“A victim of crime shall be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system.” So states the Crime Victims Constitutional Amendment, added to the state of New Jersey constitution in 1991.
New Jersey also has a 14-point Crime Victims Bill of Rights (NJS 52:4B-36), which expands upon the constitutional amendment. Among its provisions, crime victims and witnesses are entitled to:
- Be treated with dignity and compassion by the criminal justice system.
- Be informed about the criminal justice process.
- Have inconveniences associated with participation in the criminal justice process minimized to the fullest extent possible.
The Bill of Rights sounds good, but it hasn’t done much for Trish Rynn, formerly of Ocean City, New Jersey. She was scammed by a seasoned con artist, Dennis SanSeverino, and now feels she is being further victimized by the New Jersey courts. It is a classic case of Legal Abuse Syndrome.
Con artist pleads guilty
Dennis SanSeverino took Rynn’s home, cleaned out her inheritance and left her with credit card debt. Rynn went to the police, and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s office, to its credit, investigated. They determined that the money SanSeverino took from Rynn added up to $318,240. Although he was originally charged with theft by deception, a second-degree crime, he pleaded down to theft by illegal retention, a third-degree crime.
On August 26, 2006, SanSeverino was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay restitution of $275,000. Judge Carmen Alvarez ordered him to pay $1,000 per month for six months, and then increase payment to $2,000 per month. He was barred from entering casinos and ordered to get treatment for gambling addiction.
According to the Press of Atlantic City, SanSeverino’s lawyer requested lower payments, citing his client’s lack of employment. Judge Alvarez didn’t buy it. “I find his unemployment status to also be a con,” she said. “If you violate probation, there’s no question in my mind I will incarcerate you.”
But then SanSeverino was convicted of bouncing two $25,000 checks at an Atlantic City casino and sent to jail. He was sentenced to 270 days, but only served 66 days.
Still, it was enough for the judge to temporarily reduce the monthly restitution. She ordered SanSeverino to pay $6,000 by October 2007.
By the deadline, SanSeverino had paid $5,700, Trish Rynn says. A violation of probation hearing was scheduled for that month, and Rynn, confident that Judge Alvarez would take action, did not attend.
But Judge Alvarez was no longer on the case—she’d been promoted. There was a new judge, Raymond Batten, and the hearing was postponed. And somehow, the nature of the hearing was changed from a violation of probation to a request to reduce restitution.
Lovefraud publishes case study
The victim, Trish Rynn, was understandably upset. She believed SanSeverino was hiding money. After all, a few weeks before pleading guilty in Rynn’s case, the con artist had sold two homes, valued at $865,000, for $45,000. Then, two weeks after being released from jail, he bought them back for $1 each.
SanSeverino’s violation of probation hearing was rescheduled for February 7, 2008. Three days before it, Lovefraud published the True Lovefraud Story about Dennis SanSeverino. It detailed the money the con artist took from Trish Rynn, along with his real estate scams.
After publication of Lovefraud’s story, SanSeverino’s court date was postponed until February 15, 2008. Then the hearing was moved up to February 14, 2008. Rynn not notified—she only found out when she called to verify the date. By that time, it was too late for her to arrange to take the day off from work so she could testify. Rynn requested a postponement.
Hearing moved up again
The violation of probation hearing was rescheduled for March 28, 2008, then moved up to March 26, 2008. Again, Trish Rynn was not notified, and only found out when she called to check a week before the originally scheduled date. She immediately called Cape May County Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hoerner, who prosecuted the original case against SanSeverino. According to Rynn, Hoerner said the date might change yet again, and that it might be heard by a different judge. The prosecutor promised to call Rynn with updated information. For days, Rynn heard nothing. Then Hoerner left a message the day before the hearing, which Rynn did not receive, stating that it was on.
But Rynn had already called the Cape May County Office of Victim Witness Advocacy at 4 p.m. on March 25, and had already learned that the hearing was indeed scheduled for the next day before a new judge. Rynn immediately called the new judge’s chambers and spoke to his assistant, asking for permission to be heard on the matter. Permission was granted.
