Two teenage Moldovan boys yesterday testified that a South Jersey millionaire sexually groped them. A third said the accused performed oral sex on him during a visit to their country.
But the moment that most observers, including federal jurors, are unlikely to forget is what happened when a fourth boy took the stand in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
The boy, according to the indictment, was expected to testify that he had sex with Anthony Mark Bianchi of North Wildwood, who is accused of traveling overseas to molest 10 boys.
Yet when asked a routine question - Do you see the American you met in the courtroom today? - the boy scanned the room intently and blinked hard. At one point, he even seemed to stare at Bianchi.
Then, speaking through an interpreter, the boy said, "I don't see him."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy asked him to look again. One minute, forty-seven seconds passed with silence. Finally, the boy said, "I don't recognize . . ."
Lawyers in the case quickly huddled at sidebar with U.S. District Judge Bruce Kauffman, out of earshot from the jury.
"This is very unusual," the judge whispered to the lawyers, according to the official recording. "I've never had it happen before."
"It seems to me, if . . . the accuser can't identify the accused, then he shouldn't be able to testify about what happened," the judge said. "My great concern is fairness."
The witness was excused, embarrassing the government, though the judge said prosecutors may be able to recall the boy, if they can find supporting case law.
The four boys who took the stand yesterday were the first of eight Moldovan boys whom prosecutors say Bianchi molested or attempted to molest in a rural Moldovan village. Two boys from Romania are expected to also testify.
The Inquirer does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Bianchi is charged under a controversial 2003 federal law that makes it a crime to travel overseas to have sex with minors. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.
The trial is being held in Philadelphia because Bianchi began his trips from the airport here. The boys were flown here last week at U.S. government expense.
One of the boys who testified yesterday was 16 at the time of the alleged attack, and is now 18. He said that Bianchi befriended him in his hometown of Trebujeni, and that the American invited him to join him in his bedroom, where they played the game Connect Four.
"We played and then he started to massage my hair," the boy testified.
"What happened next?" Levy asked.
"He pulled my pants down" and performed oral sex.
The boy said he spent the night with Bianchi and received about $16 in the morning. A few days later, the boy testified, Bianchi gave him a soccer ball and tried to perform oral sex on him again. The boy said he refused and left.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Mark Geragos asked each of the boys who testified about conflicting statements to Moldovan police and inconsistent testimony during a related trial in Moldova.
Said the boy who alleged that Bianchi performed oral sex, "I was ashamed."
When asked why he denied the sexual encounters when asked about it by fellow villagers, the boy said: "Do I need to tell the whole village what happened?"
Geragos replied: "Well, now you're telling the whole world what happened."
During cross-examination, Geragos noted that the boys had been accompanied to the United States by the mayor of their town and by Moldovan police, suggesting that these men influenced them. One boy told Geragos that the mayor and police had told him that he "must" go to the United States to testify against Bianchi.
When one accuser said he was having trouble remembering details, Geragos said: "The reason you have trouble recalling the details is because it didn't happen, isn't that correct?"
"You've been told to say that by the mayor and the police, right?"
"No. It is not true."
The two teenagers who testified that Bianchi tried to seduce them each said that the South Jersey man began his seduction by running his hand through their hair.
"He started to cuddle me on the hair and the head and my legs," the boy, then 14, said through a translator. "I understand he wanted to take my pants down."
The boy, now 16, said he ran from Bianchi's hotel room and told his mother.
Geragos asked the boy whether he hadn't told Moldovan police a different story.
"Didn't you tell them he took off your underwear?"
The third boy, who wore a three-button suit and tie, with sunglasses hooked to an inside button, acted far more confident than the others. On the stand, he described how Bianchi climbed into his bed and rubbed his back and legs.
"I felt very uncomfortable," the boy said.
Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 215-854-2658 or firstname.lastname@example.org.