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Onetime instructors at Beauty Academy recoup lost pay

| Friday, Aug. 29, 2003

Former Pittsburgh Beauty Academy instructors Denise Mitchell and Phyllis Friel sat outside the courtroom of District Justice Larry Hopkins in Charleroi Thursday morning and waited.

Waiting is something the pair have become accustomed to regarding their former employer, Arthur B. DeConciliis Sr., president of Pittsburgh Beauty Academy.

The women, who were instructors at the school's branch campus on Fifth Street in Charleroi, haven't been paid by DeConciliis since March 28. DeConciliis failed to appear for the civil hearings before Hopkins yesterday morning.

But yesterday's court dates won't be the last time the women will wait for DeConciliis outside Hopkins' courtroom.

The next time, their former employer will be facing more than the civil suits filed against him for unpaid wages. DeConciliis will have to answer a criminal complaint for issuing bad checks to the women.

"I loved my job. We stayed for our director and for our students," said Mitchell, a Uniontown resident who worked as an instructor for the past two years.

"I almost lost my car, my home. That's how bad it was. I had 15 parking tickets because I couldn't afford to park at the school," she said.

Friel's finances suffered as well. "I had to take out a line of credit and borrow money from my sister," she said.

Friel, who resides in Elco, Washington County, was an instructor for the past two years, as well as in the 1980s.

Mitchell and Friel, who have since found new employment at a beauty school in Dormont, Allegheny County, worked for five weeks without pay before their director decided to close the school May 1.

The women were seeking to collect a total of $4,598 for lost wages. However, after Hopkins ordered judgments in their favor, he discovered the women's lost wages included two bad checks written by DeConciliis.

After consulting with women, Hopkins amended his civil judgments to $1,095 for Mitchell and $926 for Friel, which is the difference of each bad check issued to them and miscellaneous expenses they claimed were owed them.

The Washington County District Attorney's Office will consider a private criminal complaint by Friel for a $1,600 bad check, as well as a private criminal complaint by Mitchell for a $976 bad check, Hopkins said.

Friel and Mitchell's decision to file criminal complaints against DeConciliis for writing bad checks won't be the first lodged by a former employee.

Tammie Lee Garris of Homer City, Indiana County, a former instructor at the Pittsburgh Beauty Academy's Greensburg school, filed a criminal complaint for a $1,100 bad check. DeConciliis failed to appear for an Aug. 15 hearing before District Justice Mark Mansour, of Hempfield Township, so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

A second Greensburg employee, director Jody M. Siejk, of North Huntingdon Township, also has filed a private criminal complaint with Mansour against DeConciliis for issuing a bad paycheck for $1,600.

The Greensburg staff was the first group from Pittsburgh Beauty Academy's four branches to close operations -- on April 23 -- because they weren't paid. The academy also has a branch in New Kensington, as well as a main campus in Pittsburgh.

In addition to the two civil judgments against DeConciliis yesterday, Hopkins awarded two former students a total of $8,351 for lost tuition money last month.

DeConciliis did not appear for the hearings for Rene Shoup, of Washington, Washington County, the mother of student Stephen Shoup, and Janet Hamilton, of Claysville, Washington County.

DeConciliis did not file an appeal to the verdicts 30 days after the hearings, so the Washington County Sheriff's Office sent DeConciliis notice of sale of assets to cover the judgments.

DeConciliis did not return a phone call made to his Pittsburgh office.

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