Local couple sues U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of Pa. over seized property

Jon Campisi Oct. 4, 2011, 7:14am

A Montgomery County, Pa. couple is suing the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in federal court, alleging they had items improperly seized from their home during a raid by local authorities in March of last year.

In the lawsuit filed Sept. 29 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Norristown, Pa. attorney Francis Recchuiti, Harry Piacitelli and his wife, Helene Pitts, allege county law enforcement officials improperly seized items from their Plymouth Meeting, Pa. home when they executed a search warrant at the Thomas Road house on March 29, 2010.

According to the lawsuit, authorities armed with a search warrant entered the couple’s home at about 7:10 a.m. and carted away numerous items that they contend was related to criminal enterprise.

A copy of the search warrant from the Montgomery County Detective Bureau that is attached to the lawsuit states that authorities were looking for “evidence of an illegal gambling operation,” including bookmaking records and cash.

The lawsuit states that the items seized from the home were not “evidence of crimes, fruits of a crime, contraband or derivative contraband, but personal property, lawfully owned and possessed by plaintiffs, in a home that was never used for the purposes of illegal activity.”

The suit goes on to state that a second search warrant was then issued for a vehicle that hadn’t been possessed by the plaintiff’s for six days. A third was executed at a TD Bank branch in Plymouth Township, where authorities drilled open a safe deposit box and took personal papers and $90,000 in cash. Authorities also seized $3,452.54 from a joint bank account belonging to the plaintiffs.

No search warrants or inventory sheets documenting the raids were left with the plaintiffs, the lawsuit claims.

Law enforcement officials also seized $23,000 in cash from a safe deposit box at a bank in Ardmore, Pa., the suit states, in addition to 101 ounces of gold coins, “again without providing a warrant or inventory to plaintiff Piacitelli.”

The plaintiffs were unable to obtain a copy of the search warrants until April 5, 2010, the suit states. Bank officials had prior told the plaintiffs that they were instructed not to provide a copies of the warrants.

On April 6, 2010, the suit states, Piacitelli filed an Emergency Petition for Return of Property in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

Then, in mid June 2010, Zane David Memeger, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the defendant in the lawsuit, issued a “subpoena” to the district attorney in Montgomery County, “purporting to direct her to produce all items seized in the course of an investigation of individuals other than plaintiffs,” the suit states.

“The ‘subpoena’ bears no grand jury number nor otherwise refers to a grand jury investigation, and plaintiffs believe and aver there was no grand jury investigation of plaintiff Piacitelli in progress, nor is one in progress now, and had there been one, its term would have expired by now,” the lawsuit states.

The district attorney’s office then turned over the seized items to the U.S. government, the suit alleges.

“Defendants believe and aver the ‘subpoena’ was issued at the request of the Office of the District Attorney of Montgomery County because it could not support the legality of the searches and to in order continue to deprive plaintiffs of their property without probable cause or due process of law,” the suit states.

In May of this year, after Piacitelli filed a motion seeking the return of his property, a Montgomery County judge “incorrectly dismissed” his motion, the lawsuit states.

“The foregoing conduct was and is intended to deprive plaintiffs of their right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and their right not to be deprived of their property without due process of law, and is an egregious attempt to deprive plaintiffs of their rights to challenge an unlawful state search, and to hold their property on not even mere suspicion,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs are seeking the return of their property along with costs related to the suit.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06138-AB.

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