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Queens Chronicle

La Bella Vita patrons: We’ve been scammed

District Attorney’s office fielding complaints from paid customers

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Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Jan 30, 2014.

Several more people have come forward to say that they paid in full for parties at the shuttered La Bella Vita catering hall only to have the owners take their money and run.

La Bella Vita, the popular Ozone Park catering hall at 106-09 Rockaway Blvd., abruptly closed last month after nearly three decades in business. After the closure, several people came forward to say they had paid for parties at the hall that were suddenly canceled and their money was not refunded. One of those included a holiday party for the Queens workers of the city Housing Authority.

The latest patrons who are complaining they lost money include the general manager of Seapod Pawnbrokers, an Ozone Park-based chain of pawn shops, who admitted that they had signed a contract with La Bella Vita for a party scheduled Dec. 13.

The catering hall blamed a fire for its closure during the second week of December, but an FDNY source says the department knows of no reports of a fire at the site.

The party was abruptly cancelled, allegedly because of the fire, and left Seapod out thousands of dollars.

The general manager of the pawn shops, who identified himself only as Howie, said he paid $7,700 for the party as well as more than $3,500 for nonrefundable party favors from outside, including a DJ, casino supplies and cigars.

“This is blatant fraud,” he alleged.

La Bella Vita, under its corporate name Tres Amici, filed for bankruptcy in federal court in May, but continued booking reservations for parties through November. Though the official reason for the closure was the fire, sources said the hall was shuttered due to the bankruptcy.

“They wanted to stay open long enough to honor the parties, but were unable to,” said one source close to La Bella Vita’s owner Tony Modica.

Helen Vidal said she scheduled a party for this coming May and paid in full. Despite numerous calls to the party organizers, she has not received any calls back.

“I have been contacted them leaving several messages and no one has returned my calls,” she said in an email.

Deon Looknauth booked a party in November slated for the first weekend of February for his daughter’s first birthday. He paid a $900 deposit, but then the closure happened. He said he drove by and saw the sign on the door that said the catering hall was closed due to a fire.

He contacted the party planner at the hall, but did not receive a call back until last Wednesday and said if he wanted his money back, he would have to file a claim with bankruptcy court and that they would help him find another place for the party.

“I have guests coming from Canada, from Florida,” Looknauth said. “It’s been a very frustrating procedure. Why were they allowed to continue bringing in business after they filed for bankruptcy?”

He said he was able to book another place for a party this weekend.

Helen Petersen, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, said the DA’s Economic Crimes Bureau would field complaints, but said it would take a review to find out if anything criminal was done or if it was a civil matter. Vidal and Looknauth both said they would contact the DA’s office with their complaints.

Attempts to reach Modica and his lawyer were unsuccessful. An email for Modica is no longer working.

Modica also owned a pizzeria next door to the catering hall that closed a few years ago.

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