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Able Body Labor owners accused of sneaky money moves

TAMPA — As their multimillion-dollar empire continues to unspool, Able Body Labor founders Frank and Anne Mongelluzzi are accused of making ever more desperate attempts to hide their wealth from bankruptcy.

Attorneys say the Dunedin couple, facing dozens of frustrated lenders and a $60 million debt, was caught swapping cash between some of their more than 120 businesses and ordering employees not to cooperate with the court.

Steve Berman, an attorney representing Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee Angela Esposito, said they also directed employees to make runs on the Mongelluzzis' local pawn shops, emptying the cash registers for the couple's personal use.

Esposito said she found four padlocked trash bins full of checkbooks and business records headed to the shredder. And in personal e-mails, Frank Mongelluzzi asked his friend, a physician, to write him a medical note to slow bankruptcy proceedings.

The interference reflects "a lack of appreciation of this Court's authority," Berman wrote. The couple "keep on operating as if no bankruptcy were ever filed."

The attempts to muddle the couple's net worth — assessed in June at $148 million — are only the latest in what bankruptcy judge Caryl Delano called Friday "a huge morass" of financial entanglements.

The Mongelluzzis themselves have been similarly tough to manage. On Friday, neither the couple nor their attorneys attended a meeting of creditors or a hearing in Tampa bankruptcy court.

After Frank Mongelluzzi's request to postpone the hearings was denied, his attorneys said he had checked into Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The hospital confirmed Friday that he was receiving inpatient care.

Berman said Mongelluzzi had delayed previous bankruptcies — this is his fourth filing in Florida — with similar medical concerns.

Esposito has found more than 50 bank accounts, business-class jets, antique luxury cars, and Rolex and Cartier watches owned by the couple. Most were concealed from the couple's listings of assets, Berman said.

Records of their "inextricably intertwined web" were in offices across the country and in the couple's six homes in Clearwater and Dunedin.

Berman and Esposito asked the court Friday for more expanded powers to combat the Mongelluzzis' maneuvering.

Able Body, the couple's defunct day labor firm headquartered in Clearwater, opened more than 170 offices nationwide over a decade. But many more of the couple's businesses, Berman said, were created as "sham entities," with little use but to funnel money or obscure their empire.

Lee Elliott, who worked for 14 years at Able Body, said the couple ran out of names for businesses and began crafting them as jokes: Couldn't Lose That Million Dollar Parking Space Blues, Mr. Excitement and Organized Confusion.

"That was Frank's sense of humor," Elliott said.

Few businesses symbolized that better than ABOFAMALOM Inc., a strangely named venture the couple created in 1999 to buy a jet and yacht.

Its meaning, Elliott said: "A Bunch of Fat A--es Making a Lot of Money."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com.

Able Body Labor owners accused of sneaky money moves 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:22am]
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