Pa. builder mired in family legal woe set to plead

April 15, 2009 5:47:16 PM PDT
With his parents away for Labor Day weekend, 17-year-old Sean O'Neill Jr. fatally shot a close friend amid gunplay at an underage drinking party at his family's sprawling suburban home. Roisin O'Neill returned home that night in 2006 to find her younger brother cradling the friend in the family's driveway. She called police, who allegedly found a silencer among her father's possessions and started digging through his past.

Now, Sean O'Neill Sr., a developer and longtime Irish pub owner, is set to plead guilty in federal court Thursday to weapons, immigration and tax fraud charges.

The hearing comes just days before Roisin O'Neill is scheduled to stand trial Monday in a homicide case of her own. The 22-year-old eldest child was charged in the wrong-way, alleged drunken-driving crash that killed a Massachusetts grandmother.

Sean O'Neill Sr., 49, told reporters after the September crash that his own legal troubles and potential deportation after a quarter century in the U.S. were "the least of my worries."

"To face every day is just too hard right now," he said as his daughter, wearing her pink hair in dreadlocks, arrived for an October court hearing in a wheelchair.

Sean O'Neill Sr. is set to plead guilty to five federal charges that will likely lead to prison time and deportation to Ireland.

In a proposed plea agreement filed Tuesday, prosecutors say O'Neill lied about his ties to an Irish Republican Army-linked youth group when he came to the United States in 1983, took part in a sham marriage to stay here, and married his wife Eileen without ever divorcing the first wife.

They also charge that he lied on several gun-purchase applications, paid some employees off the books at Maggie O'Neill's Irish Pub in Drexel Hill from 1997 to 2006, and failed to file personal tax returns from 2005 through 2007. The tax loss on the unreported pub wages was $80,000 to $200,000, investigators said.

O'Neill, who is free on $1.2 million bail secured by real estate, does not have a listed home number and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Defense lawyers Michael Schwartz and Vincent DiFabio did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press. DiFabio also represents Roisin O'Neill in her criminal case.

According to police, Roisin O'Neill had a 0.197 blood-alcohol level when she left a bar and drove the wrong way on Interstate 476 early on Sept. 12, traveling three miles before striking the car driven by Patricia Waggoner, 63, of Brimfield, Mass. Waggoner was in the area to visit her grandchildren in Media.

Sean O'Neill Jr. was found delinquent in juvenile court in the shooting death of Scott Sheridan, 17, a friend and classmate at Cardinal O'Hara High School. Police said his blood-alcohol level was 0.175 at the time, more than twice the adult legal limit. Now 19, he was due to be released this month from a second stint in a juvenile facility, where he was sent last fall for a probation violation in the involuntary manslaughter case.

Sean O'Neill Sr. - who grew up in Coalisland, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland - was convicted in 1977 of membership in Fianna na h'Eireann, a youth group associated with the IRA, prosecutors said in court papers.

According to court filings and statements from prosecutors, O'Neill and his wife Eileen own up to four properties: their Newtown Square residence, a property in Bucks County, a shore home in Sea Isle, N.J., and property in Ireland.

His plea hearing is set for Thursday afternoon before U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr.

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