Newtown stunt may put Chesco gadfly back in prison

Posted: December 29, 2012

His ludicrous lawsuits against people ranging from Kim Kardashian to Jerry Sandusky have earned Jonathan Lee Riches a reputation as a gadfly of the federal court system.

But the 36-year-old West Chester man's recent escapade in Newtown, Conn. - days after a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six educators there - may earn Riches a stint behind bars.

West Goshen Township police arrested Riches on Dec. 19 on an apparent probation violation after he returned from the Connecticut town, where he posed as the uncle of gunman Adam Lanza.

Riches allegedly identified himself to reporters as Jonathan Lanza; said his nephew, who killed himself as well as his mother, was a schizophrenic on antipsychotic drugs; and encouraged photographers to snap his photo as he prayed at a memorial site, according to court documents.

Riches, who completed a seven-year federal prison sentence for unrelated wire fraud and conspiracy charges in April, had been ordered not to leave Southeastern Pennsylvania as a condition of his supervised release.

Probation officers caught wind of Riches' travels days afterward when he posted video clips on YouTube, according to a motion filed last week seeking to revoke his probation.

In one, Riches drives around Lanza's neighborhood, addressing a doll adorned with a paper cutout of the shooter's face.

"We're going to find out why Adam Lanza was mind-controlled and manipulated to go in and allegedly shoot little kids in Sandy Hook Elementary School," he says.

A second clip features Riches driving with another doll - this one with the face of James Holmes, accused in the July mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., theater. In it, he proclaims Holmes' innocence while dropping pork rinds on the Islamic Society of Chester County's doorstep.

The postings are what is likely to become a rare legal misstep for Riches, who has built nationwide notoriety by constantly toeing legal lines while finding new ways of harassing celebrities, politicians, and federal judges in court.

Starting in 2005, Riches began filing hundreds of fatuous lawsuits from a federal inmate treatment facility in Kentucky, lodging as many as 4,000 claims.

His suits range from a complaint this year alleging that the president of the Milton Hershey School infected him with AIDS to more recent accusations including one against Justin Bieber, in which Riches claimed the pop star stole his credit card to pay for a penis enlargement.

His targets have included President George W. Bush, Martha Stewart, Britney Spears, and former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf - not to mention Nostradamus, the Lincoln Memorial, Plato, and "all of the survivors of the Holocaust."

When the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 sought to name him the world's most litigious man, he sued it, too.

Most lawsuits were quickly dismissed, and occasionally judges have found Riches in contempt of court. Since entering a federal supervised release program this year, Riches' pace has only abated slightly.

A suit against Sandusky drew the ire of a Wisconsin federal court, which dismissed his complaint that the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach molested him at a 2002 game.

U.S. District Judge William Conley noted Riches' penchant for "vexing the court system."

As of late Thursday, Riches remained in the Chester County Correctional Facility, with local and federal probation officers seeking to keep him behind bars. He has not been charged with any crimes related to his impersonation of a Lanza family member last week.

It remained unclear Thursday whether Riches had retained an attorney. But if his thousands of previous lawsuits suggest anything, that's never stopped him before.


Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.

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