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A 2016 internal email from the state Attorney General’s office reveals a criminal investigation into alleged illegal gambling, as well as political and police corruption in Aliquippa.
The email surfaced as part of a legal filing made this week by a defense attorney representing suspended Aliquippa Assistant Police Chief Joseph Perciavalle.
Attorney Steven Townsend’s filing came after the Attorney General’s office refiled previously dismissed charges against Perciavalle Thursday.
Townsend told BeaverCountian.com he intends to blow wide open the allegations of ongoing corruption in Aliquippa in defense of his client.
“I am not going to let a whistleblower go down and be prosecuted for uncovering all of this,” Townsend said. “It’s wrong.”
Perciavalle was arrested by Beaver County Detectives on June 8, 2018 on charges of felony distribution of sexually explicit material to a minor, felony unlawful contact with a minor, and misdemeanor corruption of a minor.
County detectives alleged that Perciavalle sent then-17-year-old Lauren Watkins a text message containing a short video of a woman urinating while on a swing.
Both Perciavalle and Watkins have said the “meme” video was sent to her by mistake as part of a group text message intended for her father, Aliquippa Police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins. The video was discovered when detectives were examining Lauren Watkins’ phone as part of their investigation into the 2018 Mother’s Day murder of Rachael DelTondo.
County detectives arrested Perciavalle a second time on July 10, 2018, after they confiscated the officer’s cellphone as part of their investigation involving Lauren Watkins and then discovered an audio recording he secretly made of a conversation he had with then Police Chief Donald Couch.
The recording was made shortly after state police raided the Aliquippa City Building as part of a grand jury investigation into alleged public corruption in the city.
Detectives claim the recording amounts to a felony violation of the state Wiretap Act. But Perciavalle insists the recording was made lawfully under an exception in the law that exempts him because he had reason to fear Couch could attempt to threaten or intimidate him as a witness to alleged public corruption.
During Perciavalle’s preliminary hearing on Dec. 4, District Judge Edward Howe dismissed the two felony charges of disseminating sexually explicit materials and unlawful contact with a minor, but held for trial the misdemeanor corruption of minors charge. Howe also held for court the felony wiretap charge.
County District Attorney David Lozier’s office removed itself from the cases earlier this year after an ethics advisory opinion by the Pennsylvania Bar Association determined he had a conflict because Perciavalle intended to call him as a witness.
Perciavalle alleges that he provided Lozier with evidence of corruption in Aliquippa in 2016, but that Lozier ignored it. Lozier admits he met with Perciavalle and that the officer provided him with documents, but vehemently denies Perciavalle’s assertions that he ignored evidence of wrongdoing by Aliquippa police.
The state Attorney General’s office subsequently took over prosecution of the cases filed against Peciavalle by Beaver County Detectives, and on Thursday refiled the charges against him that were dismissed by Howe last year.
After the charges were refiled against Perciavalle, Townsend filed a motion with the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas that included the internal email from the Attorney General’s office revealing the ongoing investigations into Aliquippa.
Townsend is asking the court to order the state Attorney General’s office to turn over materials it has detailing his client’s role in the investigations. Townsend insists the materials will prove Perciavalle was a valuable asset for the state and had reason to fear for his personal safety.
Townsend told BeaverCountian.com that many aspects of the ongoing investigations into corruption in Aliquippa were initiated or greatly enhanced by Perciavalle.
“The FBI, the Attorney General’s office, and the Pennsylvania State Police all know he was a valuable asset,” Townsend said. “But because he got charged, everyone’s backed off. They feel he’s a polluted source because of these charges. I am sure the FBI and state police are upset about that because he was their inside line.”
Perciavalle has alleged that county detectives were eager to arrest him because they knew he was assisting in investigations into the Aliquippa Police Department. Several county detectives are former Aliquippa police officers, Perciavalle notes.
Perciavalle claims District Attorney Lozier and his detectives were targeting him to “protect” Couch, also an accusation that Lozier emphatically denies.
“I believe (Perciavalle) is right about that,” Townsend told BeaverCountian.com. “Certainly when they found that text message (to Lauren Watkins) they realized it would be the Trojan Horse into his phone. They all knew Perciavalle always had more knowledge than them. That text message to Lauren was their gotcha, it was their way into his phone to find out who he was talking to and what he was saying.”
Among the information on Perciavalle’s phone were text messages between him and FBI agents about alleged corruption in Aliquippa, according to Townsend.
As for the internal email from the Attorney General’s office that Townsend included in his court filing? Townsend told BeaverCountian.com that Percivalle got it directly from an individual in the office.
“He had provided the Attorney General’s office with a bunch of documents,” Townsend said.
“When he went to retrieve the documents, that email was in there with everything else … I think that somebody knew they needed to run with this and they wanted to make sure (Perciavalle) was covered. I think it was provided to him on purpose because, hey, this was their guy, and they’re going to put the memo in his file to show he did meet with them about the corruption in Aliquippa.”
Anticipating possible criticism about his decision to include the email in the public court filing, Townsend told BeaverCountian.com the document does nothing but to confirm things the public already knew.
“I am not disclosing any secret information about any investigations,” Townsend said. “I don’t want anybody to think I am pulling a Kathleen Kane here. This stuff is public, it’s known. The Beaver Countian published video of (Aliquippa) Mayor Dwan Walker waving his grand jury subpoena during a public meeting.”
The following is the Attorney General’s office email in full, taken from Exhibit C in a motion filed with the court by attorney Townsend on behalf of Perciavalle:
From: Olsen, Erik
Sent: Friday, January 15, 2016 5:06 PM
To: Serge, Mark; Pate, Ronald A.; Piasecki, John
Cc: Ditka, Laura A. Chiarella, Paula J.; Cherba, Lawrence; Olsen, Erik; Beemer, Bruce R.
Subject: Aliquippa Illegal Gambling / Political Corruption
Mark, Ron and John:
Attached, please find an anonymous letter sent to the office concerning illegal gambling in Aliquippa. There are also allegations of police corruption. Please open a joint OCS/GU investigation into these allegations and make sure that any time expended by any OC personnel be accounted for under Gaming.
Mark and Laura:
There is a rather lengthy file concerning much more extensive allegations of abuse within the Aliquippa PD that is currently in Larry’s office. If Paula could scan and email or copy and overnight the file to both of you, you can jointly decide if there is anything of substance to pursue. The allegations were brought to our office’s attention back in early September when two officers drove to Strawberry Square and met with Becky Berkebile and Renee Martin and Jonathan Deuker. No one from BCI or Crim Pros was notified until recently. Bob Drawbaugh reviewed the claims and has prepared a memo which is in the file.
Thank you all and have a great weekend.
Erik L. Olsen
Chief Deputy Attorney General
Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
Criminal Prosecutions Section – East/Central
Organized Crime Section