JOSEPH SIGISMONDI has been in the city's crosshairs for years. A contractor and owner of properties across the city, he's been cited numerous times for licensing and tax violations.
On Monday, a building he owns on 2nd Street went up in flames, causing an elderly woman to be hospitalized and almost destroying the Fralinger String Band's props and floats just weeks before the Mummers Parade. In the four-alarm blaze's wake, neighbors and local representatives are asking: Did the city do its job in the months leading up to the fire? And if so, do city regulations have the teeth necessary to keep residents out of danger?
"It's depressing knowing that the fire happened, but what is more depressing is whether it could've been prevented or not," said Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the neighborhood.
Before the fire Angel Auto, an illegal auto-repair shop, had been operating in part of the building, which is licensed for car storage but not for repairs. Neighbors also said that some of the shop's workers moved into an apartment upstairs, although the building isn't zoned for residential use.
The Fire Department on Tuesday determined that the blaze had begun with a faulty electrical wire on the second floor, above the auto shop. When firefighters arrived Monday, they forced open a garage door and found burning cars.
Neighbors have long complained about the building, and a local civic association has filed repeated complaints about its zoning and licensing violations. Some residents reported seeing workers grilling food and smoking in the garage.
The city cited Sigismondi three times late last year for operating the auto shop without a license and won a $4,000 fine against Sigismondi in Municipal Court in August. He has filed multiple appeals, at least one of which has been rejected, and has not yet paid the fine.
All the while, neighbors say, Angel Auto stayed in business. Maura Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said that once L&I gets a favorable ruling from the court, it does not automatically follow up to see if a license violation has been corrected, unless a new complaint is filed about the property.
She noted that L&I has about 300 employees who conduct more than 90,000 inspections a year.
The department has not reinspected the property since the August ruling, Kennedy said, which would indicate that no new complaint was filed. But according to the city's 3-1-1 website, the Pennsport Civic Association filed a complaint Oct. 26 for the same violation - operating an auto-repair shop without a license.
When residents complain and nothing is done, it creates a "lack of confidence in the city services," said Jim Moylan, the civic association's president. "If they've gone through and realized there was a problem, why wasn't there a cease-and-desist sticker put on the building?" he asked.
Kennedy said that L&I followed its standard protocol for enforcing violations at the property.
Squilla, however, said that he plans to look into whether L&I did its job and whether standards have to be changed to prevent this situation from recurring.
"There's plenty of blame to go around," he said. If L&I did follow protocol, Squilla said, he wants to know why the process didn't require the illegal business to be shut down.
"We've got to find out why the operation wasn't ceased," he said. "If the process was done correctly, what can change for the future?"
Attempts by the Daily News to reach Sigismondi on Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful. His attorney, Joseph DiNoto, declined to say whether an illegal auto-repair shop was operating but said that his client is an honest businessman.
"He doesn't skirt the rules," DiNoto said. "He follows the rules." He noted that many of the numerous complaints about Sigismondi's properties over the years have been thrown out.