The opinion of the court was delivered by: SNYDER
On February 6, 1978, a seven count indictment was returned against David Wander and Edward Reddington. The first count charged, in substance, that from May 5, 1972 to on or about January 2, 1976, Wander, Reddington, and others unknown, conspired to use facilities in interstate commerce, to-wit, commercial airlines and the Bell Telephone system, between the State of Florida and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the intent to promote, manage, establish, carry on and facilitate an unlawful activity, to-wit, the extortion of Michael Lynn Currie and Robert N. Peirce, Jr., in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States Criminal Code, Title 18, Section 1952(a)(3),
in violation of Section 371 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
Counts Two through Seven charged the use of facilities in interstate commerce with the intent to promote, carry on, or facilitate the unlawful activity, I. e. the extortion of Michael Lynn Currie and Robert N. Peirce, Jr., on various dates.
At trial, the Government's evidence was to the effect that Michael Lynn Currie was involved in an automobile accident early in 1972 and was referred to Robert N. Peirce, Jr., Esquire to represent her on a personal injury claim. At the time, Peirce was the elected Clerk of Courts for Allegheny County. He had been appointed to that office in February, 1971, ran for election in the Fall of 1971, and was elected to a four-year term commencing January, 1972. While serving his appointed term, Peirce initiated a number of reforms with respect to bail and bail bond forfeitures. His activity, together with that of the Allegheny County Bar Association, culminated in the introduction of a bail reform act in the Pennsylvania Legislature which established a public bail bond agency, the right of defendants to post an 8% Cash bond instead of surety bond, and expanded the use of nominal and "own recognizance" bonds in the state system. An order was entered in the Criminal Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in February of 1972 which required professional bondsmen to deposit one hundred thousand dollars collateral to qualify to write bail bonds. The effect of the order was to reduce the number of qualified surety bondsmen in Allegheny County to two, David Wander and Steven C. Levitt, who had satisfied the collateral requirement in June, 1972. Both Wander and Levitt had been out of the surety bond business in Allegheny County between February and June of 1972.
On May 5, 1972, Michael Lynn Currie and Joseph Volpini were involved in an automobile accident (Currie's second) in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which resulted in the discovery of marijuana in their possession, as well as a darvon capsule in Currie's possession. They were arrested by McKeesport Police Officers and charged with unlawful possession of marijuana; Volpini also was charged with a number of motor vehicle violations arising out of a high speed chase which ended in the accident, and Currie also was charged with possession of a controlled substance. They spent the night of May 5th in the McKeesport Jail and were released on $ 5,000, 8% Cash bond, which was posted by Volpini's father on May 6, 1972. Following a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Charles Johnson on May 18, 1972, Currie was held for the grand jury, Volpini having waived preliminary hearing.
In the Spring of 1972, Currie became acquainted with Edward Reddington and occasionally stayed at his apartment, which was also occupied from time-to-time by his step-daughter, Becky Forsythe. Reddington obtained employment for Currie at Richard's Hair Stylist and she was steadily employed there until March, 1973 when she left Pittsburgh to live with her daughter, Mona, at the residence of her sister, Kathy Allen, in Florida.
During the early months of 1972 while Peirce was handling her personal injury claim, he engaged in some flirtatious talk with Currie about getting together with her at some location in the Pittsburgh area. Reddington became aware of Peirce's interest in Currie and passed this information along to Wander, and he also made Wander acquainted with Joseph Volpini. Reddington undertook to have Wander "fix" Volpini's case so that he would be found not guilty. This arrangement did not, however, include the "fixing" of Currie's case, but Volpini was aware of Wander's interest in using Currie to compromise Peirce and Wander's proposal that she do this as a condition of "fixing" her case. Reddington and Currie had several discussions, and Currie was told that if she did not agree to the compromise of Peirce, she would be found guilty and receive a jail sentence on the state charges, and thereby lose any chance for custody of her daughter. Although the proposition was made by Reddington, it was Wander's interest as a bondsman which was to be served in the compromising of Peirce.
Currie met with Wander on one occasion during the Summer of 1972, at which time Wander expressed an intense dislike of Peirce. The fixing of her case was to be handled by Wander.
