12-14-2012, 02:54 AM
By now, the Long Island foster home scandal had made national news. It had everything in it--poor, starving kids, a heartless guardian who stole their money, a little old lady who blew the whistle and got framed, and a big name celebrity to boot. That the little old lady was the mother of the big name celebrity made the story even jucier. The Cult of Personality milked it for all it was worth.
The Loyals stood by their beloved Mother Angel, burning up the Web with shout-outs, prayers and protestaions of Dimitra's innocence. How dared Harold Webber accuse Dimitra of such a thing? It was inconceivable that she would, or even could, commit such a crime? He was lying through his teeth! And those poor children! They had been blessed with Mama Angel's care (you just had to look at her three sons as proof of that), and her Angel of a son helped with finances, but that greedy man who was supposed to take care of them took the money and ran. What happened to them? they wondered.
Criss' press statement at KLOL had been posted on the Internet; it was greeted with both cheers and tears. Artie Creed had been thrown out on his ass! Hooray and good riddance to bad rubbish! He got what he deserved, and deserved what he got. Many replayed Dimitra's last words to him: May you never work in radio again! May God silence you forever! And now the prophecy had come to pass. The Loyal Community rejoiced that Creed would never diss Criss again.
On the other hand, Baby Mia's death triggered an outpouring of grief. There was even a thread on the Loyal Community Website dedicated to her memory. One sharp-eared Loyal found "Tiny Angel" on an early Criss Angel CD and reprinted the lyrics. Banners were created with Criss cradling a cherubic infant with the caption "Guardian Angel". Baby Mia received more love and affection in death than she ever had in life.
Her funeral, however, was attended by only Dimitra, Stella Strumpolis and the priest conducting the service. She was interred in a tiny white casket, paid for by Criss, in the same cemetery his father was buried.
The foster care scandal trial took place in mid-December. Harold Webber was formally charged with fourteen counts of child neglect and abuse, several counts of embezzlement, one count of fraud, and one count of negligent manslaughter. He faced ten to fifteen years in prison, with a maximum of twenty years if convicted of manslaughter. Despite the confidentiality of the location of the trial, a large group of Loyals gathered outside the courthouse, braving the elements to catch a glimpse of Dimitra or, they hoped, Criss himself. And wherever the Loyals gathered, the media were sure to follow, ready to catch a statement or snap a picture.
Dimitra sat on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom, dressed simply and conservativly. Harold Webber sat in the defendant's chair on the other side, sweating profusely. That man never seemed to stop perspiring, Dimitra thought. He was damp with sweat, even out in the twenty degree weather. Now, in the courtroom, he was like a human Niagara Falls.
The jury filed in and took their seats in the fourteen seat juror's box. The trial was about to begin.
"All rise!" the bailiff announced. "This court is now in session, the Honorable William Barris presiding."
Everyone rose as ordered. The Honorable William Barris, the judge for the County Court, a man of integrity and more years in the legal profession than many attorneys of the State Bar had been alive on this planet, took his seat on the bench, overlooking the courtroom. "Be seated." he commanded.
"The case of the State of New York vs. Harold Webber." Judge Barris read from the docket. "Mr. Webber, you have been charged with child neglect, fraud, misappropration of public funds and negligent manslaughter. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty," Mr. Webber replied, still sweating heavily.
"The counsel for the prosecution will make its opening statement."
"Thank you, Your Honor," the prosecuting attorney said. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this man, Harold Webber, has extorted funds from the county which was intended for the care of fourteen children in foster care for his own selfish needs. It had left these unfortunate young ones without even the most basic necessities, even to the point where the youngest of the group, no more than two years old and who had suffered third-degree burns resulting in the amputation of her left hand, had succumbed to a serious infection resulting in her death. The children were housed in squalid conditions, with inadequate food, insufficient clothing and no medical care. If not for the selfless devotion of Mrs. Sarantakos, who went above and beyond the call of duty to provide for the needs of these children, even purchasing supplies out of her own pocket, these children would have met a similar fate.
"A society is judged by how it cares for its indigant. If we are judged as a society by the way these children have been treated, then we should hang our heads in shame. Let us make an example of Mr. Webber, and show the nation that we do care for these, the least fortuante among us."
"Thank you, Counselor." Judge Barris said. "The court will now hear the opening statement for the defense."
Webber's lawyer rose. "Thank you, Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is accused of the neglect of his young foster children, even the unfortuante death of one of them. I intend to prove that there were circumstances beyond his control. For example, the previous caretaker was extremely negligent, even abusive. She was responsible for the conditions of the home, the bad food and the filthy conditions there. Mr. Webber dismissed her immediatly, replacing her with the more competant Mrs. Sarantakos, who worked hard to undo the damage. Does that sound like neglect to you?
