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Rule of Lawlessness
March 3, 2008 permalink
A lawyer in Massachusetts represented a client suing a state welfare agency. His own family was attacked by Massachusetts DSS. After initial cooperation, this family, skilled in the law, heeded advice rarely followed by non-lawyers: get the children out of the country. The family has established a website: A Berkshire Horror Story. It lacks a timeline, but the Berkshire Eagle (below) gives some dates.
Today's case illustrates a new trend in the law. Some litigants defend themselves not by opposing the evidence, but by seizing their adversary's children. We have seen instances in Ontario, but so far none we can present in public. Do not sue a politically well-connected opponent unless you are able to shield your family from the child protectors. Current practice leaves most people unable to use the courts to resolve problems, even serious ones, ending Aristotle's dream of the rule of law.
Global saga alleges kidnapping, abuse
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Article Last Updated: 02/15/2008 09:32:33 AM EST
Friday, February 15
PITTSFIELD — A Dalton couple who failed to comply with a court order to surrender custody of their children to the state Department of Social Services are facing kidnapping charges.
Officials believe that the three children, all minors, are currently in Russia with their mother, a native of that country, while their father is being held at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction on $1 million bail. A warrant has been issued for the mother's arrest, according to Central Berkshire District Court officials.
The complex case involves a DSS investigation into allegations of possible physical and sexual abuse of the couple's youngest son and the couple's counterclaim that their son was sexually assaulted by a Dalton child-care worker. No charges have been filed in connection with either allegation, however.
When DSS investigators went to the Dalton couple's Kirchner Road home last month to take custody of the children, they learned that the mother had left Massachusetts with the children, traveling first to New York City, where they briefly stayed with relatives in the Staten Island borough before reportedly fleeing to Russia, according to court records.
The children have dual U.S. and Russian citizenship.
Yesterday in Central Berkshire District Court, Louis A. Piccone, 45, a former General Electric patent lawyer, pleaded not guilty to three counts of kidnapping his own children. He allegedly facilitated the children's flight from the United States with his wife, 32-year-old Elena Piccone, to avoid turning them over to DSS custody, officials said.
Judge Fredric D. Rutberg said Louis Piccone's $1 million bail would be reduced to $50,000 cash or $1.5 million bond after he is hooked up to a Global Positioning System monitoring device. The judge also ordered him to surrender his U.S. passport and to forfeit an airline ticket to France.
Piccone was arrested at Boston's Logan International Airport on Tuesday, after returning from Europe, according to prosecutors. When he was taken into custody, officials discovered that he had a Feb. 29 return ticket to France.
Berkshire Second Assistant District Attorney Joan M. McMenemy told the judge that Piccone posed a serious flight risk, citing the Dalton man's "extensive (financial) means" and the fact that he left the country while fully aware of the DSS investigation. The children were supposed to be handed over to the state on Jan. 23, said McMenemy, but Piccone failed to produce them.
He also left the country after being ordered to surrender his passport, according to court records.
"We believe he is an extreme flight risk to flee the jurisdiction," said McMenemy, asking Rutberg to set bail at $250,000 cash or $2.5 million bond.
The district attorney described "a very tense scene" when Dalton Police and DSS investigators went to Piccone's residence and found that his wife and children were not there. Piccone was evasive and vague about his family's whereabouts, according to McMenemy.
Piccone eventually revealed that his wife and children had traveled to Staten Island to stay with his sister, Colleen Piccone. But when police and child welfare officials in New York went to her residence, Elena Piccone and the children had already left.
Back in the Berkshires, Dalton Police sought arrest warrants for Louis and Elena Piccone on Jan. 29. Dalton Police Chief John W. Bartels Jr. said that officers from his department had had multiple dealings with the Piccone family since Jan. 11. That is when the abuse allegations first came to light, according to police reports filed in Central Berkshire District Court.
