Serio sues to regain his guns

Felon says police over-stepped limits

January 26, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Robert L. Serio just wants his guns back.

Serio, the heir apparent to a local baking company fortune, had 14 guns confiscated last June, the day he was sentenced to six months for auto manslaughter and drunken driving in a 1998 accident that killed a 27-year-old woman.

Using a law that prohibits felons from having firearms, Baltimore County police confiscated Serio's $10,000 gun collection from his Hunt Valley home on June 2.

But in an unusual move, Serio, 44, has sued in Baltimore County Circuit Court, seeking a court order to return the guns.

Serio's legal fight for his guns and his efforts to keep his driver's license also have outraged relatives of the woman killed. They say it shows how well-heeled defendants can manipulate the court system.

"I am one very ticked-off father," said John F. Corbin of Freehold, N.J, whose daughter, Stacy, died in the accident.

Serio claims in the suit that police overstepped their bounds in taking the guns from his safe and that they were prompted by an estranged wife who is seeking a lucrative divorce settlement. He alleges that Gina Serio, his wife of nine years, tipped off police to her husband's gun collection because she hoped the police search would help her learn what other valuables Serio has acquired since she moved out in January 1998. The search was "motivated by Gina Serio's hatred of the plaintiff," the suit said.

County attorney Virginia Barnhart, who is defending the police search, has asked the court to dismiss the suit, calling it "absurd."

"What started out as a ridiculous lawsuit has gotten progressively worse," Barnhart wrote in court papers. "[Serio], with these weapons, is clearly not expecting an invasion of chipmunks."

Police confiscated Serio's guns after he was convicted in the automobile manslaughter death of Stacy L. Corbin. She was killed about 2 a.m. Oct 8, 1998, when Serio flipped his Porsche driving 85 mph in a 45 mph section of York Road in Sparks.

According to court records, Serio initially said that he was alone in the car. After police found the victim's body, Serio told them that she had been driving. He also recorded a blood alcohol level of .18 at Sinai Hospital where he gave nurses three different names for himself.

Corbin says what angers him most is that three months after Serio's Oct. 14 release from the Baltimore County Detention Center, he is still driving. Serio has managed to delay his license revocation by requesting a Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) hearing that has been postponed twice, according to MVA records. A hearing on Serio's license was scheduled for this morning, but is likely to be postponed again because of the weather.

Corbin, 57, says that he has written to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and contacted MVA officials to complain about state laws that allow Serio to continue driving.

"I feel like somebody is getting short-shafted here, and it's people who don't have the bucks to work the system," said Corbin, a highway supervisor for New Jersey.

Court papers show that Serio is well-financed for a court fight. He is the son of Frank A. Serio, whose company Frank A. Serio and Sons reported $130 million revenues in 1998 before it was sold last year to a Dutch food conglomerate.

Papers filed in the Serios' pending divorce case include tax returns showing that Serio's income was $1.1 million in 1996 and $1.3 million in 1997. Gina Serio's sole source of income in 1998, the year she filed for divorce, was the $92,000 he paid her in alimony, according to the papers.

Serio's lawyer, William Butler, said that his client wants to sell the gun collection and has lined up a buyer. The buyer is identified in court papers as Bruce Stanski, a Houston businessman. He was unavailable for comment.

Butler said the postponement of Serio's hearings is not unusual.

"If the allegation is that Bob Serio's somehow being shown some kind of favoritism, that's just not true," Butler said.

Richard Scher, an MVA spokesman, said that once someone accumulates 12 points on his driving record, the MVA sends out a notice of an automatic license revocation. But he said the revocation is postponed if the driver requests an MVA hearing.

A hearing scheduled for Aug. 20 was postponed because Serio was still in jail, Scher said. His Dec. 14 hearing was postponed after Butler wrote a letter saying his client was required to perform community service that morning as part of his auto manslaughter sentence.

Trial judges do not have authority to revoke a driver's license when they sentence a defendant, according to Jana Burch, deputy director of operations for the Office of Administrative Hearings.

She said MVA hearing postponements are granted for "good cause," with reasons that range from a police officer being unavailable to either the lawyer or the driver being ill.

Groups focused on drunken driving issues say the case raises concerns.

"We've got a dead victim here, and it seems there ought to be a way to get the driver's license away from him a little more quickly," said Wendy Hamilton, state director of public policy for Mothers Against Drunken Driving.

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