. when they were followed by four unknown males. A short time later the complainant and his friends exit the building and are standing outside. When the complainant’s friends go inside the complainant remains outside for a short time later. As the complainant was attempting to enter the front door he was punched in the face by one of the suspect knocking him to the ground. While the complainant was on the ground the suspects took his iPhone and fled west on Sansom Street where they entered a silver or gray colored late model Pontiac Grand Prix and were last seen west on the 800 block of Sansom Street. The suspects are described as:
Suspect 1: Black male, 20-years-old, thin build, wearing a gray colored hooded sweatshirt, dark colored jeans and armed with a handgun.
Suspect 2: Black male, 20-years-old, thin build, wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt with a logo on the front and dark colored jeans.
Suspect 3: Black male, 20-years-old, thin build, wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt and dark colored jeans.
Suspect 4: Black male, 20-years-old, thin build, wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt and dark colored jeans.
The vehicle is described as a silver or gray colored late model Pontiac Grand Prix with a spoiler on the rear trunk lid and tinted windows.
Beauty supply robbery
The Philadelphia Police Department’s Northwest Detectives Division is looking to identify two Black males who robbed a beauty supply store in Hunting Park armed with an assault rifle.
On Nov. 27, 2013, at 6:05 p.m., two still unidentified Black males entered the Wild & Crazy Beauty Supply store located at 4326 North Broad St. with their hoods up and their faces covered. Investigators said they were armed with an AR15 style assault rifle.
Once inside one of the suspect pointed the rifle at the store employees and demanded they fill a dark colored bag with money from the cash registers while the second suspect stayed near the front door acting as a lookout. After taking an undetermined amount of money both suspects fled on foot in an unknown direction. The suspects are described as:
Suspect 1: Black male, late teens to early 20s, medium build, face covered with a black neoprene ski mask, black Nike hooded sweatshirt, black colored pants, Armani Exchange belt, dark colored sneakers and armed with an assault rifle.
Suspect 2: Black male, late teens to early 20s, medium build, face covered with an animal print mask, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with “Adidas” and the Adidas logo in black on the front, dark colored pants and gray sneakers with bright red laces.