Com. v. Peetros

Decision Date28 December 1987
Citation517 Pa. 260,535 A.2d 1026
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. James PEETROS and James Eden, Appellants.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Dennis C. McAndrews, Wayne, for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, HUTCHINSON, ZAPPALA and PAPADAKOS, JJ.

OPINION

ZAPPALA, Justice.

In this case the Appellants seek review of a Superior Court order which vacated the judgment of sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (McGovern, J.) pursuant to Appellants' convictions on the charges of bribery, corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy to commit bribery, and criminal solicitation to commit bribery. Appellant Eden was also convicted of the charge of prohibited offensive weapons. Appellant Peetros was sentenced to not less than three nor more than six years imprisonment on the bribery charge, and a consecutive sentence of not less than two nor more than six years on the corrupt organizations charge. Eden was sentenced to not less than two nor more than five years on the bribery charge, a concurrent sentence of not less than two nor more than five years on the corrupt organizations charge, and a consecutive sentence of not less than six months nor more than two years on the prohibited offensive weapons charge. Sentence was suspended as to both Appellants on the inchoate crimes.

The Superior Court, while dismissing most of Appellants' allegations of error in a memorandum opinion, did find merit in the Appellants' contention that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial judge's charge as to the elements of the crime of corrupt organizations, vacated the judgments of sentence, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing concerning counsel's reason for not objecting to the charge, Commonwealth v. Peetros, 343 Pa.Super. 615, 494 A.2d 484 (1985). We granted Appellants' petition for allocatur to address the other substantive allegations of error. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the order of the Superior Court, reverse Appellants' convictions on the charge of corrupt organizations, and grant Appellants a new trial as to the charges of bribery and related inchoate crimes.

This case is a very unsettling one. It had its genesis with the murder of Harry N. Peetros, brother of Appellant James Peetros, in Delaware County on May 23, 1981. Pursuant to the investigation of that murder, certain items were removed from the decedent's apartment by the Delaware County detectives. In conjunction with the Peetros murder, Officer Elefterios Mitsos of the Philadelphia Police Department was specially assigned to help Delaware County authorities in the investigation due to his familiarity with the Greek community in which the incident occurred and his ability to communicate in the Greek language, which was predominantly spoken there. Officer Mitsos commenced his investigation by interviewing members of the community in the restaurant of an acquaintance, Peter Louvaris. Louvaris had been a close friend and associate of Harry Peetros and had also known Officer Mitsos for many years. Louvaris assisted Mitsos in the investigation of Harry Peetros's death by providing his restaurant as a place where Mitsos could interview witnesses in the community--witnesses whom Louvaris would help to identify and contact.

Sometime after the funeral of Harry Peetros, James Peetros paid a visit to Mr. Louvaris. Appellant was on furlough from Graterford Prison. He inquired of Louvaris whether Louvaris knew any of the Greeks who owed money to his brother, as he was attempting to collect the money owed for his sister-in-law (Harry's widow) and nephews. Louvaris indicated that Harry had carried a particular brown book and that he (Louvaris) probably knew the detective who "can help us, who will help me--because I know him for a long time--to get to the books". N.T., Oct. 13, 1982, pp. 109-110. Peetros indicated he would be very interested. 1 Louvaris communicated Peetros's interest in the loan records to Detective Mitsos. At some point, Mitsos indicated to Louvaris that the books of Harry Peetros were for sale. Later, he rephrased Mitsos's comment to the effect that, "He said that it was always a way you can get them, if it was for that kind of purpose, to help the widow and the kids". Oct. 14, 1982, p. 47. Louvaris indicated that shortly thereafter Mitsos gave him his telephone number, which he gave to Harry Peetros's widow and to James Peetros, and that that was the extent of his involvement.

Peetros, who was still imprisoned at Graterford, had a meeting with Detective Mitsos at the "Roundhouse" in Philadelphia. 2 Peetros was taken there to the Homicide Division on June 2nd or 3rd of 1981 for interrogation in conjunction with the murder of Harry Peetros. It was on this date, Officer Mitsos testified, that he and the Appellant first met. Peetros indicated to Mitsos that he was interested in collecting whatever was owed to his brother to help his sister-in-law and her children. Mitsos testified that Louvaris subsequently indicated to him in late June or early July that someone was interested in obtaining the books of Harry Peetros and "that he (Mitsos) could make himself a lot of money." Louvaris later indicated that the person interested was Peetros.

