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The former owner of an Old City tavern has been cleared of sending threatening letters to judges and others

The case fell apart when Naessens’ lawyer uncovered digital evidence proving that Naessens did not mail the threats, his lawyer said. The DA’s Office dropped the charges Sept. 9.

Owner Michael Naessens (right) with an unidentified employee at Eulogy Belgian Tavern in this undated photo from Eulogy's Facebook page.
Owner Michael Naessens (right) with an unidentified employee at Eulogy Belgian Tavern in this undated photo from Eulogy's Facebook page.Read moreFACEBOOK

City prosecutors have dropped all charges against a former Old City tavern owner who was arrested and charged in 2019 with sending threatening messages to two Philadelphia judges and 10 other people.

Michael Naessens, 56, who owned Eulogy Belgian Tavern before closing it in 2017, had been charged with making terroristic threats after authorities claimed he purchased threatening message cards on the internet and mailed them under another man’s name.

But the case fell apart when Naessens’ lawyer uncovered digital evidence — gathered over more than a year — proving that Naessens did not send the threatening messages, the lawyer said. The District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges Sept. 9.

The evidence established that the computer used to purchase the cards was not Naessens’ and that the real culprit mailed the cards from Dearborn, Mich., at the same time digital forensic evidence showed that Naessens was in Las Vegas, where he had moved, his lawyer said.

“A lot of people feel that we are being tracked too much. However, in this case, the fact that some of the things that we do on a daily basis can lead to your whereabouts, that basically saved Mr. Naessens,” said the lawyer, Brad V. Shuttleworth. “Without that digital data, how else would we have been able to prove this alibi evidence so strongly?”

Asked to comment on the decision to drop the charges, Jane Roh, the spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said: “The Commonwealth determined we could not meet our burden at trial due to evidence that was obtained throughout the course of that investigation.”

Sources familiar with the case told The Inquirer that Common Pleas Court Judge Timika Lane, who is African American, received one of the cards, which contained menacing and racist remarks. The identities of the second judge and the 10 other people who received threats were never made public.

Naessens still lives in Las Vegas and works as a certified public accountant, said Shuttleworth, who believes his client was set up by an acquaintance Lane had placed on probation.

That man, whose name Shuttleworth declined to disclose, was initially arrested and questioned by a Philadelphia counterterrorism detective because his name appeared at the bottom of the threatening cards, Shuttleworth said.

During the interview, the man accused Naessens of sending the cards, and identified him as a man in a video taken in a Dearborn FedEx store at the time that the cards were mailed, the lawyer said. Shuttleworth said his client looked nothing like the man in the video.

Naessens was arrested in January 2019, eight months after the cards were mailed, and extradited to Philadelphia. He spent close to two months in jail before he was released on bail.

“Everybody involved deserved a better investigation, I include the DA’s Office in that,” Shuttleworth said. “The DA’s Office just wanted to get the right person. ... I don’t know if it was sloppy [police] work or rushing or what it was. But they were completely off the mark.”

Roh said the case remains open.