Melvin McIlwaine had one of those weeks last week.

His criminal fraud trial was to have started last Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, but he wound up in the emergency room, complaining of "cardiac arrest" followed by a day of nausea.

So the only way to ensure McIlwaine stayed healthy - and available - reasoned Judge Angelo J. Foglietta, was jail.

"I'll be here, even if I have a nosebleed," McIlwaine, 61, of South Philadelphia, protested when he appeared a day later before Foglietta. "If Michael Huff [his lawyer], my wife, and brother have to bring me down here, I'll be here."

Foglietta, who diplomatically ascribed McIlwaine's litany of woe to "a reluctance to come to court," was unmoved.

Assistant District Attorney Deborah Cooper Nixon was more blunt. She called McIlwaine a veteran con man who has tried one delay tactic after another, hoping his alleged victim - an 89-year-old World War II veteran - dies first.

"He is playing a cat-and-mouse game," Nixon said.

Long before McIlwaine met Ray White - and allegedly cheated him out of his South Philadelphia home, personal property, vintage 1964 silver Bentley, and gold 1969 Cadillac convertible - he had a string of arrests for burglary and fraud dating to 1977. McIlwaine pleaded guilty four times but was never sentenced to more than two years of probation.

In January 2012, according to court documents, McIlwaine was living in the 1200 block of South 13th Street and one day walked by 1208 S. Juniper St. White's cars, in mint condition, were parked out front.

After the war, White, a first lieutenant who served with the Ninth Air Force and carried paratroopers to the Battle of the Bulge, became a stockbroker and lived in the Dorchester on Rittenhouse Square.

In 2003, he retired and bought the Juniper Street house, where he lived alone.

The men started talking cars and McIlwaine allegedly introduced himself as "Mack Johnson."

It wasn't the beginning of a beautiful friendship, though it seemed to start that way.

McIlwaine visited frequently, and White treated him to lunch.

Ultimately, McIlwaine allegedly convinced White his two cars were too valuable to park on the street.

White, according to court documents, wanted to auction them - they were appraised for a total of $100,000 - and donate the money to a fund for families of police and firefighters who died in the line of duty.

McIlwaine allegedly persuaded White to let him park the Bentley and Caddy in a secure Center City garage.

Events moved quickly.

According to court documents, McIlwaine pawned the vehicles for a total of $6,000 and in October 2012, returned to White, saying he needed $20,000 to pay for garaging the cars.

Without ready cash, White got a $20,000 bank loan against his house. McIlwaine allegedly pocketed the money.

White's health began failing and he had a pacemaker installed. McIlwaine allegedly began urging White to move back to the Dorchester because the neighborhood was unsafe.

On Feb. 7, 2013, the ailing White was in a real estate office for the closing on his house when a neighbor called to say men were moving his property out of Juniper Street.

McIlwaine allegedly never arranged for White's new apartment and left the octogenarian homeless.

Court documents say White committed himself to the VA Medical Center in West Philadelphia after a "nervous breakdown."

When he got out on March 4, 2013, he went to police.

Left with nothing

Ray White didn't die. Nor did he go gently into that good night, as McIlwaine might have wished.

Veterans groups came to his aid, and the Senior Law Center in Philadelphia took up his cause as an example of the vulnerability of the aged to fraud.

Working pro bono, Rosemary McKenna and Daniel E. Rhynhart, lawyers with the Blank Rome firm, sued McIlwaine and others in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

"They left him with nothing, not even his clothing," said Dana N. Goldberg, a Senior Law Center lawyer.

Goldberg said lawyers had recovered the cars, which are now in a police impound lot pending completion of the trial. His house is still the subject of litigation with the real estate investment company that bought it from McIlwaine.

"Ray is really behind this," Goldberg said. "He wants people to come forward. There's such a lot of shame and fear among victims."

McIlwaine's sudden illnesses had already delayed the trial this year.

Last Monday, however, Assistant District Attorney Nixon contacted emergency room doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

They said cardiac tests on McIlwaine were negative but they wanted to perform others.

Nixon said McIlwaine pulled out his IV lines and left - one step ahead of police detectives with a bench warrant for his arrest.

After a day of moving around Philadelphia, McIlwaine volunteered to appear Tuesday afternoon after Nixon said she told his family police were ready to give his photo to news media.

McIlwaine apologized to Foglietta, though he insisted he really thought he was having a heart attack. He also withdrew his motion to fire his lawyer, saying he respected and had faith in Huff.

"We're beyond that," assured Foglietta, who then granted Nixon's motion to increase McIlwaine's bail from $100,000 to $160,000. He was going back to jail.

Jury selection is now set for Tuesday.

"I just want this over with," McIlwaine told Foglietta. "I don't like what's happening."

215-854-2985 @joeslobo