Considering the allegations of possible physical and sexual abuse, "all three of the Piccone children are potentially exposed to great risk," Bartels said in a report.
The chief also said that "the Piccones had no lawful authority to maintain custody of their three children once the court awarded custody to DSS and ordered they be handed over to (DSS) by Jan. 23."
Documents revealed that Piccone is accused of abusing his youngest son — a charge he strenuously denies.
The DSS investigation into the abuse cannot be completed until interviews are conducted with the children, and no charges likely will be filed while the investigation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Piccone's attorney, Hope C. Button of Springfield, said that her client is not a flight risk. Button pointed out that Piccone returned from France "knowing that there was a warrant for his arrest."
Source: Google cache of Berkshire Eagle
Addendum: A year later, the entire family is safely in Russia. The father was cleared of charges, but the state put him on so many bad lists that he can no longer earn a living. The family is suing for damages.
Pair seek to sue town
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Updated: 09/01/2009 08:30:25 AM EDT
Tuesday, Sept. 01
DALTON -- A Dalton husband and wife are suing the town and the state Department of Children and Families, claiming they were victims of a "witchhunt" that resulted in his arrest and her having to flee the country with their three children.
John G. Swomley, the attorney for Dalton residents Louis and Elena Piccone, filed suit on their behalf in United States District Court in Springfield last week, seeking unspecified damages for economic loss, legal fees, and emotional distress.
Piccone, a former patent lawyer for General Electric, was accused early last year of molesting his youngest child, and he was later cleared of the charges against him. His wife, a Russian immigrant, took the children from the U.S. to Russia, following the DCF's charges.
Since then, all criminal charges filed against both Piccones -- ranging from kidnapping to neglect to abuse -- have been dismissed, stemming from irregularities in the DCF investigation, including one social worker's lack of interview training, as well as her refusal to videotape her talks with the children.
According to the suit, the Department of Children and Families in January 2008 "received an uncorroborated, totem-pole hearsay report that Mr. Piccone's 3-year-old son had allegedly said something suggesting that he had been abused by Mr. Piccone. Based on that one alleged ‘statement,' DCF and the Dalton Police began a witchhunt against Mr. and Mrs. Piccone that ultimately resulted in Mrs. Piccone being forced to leave the country with her children and Mr. Piccone being thrown in jail."
The suit claims the Dalton Police searched the family's home last year without a warrant, and carried out other searches using warrants based on misrepresentations or omissions of critical facts. The suit also alleges DCF gained legal custody of the children using similar tactics.
The Piccone suit names 11 defendants, including seven DCF employees, two members of the Dalton Police Department, the Town of Dalton, and a state police officer.
Swomley said they were filing constitutional violations at the federal level.
"The [DCF] behaved horribly vindictively," Swomley said. "The real reason this got as far as it went was because [Mr. Piccone] insisted on protecting his children and his family's rights."
Piccone left the Berkshires for Russia last week, and was unable to be reached for comment.
Swomley said Piccone has been unable to have his name expunged from law enforcement databases ranging from INTERPOL to the Sex Offender Registry, and that his legal battles interfered with several potentially lucrative patent deals from pharmaceutical companies.
Police Chief John W. Bartels Jr., named a defendant in the suit, said he only learned of the complaint after being contacted by The Eagle. "It's news to me," he said, declining to comment further.
The Dalton Town Clerk's office said they had not received any complaint thus far. Meanwhile, representatives from the DCF said they do not comment on pending legal proceedings.
Swomley said Bartels was named in the suit because Bartels "allowed the court to think that the mother had custody taken away by artfully wording his affidavit -- she never lost her custody. In terms of legal liability, the Town of Dalton served that one up to us on a silver platter."
Yet one noticeable omission from the complaint was the Berkshire District Attorney's Office. Swomley said that he was not targeting them because "they have qualified immunity and, in some cases, absolute immunity."
