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Montco Church Settles With Builder in Wrongful-Arrest Case

By Jeremy Roebuck, Inquirer Staff WriterSeptember 10, 2014

A Radnor Township contractor who already collected $1.65 million and an apology from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office after being wrongfully accused of theft settled his lawsuit Tuesday against the Jenkintown church whose claims led to the criminal case against him.

Lawyers for both sides declined to say how much Salem Baptist Church agreed to pay contractor Walter Logan, citing a confidentiality clause. In his lawsuit, Logan sought more than $300 million from the church for malicious prosecution, defamation, and other claims.

Salem’s decision brought an abrupt end to a civil trial that began Monday in Philadelphia federal court and came nearly four months after Logan, 65, settled with county officials.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said, smiling as he left the courtroom with his wife.

His attorney, Mark W. Tanner, described the settlement as unexpected but welcome. “We’re happy to have finally resolved this case on behalf of two wonderful people,” he said. “Walter Logan was an underdog from the get-go considering the forces that were lined up against him.”

Church representatives did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

In his opening statement Monday, church lawyer Richard W. Yost told jurors Logan was misplacing blame that belonged on the prosecutors who charged him. “How can a church be liable for malicious prosecution?” Yost said. “We don’t have prosecutorial power.”

The settlement ends a five-year saga that turned a contract dispute into a felony case that Logan said all but destroyed his business.

Political ties

In his lawsuit, the contractor alleged that Salem used the political connections of its members – including Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Garrett Page and Oscar Vance, former chief of the county detectives – to press a baseless theft case against him in 2009. The church had hoped to gain leverage in a dispute over work on a $3.2 million family center on Salem’s Old York Road campus, Logan’s attorneys said.

Though the settlement cut the trial short, a judge last year found that a reasonable jury might conclude that county investigators had mishandled Logan’s prosecution.

Detective fired

In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner said that evidence suggested county detectives relied on the church’s legal team to build a case – going so far as to allow its lawyers to rewrite charging documents and dictate the timing of the arrest to benefit Salem financially.

The detective who handled the investigation was fired earlier this year.

Montgomery County prosecutors withdrew the theft charges against Logan a year after his arrest, and after an arbiter ruled that Salem actually owed Logan more than $300,000 in fees and damages.

In its apology, the district attorney’s office wrote: “There is no credible evidence that Mr. Logan ever stole anything from Salem Baptist Church.”