The electronic sign outside Portafino Ristorante alerted patrons it was closed for vacation Thursday and would reopen next week.Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Missed payments and an abrupt vacation closing raised questions about the viability of the Portafino Ristorante and its owner, Anthony Trombetta, who’s already under scrutiny in the growing public corruption probe in Luzerne County.
A notice taped on the inside of the front door Thursday and a message on the electronic sign outside the restaurant on Schechter Drive alerted the public to the vacation.
“We will be reopening next week. Sorry for the inconvenience,” read the notice.
The Italian restaurant opened last year on the site of a franchise that closed for lack of business. Trombetta secured a $1 million mortgage on the property from Wachovia Bank, according to court documents.
The restaurant and Trombetta, president and treasurer, were named in a complaint filed May 27 in Luzerne County Court alleging Portafino and its owner failed to pay for advertising and design of its Web site. Tree Design Studio Inc. of Shavertown sought $21,452 plus interest for services provided since May 1, 2008, according to the suit.
The complaint preceded one filed late last month against another of Trombetta’s businesses, Intellacom Inc. It alleged the company failed to make monthly lease payments of $5,175 in May and June for its first-floor office suite in the Cross Creek Pointe building along Route 315, Plains Township. The missed payments allowed the landlord to obtain a confession of judgment against Intellacom requiring it to pay interest and $233,953, the balance of the five-year lease that expires in Nov. 30, 2012, according to documents filed in the case.
A female employee in the Intellacom office said Trombetta had no comment.
Records of the company’s dealings with the Pittston Area School District were among the documents taken earlier this year by federal agents investigating public corruption.
The district’s former superintendent, Ross Scarantino, agreed to plead guilty to charges he accepted $5,000 cash in return for support given to a contractor seeking work within the district.
Federal authorities have not identified the contractor.
Another of Trombetta’s companies missed a payment on its business development loan to Luzerne County.
Terra Firma Land Development Group Inc. did not pay its monthly installment on a $500,000 community development loan for the restaurant. A payment of $3,103 was due June 12 and the next due July 12, said Andy Reilly, director of the county Community Development Agency.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Trombetta is president, secretary and treasurer of the company that has an East Oak Street, Pittston, address. He holds identical titles with Intellacom.
County commissioners voted to loan Terra Firma the money at the start of 2008. Terra Firma still owes $477,579 on the note, which was borrowed at 1.5 percent interest over 15 years.
The county will receive all money owed no matter what because borrowers must secure a letter of credit guaranteeing repayment of all money owed if they default, Reilly said. Terra Firma’s letter of credit is with Wachovia Bank, he said.
Reilly said he has not been alerted of any financial problems with the restaurant, though recent chatter may prompt him to check with the bank, particularly if the July payment isn’t made.
“After two months, then you start to wonder,” he said.
His office always investigates when payments are three months overdue, he said.
The revolving loan fund relies on repayments and interest to continue providing new loans to area businesses.
Terra Firma is also listed as a tenant in the same building as Intellacom. But Terra Firma’s fourth-floor office was nearly empty Thursday when a reporter entered its unlocked door. A receptionist in an office facing Terra Firma’s said no one had been there for months.