Facing deportation, wealthy patriarch wants to withdraw guilty plea

Sean O'Neill, the patriarch of a family whose contagious misfortunes have repeatedly made headlines, wants to withdraw the guilty plea he entered in 2009 to immigration, tax, and weapons charges.

O'Neill, an illegal immigrant and self-made millionaire who agreed to return to Northern Ireland after completing his 18-month sentence, says he received ineffective counsel from Michael Schwartz, his former attorney, Schwartz's work as a former  prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office may have posed a conflict with representing him, O'Neill says.

He also contends that Schwartz persuaded him that the plea would spare his wife, Eileen, from prosecution on tax charges without determining the validity of the case against her. In addition, he says that he did not realize his deportation could be permanent. He will appear tomorrow before U.S. District Judge William Yohn, who imposed the sentence.

The O'Neill family has been in the spotlight since Sept. 1, 2006, when Sean O'Neill Jr., then 17, accidentally shot and killed a Cardinal O'Hara High School classmate, Scott Sheridan, during an underage drinking party at the O'Neills' residence.

A subsequent search of the family's home on a 14-acre property along the Chester-Delaware County line led to state firearms charges against O'Neill Sr. Although the charges were dismissed in Chester County Court in February 2008, they spawned a June 27 raid and the federal charges against O'Neill that he is currently addressing.

While O'Neill was awaiting trial, his daughter, Roisin, drove drunk on Sept. 19 in the wrong direction on I-476 in Plymouth Township, killing Patricia M. Waggoner, 63, a Brimfield, Mass., grandmother. She is serving a 5- to 10-year prison sentence. As she was facing charges, her brother returned home after completing two juvenile treatment programs. He is now parenting a special-needs daughter.