A former Pennsylvania senator charged with corruption is mentally incompetent to stand trial, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, ordering the 84-year-old defendant to be taken into custody and placed in a prison hospital for treatment.
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo said retired lawmaker Raphael Musto cannot understand the proceedings against him, and ordered Musto hospitalized at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility for up to four months to determine whether there is a "substantial probability" that he will become competent to stand trial.
Caputo ruled one day after several experts said Musto is mentally unfit to assist in his own defense and is too sick and frail to stand trial.
Defense and court-appointed experts testified Monday that Musto suffers from a variety of physical ailments, including a life-threatening aneurysm, advancing liver cirrhosis, extreme fatigue and a skin condition that has led to uncontrollable itching. They also said he has diminished mental capacity and would be unable to offer meaningful assistance to his attorneys or testify effectively.
Ruling in Wilkes-Barre, Caputo determined that Musto's illnesses shouldn't prevent him from standing trial, but said that his cognitive impairment warranted a postponement. He ordered federal authorities to report on Musto's condition by March 7, and to tell him by May 7 whether his condition has improved to permit the trial to proceed.
"There is a strong public interest in seeing this case prosecuted," Caputo wrote. "Mr. Musto was a state senator for many years and an acknowledged figure of considerable political power in this region of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, if not the entire Commonwealth."
Caputo acknowledged the defense argument that Musto should be spared a prison hospital "because his mental and physical conditions are practically untreatable," but said he was bound by federal law that requires treatment of defendants deemed mentally incompetent.
Musto's trial on charges that include bribery and fraud has been delayed repeatedly over concerns about his health. Caputo had rejected a previous attempt by Musto's attorneys to postpone it indefinitely, ruling the "magnitude and seriousness of the case" took precedent, and that a medical professional could be on hand to address Musto's health issues.
Prosecutors say Musto accepted cash and free building renovations in exchange for his help obtaining taxpayer money for development projects, and took additional cash as a reward for helping a municipality get state loans. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 13.
Musto was elected to the state House in 1971 to fill the unexpired term of his late father, James Musto. He spent a term in the U.S. House in the early 1980s and then won election to the state Senate in 1982.
He was indicted in November 2010, shortly before his retirement.
His attorneys did not immediately return phone and email messages for comment Tuesday.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith said his office is reviewing the judge's opinion. He declined further comment.