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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES PEETROS AND JAMES EDEN (12/28/87)

decided: December 28, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES PEETROS AND JAMES EDEN, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania Nos. 1081 (Peetros) and 1082 (Eden) Philadelphia 1983 Vacating the Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Criminal Division, As of Nos. 5700-81 and 5820-81 (Peetros) and 5674-81 and 5702-81 (Eden). 343 Pa. Super. 615, 494 A.2d 484 (1985).

COUNSEL

James D. Crawford, Philadelphia, for appellants.

Dennis C. McAndrews, Wayne, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, J., concur in the result. Hutchinson, Former J., did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Zappala

[ 517 Pa. Page 261]

Opinion

In this case the Appellants seek review of a Superior Court order which vacated the judgment of sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (McGovern, J.) pursuant to Appellants' convictions on the charges of bribery, corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy to commit bribery, and criminal solicitation to commit bribery. Appellant Eden was also convicted of the charge

[ 517 Pa. Page 262]

    of prohibited offensive weapons. Appellant Peetros was sentenced to not less than three nor more than six years imprisonment on the bribery charge, and a consecutive sentence of not less than two nor more than six years on the corrupt organizations charge. Eden was sentenced to not less than two nor more than five years on the bribery charge, a concurrent sentence of not less than two nor more than five years on the corrupt organizations charge, and a consecutive sentence of not less than six months nor more than two years on the prohibited offensive weapons charge. Sentence was suspended as to both Appellants on the inchoate crimes.

The Superior Court, while dismissing most of Appellants' allegations of error in a memorandum opinion, did find merit in the Appellants' contention that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial judge's charge as to the elements of the crime of corrupt organizations, vacated the judgments of sentence, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing concerning counsel's reason for not objecting to the charge, Commonwealth v. Peetros, 343 Pa. Super. 615, 494 A.2d 484 (1985). We granted Appellants' petition for allocatur to address the other substantive allegations of error. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the order of the Superior Court, reverse Appellants' convictions on the charge of corrupt organizations, and grant Appellants a new trial as to the charges of bribery and related inchoate crimes.

This case is a very unsettling one. It had its genesis with the murder of Harry N. Peetros, brother of Appellant James Peetros, in Delaware County on May 23, 1981. Pursuant to the investigation of that murder, certain items were removed from the decedent's apartment by the Delaware County detectives. In conjunction with the Peetros murder, Officer Elefterios Mitsos of the Philadelphia Police Department was specially assigned to help Delaware County authorities in the investigation due to his familiarity with the Greek community in which the incident occurred and his

[ 517 Pa. Page 263]

    ability to communicate in the Greek language, which was predominantly spoken there. Officer Mitsos commenced his investigation by interviewing members of the community in the restaurant of an acquaintance, Peter Louvaris. Louvaris had been a close friend and associate of Harry Peetros and had also known Officer Mitsos for many years. Louvaris assisted Mitsos in the investigation of Harry Peetros's death by providing his restaurant as a place where Mitsos could interview witnesses in the community -- witnesses whom Louvaris would help to identify and contact.

Sometime after the funeral of Harry Peetros, James Peetros paid a visit to Mr. Louvaris. Appellant was on furlough from Graterford Prison. He inquired of Louvaris whether Louvaris knew any of the Greeks who owed money to his brother, as he was attempting to collect the money owed for his sister-in-law (Harry's widow) and nephews. Louvaris indicated that Harry had carried a particular brown book and that he (Louvaris) probably knew the detective who "can help us, who will help me -- because I know him for a long time -- to get to the books". N.T., Oct. 13, 1982, pp. 109-110. Peetros indicated he would be very interested.*fn1 Louvaris communicated Peetros's interest in the loan records to Detective Mitsos. At some point, Mitsos indicated to Louvaris that the books of Harry Peetros were for sale. Later, he rephrased Mitsos's comment to the effect that, "He said that it was always a way you can get them, if it was for that kind of purpose, to help the widow and the kids". Oct. 14, 1982, p. 47. Louvaris indicated that shortly thereafter Mitsos gave him his telephone number, which he gave to Harry Peetros's widow and to James Peetros, and that that was the extent of his involvement.

[ 517 Pa. Page 264]

Peetros, who was still imprisoned at Graterford, had a meeting with Detective Mitsos at the "Roundhouse" in Philadelphia.*fn2 Peetros was taken there to the Homicide Division on June 2nd or 3rd of 1981 for interrogation in conjunction with the murder of Harry Peetros. It was on this date, Officer Mitsos testified, that he and the Appellant first met. Peetros indicated to Mitsos that he was interested in collecting whatever was owed to his brother to help his sister-in-law and her children. Mitsos testified that Louvaris subsequently indicated to him in late June or early July that someone was interested in obtaining the books of Harry Peetros and "that he (Mitsos) could make himself a lot of money." Louvaris later indicated that the person interested was Peetros.

Sometime in early July, Peetros called Mitsos at the Roundhouse and stated, "Hey, buddy, how you doing? I heard you want to do business. Don't do anything until you hear from me on my next furlough." N.T. Oct. 14, 1982, p. 141. At this point, Mitsos indicated, he informed his immediate supervisors in Philadelphia and in Delaware County of the contact. The next meeting between Peetros and Mitsos occurred on July 24, 1979 at the Roundhouse. While both Peetros and Mitsos acknowledge that a meeting did take place, their testimony is contradictory as to the substance of that meeting. Peetros indicated that at the meeting he expressed anger at Mitsos for standing him up at a meeting scheduled for July 4, 1981 at Louvaris's restaurant, at which time an exchange of $10,000.00 for the books was to be made. Mitsos testified that the encounter was a chance one and that Peetros stated to him

"What's happening? I had to go downtown and get $10,000.00 up front. If you don't want to do business, let me know now, and I'll go another route."

I answered him that I didn't want to do any business at that time. I did not expect this meeting. I was unaware

[ 517 Pa. Page 265]

    that this was going to happen, and I shied away from him by telling him I didn't want to do any business.

N.T., Oct. 14, 1982, p. 143.

Both testified, however, that a disagreement arose at the July 24th meeting, and no further contact was had between them until an October 2nd telephone conversation, which was recorded. Mitsos testified that this conversation stemmed from a September 23rd meeting with Louvaris, at which time Mitsos stated to Louvaris:

"[T]he books were still in possession of C.I.D.; and that I had looked at them, and you wouldn't believe the names and figures in the books."

His [Louvaris's] exact words were, 'No shit, the guy, I believe, is still interested in it, and I'll get in touch with him.'"

Id. at p. 150. Louvaris indicated that he would have Peetros contact Mitsos. Id. Between October 2 and 14, 1981, Mitsos had a series of telephone conversations with Peetros while Peetros was in Graterford Prison. These conversations were recorded pursuant to a consent signed by Mitsos, and the substance of the transcripts detail the negotiation and procedure for exchanging the books in question for $10,000.00. During these conversations, it was agreed that $5,000.00 would be paid at the time of the transfer, and $5,000.00 at ...


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