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Suit alleges sham marriage took amputee's cash

Raymond Hughes, confined to a wheelchair, is trying to retrieve money he lost to a woman who, a civil suit alleges, befriended him after he put much of a multimillion-dollar settlement into a bank account managed by a friend of hers.
Raymond Hughes, confined to a wheelchair, is trying to retrieve money he lost to a woman who, a civil suit alleges, befriended him after he put much of a multimillion-dollar settlement into a bank account managed by a friend of hers.Read more

TEN YEARS AGO, Raymond Hughes, 60, underwent a quadruple-bypass heart operation in a South Carolina hospital. A month later, he awoke from a coma with no hands and legs.

As the West Philadelphian lay unconscious, gangrene set into his limbs. His medical team had not properly monitored his dosage of the blood thinner Heparin following his April 1997 operation at a Veterans Administration hospital in Columbia, S.C.

Hughes, a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War, could no longer work as a painter. He was permanently confined to a wheelchair.

Fortunately, in October 2002, Philadelphia attorney Gustine J. Pelagatti Sr. won a $5 million medical-malpractice settlement that should have provided for the quadruple amputee for life.

Yet, today, Hughes is broke. And his lawyer alleges that Hughes is the victim of a massive scam by bank official Yvette Angelo and her best friend, Delores Joyner, who allegedly conspired to bilk him of more than $1 million, according to a 60-count Common Pleas civil lawsuit filed last month.

It claims that the two women played with his heart, while preying on his bank accounts. Pelagatti said Joyner, an ex-cab driver, seduced him, and Hughes fell in love.

After luring him into a sham marriage, the two women jumped joyously, high-fiving each other "to celebrate the beginning of their secret and sinister conspiracy to defraud" Hughes, according to the lawsuit.

It was "like they made a score," said Pelagatti. "Two conniving women . . . skinned him alive. He's broke. He doesn't have penny one."

Pelagatti said he has not filed a police report - yet - because he wanted to help his client get out of his marriage and salvage what was left of his estate.

Now, Pelagatti says it's payback time - although the two women strongly deny the allegations, and Hughes' ex-wife called the charges "lies."

For months, Pelagatti pieced together Hughes' tragic tale through interviews with him and with others, and through financial records and documents.

Angelo and Joyner "really ran a con job on him," said Pelagatti.

On Nov. 19, he filed the lawsuit charging Angelo with 14 counts; Joyner, six counts; the now-defunct Hudson United Bank, with 16 counts; T.D. Banknorth, which took over Hudson, 16 counts; and Citizens Bank, eight counts.

The charges include conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting, invasion of privacy and negligence.

Joyner and Angelo were described in the lawsuit as "outrageous, malicious, wanton, willful and/or oppressive," as showing "reckless indifference" and inflicting Hughes with "emotional distress."

The lawsuit alleges that Angelo illegally divulged Hughes' financial information from three banks to Joyner - and that the banks were responsible for their employee's actions.

"I have no worries," said Angelo, who handled Hughes' finances as a customer-service representative at the now-defunct Hudson United Bank and then at a Citizens Bank branch on Market Street near 7th.

Said Joyner, 55,Hughes' ex-wife: "This is going in the Daily News? Unbelievable. The allegations are all lies. I had no idea it was going this far. Oh, my gosh."

On behalf of Hughes, the lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in compensatory damages and more than $10 million in punitive damages from both Angelo and Joyner and each of the three banks.

Jeff Radio, branch manager of T.D. Banknorth where Angelo once worked, said he could not comment, as the lawsuit was under review by lawyers.

A spokeswoman for Citizens Bank, Sylvia Bronner, said: "We don't make comments on ongoing litigation."

Hughes had a big heart.

After legal expenses were paid from the malpractice settlement, a trust fund was set up to pay Hughes' medical expenses and provide a monthly $6,000 stipend. Hughes had about $2.1 million left, said Pelagatti.

The first thing Hughes wanted to do was send about $200,000 to churches and charities and $400,000 to relatives.

Pelagatti did as requested, but says he advised his client to put $1.1 million in various certificates of deposit until he decided where to invest the money, and that he keep the rest in checking and savings accounts.

The attorney suggested using Hudson United Bank in the same building as his law firm, on Walnut Street near 18th. If a problem arose, the lawyer reasoned, he would be able to solve it quickly.

Pelagatti even took the wheelchair-bound vet to the bank, where Hughes met Hudson United's customer-service representative, Angelo.

The banking process took a while that day; Hughes soon poured out his heart. He confided to Angelo he was lonely, a widower, and offered other details about his personal life, Pelagatti said.

"Are you married?" Hughes asked Angelo.

"Yes, I am," she told him.

Shortly after the deposit was made, a woman phoned the disabled retiree out of the blue at his home, according to the lawsuit.

She introduced herself as Delores Joyner, and told him that Yvette Angelo, from the bank, referred her to him. Joyner asked if he wanted to get together for a relationship.

Pelagatti said Joyner was more direct at Hughes' home, saying "I'm a woman, you're a man . . . we can see what goes on from there."

"This guy is excited as hell," said Pelagatti. "He never thought a woman would look at him."

