Contractor could be prosecuted for not completing rec center, owing Jeannette $65,000
A Washington County contractor who was paid $65,000 in public money to build a recreation center for the City of Jeannette has a Friday deadline to come up with the money or the city will turn the case over to the Westmoreland County District Attorney's Office for prosecution, said Mayor Robert Carter.
Carter said city attorney Scott Avolio has been ordered to contact county detectives if Tim Bongiorni of Avella doesn't respond to the city's repeated requests for an explanation as to how and when he plans to repay the city.
Carter said Avolio's “been authorized to take the next step.”
“The DA has been made aware,” Avolio added.
Bongiorni, who was president of Quality Sheet Metal Erection, was hired six years ago to provide a steel-frame building to serve as a recreation center. Bongiorni admitted he cashed the check but said he turned the money over to somebody else.
Bongiorni has been in contact with city engineer Ed Antonacci but has failed to respond to inquiries from Avolio.
The city's recreation commission received the money. The commission turned the grant over to the city, which contracted with Bongiorni to purchase and erect the structure.
The project languished for several years until two recreation commission members inquired about its status.
The funds were a state grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development and Jeannette could be required to repay the money, although that is unlikely because the source of the money was a special fund known as Walking Around Money that was doled out by state lawmakers for pet projects. There was little oversight or accountability for the money under the terms of the program.
Bongiorni told city officials he was in Florida. He could not be reached for comment.
While Jeannette tries to recoup that money, officials are trying to collect $250,000 in garbage bills that have gone unpaid by city residents over the past four years, said Councilman Bill Bedont. Another $50,000 in bills had to be written off because they were beyond the legal four-year time limit, he said.
Meanwhile, property tax collections are down $125,000 at this point compared with the same period in 2012, he said, because city treasurer Sam Casino is refusing to forward tax monies to banks and mortgage companies. Instead, Casino is sending tax bills to homeowners, making them responsible for the payments.
Casino was asked to attend Wednesday's meeting but he didn't appear. He previously said his office couldn't handle the paperwork after he lost an employee and the city refused to replace her.
“I would have liked to have Mr. Casino here tonight,” Bedont said. “If we could get a hold of Mr. Casino, maybe we can get some answers.”
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at email@example.com.