Warrant: Fort Myers veteran’s body was staged after killing; roommate suspect

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Michael Joseph Wasko (Credit: LCSO booking photo)

According to an unredacted arrest warrant, the suspect accused of killing an elderly Fort Myers veteran tried to make it appear the victim strangled himself and a deputy had been called to the home the day before the death occurred.

Michael Joseph Wasko, 46, faces one count of second-degree murder in the death of Ron Lagattuta, 80. This victim’s body was found March 2 in the bedroom closet of his south Fort Myers home in the Jamaica Bay community.

“That’s just horrible. It’s shocking,” Carl Winthrop said.

“I just think it’s a sad thing that a veteran was treated that way,” veteran Cory Brown said.

The arrest warrant states that deputies were called to the home shortly after midnight on March 2 in reference to a missing elderly male. They met with a woman who said she checks in on Lagattuta every day to ensure he takes his medications, and on March 1, she went to his home several times but Lagattuta didn’t answer the door and his car was gone.

She briefly entered the home but did not look around. After leaving, she texted Wasko to ask where they were, and he replied, saying Lagattuta was unhappy with him and went to his room with his “toy.”

The woman went to the home again at 10 p.m., and then again at midnight with her boyfriend, who suggested they call 911.

Deputies searched Lagattuta’s home and found him hanging from the clothing rod in a bedroom closet, a cloth ligature around his neck. He had a massage gun in his left hand and a note located near his right hand. Deputies then called for a homicide detective. The contents of the note were not disclosed in the warrant.

“I feel so bad for the family to have to go through that loss and to grieve and the violence of it,” Winthrop said. “And the fact that the gentleman who allegedly killed him staged it and had left the state, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

The woman who called deputies said she last saw Lagattuta the evening of Feb. 28 at home with his new roommate, “MJ”, who was later identified as Wasko. The woman said Wasko and Lagattuta weren’t getting along, and while she was there, Wasko laid his hand on her thigh and she rejected him. This upset Lagattuta and he scolded Wasko for disrespecting the woman. She told investigators this was ongoing behavior for Wasko.

She said Lagattuta told her later that same evening that he wanted Wasko out of his home, and Lagattuta and Wasko argued after Wasko asked for a ride to the Lani Kai on Fort Myers Beach. Lagattuta refused and told Wasko he couldn’t use his car, even though he had previously allowed it.

A detective found that Lagattuta had bruising and lacerations to his face that were inconsistent with the scene, and a medical examiner investigator confirmed the death appeared suspicious.

A postmortem examination of Lagattuta found he suffered multiple blunt force trauma injuries to his face and head, fractures to his ribs and sternum, injuries to his heart and spine, a laceration to his liver and fractures to his hyoid bone (a bone located in the larynx).

It was also determined the ligature had been placed around Lagattuta’s neck after he died. The arrest warrant states Wasko staged Lagattuta to make it appear he strangled himself while masturbating.

His cause of death is listed as blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

A Lee County deputy had visited the home on March 1 in reference to a disturbance. Wasko is said to have told the deputy, “The old man was mad about his McDonald’s order.” He said Lagattuta was asleep and the deputy did not make contact with him at that time.

Surveillance video from the neighborhood shows Lagatutta’s car leaving Jamaica Bay the afternoon of March 1. The driver was obscured by the sun visor and the back seat was “packed to the roof with unknown items.” It was also discovered that Lagattuta’s car no longer had bumper stickers and window decals. Among those was a memorial to Lagattuta’s wife.

Lagatutta’s car was captured March 2 by a license plate reader in McIntosh County, Georgia, at 12:19 a.m. Later that day, the Chatham County Police Department issued Wasko a “notice to appear” for shoplifting and obstruction. Lagattuta’s car was towed from that location.

“The deputies of Lee County had entered the car into NCIC, so law enforcement all over the country was on the lookout for that car,” explained Rich Kolko, WINK News Safety & Security Specialist. “The license plate reader picked up the car.”

Lagatutta’s son told a detective on March 3 that he had planned to travel to Fort Myers to help his father leave because he was “scared of” Wasko.

Wasko was arrested March 3 in Port Wentworth, Georgia, and was returned to Lee County on Monday, where he was ordered held without bond.

His next court date is April 5.

Wasko also has a warrant out of Indiana for violation of probation and signed an extradition waiver. The judge said Indiana will not pick up Wasko until his Lee County case is over.

Those who live nearby are happy that Wasko is behind bars but saddened that Lagattuta is gone.

“It’s sick. It’s heartbreaking,” Winthrop said.

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