No more advocacy
For some reason, this seemed to infuriate Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hoerner. The day of the hearing, right before Rynn was to leave for the two-hour drive to Cape May Court House, she received an irate phone call from Hoerner. Because Rynn had spoken to the judge, the assistant prosecutor said, the case would not be heard. It would be rescheduled—perhaps for April 30, 2008.
Furthermore, Rynn says Hoerner told her that she could no longer speak to the Office of Victim Witness Advocacy. She would be advised of the new court date by mail. Rynn was actually glad to hear this, because she’d never received any notification by mail.
The next day, Rynn called the Office of Victim Witness Advocacy to confirm the new hearing date. According to the its website, the services provided by office include “information on the status and disposition of the case in which you are involved.” But sure enough, the advocates refused to speak to her.
Notification did not arrive in the mail. And while the hearing date kept changing, Rynn was receiving a pittance of restitution from Dennis SanSeverino. Instead of paying $2,000 per month as originally ordered, the con artist was paying just $100—when he got around to paying at all.
Disappointed and angry, Rynn sent a 12-page letter to the New Jersey Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, the Cape May County Prosecutor, various New Jersey legislators, women’s advocacy organizations and media outlets. She told the entire story, including the fact that Assistant Cape May County Prosecutor Meghan Hoerner instructed the Office of Victim Witness Advocacy not to speak to her.
“The defendant, Dennis SanSeverino, has managed to play with our legal system because he can,” Rynn wrote. “And quite frankly, I no longer want to hear people within the system say that it is a ‘failed system’ and ‘it is what it is.’ That is having no integrity. Taking the loser’s way out—we need to fight for our rights! … While the prosecutor’s office gets their win and Dennis SanSeverino gets his win, the victim is the loser! That is just not acceptable to me and should be the same for all of you whom I am addressing here. For the whole of America! Our legal system has no integrity because the leaders within our system are out of integrity!”
Rynn got some responses. One northern New Jersey legislator called her and asked her why she didn’t get a lawyer. (Hello? Because she had no money!) A representative of New Jersey Senator Jeff Van Drew, who represents Cape May County, called and said the senator would send a letter to the attorney general on Rynn’s behalf. He would also look into sponsoring legislation.
Passing bad checks
In mid-April, Rynn checked blog comments related to the 2006 news story about Dennis SanSeverino’s sentencing. Much to her surprise, she found a comment from “MPM” in Sewell, New Jersey. “Dennis is a new tenant of mine and always behind in rent. Any suggestions?” MPM wrote.
Rynn posted information about SanSeverino’s upcoming violation of probation hearing. Then MPM wrote, “He also wrote a check with NSF – Fidelity Investments.”
The check had apparently been drawn on the investment account that SanSeverino had conned from Rynn. He’d wiped out the account years earlier, so it seemed that SanSeverino knowingly passed a bad check. Which is illegal.
Rynn called the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and asked to speak to the investigator who originally worked on the case. She wanted to inform him about the bad check. The investigator had previously told Rynn that SanSeverino was seen in the Harrah’s casino in Chester, Pennsylvania.
By going into the casino, SanSeverino violated the terms of his probation. And by passing a bad check, he committed a crime, which also violated his probation. Maybe this, Rynn thought while she waited on hold, would be enough to get SanSeverino put in jail.
The receptionist came back on the phone and said that, per instructions from Meghan Hoerner, the investigator would not speak to her.
The landlord, in the meantime, will be in court on May 1, 2008, to begin eviction proceedings against Dennis SanSeverino and the woman with whom he is living.
Nothing left to lose
So Rynn has continued to write letters. She sent them to the investigator, Judge Raymond Batten and yes, Meghan Hoerner.
“I don’t understand why they’re keeping information from me, not letting me speak to anyone and hiding court dates from me,” Rynn said to Lovefraud. “I should have a right to know. I think it’s just terrible.
“I care about what’s right, and I feel that the things I’ve pieced together make me sure something is wrong,” she continued. “I’m just going to tell it like it is and let the cards fall where they may. I have nothing to lose. I’ve lost already.”
Dennis SanSeverino’s violation of probation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 30 at 1:30 p.m. in the Cape May County courthouse. At least, it is for now.
A request for comment sent via e-mail to the Cape May County Prosecutor, Robert Taylor, received no response.