The Criminal Court records show that the Volpini-Currie case was tried before a judge of that court on October 19, 1972, and consisted chiefly of a suppression hearing and testimony relative to Volpini's motor vehicle violations. Decision was reserved and disposition of the case scheduled for December 15, 1972. It did not take place and the attorneys were noted to be out-of-town. The attorneys involved, however, testified in our case that they were in town and did not request a continuance. Final disposition of the Volpini-Currie case was rescheduled several times early in 1973, but was continued on all such occasions.
About March 1, 1973, Currie left Pittsburgh for Florida because of a serious falling out with Volpini, and took her daughter with her. While in Florida, Currie received a telephone call from Reddington advising her that Wander wanted to talk with her. Wander telephoned her shortly thereafter, stating that he wanted to monitor a phone conversation between Currie and Peirce in order to know if an arrangement was possible. Wander then arranged a telephone hookup between Currie and Peirce during which Currie talked in general terms with Peirce. Following this conversation, Wander said everything sounded alright, and he terminated the Florida telephone call.
Peirce telephoned Currie on March 16, 1973 to confirm the meeting and then proceeded to the motel, where he and Currie went to bed. While in bed, an unknown male entered the room, snapped photographs of Peirce and Currie, and exited through the sliding glass doors which opened onto a parking lot. Peirce returned to the Clerk of Courts' office, and Currie telephoned Reddington to pick her up, and she went back to his apartment. Later that afternoon, Currie telephoned Peirce and denied any involvement or knowledge of the person taking the pictures, but she suggested it might have been her husband, from whom she was separated and with whom she was still having difficulty about the custody of their daughter. Currie then returned to Florida, without any disposition of her case which, in fact, was not then scheduled.
The court records show that disposition of the Volpini-Currie cases was set for March 30, 1973. Currie did not appear, and Volpini called her in Florida to tell her the Assistant District Attorney was very upset and had tried to have her bond revoked. Currie called Reddington, and he told her not to worry about anything.
About May 1, 1973, Currie received a call from Reddington to return to Pittsburgh for the disposition of her case. The court heard the matter three days later, denied the defendants' motion to suppress evidence, and entered a judgment of acquittal for Volpini and Currie on the narcotic charges. Volpini was convicted on one motor vehicle violation and was fined $ 100.00. Joseph Kanfoush, Currie's attorney, testified in the instant matter that he had asked Currie if the state case had been fixed because he had not even been notified. She told him it had been fixed, the fix involved photographs of herself and Peirce, and that Wander was involved. Kanfoush testified he confronted Wander with this allegation and that Wander had denied any involvement. Kanfoush also testified that on a number of occasions Wander had made snide references to Currie.
Shortly after Peirce was photographed in the motel, he contacted John S. Portella, an Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation whom Peirce had met during his representation of a defendant in Federal Court and also socially on several occasions. Peirce told Portella about the motel incident and identified Wander as the principal suspect in his mind, because of his bond reform activity and Wander being in the bonding business. Portella undertook an inquiry and, in the summer of 1973, was successful in procuring the photographs and negatives through Robert Butzler, the Ross Township Chief of Police. Butzler was told to contact Wander by an informant, and he asked Wander for any assistance he could provide. Several weeks later, Butzler received a call from Wander telling him that he had something Butzler was interested in. Butzler met Wander in the parking lot of a supermarket and got the photographs, two disc type recordings and a recording machine. Butzler then turned these over to Elsie Hillman, a friend and political sponsor of Peirce, and she gave them to Peirce. Peirce destroyed the recordings in a local hotel, although Portella asked that they be preserved.
The jury trial on the federal indictment began May 23, 1978, and a verdict was returned on June 6, 1978 finding Wander and Reddington guilty on Counts One, Two, Three and Four, and not guilty on the remaining counts. The jury apparently believed that the telephone calls charged in these later counts had more to do with Currie's own accident than with any intent to carry on the unlawful activity of extortion.
On July 13, 1978, the following sentences were imposed:
Counts Two, Three and Four: Two years imprisonment on each count, to run concurrent with the sentence imposed on Count One.
Count One: Imprisonment for a period of three years.
Count Two: Imprisonment for a period of three years, to run concurrent with the sentence imposed on Count One.
Count Three: Imprisonment for a period of three years, to run consecutively with sentence imposed on Counts One and Two.
Count Four: Imposition of sentence suspended and the defendant placed on probation for four years.
Appeals were promptly taken to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and are now scheduled for ...