WILKES-BARRE – Local businessman Thomas A. Joseph testified Tuesday that his companies suffered a “mass exodus” of clients after a series of articles linking him to an alleged grand jury investigation were printed in The Citizens’ Voice newspaper in 2001.
The articles cited anonymous sources who alleged Joseph utilized Acumark, a direct mail and printing company, and The Metro, a now defunct weekly newspaper, to launder money for reputed mobster William “Billy” D’Elia and others. The sources further alleged Joseph utilized a taxi service he operated at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley airports to transport drugs, money and prostitutes to Atlantic City.
The businesses had been profitable to that point, but took a dramatic downturn after the articles were published, Joseph said during the second day of a libel trial against the newspaper in Luzerne County Court.
Questioned by his attorney, George Croner, Joseph, of Mountain Top, denied he was involved in the alleged criminal conduct. He acknowledged his home and Acumark were searched by federal agents in May 2001 but said he had no idea what they were investigating. He was never charged with any crime.
That testimony differed from statements he gave during a 2003 deposition in which he was questioned, pointed out Tim Hinton, one of the attorneys for The Citizens’ Voice.
Under cross-examination, Joseph acknowledged he previously testified he hired a criminal attorney after the raids, and the attorney told him he was being investigated for money laundering.
The existence and scope of that investigation is a key issue in the case as the newspaper contends its articles, written by Edward Lewis and James Conmy, accurately reflected information it garnered from law enforcement officials who were knowledgeable about the alleged probe. Lewis now works for The Times Leader. Conmy, now a Wilkes-Barre police officer, is no longer a defendant in the lawsuit.
The trial is the second for the case. In 2006, former Judge Mark Ciavarella awarded Joseph $3.5 million. The verdict was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2009 based on evidence the case had been improperly steered to Ciavarella, who was recently convicted of corruption charges.
Joseph spent about 5½ hours on the stand, with most of his testimony focused on describing the financial and emotional impact the newspaper’s articles had on his family, including his son, Thomas Joseph Jr., who is a co-plaintiff in the case; and daughter, Leah.
Leah, now 26, was in high school when the articles were printed and had to face the scrutiny of her classmates, Joseph said.
“My daughter was brutalized,” he said. “It broke my heart.”
The series of 10 articles, which appeared between June and October 2001, alleged the May 2001 raids were prompted by a grand jury investigation of D’Elia, Joseph and Sam Marranca.
D’Elia was indicted in 2006 on money laundering charges, but Joseph is not named as participating in that scheme. Croner contends that supports Joseph’s allegations that the newspaper’s stories were false.
Joseph testified no one from the newspaper ever contacted him about the articles to allow him to respond to the allegations. But he also acknowledged he never contacted the paper to question their accuracy or seek a retraction.
Testimony in the non-jury trial will resume today at 9 a.m. before Judge Joseph Van Jura.
The trial is the second for the case. In 2006, former Judge Mark Ciavarella awarded Joseph $3.5 million. The verdict was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2009 based on evidence the case had been improperly steered to Ciavarella.