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Jeannette turns to detectives to probe loss of $65,000

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The City of Jeannette Friday asked Westmoreland County detectives to investigate a Washington County contractor who accepted $65,000 in public money to build a recreation center and will not repay the money, said the city's attorney.

Scott Avolio met with a detective after Tim Bongiorni of Avella contacted him Friday to discuss returning the money, which was awarded to the city through a state grant in 2005.

“His response caused enough concern with me that I recommended to the mayor that we permit the DA to evaluate the circumstances,” Avolio said. “At this point, it seems prudent to ask the district attorney's office to look into the circumstances.”

Avolio declined to discuss what Bongiorni told him during their conversation that triggered the request for an investigation.

Bongiorni did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Avolio said he has been trying to contact Bongiorni for weeks to learn what was done with the money and how Bongiorni planned to repay the city.

The total cost of the project was $1.5 million. Because no additional funds could be secured, the grant money had languished with the Recreation Commission until it was turned over to city council in 2007.

The city hired Bongiorni to provide a 15,000-square-foot pole building that he would erect on Chambers Avenue to serve as a recreation center. Bongiorni was then president of Quality Sheet Metal Erection, which is no longer in business. The $65,000 was to be a down payment toward the structure with another $20,000 due to Bongiorni.

The city issued a check, dated June 29, 2007, to Bongiorni's company and a Bedford County firm. The check was drawn from National City Bank, now part of First Niagara, and endorsed for payment.

City officials did not pay the rest of the money and never followed up with Bongiorni on the status of the building for four years.

Avolio has questioned why the check was made out to both firms, who cashed it, and where the money went.

Bongiorni previously told the Tribune-Review he cashed the check and paid the money to a Somerset County company to provide the pole building. He said he couldn't remember the name of the firm or the salesman he dealt with.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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