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WORKERS PICKET TO GET PAID

Pssghetti's restaurant closed, but the bankruptcy trustee says the paychecks are coming.

The collapse of Frank Mongelluzzi's financial empire left lots of his employees without jobs or with paychecks that bounced. But some of his former workers at Pssghetti's restaurant in Clearwater now are focusing their frustration on someone else: the trustee who is handling Mongelluzzi's bankruptcy case.

On Thursday, about 10 restaurant workers congregated in front of Pssghetti's on U.S. 19 to protest. They say their paychecks were due May 6 and they haven't been paid.

"I want to feed my family and I want to move on. We're good people here. We deserve better than this," said Dennis Stone, 46, who used to work for Pssghetti's as a manager.

But Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee Angela Esposito said she's hustling to get their paychecks out and told workers it would take a few extra days.

It's a monumental task, Esposito said, because she's keying payroll information for several of Mongelluzzi's businesses and she needs to make sure every detail is calculated correctly.

"I am working as fast as humanly possible," Esposito said. "I'm not going to hand them cash out of the drawer, because it has to be done the right way."

Mongelluzzi opened the restaurant in February 2010.

Chef Robert Hesse, a Tampa Bay native and competitor on Fox's Hell's Kitchen, has been working there since December. Hesse, who now wants to take over Pssghetti's, said Frank Mongelluzzi had recruited him to promote the restaurant.

On April 1, U.S. Marshals seized financial records at the Italian restaurant, three pawnshops and the vacant headquarters of Able Body Labor, Mongelluzzi's defunct day labor firm.

About 30 servers and cooks at Pssghetti's continued to work for free, hoping they would be repaid. The restaurant was closed about a month ago. A couple of weeks later, after the court directed Esposito to take over certain operations, Hesse agreed to come back as part of a skeleton crew. The restaurant closed again after Mother's Day.

"If you do your job, you should be paid for it," Hesse, 33, said.

Esposito, who was surprised to hear about the protest, promised the workers would be paid.

"It seems like a large problem today, but I think we'll move past it," she said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

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