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First National wants Jeannette to block court-ordered award

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

First National Bank has asked the City of Jeannette to halt the distribution of money from a court-ordered award to a businessman because he owes the bank money, documents indicate.

Attorney Scott Avolio said the bank argues it is “entitled to an equitable share of the award” to Frank Trigona because of an outstanding loan against a local property.

Kathy Hammons, a spokeswoman for the bank, had no comment on Monday.

The issue may be moot, because the city doesn't have the cash to pay Trigona $76,900 in damages plus more than $158,000 in legal fees to his attorney.

“There was money owed on the property,” Trigona said. “There's still money owed on the property for at least seven years. The city isn't going to pay me, anyway. They don't have any money.”

Avolio said he was notified by letter last week that the bank wants to block the city from paying Trigona and will seek a consent order to stop any distribution without its approval.

Westmoreland County Judge Richard McCormick Jr. last month awarded damages and legal fees to Trigona stemming from a dispute dating to 2005 after the city refused to issue Trigona health and occupancy permits for his rental properties because he owed the city taxes.

Because council refused to settle the case as its insurer recommended, the insurance carrier notified the city several years ago that it would not pay for any appeals or awards should the city lose the case.

In 2001, Trigona borrowed $615,000 from Promistar Bank. That same year, he borrowed $100,000 more, according to court records. Promistar was taken over by First National.

Trigona said he's reduced his debt but still owes $65,000.

“That's what's got to be negotiated,” he said. “I didn't get near that kind of money (from the city).”

The case cost Jeannette more in legal fees than the court-ordered award.

Taxpayers shelled out nearly $34,000 in legal fees to its former solicitors to pursue the case against Trigona.

Attorney Gary Falatovich received more than $20,000 in fees between 2010 and 2012, according to city records. Jack Cambest earned more than $13,000 between 2008 and 2010. Avolio said he didn't charge the city.

“I roughly submitted between 30 to 40 hours on this matter over the past two years with regard to my services, but those hours always reflected a ‘no charge' notation to the city,” Avolio said. “I did invoice the city for my attendance during the two-day trial of 12 hours.”

The case began in 2005 when the city passed an ordinance denying health and occupancy permits to landlords who owed taxes to the city. The courts overturned the ordinance. Trigona then sued the city. The city appealed to the county courts, which ruled in favor of Trigona.

The city appealed to Commonwealth Court, which upheld the county decision.

A board of viewers awarded $300,000 in damages to Trigona. The city appealed again, and a county judge reduced the amount but awarded attorney Robert Lightcap legal fees. The city will be hard-pressed to pay Lightcap since it is on the verge of being declared a distressed city subject to state oversight.

Trigona said he knew he would never get any money because of the back taxes he owes.

“Somebody needed to teach this city they can't just do anything they want to their taxpayers,” he said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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