Russell Confined, Not Imprisoned, for Cover-Up

By Anne W. Semmes
Greenwich Citizen
December 21, 2007

BRIDGEPORT -- Philip Russell, 49, a prominent Greenwich attorney and Stamford resident, was spared prison in his sentencing by U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas in U.S. District Court Monday. Russell was sentenced to one year of probation, with the first six months confined to his home with electronic monitoring, 240 hours of community service and a fine of $25,000.

The charge against Russell originated over a year ago when Christ Episcopal Church called him in for legal counsel on the discovery of child pornography in the computer of the church's long-time music director, Robert Tate.

Tate is now in a sex-offender treatment center in Minneapolis awaiting sentencing in late January. Church officials had sealed and wrapped Tate's laptop computer, treating it as evidence, but Russell, whose wife, Sally, is a church member and whose daughter, Rachel, sang in the Church choir, chose to destroy the evidence and not report it to the FBI -- to keep the investigation within the church.

"As a lawyer," Nevas said, "I am deeply offended that a member of my profession could have acted so irresponsibly. But does it deserve incarceration? I think on the other side of the ledger I must consider your years of good service - the times you did do what you were required to do."

The combination of Russell's earlier guilty plea to one count of misprision of a felony, of knowledge of a felony and not reporting it, plus his reputation as a criminal lawyer helped to stave off a prison sentence. Arguing for his colleague, attorney Roy Ward spoke of Russell's actions as an "aberration."

"He thought he was helping," Ward said. "Mr. Russell is deeply sorrowful for actions he knows were wrong. He has given up his law license. He has no job. He has apologized to the government and to the church."

Sitting in the courtroom were members of Christ Church, some of whom were privy to the events that unfolded at the church -- senior warden Ted Pryor, attorney Joyce Young and attorney Eugene Riccio, who replaced Russell as the Church's legal counsel. Missing from the group was the former rector, Rev. Jeffrey Walker, who recently retired.

The group listened soberly as U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed described Russell's actions in those early days of October 2006 after a church employee stumbled upon the images of prepubescent boys on Tate's laptop.

They heard Nevas' chastising words of Church officials. "Why hadn't they asked the questions they should have?" he said. "Why didn't they notify the diocese office? Nothing of that was done. They wanted the whole thing to go away."

"The church followed advice with counsel (Russell) just as they have with me," said Riccio afterward. Riccio, who was brought in after the church determined Russell had a conflict of interest, said the church has "never ever avoided any responsibility of this investigation the last 15 months."

The revelation in the court for all concerned outside the judge and prosecution was the extent of the alleged sexual abuse of children perpetrated by Tate as uncovered by the FBI investigation occurring in the earlier years of his 34 years of directorship of the music program. Not only was he said to have brought boy prostitutes from New York City onto church grounds, but he had traveled as far as the Philippines and Thailand for such sex offenses.

As Youngbloed described the degrading sado-masochistic images discovered along with a detailed diary kept by Tate, Sally Russell buried her face in her arms.

To the courtrom at large, Nevas said he had "never seen such an extensive history of child abuse as exhibited by Mr. Tate. It turns your stomach.

Eighty percent of people who look at child pornography have offended others," said Nevas, as he pushed home the importance of reporting child pornography. Similarly, "If someone throws a brick in your window, you call 911."

In Ward's defense of Russell, who had mentored him for nine years in his firm of Russell and Pastore, he quoted Albert Einstein to describe in part the "aberration" of his friend for having wished to destroy such repugnant evidence.

"Einstein said," Ward read, "Of an infinite universe and of human stupidity, I am not positive about the former."

"Phil understands he went over the line. He pleaded guilty to it," said Rob Morris, a long-time friend of Russell's, after the sentencing. "We sail together, and our daughters were in the choir for 10 years or so," said Morris, who has traveled abroad with Sally Russell and the church choir.

"Clearly," said Morris, "for being the only good guy visible in the whole affair. He didn't deserve any jail time. His home confinement makes it impossible to guide or discuss his practice -- six months thrown out of his life."

Morris called it "remarkable" that Jungbloed "had strung together tales of crimes newly charged or dropped in a sentence hearing for someone who has confessed."

"Everyone believed in Bob Tate's essential innocence and that was behind smuggling him away and having this stuff disappear," said Morris. "It was all the lies that came after -- there were no real bad guys at the start. That's what's so tragic about the whole affair."

He called Tate "a remarkable musician -- an international impresario."


Generations of choristers are grateful for the musical and Christian education they got from Bob Tate. No one could imagine the latest accusations of Bob."

Russell, in a prepared statement that he handed out, wrote: "I am truly sorry for the trouble my advice and actions -- all done in good faith -- have caused this wonderful community of people. I made a mistake. The system worked. I accept my punishment and I'm moving on. I am going to spend this holiday season with my wife and daughter. They have been through a lot on my account."

His wife, Sally, appeared relieved to be walking away from the scene of such disturbing discourse. With the new reality that her husband "won't be going anywhere for a while," she faced a new duty, she said, "I'll have to be making the trip to the dump myself."


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