YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack today rejected a bid by Lodi Fire Marshal Paul Wanco to have charges of abusing his elderly mother dismissed, setting the stage for either a plea bargain or a trial.
“I’m setting a plea cutoff (March 10), and I intend to set the case down for a trial date,” Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian told Wanco, who is accused of deliberately leaving his then-89-year-old mother lying on the floor in her own urine and feces for nearly 15 hours.
Defense attorney Frank Cozzarelli wanted Jerejian to dismiss an indictment returned by a grand jury in Hackensack that charges Wanco, 58, with elder abuse and aggravated assault “for attempted serious bodily injury with indifference to the value of human life.”
Cozzarelli argued that prosecutors failed to prove that Wanco was legally responsible for the care of his mother, whose home he lived in with his family. The defense attorney also contended that there was no evidence Wanco was responsible for his mother’s fall and that there was no proof that he had “formed the intent” to harm her.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts countered that Wanco’s own statement to police who arrived and called emergency services to take his mother to the hospital proved that he was aware of her circumstances. He also told his niece, Jennifer, he would take care of his mother when he arrived home, she said.
“He said ‘If you can’t take care of it, I will come upstairs and take care of it’,” Gomperts said. “If that isn’t assuming a duty, I don’t know what is.”
Hospital reports showed that when Florence Wanco arrived at the hospital she was dehydrated, had significant bruises and bed sores, and burns from either the fecal matter she was lying in or from the plywood floor.
She had four broken ribs, Gomperts added, and said Wanco “knew his mother’s condition, and came home and went to sleep anyway.”
Jerejian said the grand jury was clearly justified in returning the indictment.
“Mr. Wanco’s niece, Jennifer, was just turning 18 and was living on the second floor of the house with the grandmother. Was Paul Wanco taking care of the grandmother? The answer was yes,” the judge said.
“When Jennifer called Paul Wanco, he stated ‘he would deal with the situation when he got home.’
“The police told the grand jury conditions in the apartment were deplorable. There were fecal stains, urine, sores, the victim was lying on the floor, on her side in discomfort, and was left for an extended period of time.
“He is the son, he lives in the house, the niece had just turned 18. To say she was completely responsible for the woman’s care – this is for a jury to decide.”
Jennifer Wanco, who was indicted along with her uncle last summer, 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 refused to sign off on the same arrangement for Paul Wanco, however.
Paul Wanco was able to ask for charges to be dismissed but not to enter PTI over Gomperts objection. Such a move cannot happen without the consent of the county prosecutor’s office. And he wasn’t getting it, Gomperts said.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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