Irish Echo Online

Black's Philly stay extended

By Ray O'Hanlon

Hopes that Belfast man Joe Black would be allowed return to Ireland with his wife and children were dashed by a Philadelphia court late last week. Black, who was arrested at Philadelphia airport July 7 while traveling to a wedding in Pittsburgh, now faces hard time that could stretch to six months.

His wife, Geraldine, and three of his five children returned to Belfast last Friday. They were unable to speak to Black before they left.

"Geraldine is crushed, absolutely devastated" said Sean McClorey, Black's brother-in-law.

Black, whose hands and feet were manacled, appeared in court on Friday hopeful that he would be deported back to Ireland after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to disclose his imprisonment on IRA-related charges in the late 1970s.

"It's ironic. Here was Joe in chains only walking distance from the Liberty Bell," McClorey said.

Hopes had risen after a previous hearing that Black's plea would be accepted and that he would be deported quickly. However, the presiding magistrate judge in the case, Thomas Rueter, asked for a pre-sentencing report, a process that could be lengthy.

Another hearing in the case has been tentatively set for Aug. 9. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia said that sentencing could take place sometime in the first two weeks of August.

Black, who is 47, faced a potential sentence of up to six months' imprisonment, the spokesman indicated.

Sean McClorey said that the family was concerned that more than one federal agency might take an interest in Black. He said that an immigration official had warned him that other agencies might try to "grab the stat" for themselves. McClorey said that his brother-in-law had insisted that Geraldine return to Ireland with the children. She had previously indicated that she might take leave of absence from her job and remain in the U.S. so long as her husband remained in the federal correctional facility in Philadelphia.

McClorey said that when Geraldine and the children turned up at Pittsburgh airport for their flight they were asked why Joe Black was not traveling with them. The family was rudely treated as they were being processed for the flight, McClorey said.

"It was like scarlet letters were pasted on their heads. They took a lick at them every step of the way," he said.

Meanwhile, a fund has been set up for Black, whose home remodeling business in Belfast has been closed in his absence and whose legal bills on this side of the Atlantic have been mounting.

Donations can be sent to the Joe Black Defense Fund, 22 John St., Crafton, Pa. 15205.

Joe Black served three years in Long Kesh after being convicted of carrying out a kneecap punishment shooting for the IRA in 1977. After prison, he left the IRA and set up his home-improvement business.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that federal prosecutors had accepted that Black traveled to the U.S. solely for the wedding and not for any nefarious purpose.

This story appeared in the issue of July 28-August 3, 2004

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