Half of Hughes' left forearm is amputated, his right hand is gone with only a stump for a thumb. His right leg is cut off at the hip, and his left leg, amputated above the knee, is now attached to a prothesis.

Joyner first seduced Hughes, then convinced him to marry her, the lawsuit alleged.

As a "sign of sincerity" before they married, the lawsuit said, Joyner persuaded Hughes to buy a $189,000 Upper Darby home in cash in both of their names.

On their Oct. 18, 2003, wedding day, the lawsuit charged, as soon as the couple were pronounced husband and wife, the two gal-pals "joyously gave each other jumping high-fives."

Later that same day, Pelagatti said, wedding guests saw Joyner in a long embrace, kissing an associate of the "The Intruders," a soul group specializing in '60s and '70s music. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

According to Pelagatti, when guests set out for the wedding reception, Joyner tried to get in Angelo's car. But Angelo admonished her: "Go with your husband," witnesses told Pelagatti.

As a newlywed, Joyner quickly persuaded Hughes to put her name on his financial accounts, and then, the suit alleges, proceeded to drain them.

According to the lawsuit and Pelagatti, she got him to repair her car, then buy her a new one; to obtain a $100,000 loan on their new Upper Darby house - money she allegedly covertly shared with Angelo; to use loan funds to renovate the Joyner family home on Wharton Street in South Philadelphia; and to pay for a vacation in Jamaica for an estimated 50 friends of Angelo and Joyner. Hughes had obtained the loan on their new home after Joyner "falsely" told him that Angelo's husband, Peter, a building contractor, was in desperate need of work, the lawsuit said.

She contended that the contractor would need the money to extensively renovate their new Upper Darby home and five properties on Spruce Street near 55th.

Joyner spent so much that she told Hughes they were running out of money and urged him to cash one of his last CDs, according to Pelagatti. Hughes asked Angelo to cash it.

By last year, Joyner had invited about 12 relatives - her 86-year-old mother, 51-year-old sister, 26-year-old daughter, 36-year-old son and their families, plus a nephew - to move into the Upper Darby house. None of them worked, according to court documents.

Joyner charged her relatives rent, taking some of her mother and sister's Social Security money, and shared the proceeds with Angelo, according to court documents.

Meanwhile Hughes was feeling crowded in his own home with "too many people," yet, he said, he "went with the program" and picked up all of the home's expenses, including taxes, utilities, food and payments on the $100,000 loan, according to court documents.

By then, Angelo had moved to Citizens Bank, on Market Street near 7th, and encouraged Hughes to open a joint account where he deposited $14,000 to pay real-estate taxes.

Within three weeks, the money was gone. The lawsuit charged that Angelo assisted Joyner in withdrawing it.

"I spent it. Can you live with that?" Joyner told her husband, according to Pelagatti.

Soon, Joyner was talking about going down to Atlanta with the Intruders for a concert, the suit says. According to the lawsuit, she told her husband that, if he wanted to go, he'd have to "sleep in a separate room."

"You're going down there with five men and you tell me to get my own room, what is that telling me?" he said.

"You don't give a f--- about me, period," he added.

Then, he issued a warning: "You go wherever you're going, when you come back, I'll be gone."

Joyner went to Atlanta without her husband.

That's when Hughes discovered his wife's affair with her longtime lover, who was associated with the Intruders, according to the lawsuit.

He also confronted his wife about the money and she allegedly admitted to the conspiracy to defraud him, the lawsuit stated.

Hughes had reached the breaking point, Pelagatti said. The betrayals, the affair, the loan, the missing money and other "indignities" had piled up.

On Feb. 6, 2006, Hughes left. He called his nephew to pick him up, leaving Joyner and her family in the Upper Darby home.

Later, he called Pelagatti, who investigated his client's finances, interviewed witnesses and uncovered what the lawsuit alleges was a massive fraud.

A month after Hughes left, Joyner filed for domestic support. By May, Hughes' estranged wife obtained an interim support order for $1,1943.11 a month from Hughes' disability check, plus $10 for arrears.

But Joyner wanted permanent support.

At an Aug. 28, 2006, support hearing, Michael Grasso, an attorney serving as a "master" in domestic relations, asked the estranged wife:

"Why are you not working now?"

"I really haven't had a chance to find a job," Joyner replied.

"What's stopping you?" asked Grasso.

"I haven't been looking," she admitted.

"I just felt like I had to have the bills paid and I thought my husband should help me, if he's gonna just up and leave me like that," Joyner told Grasso.

Joyner was awarded nothing in support.

Last July 18, Hughes received a divorce. As part of the divorce settlement, Joyner is to receive $42,000 of the proceeds when their Upper Darby home is sold.

Now 70, Hughes is so medicated for pain, he looks and sometimes talks as if he is drunk, his lawyer says.

He is broke, divorced, depressed and has constant episodes of nausea and headaches. He experiences nightmares, insomnia and emotional disturbances following the trauma allegedly inflicted by his ex-wife and her friend.

But most of all, he is heartbroken.

"Look at me," the inconsolable man recently told his lawyer. "Why would any woman want me?" *