"Nor is Mr. Webber responsible for the death of Mia Doe. Her death was from an infection which even the best doctors were unable to cure. It was beyond his control. As for the money, he worked with what he had, which was precious little enough. Mrs. Sarantakos, however, did leave for Las Vegas for a few days while still employed by Mr. Webber. There are allegations of embezzlement on her part--"
"Objection, Your Honor!" shouted the prosecutor. "There has been no proof that Mrs. Sarantakos stole anything from the defendant. She had already been cleared of that!"
"Objection sustained. Counselor, please remember that it is Mr. Webber on trial here, and not Mrs. Sarantakos."
"As I was saying," the defense continued, "it is my intention to prove my client is innocent of these charges. He is a respected businessman who took in not one, but fourteen children who would not have had a home into his care."
"Thank you, Counselor. You may call your first witness." Judge Barris said.
"The defense calls in Mr. Harold Webber."
Mr. Harold Webber heaved himself from his chair and took the stand. "Mr. Webber," the bailiff intoned, "do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you?"
"You may be seated."
Webber sat down. "Now, Mr. Webber," the defense attorney began, "Please tell the court what happened to the funds you received from the county."
"What little they sent me, I spent on the kids, I swear!" Webber answered. "I loved them as my own."
"Were all expenses recorded?"
"Yes, in my ledger, every cent. See for yourself."
The ledger, labeled Exhibit A, was brought forward. "This is the ledger you used to record the foster care expenses?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"How much were you allotted per month, total?"
"Sixteen hundred dollars." Webber pointed to the ledger. "It's all in there. No falsification on my part, I assure you."
The defense attorney opened the ledger. "Let the record show that Mr. Webber recorded receiving sixteen hundred dollars every month for the care of his foster children." He showed the book to the jury, then placed it back on the table.
"And as for the charges of neglect and abuse, can you shed some light on that?"
"That was not me!" Webber protested. "The previous caretaker was at fault there. She was the negligent and abusive one, not I. I had dismissed her immediatly."
"When did Mrs. Sarantakos come into your employ?"
"Around the end of April, I believe."
"How was her performance as caretaker of the children?"
"Well, it was excellent all around. She really cleaned up the place, going above and beyond, at least at first she did."
" 'At first'? You mean she became less competant as time went on?"
"Oh, no. I mean she did leave for Las Vegas for a week or so, leaving the children unattended."
Dimitra was shocked. How dared he say that? He knew perfectly well she did not leave those children unattended! She kept quiet for the time being, knowing her chance would come to refute his testemony.
"Did she return?"
"Any suspicious behavior?"
"Well, she had invaded my office to read my personal records. And that was when the money was found missing."
"How and when did you discover funds were missing?"
"I checked my bank statement as always, and there was about thirty-two thousand dollars missing around the end of June, the same time Mrs. Sarantakos had been in Las Vegas."
Dimitra kept her rage in check. Despite the fact that she had been cleared of any theft charges, Mr. Webber was still trying to pin the blame on her. How could he betray her like that? She who had cared for the children he had been entrusted as guardian by the county, she who had spent thousands of dollars not only of her own money but that of her son's as well--how could he stab her in the back like this? She had been proven innocent already.
The defense rested. Now it was the prosecutor's turn. He had his game face on, ready to grill the defendant without mercy. The prosecuting attorney had shown up at court loaded for bear: check stubs, bank statements, deposit slips, receipts--every available scrap of paper had been carefully collected and recorded for testemony. He strode confidently to the witness stand, staring Webber squarely in his sweaty face.
"Mr. Webber, you claim to have received only sixteen hundred dollars a month for fourteen foster children, is that correct?"
"That's right, it's in the ledger."
"Oh, it's in the ledger. Well, according to your bank records, you were actually receiving forty-two hundred a month. That's three times what you claimed to have been receiving."
"Well, there were taxes, of course, you know."
"Taxes? Mr. Webber, there are no taxes of any type withheld from county foster care funds. Surely you know that!" He leaned closer. "What did happen to the extra thirty-two thousand dollars per month you received, Mr. Webber?"
Webber was silent, damp with sweat. "Answer the question, please, Mr. Webber." the prosecutor pressed.
"It was her!" He pointed at Dimitra. "She stole those funds to go to Las Vegas! She must have lost it all gambling or something!"
"You are lying!!" Dimitra shouted, shooting up from her seat. "You yourself stole that money and you know it!"
The judge pounded his gavel. "Order! Order in the court!" When the dust settled, the judge told the prosecutor to proceed with the questioning.
The prosecutor produced a handful of paper slips. "Do you know what these are, Mr. Webber?"
"Deposit slips from the bank," he replied.
