SCRANTON — Attorney Anthony Lupas suffers from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease, a doctor testified Friday.
The 78-year-old longtime Luzerne County lawyer cannot make his own decisions, has a failing memory and suffers from hallucinations and delusions, the doctor said.
All of those things combined, his attorneys argued, make him incompetent to stand trial on charges he bilked investors out of more than $6 million over an 18-year-period. He faces 31 related charges in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani heard nearly seven hours of testimony Friday in an effort by Lupas’ attorneys, William Ruzzo and Joseph Blazosek, to put charges on hold because they say Lupas cannot assist them in his defense and does not understand the circumstances of the charges or the legal process.
Mariani said he’ll make a decision as quickly as possible, but noted he is having difficulty with the testimony regarding Lupas having Alzheimer’s. He did not offer any specifics.
“This is a real problem,” Mariani said. “This is not an easy case. It’s far from it.”
Mariani questioned attorneys at the end of the day how he was supposed to handle his observation of Lupas throughout the day.
Behavior in courtroom
Lupas appeared to have nodded off at times during testimony, attempted to remove one of his shirts and shoes, and at least once attempted to stand up and move around. During Friday’s proceeding a nurse aid had to take Lupas out of the courtroom on more than one occasion to attend to medications and other needs.
“Did he give you any indication of any interest in this case?” Mariani asked attorneys.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski argued through testimony and in statements to Mariani that Lupas is “faking” his condition and has a motivation to do so — his freedom. “I believe there is still a real possibility that Mr. Lupas is duping the system the way he duped his close friends and associates,” Olshefski said.
Olshefski called forensic psychiatrist Timothy Michaels to testify; he said Lupas has the ability to go forward with his case, and that Lupas told him details about the charges he faces.
Michaels testified Lupas told him that he was just “trying to help his friends” increase their investments and that he understands what is going on and the charges he faces.
Prosecutors say Lupas convinced clients to invest in a purported trust account with the promise they would earn 5 to 7 percent interest. In reality, there was no trust account and he diverted the money for his personal use, according to an indictment.
Lupas does have some cognitive defects, said Michaels, but that he selectively answered some of Michaels’ questions and avoided others.
Lupas could “put his best foot forward or his worst foot forward,” Michaels said, and believes motivation is a factor. “People in trouble will do all sorts of things,” Michaels said.
Ruzzo and Blazosek called Plains Township geriatric doctor Mario Cornacchione to testify. The doctor said Lupas suffers from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and a number of other ailments.
Cornacchione saw Lupas a number of times at the end of 2012 when he was treating him, he said. Lupas seemed OK at the time and was able to understand most things, the doctor testified.
Lupas’ condition had deteriorated rapidly when he evaluated him earlier this month and diagnosed him with the advanced stage of the mind-altering disease, Cornacchione said.
Cornacchione testified Lupas recently became verbally aggressive, suffered from psychotic episodes, was impulsive, had rambling speech and was incapable of walking or moving without the help of two aides.
The defense attorneys also called Lupas’ nephew, Eugene Bartoli, to testify about the deteriorating condition of his uncle.
Bartoli, 49, an insurance agent at the AJ Lupas insurance firm in Plains Township, testified he and his uncle have always been close and that his uncle’s health began to worsen after a fall in 2010. Since then, Bartoli said, his uncle has been in and out of the hospital and other health care settings, and has said irrational things over the past few months.
Most recently, Bartoli said, just this past week he visited Lupas, who spoke of a murder in Wyalusing he was called to investigate and that he had been shot a number of times while there. Lupas also spoke of going to community dances with him and that he recently won $177 million betting on horse races, Bartoli said
“He confuses the past and present,” Bartoli said.
Bartoli testified that only one of Lupas’ three children visits him, and that his wife, Lillian, hadn’t spoken to him recently.
Lee Ann Emerick, administrator of the Little Flower Manor in Wilkes-Barre, a nursing facility where Lupas now resides, testified about Lupas’ behavior inside the facility. Emerick did admit that she went to nursing school with Lupas’ daughter, Diane, and knew the Lupas family before Lupas came there.
She said that had no effect on her treatment of Lupas because she hadn’t seen the family in “many, many years.”
Emerick testified Lupas is friends with a female resident, but said she is unsure Lupas knows she is female because he calls her “John.”
Emerick also testified that when Lillian Lupas visited her husband, Lupas identified her as his mother, and that he once said he was leaving the facility to visit a nearby horse farm.