Sometime in early July, Peetros called Mitsos at the Roundhouse and stated, "Hey, buddy, how you doing? I heard you want to do business. Don't do anything until you hear from me on my next furlough." N.T. Oct. 14, 1982, p. 141. At this point, Mitsos indicated, he informed his immediate supervisors in Philadelphia and in Delaware County of the contact. The next meeting between Peetros and Mitsos occurred on July 24, 1979 at the Roundhouse. While both Peetros and Mitsos acknowledge that a meeting did take place, their testimony is contradictory as to the substance of that meeting. Peetros indicated that at the meeting he expressed anger at Mitsos for standing him up at a meeting scheduled for July 4, 1981 at Louvaris's restaurant, at which time an exchange of $10,000.00 for the books was to be made. Mitsos testified that the encounter was a chance one and that Peetros stated to him

"What's happening? I had to go downtown and get $10,000.00 up front. If you don't want to do business, let me know now, and I'll go another route."

I answered him that I didn't want to do any business at that time. I did not expect this meeting. I was unaware that this was going to happen, and I shied away from him by telling him I didn't want to do any business.

N.T., Oct. 14, 1982, p. 143.

Both testified, however, that a disagreement arose at the July 24th meeting, and no further contact was had between them until an October 2nd telephone conversation, which was recorded. Mitsos testified that this conversation stemmed from a September 23rd meeting with Louvaris, at which time Mitsos stated to Louvaris:

"[T]he books were still in possession of C.I.D.; and that I had looked at them, and you wouldn't believe the names and figures in the books."

His [Louvaris's] exact words were, 'No shit, the guy, I believe, is still interested in it, and I'll get in touch with him.' "

Id. at p. 150. Louvaris indicated that he would have Peetros contact Mitsos. Id. Between October 2 and 14, 1981, Mitsos had a series of telephone conversations with Peetros while Peetros was in Graterford Prison. These conversations were recorded pursuant to a consent signed by Mitsos, and the substance of the transcripts detail the negotiation and procedure for exchanging the books in question for $10,000.00. During these conversations, it was agreed that $5,000.00 would be paid at the time of the transfer, and $5,000.00 at a later date. It was also agreed that because Peetros was still in prison, the exchange would take place between Mitsos and James Eden.

On October 15, 1981, Eden and Mitsos met in a parking lot and made the negotiated exchange. The arrangements had been made the previous night pursuant to a telephone conversation between Eden and Mitsos, which was also recorded. The actual transaction on October 15, 1981 and the subsequent arrest of Eden was videotaped and made part of the record. Subsequently, Peetros was arrested, and sometime later, Louvaris was also arrested. Louvaris pled guilty to conspiracy pursuant to a plea bargain and testified on behalf of the Commonwealth at Appellants' trial. Appellants were convicted and appealed to the Superior Court, which vacated the convictions subject to the remand on the question of ineffectiveness. This appeal follows our grant of allocatur.

Appellants raise five allegations addressed to the sufficiency of the evidence, improper rearrest, prosecutorial misconduct, and the denial of their Sixth Amendment right to confront Mitsos on cross-examination as to his previous disciplinary action concerning bribes which led to his subsequent demotion by the Philadelphia Police Department. Because of our disposition of the case, we need only address the issues of sufficiency of the evidence, improper rearrest, and the denial of the Sixth Amendment right; however, because of our grant of a new trial, we shall also address Appellants' allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence
A. Bribery.

Appellants allege that the convictions for bribery and companion inchoate convictions should be reversed because the Commonwealth failed to prove that the benefit conferred upon Mitsos was consideration for a violation of a known legal duty, an element of the offense under § 4701(a)(3) of the Crimes Code. 3

This argument merits scrutiny in light of the fact that the prosecution failed to establish that the items sought to be obtained from Mitsos were anything more than personal effects of a murder victim which, absent any proof of illegality, evidentiary need, or contraband, are generally...

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