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Drug dealer's family fights property confiscation

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 3:40 a.m.

The wife and stepdaughter of a convicted North Huntingdon Township cocaine dealer are claiming that several properties and businesses in two states should not be seized by the federal government because they were purchased with "legitimate" funds.

Martha Scalzitti and her daughter, Christine Kasunic-Laukus, and her husband, David, want a federal judge to hold a hearing into their ownership claims before the government seizes a restaurant, two mailing centers, an auto dealership, several real estate companies and two condos in Florida in connection with the prosecution of Jon Scalzitti.

The U.S. government wants to seize the properties — and also $4 million in cash — because it contends the assets were accumulated by selling drugs. On Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Jon Scalzitti pleaded guilty to smuggling $11 million worth of cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana into the region. The 62-year-old former car dealer faces a prison term of 20 years to life when he is sentenced Jan. 17 on drug, fraud and money laundering charges.

Federal prosecutors also served notice that they intend to introduce Jon Scalzitti's prior cocaine trafficking conviction in 1981 at his sentencing in an effort to obtain a stiffer prison sentence. Jon Scalzitti was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after his conviction. Federal agents contend in court records that he resurrected his drug operation as soon as his probation ended in the mid-1990s.

As part of his plea, Jon Scalzitti agreed to forfeit his financial interest in 18 properties the U.S government contends was amassed through proceeds from selling drugs. Jon Scalzitti's assets include property in Somerset County, a beer distributorship, a sandwich and six-pack shop, mailing centers, land in Florida and several auto sales and leasing companies.

In a motion filed by her attorney, Anthony Mariani of Pittsburgh, Martha Scalzitti argued that she was able to purchase interests in the business with her earnings, loans, lines of credit and credit cards and not from proceeds of her husband's drug-dealing enterprise.

"At no time prior to Jon Scalzitti's pleading guilty did Ms. Scalzitti have knowledge of the unlawful conduct to which Jon Scalzitti admitted by entering his plea of guilty," Mariani said.

Martha Scalzitti owns half of the stock in Armando's Cafe, located in the Norwin Hills Shopping Center in North Huntingdon, through the purchase of 250 shares for $75,000 in 1999. The money, she added, was "derived from legitimate sources in the form of a loan supported by a check."

The other owner of Armando's Cafe is John Scozio, a North Huntingdon businessman, who operates a chain of supermarkets in the region.

The FBI said Scalzitti used Armando's as a base of operations and discussed drug deals inside and behind the restaurant with a confidential informant who taped the conversations for the FBI.

Martha Scalzitti also said she owns half interest in the Camry Building in North Huntingdon, which was built by her husband. The construction was financed through PNC Bank and $348,000 still is owed on the mortgage, she said.

She also owns half interest in Camry Land Development and Camry Estates, a housing development company. The Scalzittis are partners with Scozio, who also is claiming a legitimate interest in some of the jointly owned properties.

Martha Scalzitti also is contesting the government's right to seize a Florida condo in North Palm Beach.

She claims she is the sole owner of the property, arguing "the property was purchased with legitimate funds and certainly not with funds derived from illegal conduct." She has an agreement to sell a second apartment for $200,000, a sale the U.S. government is allowing to proceed.

Martha Scalzitti claims she and her husband were able to purchase the properties because of income he received from his job as a contractor and real estate manager of the Camry Building, Camry Development and Camry Estates. They also used income from the sale of cars at First Class Auto in North Huntingdon to purchase the land, she contends.

"Ms. Scalzitti also contributed money toward this purchase," Mariani said. "No funds from any illegitimate sources were used to purchase this property."

Scalzitti also claims she purchased an interest in Mail Priority in Irwin by using a loan from her daughter and from several credit cards and lines of credit. She also claims an ownership interest in Three Star Motors.

Jon Scalzitti has been in jail since his arrest last May. He has been involved with organized crime since the 1970s, when he purchased an auto dealership and a motel with partners who were considered members of organized crime in western Pennsylvania.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s he began dealing in cocaine, records show. His downfall then also was tied to an informant working for the FBI who purchased drugs from Scalzitti and later testified against him. He was convicted in 1977 of running a cocaine ring with another convicted mobster and sentenced to a decade in a federal prison.

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