Philly man with 44 arrests and no convictions receives long federal prison sentence

By Jon Campisi | Feb 3, 2012

What do 44 arrests for violent crimes such as armed robberies get you in Philadelphia?

Not one single conviction.

At least that was John Gassew’s experience in the Philadelphia legal system up to this point.

The saga, however, had a different ending Wednesday when the 25-year-old career criminal was sentenced to 32 years in federal prison following a jury trial at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

According to local news reports and court records, Gassew was found guilty of two counts of robbery and two counts of possessing a firearm while in the commission of a crime.

The feds took on the case two years ago after Gassew’s infamous tale of evading legal punishment was published in the local media.

An investigative series in the Philadelphia Inquirer a couple years back painted a city judicial system in peril, besieged by low conviction rates for violent crimes, widespread acts of witness intimidation and other problems.

Gassew’s story was one such example of unsuccessful prosecutions in Philadelphia’s criminal courts.

According to a Thursday report in the Inquirer, Gassew on Wednesday was found not guilty of one robbery charge and one gun charge each.

But the other convictions were enough to put him away for a long time.

He received a 32-year prison stretch because he was convicted under a federal gun law with mandatory sentencing guidelines, the newspaper reported.

While Philadelphia’s civil courts have been singled out by judicial reform groups as being in need of a major overhaul, the city’s criminal courts have also made headlines because of the seeming inability on the part of prosecutors to convict those charged with serious crimes.

The Inquirer’s investigative series highlighted a major problem of witness intimidation, whereby potential witnesses would rarely show up to court to testify in trials, making it difficult for state attorneys to secure convictions.

According to the Inquirer’s article, federal prosecutors decided to get involved in Gassew’s case after it became apparent that it was going nowhere in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.

Assistant U.S. attorneys soon entered the picture, tapping into the federal Hobbs Act in an attempt to end Gassew’s criminal career. The law is designed to go after robbers who hit businesses like gas stations that are involved in interstate commerce.

Prosecutors had charged Gassew with violating the Hobbs Act and using a gun during a crime of violence, the paper reported.

According to the Inquirer, the case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Linwood C. Wright, Jr. and Ed Zittlau.

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