Swomley said that much of the motivation for this suit was to prove a point to the DCF, as well as thefamilies it typically deals with. He alleged the DCF's "unholy relationship" with the District Attorney's Office helps "manufacture" wrongful cases through suggestive or agenda-driven interviews.
"[DCF] operates in the shadows, basically, in many respects dealing with people with low income and modest educations," Swomley said. "And the standard of proof in this case -- and in all of these cases -- are the lowest standards of proof in any legal proceeding."
To reach David Pepose: or firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6240.
Source: Berkshire Eagle
Addendum: Child protectors did not rest with persecuting the parents. The father's sister was terrorized in another state. Two articles below on the experience of Colleen Piccone.
Colleen Piccone's terror described as trial begins for her suit against two cops, three ACS workers
Two years ago, cops and child welfare caseworkers descended on the Staten Island home of Colleen Piccone, demanding to search for her brother's children without a warrant.
The federal lawyer claims she held them at bay for seven hours but relented when a sergeant threatened to break the door.
Monday, her $650,000 suit against two cops and three Administration for Children's Services workers went to trial - with her lawyer telling jurors of her terror.
"She was very scared and worried that she was going to be arrested, her own children were going to be taken and the whole house ransacked," Piccone's lawyer, Steven Warshawsky, said in Brooklyn Federal Court.
"The whole ordeal was intrusive and humiliating."
The standoff began around 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2008, when ACS received a request from the Massachusetts Department of Social Services for help locating the three young children of Colleen's brother, Louis Piccone.
The brother had been accused by a day care worker of sexually abusing his 3-year-old son, and a judge in Massachusetts ordered the removal of all three children.
Louis Piccone later was arrested for helping his wife take the children to Russia, but the charges were eventually dropped and the abuse investigation closed.
But the day of the request from Massachusetts, ACS official See Yuen Kuet sent caseworkers Cynthia Donnelly and Lori Ferretti to the home of Colleen Piccone, a top lawyer in U.S. Customs & Border Protection's New York office.
They called 911 for police backup, but the NYPD was unable to get a warrant.
Colleen Piccone told Sgt. Daniel Massey and his driver, Glen Thompson, she would let them in to verify the children weren't there - but she insisted the caseworkers stay outside, her lawyer said.
At 1 a.m., a police prisoners wagon was parked outside her home - and then the cops made their threat, Warshawsky said.
City lawyer Fred Weiler denied the cops tried to strong-arm Colleen Piccone and insisted she gave permission for the search.
"She swung open the door when [Massey] said he wanted to confirm the children are not in there," Weiler said. "Ms. Piccone freely and willingly let those four people into her house."
In a deposition read in Brooklyn Federal Court yesterday, Kuet said "some miracle happened" that allowed the city workers in.
On the stand, Kuet acknowledged caseworkers do not have the authority to enter a home without a warrant unless there is consent or evidence a child inside is in "imminent danger."
Another witness, Officer Michael Mazzella, testified that when he answered the 911 call by caseworkers, there was never any mention that the children might be in danger.
Last month, the city paid a $38,000 settlement to Colleen Piccone's elderly parents, who live in the house.
Source: New York Daily News
Mistrial ruling in top federal lawyer's suit charging illegal search of Staten Island home
A mistrial was declared Thursday in the civil trial of a top federal lawyer who accused NYPD cops and caseworkers for the Administration for Children's Services of illegally searching her home in Staten Island.
The jury awarded $100,000 to Colleen Piccone but also found none of the cops or caseworkers was responsible.
"I think they feel the city is going to pick up the $100,000," Brooklyn Federal Judge David Trager told the lawyers.
Piccone, the assistant deputy counsel in the New York office of U.S. Customs & Border Protection, had refused to allow the caseworkers into her home when they came looking for her brother's three young children in January 2008.
Massachusetts authorities were investigating allegations of child abuse and suspected the children might be in Piccone's home, but the out-of-state court order carried no weight in New York.
The children were not in her home.
Source: New York Daily News