HAWTHORNE, NJ - A local pizzeria and the Borough of Hawthorne have been locked in a months-long conflict over what the town says is the owner’s refusal to allow Jean Mugulusi, a health inspector, to conduct an inspection of the premises at 198 Diamond Bridge Avenue and his apparent defiance of an order to close. The owner, Charles Inserra, rejected the claims, calling it a "false accusation". He said that he had been in Hawthorne for years and there was "a little corruption going on".
At the November 18, 2019, Council Meeting, Councilman John Lane delivered a report in which he said the pizzeria was operating out of compliance and had issued a bad check to the town.
"There’s been an ongoing problem with Inserra Pizza on Diamond Bridge Avenue. This has been operating for over the last two months without any health inspections. He also gave the borough a check for a permit and it was returned due to insufficient funds and still has not made good on the check,” said Lane. “The borough did do the inspections on the gas line and finalized the permit. If you remember, this is the same person at 111 Wagaraw Road who refused to have Jean our health inspector enter the building. This person also gave us insufficient funds checks for work to be performed at 111 Wag and still has not reimbursed the borough for the checks. It is very important, as we all know, to have a health inspection on a food catering facility like a pizza parlor."
Lane said he spoke with Borough Attorney Michael Pasquale about legal options. "We can issue summonses," Lane said. "This person has received numerous summonses for the Wagaraw Road project and also when issuing the summonses, it’s an ongoing process. In the meantime, while the summonses are being issued, he still operates the business. It is my strong feeling that we ask our attorney Michael to prepare paperwork for an injunction, and go to superior court so that this person will cease and desist his business until the inspections are done, and all the back moneys that he owes the town are brought up to date." Lane further said that Inserra was "making a fool out of this borough and I don’t like it."
Attorney Michael Pasquale said, "I’ve already had discussions with the Mayor and [Borough Administrator] Eric [Mauer] about this. We don’t have the right to put yellow tape on his door, change his locks, there’s nothing we can do to literally padlock the doors. The Board of Health can issue shutdown notices, but if someone chooses to ignore those notices, which is what his continued pattern is, we need to go to court to seek injunctive relief, which is not where we want to be, but where we could be."
Matthews had inquired about a fire inspection. Pasquale said, "I do not know what the fire inspector's results were but I do know he’s operating without inspection. Even if you issue shut down notices, this is an individual who ignores notices. If you issue a notice to be shut down, and he shows up and unlocks his door and keeps working, what is your recourse? You can’t simply go and arrest him."
Lane said that if a business has a fire, they need to have a new inspection. “We’ve given other people enough time to do what our inspectors asked them to do, and I have no problem giving people time, but this guy has done it with two businesses in town and it’s been months."
When TAPinto Hawthorne inquired with Hawthorne Fire Chief Joseph Speranza, he said that there had been no fire calls at the pizzerias at Wagaraw Road or on Diamond Bridge Avenue, while Inserra owned them. "We didn’t have a fire there. When Charlie took over, he took over from Wagaraw Road at the Ragshop Complex from the person who had had a fire, but Charlie never had a fire."
Pasquale said he would consult with the administration and advise as to what options were available later.
On Thursday, November 21, a shutdown notice signed by Dr. Paul Persaud, Health Officer, and Jean Mugulusi, Sanitarian, had been posted on the window of Inserra’s Pizza. By the afternoon, however, the sign had been removed and customers were inside the establishment.
As to the order, Persaud said, "He is doing that in defiance and he can be fined every day. He’s not supposed to do that. He is in violation of the State of NJ sanitary code, Chapter 24, for not allowing the inspector to go in." Persaud echoed Lane’s remarks, saying, "We’ve given him a lot of time and he’s not in compliance. He can choose whenever he wants to come into compliance, but he has to stay closed."
Inserra had said that he was open and had cleared matters up, a claim Persaud rejects. "Every day he opens, the town is going to give him fines. No one can rescind that [shut down notice] except me. A number of things have to happen before he can open up, he knows that, he knows what has to be done, and he has to abide by that, that’s all. He has to fulfill some other requirements before the inspection can take place, we’re not even at that point as yet."
If the owner is fined, he could be facing stiff penalties under NJSA 26:1A-10.
"He told me he does not want inspectors, in my presence," Persaud said. "I was there. He almost put me out a few months ago. He wanted to get me out of his store, he was very nasty with the inspector. He doesn’t want her in the store."
When asked if he had not allowed the inspector in, Inserra denied it. "No, that’s not true, she’s out of line, you don’t know the whole story. I let everybody in here."
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