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Feds: Lawyer, Mon Valley Independent co-owner took $624K from dementia patient

Matthew Santoni
| Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, 2:16 p.m.

Federal investigators say a former Charleroi attorney and co-owner of the Mon Valley Independent defrauded a dementia patient of nearly $624,000, some of which went into the newspaper's accounts.

In the Bill of Information filed Monday by acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song, federal prosecutors said Keith A. Bassi had power of attorney over the estate of a person identified only as “N.J.L.,” who had been in a personal care home since 2012 and had dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Between November 2013 and October 2016, authorities said he misappropriated a total of about $623,779 from N.J.L. for his personal accounts and the publishing company.

Prosecutors charged Bassi with three counts of mail fraud. He is waiving an indictment, though no date has been set for a hearing or guilty plea, said U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Margaret Philbin. Federal documents did not list an attorney for him.

Between 2013 and 2015, prosecutors said Bassi used N.J.L.'s funds to pay the $55,000 annual premium on a life insurance policy, then requested a “surrender” of the policy in September 2016 and deposited the money into his personal account.

On other occasions, he would deposit N.J.L.'s money into his personal accounts and made deposits worth about $110,000 to accounts for “Mid Mon Valley Publishing,” a company he formed in 2015 with businessmen Naz Victoria and Moe Galis, and Monessen District Judge Joseph Dalfonso. He used $50,000 of his client's money as the initial opening deposit, and a total of about $60,000 that went into the company's business and payroll accounts.

In April 2016, Trib Total Media sold the former Valley Independent to Mid Mon Valley Publishing, which changed the paper's name.

Bassi's license to practice law was temporarily suspended in August at the request of the U.S. District Court, documents show. Staff at his former law office said he had not been a member of the firm since June, and a brief that ran in the Independent Aug. 17 said Bassi had “retired” before his suspension took effect.

Victoria said Bassi retained his stake in the publishing company.

Jeff Oliver, general manager of the Mon Valley Independent, said he didn't anticipate the charges affecting the newspaper's operations.

“The legal action taken against Keith will have no effect whatsoever on the running of the newspaper,” Oliver said. “I've been assured this has nothing to do with us.”

The paper's management had known about the pending case since the summer, Oliver said, but he personally stood up for Bassi.

“I've known Keith a long, long time — long before this newspaper ever came out,” Oliver said. “I've known him to be a stand-up guy.”

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, or on Twitter @msantoni.

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