Eagles season is off to a rollicking start

It’s no secret the trial of former US Attorney Bill Rittenberg, accused of taking bribes and kickbacks in his successful 1998 US Senate bid, has become an avenue for the Eagles to rub elbows…

Eagles season is off to a rollicking start

It’s no secret the trial of former US Attorney Bill Rittenberg, accused of taking bribes and kickbacks in his successful 1998 US Senate bid, has become an avenue for the Eagles to rub elbows with political donors before they head out for preseason training.

On Monday night, the Giants and Redskins road trip arrived at Rittenberg’s central Pennsylvania home for a flag football game featuring the two teams at the Allentown Holiday Inn. Rittenberg was joined on the sidelines by former Senator Tom DeLay and political consultant James Johnson.

Lawyer Joseph Spencer, representing former Rittenberg aide John Solomon, who also is a defendant in the Rittenberg case, pre-empted the flag football game, directing the crowd to a smaller field for a $1,500 fund-raiser. He made introductions to VIP donors in the box seats and, when Solomon got on the court, played a little pickup hockey. In case you were wondering, the televised Giants-Redskins game was slated for an hour later that night.

Spencer has so far attempted to redirect the focus of the Rittenberg trial from his client’s own guilty pleas to the alleged criminal conduct by government prosecutors to his well-connected friends in the Delaware Valley.

In the course of 10 days of testimony, the defense has put Solomon on the stand more than 20 times, the longest time by far of any of the state’s witnesses. Solomon’s lawyers worked hard to try to show that his client was part of a grand conspiracy, and that he felt pressured to sign his plea agreement to avoid facing the death penalty.

“I feel the stress, I don’t know if the stress is too much, and I believe they are trying to make me look bad,” Solomon told Rittenberg last week. “I have not been at the center of this enterprise.”

On Monday night, Solomon was one of a number of three former and current senior prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia who described to jurors how they were subjected to tirades in the form of nasty or threatening phone calls during the investigation of Rittenberg.

Assistant US Attorney Scott Stewart told the jurors that, at one point, he received a call in which the caller called Stewart a moron.

“And when are you going to run for Congress?” he asked, referring to Republican Karen Santorum, a candidate for the US Senate who unsuccessfully challenged Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in 2004.

Speaking of investigators, Stewart continued, “The dirty little secret of this case, and of law enforcement in general, is that we are not always awesome beings.”

Named as defendants in the Rittenberg case are Franklin Battisti, who had served as Rittenberg’s campaign manager, and Pareene Legrand, a longtime friend of Rittenberg’s.

On Thursday morning, Rittenberg testified that after his defeat, he took “measured steps toward redemption.”

“I wanted to get ahead of myself in retirement. I did try to put all this behind me,” he said. “I was focused on doing more for things that I cared about.”

Before he left his Lehigh County, Pennsylvania home, Rittenberg brought his family to a political fundraiser held at his home on Friday night. As the Rittenberg boys headed out to the front lawn to play some small plastic football, the Giants and Redskins players headed back to the hotel for the night.

The Rittenberg trial continues in July.

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