PHILADELPHIA — A Radnor contractor who received a $1.6 million civil settlement and an apology from Montgomery County prosecutors for wrongfully accusing him of stealing from a Jenkintown church said the last several years have been “a long and difficult struggle” to clear his name.
“We spent 40 years building a business and building good character and in virtually one day that all changed,” Walter J. Logan Jr., 65, said during a Wednesday news conference with his lawyers who announced the settlement, reached in federal court, with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. “Today is now the first day of the rebuilding and the eliminating of that cloud that’s been hanging over me and my family for the last five-and-a-half years.”
Logan, with his supportive wife by his side, said he was devastated by 2009 news accounts that included District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman branding him “particularly despicable” and subsequent Internet headlines that blared, “Who would steal from a church?”
“It’s a real burden…for me as my business and for my family in general. It has been a devastating event for us,” said Logan, who graciously thanked the media for assembling to help him clear his name. “I’m hopeful now that I can make a phone call again and the business community will be receptive to talk to me and engage in active business practices. I think we can regain the reputation and my name…I’m going to do my best.”
In January 2009, Ferman’s office accused Logan of swindling hundreds of thousands of dollars, during a contract dispute, from Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, which had hired Logan’s construction management company, Delta Organization Inc., in 2003 to complete additions to the church. But in May 2009, an independent arbiter found the church’s claims without merit and ordered the church to pay Logan more than $300,000 in overdue fees and damages, according to Logan’s lawyers.
A year after his arrest and more than six months after the arbitrator’s ruling, in January 2010, Ferman’s office dismissed charges against Logan.
In May 2010, Logan filed the federal lawsuit against Salem Baptist, Ferman and county Detective Mary Anders, an employee of Ferman’s office, seeking damages for unlawful arrest, defamation and malicious prosecution.
As part of the $1.6 million financial settlement, Ferman had to write a formal apology to the businessman. Ferman said, after reviewing available information including an award against Salem and in favor of Logan in the civil arbitration hearing, that “there was absolutely no credible evidence” that Logan committed any crime.
“The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office apologizes to Mr. Logan for the arrest and any statements made to the press regarding the arrest. There is no credible evidence that Mr. Logan ever stole anything from Salem Baptist Church, and we retract any statements to that effect previously made to the media,” Ferman wrote. “We will work with Mr. Logan to facilitate the expungement of all records of his arrest.”
County taxpayers are on the hook for about $270,000 of the settlement to Logan — a $250,000 deductible associated with a county insurance policy and another $20,000 deductible associated with another insurance policy for attorney’s fees, according to Frank Custer, director of county communications. The county defendants were represented by a law firm retained by one of the county’s insurance carriers, according to county officials.
Mark W. Tanner, Logan’s lawyer, said after a five-year struggle Logan has received “the type of recognition and apology” that Logan deserved five years ago.
“There is not any credible evidence that this man ever did anything wrong. There’s not now and there never has been,” Tanner, of the firm Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig, said as he stood beside Logan during the news conference. “Mr. Logan stands before you in an effort to clear his name from the stigma that was attached to him and his family for the last five years.”
During the news conference, Tanner played a videotape of a television news report about Logan’s 2009 arrest in which Ferman said, “to steal from a church is really very low.”
“He didn’t just get arrested. He got arrested on television,” Tanner said on behalf of Logan. “This was the beginning of a five-year long nightmare for this family.
“Unlike the words of our Constitution that people are innocent until they’re proven guilty, Mr. Logan spent the next five years proving his innocence. The newspapers, the Internet, everywhere you would look, you would see headlines about Mr. Logan. Those headlines haunted Walt. They haunted his whole family for a long time,” said Tanner, adding Logan had “courage and faith” in the federal system of justice to “clear his name and to right this wrong.”
Tanner said Logan’s civil claims against Salem Baptist Church are still pending and a jury trial is tentatively scheduled for September in federal court.
Logan described his family as “a very strong, faith-based family” and said his faith helped him cope with the ordeal.
“It gave us the strength and the perseverance to move forward and get through this,” Logan said. “We reached a point where these charges were so off-base and we knew factually and we knew within our hearts that there was no merit. So, I had to do away with them,” Logan said.
The Logan settlement represents the second time in as many months that Ferman’s office faced controversy about the way it handled an investigation and criminal prosecution.
In March, Ferman dismissed sexual assault-related charges against former Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Robert Kerns after her office misinterpreted a toxicology report that had been considered a key piece of prosecutorial evidence. Prosecutors had alleged Kerns, 66, of North Wales, drugged a woman with a sleep aid and then raped her.
However, prosecutors dropped rape charges against Kerns after Kerns’ lawyer found that the lab report indicated there were no drugs in the alleged victim’s system and that the toxicology report was misread by county investigators.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office then reviewed the case and refiled sexual assault-related charges against Kerns last month, absent the allegations that the victim was drugged.
Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews