Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Wright trial continues; Ravi Chawla testifying

3:53 p.m.

Wright trial continues; Ravi Chawla testifying

3:53 p.m.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick now crossing Ravi Chawla. Chawla acknowledges that he will be paying the legal bills for codefendant Andy Teitelman.

3:40 p.m.

Ravi Chawla sums up what he understood Jack Kelly's politican leanings to be: "I know he’s a Republican, and I know he’s pro-development, and I know he loves pets."

Chawla said he didn't need Chris Wright as an intermediary; he could go to Kelly for whatever it was he wanted to talk about.

2:25 p.m.

Ravi Chawla seems to be connecting with the jury, who have shared a few chuckles with him thus far. Of course, he's being questioned by his own lawyer; things could change on cross examination. A moment of comedy: Chawla said that le lost out on his $30.5 million bid for a Philadelphia Parking Authority property at 17th and Walnut; he lost out in the bidding process to a group of Irish bidders. Councilman Jack Kelly had called PPA executive director Vince Fenerty, stressing that Kelly wanted to keep the property in the hands of locals (translation: Ravi Chawla)

Chawla said that what happened was exactly what Kelly wanted NOT to happen: "The Irish got the property." The irony of Kelly trying to keep the property out of the hands of the Irish was not lost on the jury; Kelly's brightest moments on the stand seemed to be when he expressed his penchant for receiving gifts of Irish whiskey, and reminded jurors twice that he was, indeed, of good Hibernian stock. 

1:43 p.m. THE CHAWLA STORY

Ravi Chawla is testifying about his family's remarkable story. Ravi Chawla, now 59, was 15-year-old living in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (now Myanmar), when the country was taken over by a military junta. "Our family got disintegrated," Chawla testified. His father, grandfather, and a few cousins and uncles were arrested, and "the kids were dispersed to the rest of the world."
Ravi Chawla was taken care of by an uncle in Calcutta (the Chawlas are ethnic Indians), and came to the U.S. when he was 20. He received an MBA from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
Chawla eventually started a clothing import business in 1975, dealing in Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt designer clothes, eventually opening his own stores called Sunshine Blues, mostly in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. In 2003 he began concentrating on real estate, and transforming a clothing company, World Apparel, into World Acquisition Partners.
 
The Chawlas father would eventually be released and escape from Myanmar. He and his wife are in court today watching their son testify.
1:35 p.m.

Judge Robreno denies the defendants' collective motions for judgment of acquittal. He will let the jury decide the case. Now for the defense. Ravi Chawla will testify, Hardeep Chawla will not. Chris Wright and Andy Teitelman are listed as "probable" to testify.

 

12:16 p.m.

Defense attorneys conclude their motion for acquittal. Judge Robreno said he will return at 1:30 p.m. with a ruling. He could dismiss all of the counts, in which case it's all over. He could dismiss none or some of the counts, in which case defense would proceed with its case and the remaining counts would go to the jury.

 

12:05 p.m.

Mathewson said if Chris Wright had done for the Chawlas what he would have normally done anyway, and still received something in return, it's not bribery, because there's not an exchange of a thing of value. In other words, the employee is not being influenced by the gift or money because it was a part of his job anyway. Councilman Kelly backed up this element of the defense in his testimony earlier this week, saying that Wright was doing nothing more than he would expect when Wright helped set up meetings, draft legislation and coordinate a reference letter that would help the Chawlas.

11:08 a.m.

Defense lawyers are now arguing that the U.S. Attorney's Office has failed to establish the necessary elements of a conspiracy and bribery. Wright's attorney, Lisa Mathewson, and Andy Teitelman's lawyer, Bill DeStefano, argued that the government has presented a list of distinct and separate events, without linking them together as a grand scheme to influence Chris Wright.

"What they seem to be is a series of isolated acts...There’s no common thread," DeStefano told Judge Robreno. Robreno seems to be skeptical; he's questioning the lawyers, and suggesting that the jury might want infer conspiracy from, for instance, the size of the $1000 "Christmas gift" from Hardeep Chawla to Wright. This is all about whether the jury should get a chance to consider the charges, not whether the judge thinks the defendants are guilty or not. The jury was sent out until 1:30, with Robreno advising them to take in the Constitution and other sights.

10:42 a.m.

Heard in City Hall returns to the Christopher Wright trial Friday after a day off to cover City Council. On Thursday, prosecutors called Evan Meyer, chief counsel to the city's Board of Ethics, and John Contino, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, to go over ethics law, reporting requirements and conflicts of interest.

Wright, chief of staff to City Councilman Jack Kelly, is facing federal bribery charges, along with developers Hardeep Chawla and Ravi Chawla and their lawyer, Andrew Teitelman. All are accused in an alleged scheme to gain favors in City Hall through benefits to Wright, including a $1,000 check and a rent-free apartment.

While defense lawyers wanted to bar the ethics officials from testifying, they may have scored a victory of sorts. Judge Eduardo C. Robreno limited testimony to what the law was, and did not allow prosecutors to explore hypothetical situations that would have mirrored what transpired between Wright, the Chawla brothers and Teitelman. Contino was allowed to opine much more specifically in the continuing case of Sen. Vincent Fumo, going on in the same building.

Contino finished up this morning making a point that may help the defense: If an official promotes legislation that will help all constituents equally, it's not a conflict if it also affects someone with whom he has a business relationship. Wright is accused of helping the Chawlas by working on legislation to allow unmanned, robotic parking garages, which would save space and money for Ravi Chawla's River City project. But defense attorneys have argued that the law would help all builders, and the law, which passed unanimously, certainly had support from Council members other than Kelly.

Contino was the last government witness. Defense will now move to dismiss the case, arguing to the judge that now reasonable jury could convict the defendants. These motions are usually long-shots. If it fails, the defense will begin this afternoon.

Click here for Philly.com's politics page.

About this blog

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

Also on Philly.com
letter icon Newsletter