Will the state Supreme Court decide at the last minute today to keep the accused mastermind of a body-parts scam in jail?
Or will defendant Michael Mastromarino, 44, accused of buying and selling tissue allegedly stolen from the remains of 244 Philadelphians, walk out of prison, without paying any money for bail?
The deadline: 11 a.m. today, when a court order expires to keep him jailed.
As Day 5 of the "Will he or won't he?" drama edges toward resolution, the district attorney's office asked the high court to intervene after Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe on Monday lowered Mastromarino's bail and allowed him to sign for it, without posting cash.
The D.A.'s office wants the high court to use its King's Bench power, or extraordinary jurisdiction, or allow an appeal and reverse a Superior Court decision.
All this to get a wealthy guy to pay cash bail.
"This is the last straw," said Mastromarino's defense attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr.
The irony is that the owner of the now-defunct Bio-Medical Technical Services Inc., of Fort Lee, N.J., could pay a half-million in cash bail - or even $5 million - if he chose to reveal where his money is allegedly stashed, according to both sides in the legal battle.
But Mastromarino, who is out on $1.5 million bail in Brooklyn, where a related body-parts case goes to trial on Jan. 7, faces dozens of civil lawsuits from victims who received tissue tainted with cancer, HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis and other diseases.
Since Oct. 9, Mastromarino has been held in custody at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center after turning himself in to face 1,725 counts, including running a criminal enterprise, abuse of corpse, fraud and tampering with documents.
A bail commissioner and three municipal judges OK'd his $5 million bail, of which he had to post 10 percent, or $500,000 in cash.
But when Dembe lowered the bail, the D.A.'s office appealed to Superior Court Judge Richard B. Klein, who in an emergency hearing in his chambers on Wednesday ruled that Dembe had not erred in her decision.
The D.A.'s office then appealed to the high court.
"They're asking for the same damn thing," said Peruto, referring to the D.A.'s request to have the high court reverse Dembe's decision.
"Judge Dembe ruled on the evidence before her. Because they didn't like her ruling, they can throw as much mud against the wall as they want," he said. "But the wall is removed once the record is closed."
Calling the case "infamous for the level of greed, depravity and danger," Peter Carr and Hugh J. Burns Jr., of the D.A.'s appeals unit, argued in a petition to the high court that Dembe relied on "erroneous factors" in her decision.
The petition called Mastromarino "a danger to the community" and a "substantial flight risk," with considerable resources that would allow him to flee "if his high-priced lawyers are not able to dispose of the case at the pre-trial stage."
The petition accused Mastromarino of allegedly misrepresenting himself as a medical doctor and of continuing to work as a dentist after his license was revoked following a drug arrest.
As for Dembe, the petition stated she should have recused herself because she socialized with co-defendant Louis Garzone and one of her court officers socialized with the family of another co-defendant, James A. McCafferty Jr., both funeral home operators.
Meantime, the D.A.'s office asked Dembe directly to reconsider her bail decision and recuse herself from the case. A Dec. 19 hearing is scheduled.
As calendar and supervising judge of the trial division, Dembe said earlier, she would make no substantive decisions before referring the case to a trial judge on Jan. 14. *