SALEM – The witnesses were ready. The courtroom was available. The prosecutors were ready.
But the trial of a former Salem developer accused of defrauding mortgage lenders and the government by acquiring apartment buildings, converting them into condos, and then recruiting “thatch” buyers to obtain mortgages has been reopened amid ongoing proceedings postponed pandemic.
“Why do I take risks when there is no urgency?” Judge Patti Saris said during a final pretrial Tuesday afternoon when she decided to postpone George Kritopoulos’ trial until next April.
Federal prosecutors allege Kritopoulos, 48, took in about $4 million from the mortgage and tax fraud scheme between 2006 and 2015.
His two co-defendants in the case, a former South Essex deputy clerk and accountant named David Plunkett and a Lynnfield man, Joseph Bates III, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the years-long conspiracy and are now scheduled to testify against Kritopoulos, according to a trial report, filed by the federal prosecutor’s office last week.
Your testimony now has to wait another six months.
The hearing got off to a shaky start when misunderstandings about whether the hearing would be held remotely or in the courtroom delayed the arrival of some attorneys, who walked into the courtroom and then had to look for internet and cellphone service in the Moakley courthouse.
Kritopoulos also appeared via video.
Late last week, his attorney, John Cunha, filed a last-minute request to have the trial postponed, citing the ongoing pandemic.
“Contrary to what the president says, there won’t be a vaccine within the next month, but they say it will be rolled out in the first quarter of next year,” Cunha told the judge during Tuesday’s hearing. “That’s the best knowledge we currently have.”
Cunha said he and the other members of the defense team wanted to delay the trial until next spring so there would be a better chance the vaccine would be available.
“The infection rate is going up again,” Cunha said. “I have a strong feeling that we can’t do it.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Cunha found a sympathetic ear for Saris, who had just completed the city’s first trial since the pandemic closed courthouses last March. Saris said finding a jury for a week-long trial is not easy and she is concerned that few jurors will be willing to attend what is expected to be a significantly longer trial — as long as a month.
Saris also questioned the logistics of a document-heavy case while jurors were “socially distanced” — and not directly in front of the video monitors in the jury box.
And she admitted she hadn’t expected a trial to happen so quickly, expecting the administrative judge to have a long list of court cases that would be given higher priority because the defendants are in custody . Instead, most of these cases were resolved, leaving the trial of Kritopoulos on deck.
Prosecutor Sara Bloom tried to allay the judge’s concerns by saying she believes it could go to trial within two weeks after she and others in the US Attorney’s Office streamlined the evidence and witness list.
“We got ready and re-notified all the witnesses,” Bloom said, noting that her office was working on the belief that Saris wanted to hear the case.
But Saris said she already has hearings scheduled for several afternoons, meaning prosecutors’ plan of having full days for testimony and evidence won’t work.
Now, having chaired a jury trial during the pandemic, “I have to say, even if it’s uncomfortable for you, Ms. Bloom, or for[co-counsel Victor Wild]I have a different mood. I’ve done it now.”
That, along with a surge in new COVID-19 cases in Boston, led to her decision to postpone the case, she said. It is now scheduled for April 6, with a final status hearing in February.
“Maybe one day this case will go to court,” said Saris.
“Everybody stay healthy,” Saris said at the end of the hearing.
Court reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, email [email protected] or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.