- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) - A man charged in the 2002 strangulation deaths of a northeastern Pennsylvania pharmacist and the pharmacist’s girlfriend spent or deposited more than $150,000 that year even though he had no job, his ex-girlfriend testified Monday.

Hugo Selenski spent thousands of dollars on an SUV, motorcycle, boat, all-terrain vehicle and gambling trips to Atlantic City. He bought his girlfriend diamond jewelry and paid her credit card bills. He helped her pay for a house and furnish it, the woman, Christina Strom, told a jury at Selenski’s homicide trial.

Around the time of the spending binge, Strom said, she saw plastic flex ties in the house she shared with Selenski and another plastic tie on the floor of her car - the same kind that prosecutors say Selenski and a co-conspirator used to strangle Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Lynn Fassett as part of a robbery plot.

Selenski has pleaded not guilty to homicide, robbery and related charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Kerkowski, who owned a pharmacy in Wyoming County, had admitted he illegally sold hundreds of thousands of doses of painkillers and was awaiting sentencing when he disappeared in May 2002.

Prosecutors say Selenski and an alleged co-conspirator, Paul Weakley, bound Kerkowski with plastic ties and beat him with a rolling pin, forcing the pharmacist to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he had in his house. The pair then strangled Kerkowski and Fassett with the ties and buried their bodies on the property Selenski shared with Strom, authorities allege.

Within a day of the homicides, prosecutors say, Selenski deposited about $10,000 he stole from Kerkowski to cover a check Strom had written to purchase the house.

The defense questioned Strom about her finances, suggesting she had the financial wherewithal to support herself and didn’t need Selenski. Strom made about $55,000 per year and had been living rent free in her grandmother’s house, she said.

She also acknowledged she had access to about $17,000 in credit card cash advances at the time of the closing.

“So you didn’t need Hugo to go kill Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett to cover the check, correct?” asked defense attorney Bernard Brown.

“Correct,” she replied.

Later, though, Strom asserted she wrote the check - knowing she only had a few hundred dollars in her account at the time - because “Hugo told me the money would be in the account for that amount.”

Selenski told her that Kerkowski was paying him to assist with the pharmacist’s court case, and she testified she found legal paperwork with Kerkowski’s name on it in her Honda. But she acknowledged that her boyfriend had access to huge sums of money.

“I did not have any idea where that money was coming from. He was telling me things and I didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe,” she said.

Selenski stared intently at his ex-girlfriend as she testified. Strom, who was charged with perjury and money laundering in connection with the case and awaits sentencing, did not return his gaze.

Strom said she began dating Selenski in 2001, after his release from prison on a bank robbery conviction.

“It was great in the beginning,” she said.

Shortly after Kerkowski’s disappearance, Strom testified, Selenski told her that “Paul did it.” That prompted an objection from the defense and a strong reaction from Selenski, who shook his head vigorously and threw up his hands. The judge ordered the jury to disregard her statement.

Weakley has already pleaded guilty to federal charges in the deaths of Kerkowski and Fassett and is expected to testify against Selenski.

Authorities found the bodies of Kerkowski, Fassett and at least three other sets of human remains on the property in June 2003.

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