Costa deed dispute ends in sister's acquittal

Relative of legislator guilty of lesser count

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Angeline Costa Gifford, the sister of state legislator Dom Costa, was found not guilty Wednesday on 16 of 17 counts against her, including felony forgery and theft.

After hugging her defense attorney and crying with family members, Ms. Gifford looked over at Detective Kevin Flanigan, who was sitting at the prosecution table.

He was the person who led the investigation against her and accused her of forging the signatures of her half-siblings on four deeds to have them removed as owners of their father's property. A jury of five women and seven men found the Jefferson Hills woman guilty of one misdemeanor count of unsworn falsification that will most likely result in probation when she is sentenced next Wednesday.

"Are you satisfied?" she asked the detective.

When he looked at her questioningly, she said again, "Are you satisfied with the result? Deep down, I think you believed me." She paused a moment, waiting for a response that did not come, and then said, "I know you can't say."

It was the end of a two-day trial in which Ms. Gifford's defense attorney admitted during his opening statement that his client did falsely sign the deeds -- although he said there was no criminal intent because she did so at her father's instruction.

But when Ms. Gifford took the stand on her own behalf, that defense story changed.

At first, she claimed she did not forge any signatures, and that she told her father, the late Albert Costa Sr., that she was uncomfortable with what he wanted to do.

But later, she said she may have signed the name of one of her half-siblings, the late Albert Costa Jr., but certainly not all of them -- and especially not of her half-brother Dom Costa, former Pittsburgh police chief and now Democratic state representative from Stanton Heights.

She told assistant district attorney Lisa Mantella that two voice mail messages she left for Dom Costa, in which she admitted signing the names and said, "I know it's fraud," were misconstrued.

During closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorney Robert Crisanti told the jury to question why it took from October 2011 to July 2012 for Mr. Costa to go to authorities after he discovered the changes.

By removing the names of her half-siblings, he added, she only increased her interest in the properties from one-ninth to one-seventh. "What was her gain?" he asked.

Instead, Mr. Crisanti said Ms. Gifford's actions were done only to please her father.

But Ms. Mantella said the timing of when Mr. Costa reported his concerns isn't relevant.

Instead, she asked the jurors to focus on the individual elements of each crime, noting that forgery only requires that Ms. Gifford knew the documents were fraudulent and she offered them as authentic, not that she signed them.

Paula Reed Ward: First Published January 15, 2014 2:41 PM

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