"Exactly. They are deposit slips from your bank accounts." He turned to the jury. "These deposit slips show that Mr. Webber had cashed the monthly stipend checks, totalling forty-two hundred dollars, dividing the amount into two separate accounts, one for himself and one for the foster children. Thirty-two thousand went into his own personal account, but only sixteen hundred went into the other for the foster home. Furthurmore, there is no evidence that Mrs. Sarantakos made any type of withdrawl from the bank. She had filled out vouchers and handed them to Mr. Webber for any money needed. All financial transactions were handled by Mr. Webber himself."
Webber was silent, sweat pouring from his face, his armpits two dark, damp patches growing bigger by the minute. Dimitra sat calm and serene, confident of vindication. After more interminable questioning by the prosecution, Mr. Webber was dismissed. Mopping his brow with an already damp kerchief, he returned to his seat.
"The court calls Dimitra Sarantakos to the stand."
Dimitra rose and walked over to the witness stand. She raised her right hand as instructed by the bailiff.
"Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you?"
"Please be seated."
Dimitra sat down, bracing herself for the onslaught to come. She knew the truth was on her side, but she was still a bit nervous. Her eyes stared past the two counselors to the main doors of the courtroom. One door pushed its way forward, and to Dimitra's surprise, Criss himself emerged from behind it. He slipped into the courtroom unobtrusively, gave her a reassuring smile, and took a seat in the back of the courtroom. It was going to be all right now. Her Angel had arrived.
"Mrs. Sarantakos, can you describe in your own words what the conditions of the foster home were when you first arrived?"
"Filthy dirty," she replied with a tone of disgust. "There was a foul stench everywhere, and the children were all together in one room, boys and girls. The two youngest were in a single crib together. They were in rags, and the beds were not fit for dogs, let alone children. The bathroom was so filthy we could not use it."
"Did you report these conditions to Social Services?"
"Not at the time, no, though I should have. I tried to set things right myself. I did have help from my son, Costa , and my two sisters, Calliope and Stella. I had the help of the church, and GoodWill. I also purchased anything that had not been donated."
"Such as what?"
"Food, of course, and medicines, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and any necessary medical care."
"How could you afford all that on sixteen hundred a month?"
"I couldn't. I used my own money, and the money my son, Christopher, sent to me."
"How much of your own money and your son's did you spend?"
"Two thousand of my own, and four thousand of my son's."
"I see. But you never withdrew any funds from Mr. Webber's foster care account?"
"No. I had to fill out a voucher for any of that money. I never set foot in Mr. Webber's bank, let alone take money from it."
"Now, Mr. Webber said you went to Las Vegas in late June, is that correct?"
"Yes, it was for my nephew's wedding. And I was there only for a few days, not a week or two as Mr. Webber said."
"Did you leave the children unattended, as Mr. Webber claimed?"
"Absolutly not! I called the convent and requested the help of the sisters there. Sister Dorothy and Sister Eleanor came and tended to the children while I was gone. In fact, I had asked Mr. Webber for time off to attend the wedding, and he gave his consent, if I found someone to cover for me, which I did."
"When you left for Las Vegas, were you aware that the youngest child, Mia Doe, was ill?"
"When I left, she was fine. She was eating well, and actually seemed to be improving in many ways. She tried to talk a little; when I arrived, she did not make a sound, let alone say a word. She was even smiling before I left for the wedding."
"So her condition deteriorated after you left?"
"Yes. The sisters took her to the hospital immediatly."
"What was Mr. Webber's reaction to Mia's condition, do you remember?"
"He seemed almost indifferent to it. In fact, he was more concerned with finances than with her health."
"Thank you, Mrs. Sarantakos. Counselor, your witness."
The prosecutor returned to his seat. The defense rose, but for some reason, did not approach the witness stand.
"No furthur questions, Your Honor." he said, and sat down again.
"What the hell are you doing, giving up like that?" Webber hissed. "I'm looking at twenty years here."
"He's got all the paperwork on you, Webber." his lawyer replied. "Face it, you are screwed. There is too much against you. Besides, you haven't paid my fees in months. You can either plead guilty or let the jury decide. I wash my hands of you."
"Your Honor," the foreman of the jury spoke up. "We would like to withdraw to deliberate the case."
"Granted," the judge said. "The jury will now withdraw to decide the verdict." He banged his gavel once, and retired to his chambers.
Dimitra rose and crossed over to the back of the courtroom where Criss waited. "I didn't know you were in New York," she said.
"Hey," he smiled, hugging her. "I figured you needed a little moral support. And, besides, you know I like helping disadvantaged kids." And stick it to Artie Creed as well, he added mentally. Also to prove to the world what a monster Webber really is!
Last edited by Veritas; 12-14-2012 at 03:02 AM.