MORGANTOWN – A group of eight West Virginia residents are hoping they can receive some final justice against an alleged private investigator who they claimed failed to make good on his promise to look into alleged corruption the state's judicial system.
On March 16, the residents filed suit in Monongalia Magistrate Court against Jon L. Gigliotti of Lyndhurst, Virginia. The residents –- Patricia A. Lemley, Robert Hart, Elizabeth Crawford, Gil Vanderkraats, Tom Mullins, Sheryl Hobbs, Sue Hollands and Paul and Gloria Ransom -– are seeking $2,650 from Gigliotti, the amount they paid him for a "retainer."
The case was originally scheduled for trial May 17. However, in order for all to be considered co-plaintiffs, they each had to file suit against Gigliotti and serve him with papers.
Initially, the suit was only filed under Lemley's name.
Nevertheless, the court granted their motion for an extension, and moved the trial to a yet-to-be determined date in July.
The two-month delay, Lemley said, will be well worth it in a case that started 10 years ago.
Promises, then payments, made
According to Lemley, who now operates a mobile notary service in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania, Gigliotti was recommended to her by Sue Nuzum. Now deceased, Nuzum was a friend of Lemley's who experienced trouble in the courts over a property dispute.
After Nuzum contacted him, Gigliotti agreed to meet with everyone to discuss their respective problems. According to Lemley, they agreed to meet in Elkins, since that was a central location for everyone, including Gigliotti.
The meeting, Lemley said, took place on February 15, 1997. It was there that Gigliotti presented his credentials.
In addition to one showing him as a private investigator in Fishersville, a suburb of Staunton, Gigliotti presented the group with two other business cards. Both showed that he either was or at one time worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network providing "executive protection" to the "Office of the President", and a deputy with the Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Department.
After he discussed each group member's case privately, Lemley said Gigliotti said he would investigate their cases and provide his findings to the American Center for Law and Justice for a possible class-action lawsuit, and CBN for a segment on its "700 Club" broadcast. In order to conduct an effective investigation, he said he would need a retainer of $8,000 to $10,000.
The ACLJ is a public interest law firm founded in 1990 by CBN founder, president and CEO Pat Robertson. The "700 Club" is CBN's daily newscast in which Robertson serves as co-host.
After the discussing it among themselves, the group balked at paying such a high amount for a retainer. However, Lemley said Gigliotti agreed he would take the cases together under the auspices of Lemley's judicial watchdog group, Victims R' Us, for whatever fee they could pay him.
Because he was working on other "assignments," Lemley said Gigliotti couldn't begin work for at least a month. The group agreed they would discuss the matter more in detail and get back with him.
According to Lemley, the group agreed to hire Gigliotti. Though not stated in the complaint, but in records provided to The West Virginia Record show the residents paying Gigliotti in three installments over two months.
Records show the residents paying Gigliotti $1,850 on March 7, 1997, in Morgantown, $550 on March 17, 1997, in Charleston and $250 on April 25, 1997, via U.S. Mail.
The suit was brought in Morgantown, Lemley said, because that's where the money first changed hands. The suit was filed when they discovered that under state law, small claims with a contract have a 10-year statute of limitations, Lemley said.
In West Virginia, a small claim is under $5,000.
According to Robertson spokesman Chris Roslan, Gigliotti worked for CBN for six months as security guard from 1994 to early 1995.
ACLJ agrees to take case
In addition to paying him the retainer to conduct his investigation, Lemley said she provided a chronology of everyone's case to Gigliotti. Prior to departing West Virginia, Gigliotti told the group he'd be meeting with John Stepanovich, ACLJ's deputy chief counsel, in April to discuss the matter.
When Gigliotti told her he was going to be in Virginia Beach on April 9, Lemley said she and her husband decided to take a mini-vacation during that time. Sure enough, Lemley said they spotted Gigliotti's truck at ACLJ's office that day.
However, when Lemley called Stepanovich's office to speak with Gigliotti, he was not too happy.
"He asked me where I was, and when I said 'Virginia Beach' he became very upset," Lemley said. "He said 'Don't you trust me,' and I said 'No, it's not that I distrust you, we just want to make sure we're you're supposed to be.' "
Stepanovich and Gigliotti, Lemley said, invited she and her husband to have lunch with them that day. After they discussed the case, Lemley said she signed a contract with Stepanovich agreeing the ACLJ would take the case on a contingency fee.
However, Lemley said she received a call from Stepanovich saying, in order for the case to move forward, the group may have to front some money for an investigator. When she informed him about the money they paid to Gigliotti to conduct investigation and the promises he made, Lemley said Stepanovich was at a loss for words.
It was at this point, Lemley said, that communication between them began to breakdown. Also, she said the group discovered that Gigliotti's license to practice private investigations in Virginia expired in January 1997, a month before the Elkins meeting, and his employment at CBN ended in September 1996.
Allegations unfounded, Gigliotti claims
When contacted at his home, Gigliotti, 60, denied the allegations against him. The suit, he said, was just the latest attempt by the group to smear him.
"I looked into this over 10 years ago, and they keep coming because they are bitter," Gigliotti said.
"I have such a bad taste in my mouth from them that I'll never investigate anything again."
However, Gigliotti did say he met with the group, and said he would investigate their cases and present his findings to ACLJ. Once he did that, Gigliotti said his involvement with the case ended.
In addition to saying that his private investigator's license was good until June 1997, Gigliotti says it is he who is actually owed money.
"They want me to pay back money they never paid me," Gigliotti said. "I was promised $1,000. I met with them all day, and all I got was $100."
When the new trial date is set, Gigliotti says he's looking forward to making the trip to Morgantown to set the record straight.
"Victims R' Us makes this their life ambition," Gigliotti said, "and I've got better things to do with my life."
Monongalia Magistrate Court case number 07-C-292