SCRANTON – Federal prosecutors on Wednesday took a step toward protecting alleged victims of accused investment scammer Anthony Lupas, filing claims against four properties that could be used to satisfy any restitution should he be convicted.
U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith filed liens, known as a “lis pendis,” that ensure the government has a secured claim against the properties if they are sold.
“It’s a good thing because it shows the government is taking steps to see if some of the money is recoverable,” said attorney Ernest Preate, who represents several alleged victims in civil suits against Lupas. “Nobody can do anything without the government’s say so.”
Lupas, 77, of Plains Township, was indicted in July on 29 counts of mail fraud and two counts of conspiracy. Prosecutors say he swindled eight people out of more than $6 million by falsely portraying he had invested their money in trust funds. In reality, the trust funds did not exist and Lupas used the money for his personal gain.
The indictment includes a forfeiture count that would allow the government to seize any property that was purchased with illegally obtained money.
The four properties, two of which are located in Buck Township and one each in Bear Creek Township and Laflin, have a combined total assessed market value of $896,600, according to county records.
Preate said it’s not clear how much money might be recovered, however, because the properties may have mortgages. Some of the properties are also co-owned by others with Lupas and his wife, Lillian. Those claims would have to be paid first, Preate said.
“They can’t take property from other people who were not involved in any criminal activity,” Preate said.
The most valuable property is a 589-acre land track on Bald Mountain in Bear Creek Township that houses 10 windmill towers owned by Community Energy Inc.
The property has an assessed market value of $642,000. It is jointly owned by Anthony and Lillian Lupas, along with John and Judy Lupas, Grace Lupas, Eugene Bartoli and Robert Frankelli.
The other properties being sought are a 49-acre vacant lot in Laflin assessed at $178,000 that Lupas co-owns with Bernard and Diane Bartoli; a cottage on Thornhurst Road in Buck Township valued at $52,600 and a half-acre vacant lot on Thornhurst Road assessed at $24,000.
Prosecutors have not sought to seize two other properties owned by Lupas and his wife: his law office on West Jackson Street in Wilkes-Barre, assessed at $142,900, and a home at 17 Dogwood Drive in Laflin assessed at $257,800.
Heidi Havens, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on why those properties were not included, citing the pending case.
Lupas has remained free pending resolution of the case, which has been delayed while he undergoes an evaluation to determine if he is competent to understand the charges against him.
U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani recently ordered Lupas to undergo treatment by a physician who specializes in geriatric medicine. The physician will issue a report within four months. A hearing will then be held to determine Lupas’ competency.