GLOUCESTER — A former city man, formerly the owner of a North Shore ambulance company, admitted in court to using a disabled Lynn man as his own personal piggy bank, raiding the man's bank account, opening up credit cards in his name and running up thousands of dollars in charges, and even signing the man's home over to himself.
Antonio Zappa, 49, a former Gloucester man whose wife purchased a $320,000 home in Lynn while the case was pending, will serve nine months in jail and must repay $50,000 to the victim's children as part of a plea agreement accepted yesterday by a Salem Superior Court judge.
Zappa pleaded guilty to felony larceny from a person over 60, identity fraud and credit card fraud. A charge of assault and battery on a person over 60 was dismissed because the victim has since died and prosecutors cannot prove that charge without his testimony.
Zappa's sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 2.
In court Monday, he agreed to sign over the $15,000 bail he'd posted in the case to the victim's daughters, with a pledge to pay the remaining $35,000 while he's on probation for three years.
Prosecutor Karen Hopwood described to a judge how Zappa met the victim, Eugene Nelson, in 2005, when Nelson was 70 and in failing health. A stroke 11 years earlier had left him unable to walk, and diabetes had further debilitated him, leaving him unable to see clearly enough to read, Hopwood said.
The victim's brother had introduced him introduced to Zappa, who at the time was facing an array of larceny charges in North Shore courts for various schemes, including selling equipment he did not own and writing bad checks, all allegedly to keep his business, then known as Northeast Ambulance, running.
Zappa, his wife and his mother-in-law moved into the second floor of Nelson's Maple Street home. Nelson, who relied on a wheelchair, was not able to get to the second floor.
Nelson had, at the time, one credit card, an American Express, and one checking account.
By the time Zappa was caught, there were at least a half-dozen credit cards in Nelson's name, with thousands of dollars in charges on them, some of them maxed out and accruing interest and late fees. Among the charges were plane tickets to Italy, Hopwood told Judge John Lu.
There were also hundreds of dollars in cellphone bills, payments for his wife's auto insurance, checks for hundreds of dollars made out to "cash," and even a check made out to Boston University for $50.
But that turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Nelson had given Zappa power of attorney to handle some matters for him — only to discover that in 2006, Zappa signed Nelson's house over to himself for $1. That transaction was later reversed.
They also learned that Zappa had taken out a $200,000 life insurance policy on Nelson, naming himself as the beneficiary of the policy — which was paid for with Nelson's money.
Nelson's adult children, who live out of state, became concerned in 2007 when they were unable to reach him for an extended period. His daughter flew here from Utah and discovered that the ringer on the only phone Nelson could reach was shut off.
She then discovered bags of Nelson's mail, including credit card and bank statements, piled on the second floor, where Zappa was living — and called Lynn police.
Julie Manganis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.