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Friday, August 27, 2010

Bishop Sigillito's Lawyers Blast Government Tactics as "Illegal" and "Frightening"

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 9:30 AM

Clayton attorney and American Anglican bishop Marty Sigillito stands accused in civil court of running a $45 million Ponzi scheme. He's currently under federal investigation. See our feature, "White Collar Crime."

Bishop Marty Sigillito wants his stuff back.

The feds seized a whole slew of his assets over the past three months, convinced that he'd defrauded dozens of people in a giant scam. Now, Sigillito's attorneys, David Helfrey and Doug Roller, are slamming the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office for "aggressive and inappropriate use of federal search warrants and seizure warrants." And oh, that ain't all:
The lengths to which these officials have gone in their attempt to bring Mr. Sigillito to his knees prior to the initiation of any judicial proceedings are both mind-boggling and frightening....

[We] do not make these accusations lightly. Both [of us] are former organized crime prosecutors in the Department of Justice who have received numerous awards and accolades from the Department as well as the Federal investigative agencies....
Counsel believes that the tactics being employed in this case are directly contrary to the core values and principles of the Department.
Which tactics? Here's a sampler from their 75-page pleading (supported by hundreds of pages of exhibits):

1) Unconstitutional Search and Seizure at Sigillito's Clayton Office (May 24)

On the day Sigillito's "life came crashing down around him," his lawyers insist, the warrants served on him at his office didn't properly identify his alleged crimes (as required by the Fourth Amendment), and were so broad as to give "the FBI license to rummage through every piece of an unlawful general exploratory search."

The feds just grabbed stuff that had nothing to do with the present matter, they claim, including items belonging to the Anglican church.

David Helfrey, legal counsel to Sigillito - IMAGE VIA
  • Image via
  • David Helfrey, legal counsel to Sigillito
2) Ditto for the Raids on Sigillito's Dwellings in Webster Groves and Marthasville (July 1)

But with a couple of eyebrow-raising wrinkles. First, Helfrey and Roller suggest that Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Holtshauser set these raids in motion out of anger that Sigillito had made public part of their e-mail correspondence (more on that in a future post).

They also accuse the FBI of issuing a "false and misleading" warrant by listing a bunch of bottles of expensive liquor that Sigillito was storing at the Racquet Club of St. Louis (to see that list, click here). Foul play, they cry:
By listing these items, the warrant indicates that the items had not been taken. This is simply not true. The FBI apparently obtained [them] prior to July 1, 2010....[the FBI] was trying to legitimize [their] warrantless seizure of the liquor...
By the way, the cagey guys at the Racquet Club are sure to LOVE this:
Even if the Racquet Club officials consented to the FBI taking the liquor, the consent was not theirs to give. If the officials [there] voluntarily turned over Mr. Sigillito's property to the FBI without being compelled to do so in a response to a subpoena or a warrant, they are liable for conversion of Mr. Sigillito's property.
The FBI did not comment, and instead referred Daily RFT to the U.S. Attorney's Office, whom they said was handling the matter. Those folks, in turn, said they'd recused themselves and referred us to U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips of the Western District, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

The list of improprieties alleged by the bishop's lawyers is extensive. We will delve into them more fully later. But for now, Helfrey and Roller claim the feds:

  • tried to intimidate Sigillito's wife, Mindy Finan, into incriminating her husband
  • bullied an Anglican clergyman from Texas who they thought was raising funds for Sigillito's defense and threatened to prosecute him if Sigillito used the money to flee the country
  • meddled in the civil cases now pending against the bishop
  • demanded Sigillito surrender his passport, even though no charges have been filed
  • visited hardship on the Sigillito family by seizing the 2006 Volvo S40 his kids use to drive to school and work
  • seized money Sigillito had scrounged up to pay his lawyers (like the $19,000 he'd earned by selling his own car, a 2010 Volvo C30, or the precious coins he'd given them as a security of payment of attorney's fees)
Doug Roller, the bishop's other attorney - IMAGE VIA
  • Image via
  • Doug Roller, the bishop's other attorney

This list goes on and on.

The pleading never directly addresses Sigillito's guilt or innocence. (It's worth point out that no charges have been filed.) This was about getting some property back so that Sigillito could defend himself and pay his attorneys.

However, Helfrey and Roller do imply the bishop's innocence. They claim cash-flow problem in the investment program, which started with the market turmoil in 2008, got even worse with "several reversals of fortune" in 2010 -- including when one lender wanted his $15 million back.

The government's seizures thwarted his honest attempts to rectify the situation, they suggest. As a result, "the Sigillitos are experiencing a huge montly cash flow problem. Quite simply they cannot financially survive in their current situation."

This miscellaneous case has been transferred to Chief Judge Linda R. Reade of the Northern District of Iowa.   

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