Ruling against AG, judge orders hearing in Bucks fraud case

Claire Risoldi

A judge ruled Monday that members of a politically connected Bucks County family charged with $20 million in insurance fraud will have a preliminary hearing - a step that prosecutors had sought to skip.

The Attorney General's Office had argued that the grand jury investigation and presentment unveiled last month could eliminate the need for a hearing.

But Senior Judge Thomas G. Gavin of Chester County, who is overseeing the case after all Bucks County judges were recused, agreed with attorneys for the Risoldi family and their alleged coconspirators, who said they had a right to the hearing to determine whether they should be tried on all charges.

Claire Risoldi, 67, of Buckingham, her two adult children, and two others have been charged with collecting $20 million in inflated or otherwise fraudulent insurance payments after their New Hope mansion caught fire three times in five years.

Risoldi's husband, Thomas French, was also charged. About two weeks after the presentment was unveiled, French, a former sheriff's deputy, committed suicide in front of the family's second home in Buckingham Township. He left suicide notes asserting his innocence but describing himself as overwhelmed by pressure.

Attorneys for the Risoldis contend that the Attorney General's Office has brought charges far beyond what the evidence could prove and have vowed to fight them vigorously.

Michael Engle, who led the defense team's argument Monday, said the defendants were looking forward to their day in court. "We're going to have the opportunity to present our side," he said.

609-217-8305 @cs_palmer