May 4th, 2005

Allegations surround St. Ubaldo Festival

Despite the “storm” of controversy, I’m hoping to go this year. Please see my photos from last year’s race

05/03/2005 – By David Burger STAFF WRITER

JESSUP — While the borough’s annual St. Ubaldo Festival is usually known for its food, carnival and wine, this year’s installment is becoming known for lawsuits, court documents and whining.
With this year’s St. Ubaldo Day scheduled for May 28, the borough’s focus on the planned festivities has been diverted to a legal battle between the St. Ubaldo Society and three men accused of claiming ownership of the St. Anthony statue.

The society’s 15-member board of directors filed a civil suit in Lackawanna County Court on Friday against Peckville’s David Burak and Kyle Burak, and Archbald’s John Stambone.

The suit alleges that the three men “made claims of ownership” to the St. Anthony statue, one of three statues used in the festival’s traditional race between teams carrying replicas weighing 400 pounds of St. Ubaldo, St. George, and St. Anthony.

The society claims that although the statue has been returned to society president Thomas Fiorelli III’s home for safekeeping, that the three men “continue to raise false claims of ownership with respect to the items of personal property” of the society, the lawsuit said.

While Mr. Fiorelli, a Jessup councilman, declined comment after Monday’s Borough Council meeting, Patrick Logan, lawyer for the Buraks and Mr. Stambone, said the lawsuit was an insult to the spirit of St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Jessup.

“The lawsuit is pathetic,” Mr. Logan said. “Some pathetic individuals claimed it was theft and demanded it back … My clients have never claimed ownership because they have too much respect for St. Ubaldo.

“The lawsuit is frivolous at best, and defamatory at worst,” he added. “I demand that (the society) withdraw their complaint and apologize in writing.”

The origin of the complaint, according to the suit, comes from May 29, 2004, the day of last year’s race of the saints on St. Ubaldo Day: “The defendants, despite the fact that they had no ownership interests in and to the statue of St. Anthony, concealed the statue by rolling it up in a carpet and placed it into the trunk of a motor vehicle owned by one of the defendants so as to deprive the plaintiff the use, ownership and possession thereof.”

The lawsuit continues that after a “heated discussion” about who owned the statue, the three men returned it, only to continue that they rightfully owned the statue. The society is asking Lackawanna County Court to recognize that the society is the sole and exclusive owner of the statue, and that the three men have no right to it.

More than 20 members of the society, and Mr. Logan, Mr. Stambone and Mr. Kyle Burak attended Jessup’s council meeting Monday, but all declined comment and made no remarks during the public comment period of the meeting.

Borough Council met for an hour before the meeting in an executive session to discuss the lawsuit, and during the council meeting borough solicitor Richard Fanucci read a statement from council: “Jessup Borough Council is pleased to announce that the St. Ubaldo Day Festivities will go on as planned … (We have) no other comment than to say the borough looks forward to the continuance of this rich and spirited tradition which is so deeply rooted in the culture and history of the borough and its residents, past, current and future.”

Although the borough donates public money to the society, an independent nonprofit corporation, the borough has no opinion on and is not involved in the lawsuit, Council President James Brunozzi and Councilman Jack “Red” Mancak said.

The brouhaha originally led to the cancellation of this Wednesday’s “Hospitality Night” at the Library Restaurant on Church Street at 7 p.m., but Mr. Fiorelli said the borough gathering, designed to inform and excite locals about this year’s St. Ubaldo Festival, will now go on as planned.

Mr. Rogan said his clients may consider legal action against the society for defaming them. Mr. David Burak is a school director for Valley View School District, so Mr. Rogan suggested that “there’s some hidden agenda” behind the suit.

Mr. Burak is running unopposed for re-election in the May 17 primary.

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