A crippled vet's tale of love, loss and $5 million
In a lawsuit, Raymond Hughes says his ex-wife and her friend left him almost broke.
A 71-year-old Air Force veteran found out the hard way that Cupid's arrows can sometimes be as debilitating and painful as wounds sustained in combat.
A little more than five years ago, Raymond Hug-
hes was a severely crippled man largely confined to his bed, a widower living with his brother Howard in West Philadelphia, and a man seeking justice from the federal government.
Hughes, who had moved north from Summerville, S.C., after his wife, Georgianna, died in 1999, saw his fortunes change after hiring attorney Gus Pelagatti Sr. After a tough legal battle, in October 2002 Hughes received a medical-malpractice settlement that netted him $5 million.
Today, despite getting regular payments from the settlement, he is nearly broke. He is also a lonely, heartbroken, dispirited man.
"I don't have hands, my mind is damned near gone, my nerves are shot to pieces. I'm on all kinds of drugs. My mind comes and goes," Hughes said from his home in Summerville, where he is looked after by a nurse.
"Most of the time, he is heavily sedated," Pelagatti said of Hughes.
The story of how this Air Force veteran found himself in such dire straits is a tale of a lonely man, an attractive woman, and - if a Common Pleas Court lawsuit is to be believed - betrayal.
Hughes' problems began in April 1997, when the retired housepainter underwent quadruple-bypass surgery at a Veterans Affairs hospital in nearby Charleston. He had a bad reaction to the blood thinner heparin, and went into a coma. When he came out of it two months later, he learned that surgeons had removed his right leg above the knee, part of his left leg, his left hand, and part of his right hand because gangrene had set in.
Hughes and his wife tried to cope, but she died two years later of heart failure, and the nearly helpless widower moved to West Philadelphia to be looked after by family.
All that changed after he was awarded the settlement: $2.1 million up front, and a monthly stipend of $6,000 for the rest of his life. One of the first things Hughes did was to give $200,000 to his church in South Carolina and $400,000 to family members.
Pelagatti said he advised his client to put the money in various CDs and suggested that he keep the rest in checking and savings accounts.
One of the banks Pelagatti suggested was Hudson United Bank. The bank, which has since closed, had an office in the same building as his law firm, on Walnut Street near 18th.
"I introduced him to Yvette Angelo," Pelagatti said with some remorse.
Angelo, according to the civil lawsuit filed last month, was an officer at Hudson United Bank who helped Hughes open a checking account and a savings account with a total exceeding $1 million.
Then, after learning all the particulars about Hug-
hes' financial and personal situation, she informed one of her friends, Delores Joyner, 56, the suit alleges.
Pelagatti said that a few days later, Joyner called Hughes "out of the blue."
"What woman in her right mind is going to call an amputee and eventually promise marriage unless money is involved?" Pelagatti asked.
Joyner, according to the suit, seduced Hughes, persuaded him to marry her - which he did on Oct. 18, 2003 - and persuaded him to deposit all of his money in his Hudson accounts.
Also, Joyner persuaded Hughes to buy her a house on East Marshall Road in Upper Darby before they married "as a sign of his sincerity," the suit states.
Joyner and Angelo then "systematically and fraudulently" drained Hughes' accounts, the suit states. By the time the two were done, they had taken more than $1 million.
Angelo could not be reached for comment and did not respond to messages left at her home and work.
Efforts to reach Joyner were also unsuccessful, despite phone calls and a visit to her home in West Philadelphia.
In a telephone interview this month from Summerville, Hughes found it painful to remember details of his courtship with Joyner.
"Something about her reminded me of my wife," he said.
"I loved her," Hughes said of Joyner. "I guess if she still loved me, we would be together. If she loved me, she shouldn't have did what she did. . . . I don't have hands, legs, and my mind goes and comes."
According to the lawsuit, the marriage was a sham from the beginning, but it did not end until early last year - when Joyner took a trip to Atlanta with her musician boyfriend and told Hughes that if he wanted to come along, he would have to "sleep in a separate room."
Hughes separated from his wife, the suit states, on Feb. 6, 2006, and filed for divorce 61/2 months later. The divorce, on the ground of "irretrievable breakdown-mutual consent," was granted July 18.
The suit, which seeks judgments in excess of $10 million, also names as defendants Hudson United Bank, TD Banknorth (which absorbed Hudson in 2006), and Citizens Bank. Citizens' connection to the case, the suit claims, is that Angelo eventually went to work for that bank and had $14,000 of Hughes' money transferred there.
Daniel S. Bernheim, an attorney representing Citizens Bank, said the bank had moved to dismiss the Hughes lawsuit on the grounds that the bank did nothing wrong or unethical and that Hughes' concerns were a result of personal interactions of Angelo and Joyner, not the bank.
Stephen G. Harvey, an attorney for Hudson and TD Banknorth, declined to comment.
Hughes' few remaining assets include his home in South Carolina, which "is mortgaged to the hilt," according to his attorney.
Still, Hughes refuses to be bitter.
"I can't judge nobody. I'll let the Lord judge them, not me," Hughes said. "But what I've learned is that a very kind heart gets you into a lot of trouble."