EXCLUSIVE: A judge in Hackensack today continued his denial of pre-trial diversion for Lodi Fire Marshal Paul Wanco, as new details emerged about his alleged abuse of his elderly mother.
Defense attorney Frank Cozzarelli argued that Wanco was not his mother’s caregiver and, therefore, not responsible for an incident in which the 90-year old woman fell and then lay in urine and feces for nearly 15 hours.
Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian, in turn, told Cozzarelli (above, right) that the situation was aggravated by “deplorable conditions” that Wanco reportedly forced her to live in.
Reading from a paramedics’ report, the judge said that Wanco left a Lodi job where he was called by his niece, seeking help, then worked a second job before coming home and going to bed — all while his mother lay helpless.
Wanco and his niece, Jennifer Wanco, were both indicted by a grand jury in Hackensack in July on elder abuse and attempted serious bodily injury in connection with the incident four months earlier.
Jennifer Wanco entered Pre-Trial Intervention, a move that Bergen County prosecutors didn’t oppose. If she follows its requirements, she will be cleared of the charges.
They have refused to sign off on the same arrangement for her uncle, however.
“On March 5, 2013 at approximately 3:02 p.m. the Lodi ambulance arrived and met Jennifer Wanco,” Jerejian said today, reading from the paramedics’ report. “She stated that her grandmother, 89 at the time, had fallen.
“Upon entering the second floor [where his mother lived] the emergency personnel were hit with a strong odor of feces,” he continued. “There were urine stains on the floor and flies swarming around. Paramedics arrived and noted deplorable conditions — dried feces, urine stains on the floor.
“Jennifer told the paramedics, ‘Grandma fell yesterday. My uncle never responded,’ ” Jerejian read.
“The victim was taken to the hospital where she was found to have multiple bruises, a fungal rash, a urinary tract infection,” the judge continued. “She was dehydrated, anxious, and confused. Her clothes were coated with urine and stool.
“The apartment was in very deplorable condition. She had fallen out of a chair and was lying on her side.
“Apparently the victim insisted her niece not call 911, call Paul Wanco, because she didn’t want to get Jennifer in trouble,” Jerejian said. “She called Paul Wanco and told him she could not get grandma off the floor. He said he would help her when he was done.
“She called three or four more times, and he never responded.”
“The court views this as a serious offense,” Jerejian told Wanco’s attorney. “There is a strong need to deter this type of behavior.”
Both sides agreed that Paul Wanco lived with his family in a house that his mother owned, but in a separate unit downstairs.
However, Cozzarelli argued that Jennifer Wanco, who lived upstairs with her grandmother, was actually her caregiver, for which she was paid. He demanded that Jerejian impose “parity” because the two were “equally situated.” Since Jennifer Wanco was admitted to PTI, Cozzarelli said, the judge should grant his client the same privilege.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts disagreed, insisting that she had the right to deny the elder Wanco entry into the program based on the circumstances of the case.
Paul Wanco and his mother both told Adult Protective Services that he cared for her, indicating a recognition of his responsibility, Gomperts said. He held his mother’s power of attorney, handled her finances, paid her bills, bought her food and was responsible for taking care of the house, she added.
Gomperts also said that Jennifer Wanco has problems of extreme emotional instability and other developmental issues that made her unable to cope with the situation that was presented when the elderly woman fell.
“How can the defendant argue this was a victimless crime?” she asked Jerejian.
Gomperts told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Florence Wanco, who spent time in the hospital after the incident, “is not doing well.” After her discharge back home with her son and granddaughter, she said, the elderly woman had to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility.
Paul Wanco can ask for charges to be dismissed but not to enter PTI over her objection, Gomperts said. Such a move cannot happen without the consent of the county prosecutor’s office, she noted.
Jerejian agreed and set Jan. 14 hearing, when Cozzarelli can either seek a dismissal of the charges or request a final decision from him on the PTI argument.
The judge’s ultimate ruling will determine whether Wanco is cleared, will face trial or can seek a plea deal.