Jailed Judge, Lawyer Indicted In Case-fixing W. Phila. Bar Owner Also Charged

Posted: March 28, 1990

Scandal-plagued city courts were hit yesterday with another case-fixing indictment, this one involving a judge already in jail for taking bribes, a trial lawyer who is married to the city solicitor, and a bar owner with a shadowy past.

Former Common Pleas Judge Kenneth S. Harris, 68, who is serving a 12-year prison term, was indicted by a federal grand jury along with attorney Thomas L. McGill Jr., 44, and bar owner Leon Brown, 55.

The three men were charged with conspiring to extort a $15,000 bribe from a defendant in a criminal case in 1986.

McGill, the husband of City Solicitor Charisse Lillie, also was charged with attempting to evade payment of $47,459 in federal income taxes owed for the years 1980-1987 by concealing assets from the IRS.

"It's a bad rap put on a very decent guy, and we hope to prevail at trial," said McGill's defense attorney, Thomas C. Carroll.

McGill and Lillie, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, were unavailable for comment.

Lillie, who was named Mayor Goode's top lawyer in February, once worked in the federal courthouse as a lawyer in the civil division of the U.S. attorney's office.

The investigation was handled by prosecutors with the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Harris, now at a federal prison near Loretto, Pa., has been in jail for about two years.

He is one of three city judges convicted and jailed in recent years for taking bribes to fix criminal cases.

About a dozen other judges were removed from office for taking cash gifts

from the Roofers union, and one of them, Mario Driggs, was convicted and jailed on bribery charges in connection with the Roofers money.

Allegations that McGill and Brown were involved in a case-fixing scheme were first made public in 1987, but no charges were brought against them until yesterday.

Brown, of Willingboro, N.J., operated a bar at 38th Street and Haverford Avenue called the Five Steps Ahead.

Brown was reputed to be "a drug dealer and a fixer of cases" who spent a lot of time hanging around Judge Harris' former City Hall courtroom, according to an FBI affidavit which was based on information provided by a police informant.

Between June 19, 1986, and Oct. 3, 1986, Harris conspired with McGill and Brown to get a $15,000 bribe from Joan Willis, a client of McGill's who was awaiting trial before another judge for allegedly embezzling $93,000, according to the grand jury.

Willis is cooperating with authorities, Carroll said, and has not been charged.

On June 19, 1986, tiny microphones planted in Harris' robing room in City Hall recorded the three defendants discussing the Willis case.

During the conversation, they agreed that McGill would collect $1,500 cash

from Willis and a portion of the money would go to Harris, the grand jury said.

In another recorded conversation, Brown reported to Harris that Willis had embezzled about $300,000, much more than she had been charged with stealing, and that Brown believed she had the money somewhere, the grand jury said.

Harris relayed this information to McGill on June 26, 1986, in yet another recorded conversation, the grand jury said.

On Sept. 12, 1986, Brown told Harris he had asked Willis for $15,000 and she promised to give him $8,000, the grand jury said.

Later, Brown instructed Willis to "deliver to him more than $7,000 cash" in the lobby of McGill's office building on Oct. 3, 1986, the grand jury charged.

Defense attorney Carroll, however, contends the tape-recorded evidence is ''ambiguous."

The discussion of money could refer to a lawyer's fee, Carroll added. ''There's no smoking gun."

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