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Western Pennsylvania entrepreneur slain in India

| Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010

Police in India on Friday questioned the teenage son of a hard-charging Pittsburgh entrepreneur and business consultant found dead with her throat slit in the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

The daughter of Italian immigrants, Cynthia Iannarelli, 51, grew up working in her family's Bridgeville dry cleaning store before earning a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, running a variety of businesses and managing programs to promote entrepreneurship among women and teenagers.

"I am totally shocked. I talked with her two weeks ago. She was one of the most dynamic, entrepreneurial, articulate people I ever knew," said Sally Derstine, managing director of the Delaware Valley Family Business Center in Montgomery County, who knew Iannarelli for a decade.

Iannarelli was found late Thursday at a tourist resort in the historic town of Osian. Police Superintendent Girdhari Lal Sharma called Iannarelli's son the prime suspect. The Hindustan Times identified him as Joncarlo Patton.

Patton left the resort early yesterday and was picked up by police at the airport in the nearest big town, Jodhpur, about 60 miles from the resort, Sharma said. He said he was studying in Italy, police said, and he and his mother had come to India to see the country.

"At this point, it's a family tragedy," said Iannarelli's ex-husband, George Patton of Presto. "I have nothing to say beyond that. We have very little information."

Her son's Facebook page said he would graduate from South Fayette Senior High School in 2013. No one from the district could be reached for comment.

Dedicated to family enterprise

Iannarelli founded the Bernelli Foundation and Bernelli University in Alexandria, Va., in 2005. The university's website says Bernelli entrepreneurial centers are located in Pittsburgh, Fayette County, Morgantown, Alexandria and Italy. Calls to the foundation and university were picked up by an answering machine.

Iannarelli was the director of the Center for Family Business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a visiting lecturer at the Wharton Business School Family Enterprise Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She lectured in Eastern Europe and Russia, according to the business information search engine ZoomInfo.

Her passion was understanding the dynamics of family-run businesses, Derstine said.

"Family businesses have their own issues. Her mission was to prepare families for confusion and conflict questions about leadership and who makes decisions," Derstine said.

Iannarelli's life was marked by personal and financial success often followed by sharp reversals.

Her father died when Iannarelli was 20, and she helped to run her family's dry cleaning business, Fi Del Cleaners, before graduating from Duquesne University.

"My brother and I helped our mother maintain the family business,'' Iannarelli told the Tribune-Review in 1995. "I was happy, and it was something I wanted to do.''

Tough circumstances

At Duquesne, she studied pharmacy before earning her doctorate in business at Pitt.

She and her husband divorced -- apparently bitterly -- in 2002. The split was followed by the two receiving a series of restraining orders against each other, according to Allegheny County court records.

Last year, Iannarelli filed for bankruptcy. She had tax and bank liens against her at the time.

In 1994, Iannarelli found herself embroiled in controversy at Seton Hill College in Greensburg, where she headed the school's women's business center.

A government audit concluded the center incurred $319,000 in "questionable expenses" during its first two years of existence. Seton Hill refunded $144,000 to the Small Business Administration but disputed the balance.

Iannarelli resigned as the center's director in October 1994. During her tenure, Iannarelli came under scrutiny for trips to the Bahamas and putting her mother, Dolores Iannarelli, on the payroll.

'Full of energy'

After leaving Seton Hill, she founded and operated Camp Business Cents, a summer camp her two children attended.

The junior entrepreneurs, some as young as 3, learned about production costs, sales, marketing and personnel decisions.

"She was such an engaging person, always full of energy. I think it takes lots of imagination to get young children to think about business," said Michelle Fryling, an IUP spokeswoman.

"My heart breaks when I think of how she died."

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