When Albert Costa Sr. died in 2011, his eldest son expected that he and his six siblings would be listed on the deeds for the four rental properties their dad owned — just as his father had told him would occur years earlier.
But when Dom Costa — current state legislator and former Pittsburgh police chief — went to the recorder of deeds office in October of that year, he found that his name and the names of his three full siblings had been removed in 2006, and only his three half-siblings remained.
He also noted that even though the documents were purported to have been signed by him, it was not his signature — it even contained the wrong middle initial.
After trying to work out the matter with his family — and learning that his half-sister Angeline Costa Gifford had forged the documents — Mr. Costa went to the authorities.
On Monday, Ms. Gifford, 57, of Jefferson Hills, went on trial before Judge Edward J. Borkowski in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on charges of forgery, theft and unsworn falsification.
Defense attorney Robert Crisanti told the jury his client did forge the signatures on the deeds — but only because her father told her to.
“Father was the boss. When dad said something, you did it,” he said. “No discussion.”
Mr. Crisanti said Albert Costa Sr. asked to have all of his children’s names placed on the deeds in 2003 but then changed his mind in 2006.
“She did what the commonwealth said she did. Yes. Did she intend to steal anything from anyone? Absolutely not.
“This is a family drama.”
But assistant district attorney Lisa Mantella told the jury that the case is not about family strife — that instead the jury should focus on the fact that the documents were forged.
“We’re not going to get into family drama or family dynamics,” she said. “His half-sister, Angeline Costa Gifford, admitted to them she signed their names. She forged their names. She even said [in a voicemail] ‘I know it’s fraud.’ ”
If Ms. Gifford was just following her father’s wishes, Ms. Mantella said, why didn’t she tell her half-siblings over the five-year period from 2006 to 2011 that the changes had been made?
Dom Costa, of Stanton Heights, was the first witness called in the case. He testified that when his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about seven years before he died, that the state representative helped collect rent from the properties and that’s when his dad told him he planned to leave the properties to all his children.
“Did your father ever talk to you about taking your name off the property?” Ms. Mantella asked.
“No,” Mr. Costa said.
When he saw the forged signatures, he continued, he immediately believed Ms. Gifford was responsible.
“She had the knowledge to do it,” he said.
Ms. Gifford worked at a law firm and had the document notarized by a colleague there.
After Mr. Costa brought up the forgeries in early 2012, Ms. Gifford accused Mr. Costa of being greedy and said that the properties were not worth much, about $208,000 in 2006.
“This is all about greed and money,” Ms. Gifford said. “You’re talking about a piddly amount of money.
“How greedy could you get?”
Asked his motivation for bringing charges against Ms. Gifford, Mr. Costa said, “She broke the law.
“All I wanted was for things to go where my dad left them, and they weren’t.”
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.