He Was Trusted

The Intelligencer
March 25, 2009

BOTH SIDES HAVE HAD plenty to say following the sentencing of Anthony Cappuccio, a former chief deputy district attorney in Bucks County, who was ordered to serve three to 23 months of house arrest after he pleaded guilty last month to corrupting the morals of three teenage boys.

Cappuccio admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and furnishing him and two other teens with alcohol and marijuana. County Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. pronounced the sentence, which was within state guidelines that ranged from probation to three years in prison.

Immediately after Fritsch announced his decision, the howls of protest began, particularly among the boys' families and friends. They felt the sentence was way too lenient and entirely inappropriate, not only because Cappuccio was a deputy district attorney but also because of his position as a volunteer church youth group leader. Critics claimed Cappuccio used that latter role to gain the victims' trust, which he then abused.

Fritsch has his defenders. Cappuccio's attorney, Louis Busico, believes the sentence was fair and that Fritsch passed judgment after carefully considering issues presented by both sides. He pointed out the value of an independent judiciary and warned against a judge's giving in to the "mob's mentality."

In a letter to this newspaper, criminal defense attorney Sara Webster noted: "When a judge's sentence is within the guidelines set by the Legislature + criticism of it as an 'unjust sentence' is an irresponsible disparagement of the jurist."

Busico's description of those who believe Cappuccio got off easy as a "mob" hardly fits this situation. And Webster's opinion that the sentence was in fact "just" under the circumstances doesn't square with the view in the state Attorney General's Office, which has filed an appeal to the house arrest verdict. The office is asking that Fritsch reconsider his decision and send Cappuccio to jail instead of allowing him all the comforts of home.

This is not about whether Fritsch met the letter of the law in pronouncing sentence; he most assuredly observed the sentencing guidelines. Nor is it about his past dealings with Cappuccio, who served a summer internship in the DA's office in 2002 when Fritsch was a high-ranking deputy attorney there. Neither the prosecution nor the defense expressed any objections to Fritsch's deciding the case.

The point is that Cappuccio was not just some ordinary joe who was caught fooling around with three teenagers. He was, as the families of the teens and the state Attorney General's Office pointed out, an important person who both commanded respect as an officer of the court and engendered trust as a church adviser to young people. His special station demanded from him special responsibility. When he instead misused his authority, his was a more grievous offense.

Fritsch seemingly failed to take this vital factor into account and therefore did not exercise the full range of his discretion. Putting Cappuccio behind bars for a few months would have sent a strong message not only to him but to the community that the former prosecutor's actions were a serious matter to be taken seriously. True, Cappuccio pretty much ruined his life both personally and professionally. But house arrest is seen as little more than a slap on the wrist.

One other thing to think about: Had Cappuccio been the prosecutor in this case rather than the prosecuted, would he have been satisfied with a sentence of house arrest? Or would he share the community's outrage?


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