Jury rules against Export couple seeking $30 million in lawsuit
A Westmoreland County jury on Thursday ruled against an Export couple who claimed they were owed more than $30 million for lost scientific records and equipment they say were improperly removed from their home while they served time in federal prison for bank fraud.
After 12 days of testimony and one hour of deliberation, the jury issued a verdict in favor of Chase Home Financial and Safeguard Properties, which claimed during the trial they were not liable for the missing property.
Srikanth Raghunathan and his wife, Padmasheri Sampathkumar, contended the bank did not follow proper procedures when it foreclosed upon their Lorenzo Lane home in Hempfield after they were sentenced to prison in 2006. At that time, the couple owned a company that had contracts to provide nanotechnology to the U.S. military.
The house was sold at sheriff’s sale in 2008 while Raghunathan served a 52-month sentence and Sampathkumar served 40 months behind bars. The couple claimed Chase hired Safeguard to clean out the property after the sale. In doing so, they said sensitive business records and proprietary scientific information valued at more than $20 million was discarded. An additional $10 million in clothes, jewelry, appliances and other items were removed from the home, they claimed.
The jury verdict did not address the specific allegations with regard to the missing property. Jurors determined Raghunathan and Sampathkumar filed their complaint too late and beyond the two year statute of limitations required by law, a determination that did not require jurors to issue a finding on the merits of the lawsuit.
Still, lawyers spent more than two weeks presenting testimony about what occurred during the foreclosure process.
Attorney John Giselson, representing Chase, told jurors the couple’s friends and family members removed items from the home during their period of incarceration. He suggested no evidence was presented during the trial before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Harry Smail Jr. that any specific items with value were taken.
The lawsuit was an effort for them to recoup money needed to repay a $10.7 million fine imposed upon them in the federal criminal case, he argued.
“It’s a scheme to try to gain something through litigation,” Giselson argued.
Dennis Kusturiss, the lawyer for Raghunathan and Sampathkumar, told jurors that his clients played no role in the removal of property from theirhome. The bank should be punished for its actions, he said.
“Their technology was on hold while they were in prison. It’s gone now,” Kusturiss said. “They acted with reckless indifference. They just didn’t care.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]