The savory smell of baked cheese, sauce and dough still fills the air outside the line of Old Forge restaurants that contribute to the proud town’s claim to fame as the “Pizza Capital of the World.”
But now a stench accompanies life on those busy streets that overwhelmingly good, hard-working, law-abiding people call home.
The stink originates from Town Hall, where borough officials struggle with an ongoing investigation that has already resulted in the arrests of former Police Chief Larry Semenza, 48, his second-in- command Jamie Krenitsky, 34 and former volunteer firefighter Walter Chiavacci, 46.
The men are charged with a variety of crimes stemming from allegations that a now 23-year-old woman made about what these first responders did to her when she was 15.
This is not an alleged sex scandal, as some media outlets have labeled the scandal.
This is an alleged sexual assault investigation that goes deep to the abuse of power wielded by wild men with guns and great responsibility over life and death – alleged savages running amok in an otherwise good town.
As you might expect in Old Forge, people have taken sides. Some remain loyal to the accused. Some want revenge. Some want to ignore the sordid allegations and have the inquiry simply go away.
But the bad news is getting worse and is here to stay.
Investigators from three law enforcement agencies – the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office, Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI – are still conducting interviews and following trails of evidence.
Other allegations include everything from tens of thousands of dollars in missing fire department equipment that suddenly surfaced to a man who allegedly lived in the fire house with “official police permission,” sleeping, bathing and cooking his meals there for decades.
Sources say he violated the lease as well as borough insurance coverage.
Do borough officials know about these accusations?
I called several borough numbers this morning to no avail. A recorded message told me that no one was available to help. We’re talking 10:19 a.m., normal working hours for public servants.
Mayor Michele Petrini Avvisato could not be reached for comment.
Neither could borough solicitor William Rinaldi, who also works as a Lackawanna County assistant district attorney. I left a message for Rinaldi at his private law office and at the DA’s office.
Since Rinaldi is a county prosecutor in the very office that is prosecuting Rinaldi’s former colleagues, Old Forge officials have hired an interim solicitor so Rinaldi is not faced with a conflict of interest.
When I finally reached Borough Manager MaryLynn Bartoletti, she refused to say if she knew anything about the man who borough sources say lived rent free in the fire department for more than 10 years.
“Did you know that a man lived in the fire department attached to your borough building for more than 10 years?” I asked.
“I have nothing to do with the fire department,” she said. “I’m not answering any questions.”
Before Bartoletti came on the line, the borough worker who answered the phone – she would only identity herself as “Sandy,” like I was calling for a hair appointment, refused to give me telephone numbers for borough council members.
“I’m not answering anything,” Sandy said.
To Sandy’s credit, though, she did eventually provide me with the telephone number for the part-time mayor. When I dialed, though, I got a recording telling me that the number had been disconnected.
Maybe I should have dialed the number for the police chief listed on the official Old Forge website where accused pervert police chief Semenza’s name still appears as the leader of the pack.
Old Forge is in big trouble.
And I am not convinced that anybody in elected or appointed government service there is up to the job of fixing what is broken.
Picking up the pizza is one thing.
Picking up the pieces is a whole different ladle of sauce.