Chester County Prison becomes latest target of Jonathan Lee Riches’ ire
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
Bruce Springsteen, Bam Margera, Viagra, the National Football League, Geno’s Steaks, and Kim Kardashian share a bizarre distinction: They are among thousands of subjects who piqued the wrath of a Chester County man during his 125-month, federal prison term for wire fraud.
In fact, 36-year-old Jonathan Lee Riches has filed so many lawsuits that he said the Guinness Book of World Records wanted to dub him the world’s most litigious man in 2009, according to published reports.
Reputed violation of the terms of his parole — specially, leaving the southeast Pennsylvania area to go to Newtown, Conn., where he is alleged to have posed as a relative of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter – has landed Riches behind bars at Chester County Prison in Pocopson and he may find himself behind bars for a number of more years, authorities say, if his parole is revoked.
A Guinness representative said Friday that no such category exists and that they told Riches that when he applied. Riches – who has said filing lawsuits at taxpayers’ expense “is so easy even a caveman can do it “- responded to Guinness by suing, alleging it got his numbers wrong.
Local authorities said they’ve had Riches’ number since before he began his 10-year prison stint. According to Chester County court records, Riches harassed numerous area residents in widespread municipalities with phone calls that started as pranks and became increasingly perverted, escalating into expletive-laden tirades.
So when police in West Goshen Township, where Riches planned to reside, received a letter from federal officials last spring informing them that Riches was about to be sprung, they said they felt compelled to make sure he was well-scrutinized.
That vigilance apparently helped land Riches back behind bars last month. Police officers monitoring Riches’ wealth of Internet videos watched closely as he claimed to be approaching the Connecticut residence of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. As his vehicle got stopped by a police blockade, Riches dropped his camera and officers said they saw his face.
West Goshen police, who contacted federal authorities, also learned that Riches had garnered media attention in Newtown, Ct., by posing as Lanza’s uncle Jonathan, interviews that were excised once the hoax was discovered.
One of the conditions of Riches’ release in April was that he not leave the area without permission from his probation officer, which he did not have, according to the court document seeking revocation of his probation.
In an interview Wednesday, West Goshen Township Police Chief Joseph Gleason applauded his officers for monitoring Riches so diligently. “I need to give credit where credit is due,” Gleason said, pointing to Det. David Maurer. But both added that the department received cooperation from multiple law-enforcement agencies – an effort that resulted in Riches’ journey to Chester County Prison, where he is now awaiting a federal hearing.
“The public has a right to know that we are doing – and will continue to do – everything we can to keep residents safe,” Gleason said.
Riches’ online postings suggest that the police will have an easier job the longer he remains incarcerated. While many of his self-made videos exhibit sophomoric behavior, such as pleading with an AT&T rep to connect him to President Barack Obama, dozens of others, many showing Chester County backdrops, depict him as someone with a chilling interest in weapons and violence.
On one of his two Facebook pages, Riches described himself as an “emotional terrorist;” on the other, he warned: “Watch what you do or I’ll sue you!” On YouTube, he demonstrated an obsession with James Holmes, accused of the mass shooting in July that killed 12 and injured dozens at a Colorado movie theater.
In one YouTube video, Riches, who uses an iHolmes moniker, pulls up to the drive-through window of an area McDonald’s and tells the employee that he’s with his friend James – shown as a paper cutout of Holmes’ face on a doll – who “is interested in getting a bunch of weapons.” In another video, he appears at the Exton Wal-Mart, again speaking aloud to Holmes as the camera pans across a gun display. “We need to get these ASAP,” Riches said.
Riches also disseminates his views on Twitter, where his user name is Johnnysuenami. Law-enforcement sources said that while many of Riches’ rants are not criminal, they raise fears that he could become unhinged with little provocation. Another concern: Riches has numerous followers who express support for his myriad conspiracy theories. In a September Facebook posting, Riches said, “I’m off my meds.”
Shortly after Riches was paroled, police said they started getting calls from departments across the country who had tracked complaints to Riches’ West Goshen address. Residents in diverse locales had expressed concern about some of Riches’ postings, such as images of Jesus on the cross holding semiautomatic weapons or Riches’ setting a photo of Sandy Hook Elementary on fire.
Allegations in Riches’ lawsuits ranged from accusing New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick of placing a listening device in Chunky Soup that was consumed by former Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb to blaming his federal fraud charges on celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. Riches said he flew once a month to Wyoming to have sex with Hilton – gay trysts that Hilton knew were financed with Riches’ identity-theft profits.
That activity, which secured Riches’ federal prison stint, stemmed from a scam known as “phishing,” court records said. Authorities said Riches befriended a Houston teen named Jason Carpenter in an online chat room, and the two conspired to send an authentic-looking email to thousands of AOL subscribers, seeking personal data so the company could update its records.
Replies went to a dummy web site where the pair retrieved the information and used it to apply for credit cards that financed lavish purchases. Authorities said the plot unraveled when a police officer in Houston contacted the FBI after noticing numerous deliveries being made to a vacant home with a sign that said “deaf residence.”
Carpenter reportedly told investigators that he posted the sign so that delivery people wouldn’t ask questions. In published interviews, an FBI agent said Riches responded to his arrest by getting nauseous, but regained his bravado after several days in jail, inaccurately predicting he would negotiate a light sentence.
In October, Riches married Naomi Leatherman, who quickly gained notoriety for suing Casey Anthony, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, alleging all were part of an Illuminati mind-control conspiracy. Court records show that the couple’s union didn’t last long. Both sought protection-from-abuse orders last month, each claiming the other was dangerous.
Many of Riches’ lawsuits also ended quickly: He frequently failed to pay the filing fee, according to court records.
Because Riches requires such close attention from police, Gleason said he hoped Riches’ probation would be revoked, giving him an additional five-year jail term. “That would be best for everyone,” Gleason said.
According to court records, Riches’ Connecticut odyssey was not his only infraction. Another condition of his probation was a $200-a- month payment toward his $92,680 restitution. So far, he has only paid $80, putting him $1,320 in arrears, court records said.
Even from behind bars, Riches’ accusations continue. A Facebook posting last Monday by a friend contains the following message:
“To my Facebook friends, family & supporters,
The evil oppression continues! I’m currently held illegally at the Chester County prison in West Chester Pennsylvania. County officials put a detainer on me for violation of probation. I will have to wait out months before I know my fate…I been held in isolation, naked in a cell for over a week. I cannot reach my family. I’m starving and I have no funds…”
Chester County Prison Warden D. Edward McFadden said Thursday that Riches, who is not in solitary confinement, is neither naked nor starving. “I haven’t a clue about whether he has any money,” McFadden said.