What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 19, 2015

A Chuck McCullough Update - What's Known So Far

For those happy few not following the trial of former County Council member Charles P. "Chuck" McCullough, let me bring yinz up-to-date, en at.

While I have spent a few hours watching the trial from the back row of the court (and most of it is absolutely fascinating), I fear I lack the necessary journalistic/legal background to adequately and fairly comment on everything I've seen.  Lucky we have some competing newspaper reporters (Paula Reed Ward of the P-G and Bobby Kerlick of the Trib) covering the event as well as a smattering of TV coverage.

So let's see what the local press has had to say.

Day One (Monday, April 13)

The Trib:
After six years, two attorneys, several postponements and thousands of pages of documents, former Allegheny County Councilman Chuck McCullough took a seat at the defense table Monday, ready to fight charges that he stole thousands of dollars from an elderly widow.

Prosecutors charged McCullough, 60, of Upper St. Clair in 2009 with abusing his power of attorney to steal nearly $200,000 from the $14.7 million estate of Shirley Jordan, who died in 2010 at age 93. McCullough, a Republican who served as county solicitor for a year before he was a county councilman from 2007 to 2011, is charged with two dozen counts, including nine counts of felony theft.
The P-G:
When Charles McCullough was serving as co-trustee and power of attorney for an Upper St. Clair widow, he made several requests to PNC Bank on how to spend the woman’s money.

He requested that his sister be hired as Shirley Jordan’s companion at a rate of $60 per hour.

He wanted the bank to release money for Ms. Jordan to buy property from another of his clients.

He asked Ms. Jordan to donate $10,000 to Catholic Charities, which at the time was run by his wife.

And he requested his young son be paid to mow the woman’s yard.

Those instances were just a few laid out by the prosecution Monday during the first day of Mr. McCullough’s nonjury trial before Senior Judge Lester G. Nauhaus in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Mr. McCullough began his work with Ms. Jordan in early 2006 and worked with Thomas Gray, a relationship manager with PNC Bank, to establish a trust for the then-90-year-old woman, whose financial worth was about $14 million. At the time, bank officials had discovered that Ms. Jordan was accumulating several large checks that were not being deposited into her bank account. They then learned that many of her bills, including utilities and taxes, were going unpaid, Mr. Gray testified.

“She thought she was fairly poor,” Mr. Gray said. “She just didn’t think she had a lot of money to live on.”

Mr. McCullough became a trustee for Ms. Jordan, and at one point requested that some of her money be used to buy land from another client of his and to use $500,000 to buy a certificate of deposit, Mr. Gray said.

Neither of those requests were approved.
You can read the original criminal complaint here, by the way.  Since six years passed between the filing of that complaint and the trial I can't be sure exactly the same charges were presented in court.  Here's the list of charges found on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas website.

Day Two  

The Trib:
Prosecutors contend McCullough improperly steered the donation to Catholic Charities because his wife, now a Commonwealth Court judge, was running the charity and in the midst of fundraising.

The gift to Catholic Charities was not the lone gift prosecutors say McCullough doled out with Jordan's money. Lisa Carey, district manager for Northwest Savings Bank, testified that McCullough asked that $10,000 checks be sent to the campaign funds of Republican political candidates Sue Caldwell, Jan Rea, Vince Gastgeb and Cheryl Allen, now a Superior Court judge. All of the then-candidates later returned the money.

Witnesses testified that McCullough shifted Jordan's money from PNC Bank to Northwest Bank in 2007.
The P-G:
John Goetz, the former president of the [board of directors for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh], testified Tuesday against Charles P. McCullough, a former Allegheny County councilman accused of stealing from Shirley H. Jordan when he served as her power of attorney and co-trustee of her trust fund.
Witnesses on Tuesday included employees at PNC Bank, which initially administered the Jordan trust fund in 2006, as well as an employee at Northwest Savings Bank, where the trust was moved in early 2007 at Mr. McCullough’s request.

It was Northwest that approved and issued four $10,000 checks to political candidates that brought Mr. McCullough’s actions out in the public.

Mr. Goetz testified that his concerns began after reading a newspaper story on April 13, 2007.
That would be this story, by the P-G's Dennis Roddy.  We'll get to Roddy a bit later, just you wait.

Back to the P-G:
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report revealed that Ms. Jordan was upset by a number of political contributions that had been made in her name to Republican candidates — county council members Vince Gastgeb, Jan Rea and Susan Caldwell, and Cheryl Allen, then a candidate for Superior Court. In the story, she said the donations were orchestrated by Mr. McCullough.

“The donor was saying it was against her will to give such a donation,” Mr. Goetz testified.
The Trib :
Chuck McCullough's political adversaries, including the man who's now Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, became suspicious in 2007 when he arranged for an elderly widow unknown in political circles to donate $40,000 to Republican politicians.

Kevin Acklin, Peduto's top aide, took the witness stand Wednesday on the third day of the criminal trial of McCullough, 60, of Upper St. Clair on charges he abused his power of attorney to steal nearly $200,000 from the $14.7 million estate of Shirley Jordan, who died in 2010 at age 93. Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus is hearing the non-jury trial.

McCullough and Acklin, a Republican-turned-Democrat, were competing for an at-large county council seat in 2007. Acklin testified that some of his supporters, including then-Councilman Vince Gastgeb, withdrew their support once McCullough handed out the checks.

While in Upper St. Clair gathering signatures, Acklin visited Jordan's house, he said.

“The condition of her house looked like no one lived there. There was a window without drapes, a gutter was dislodged, there were water-logged phone books covered in snow outside and mail,” Acklin testified. “I called Vince Gastgeb and said, ‘Who is Shirley Jordan?' Gastgeb said Jordan was a client of McCullough's and he had served as her estate (lawyer).”

Acklin said that raised a red flag.
The P-G:
The condition of the house raised Mr. Acklin’s suspicions, and he began an investigation to see who Ms. Jordan was. He learned that she was represented by Mr. McCullough, and that she was living in a nursing facility. Mr. Acklin also went to the county’s department of court records to check her files.

A day or two later, Mr. Acklin, now chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, received a call from Mr. McCullough.

“ ‘What were you doing snooping around court records, the Recorder of Deeds?’ ” Mr. Acklin said the former county councilman asked him.

“I said, ‘You know exactly what I was doing,’ ” Mr. Acklin recounted during the non-jury trial. “He seemed agitated.” Then, Mr. Acklin testified, Mr. McCullough said, “ ‘You might want to ask around town who you’re [messing] with.’ ”

Day Three and Four

The Trib:
Elderly widow Shirley Jordan “gasped” and seemed startled when told that her attorney had doled out a $10,000 political donation from her trust fund, a former reporter testified Thursday.

Former Post-Gazette reporter Dennis Roddy testified Thursday about his 2007 interview with Jordan during the fourth day of the trial of former Allegheny County Councilman Chuck McCullough. Prosecutors accused McCullough, 60, of Upper St. Clair, in 2009 of bilking $200,000 from the $14.7 million trust of Jordan, who died in 2010 at the age of 93.
And then:
Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus halted the trial Thursday in the middle of Roddy's testimony, after defense attorney Jon Pushinsky objected on hearsay grounds. Pushinsky contends the testimony should not be considered because it's hearsay and he can't cross-examine Jordan.

Nauhaus ordered Pushinsky and Assistant District Attorney John Fitzgerald to write legal briefs on the matter.
The Trib:
Nauhaus overruled defense objections about Roddy's testimony and said he would consider parts of it, including that Jordan told Roddy that McCullough was a “cheap politician.”

Roddy continued his testimony from Thursday and said he specifically asked Jordan if perhaps she forgot about the donations, including a $10,000 donation to then-Superior Court candidate Cheryl Allen.

“She said, ‘I would never give $10,000 to politics,' ” Roddy testified.
Then there was this:
A few days after Roddy interviewed Jordan, McCullough called Upper St. Clair police to complain about a reporter, who he said did not identify himself and was harassing and badgering his client.

Roddy said he signed into the facility and identified himself as a reporter to Jordan. No charges were filed.
That last part's one of the charges filed against McCullough, by the way.  In the original complaint we read:
The actor knowingly gave false information, namely on April 18, 2007 DEFENDANT KNOWINGLY AND FALSELY REPORTED TO UPPER ST. CLAIR POLICE DEPARTMENT THAT DENNIS RODD HARASSED SHIRLEY H. JORDAN WHEN NO SUCH INCIDENT OF HARASSMENT BY DENNIS RODDY HAD OCCURRED to a law enforcement office with intent to implicate another, in violation of 18Pa C.S. 4906(a) [Capitalization in original]
  Then finally, there's this from the P-G:
Two days after an article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007 outlining an elderly widow’s denunciation of tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions made in her name, the man who is accused of facilitating the donations tried to convince her otherwise.
The Trib:
“He said there was some information in the newspaper that was not true and that he was going to read it to her,” testified Alice Greenway, a care worker who took care of Jordan at an assisted living home. “He asked her to sign something to say, ‘This is what's true and the newspaper account was not.' She refused.”

McCullough was telling Jordan as they went through the newspaper story, “I didn't do that. I wouldn't do that,” Greenway testified.

McCullough then wrote up a second document for Greenway to sign, saying she saw Jordan agree with McCullough.

“I wouldn't do it,” Greenway testified.
That's what's been reported in the local newspapers, so far.

Reminder: The trial still going on and Charles P. McCullough still has the presumption of innocence as guaranteed by law.  He's still innocent until proven guilty and it's still the prosecution's responsibility to prove its case.

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