County hopes to sell former bar that was forfeited

March 25, 2014
The former Domenico’s bar in Charleroi is up for sale by Washington County. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Washington County commissioners plan to seek bids for a building in the Charleroi business district, formerly known as Domenico’s bar, perhaps bringing to a close a three-year saga that began with an investigation into illegal drug activity.

The establishment at 421 Fallowfield Ave. has been closed for several years because the former owner, Domenico Varrone, 35, of Bentleyville and Charleroi, pleaded guilty in October 2011 to a charge of possessing drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance.

Former District Attorney Steven Toprani sought an injunction to close it permanently as a nuisance bar.

Deputy District Attorney Joseph Zupancic, chief of litigation under Toprani’s successor, Gene Vittone, petitioned for forfeiture and condemnation of the property, which stands within the Charleroi historic district, on behalf of the county. Varrone did not contest Zupancic’s forfeiture petition, and Judge John DiSalle, finding that the property “was furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance in violation” of the Drug Act, awarded it in 2012 to the county.

A potential tavern-keeper shouldn’t expect to purchase the property and start serving drinks immediately. Varrone purchased a restaurant liquor license in February 2007, but the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website listed its status as “inactive.” Last May, the board, meeting in Harrisburg, unanimously refused to renew Varrone’s license.

The actual piece of furniture known as the bar was sold for $800, “along with quite a bit of stuff that was in there,” Zupancic said last year.

State law allows both district attorneys and the state attorney general to not only seize contraband, such as drugs that are illegal to possess, but property associated with illegal activities. Zupancic said 90 percent of the forfeiture petitions he’s filed involve cash, but property forfeited has included diamond earrings, collectible coins and vehicles.

Washington County Purchasing Director Randy Vankirk said the county’s divestiture of the bar may be unique “regarding other district attorneys,” and said he’s not had to dispose of real estate during his tenure, which goes back to 2009. The county is using two real estate agents to obtain appraisals of the property.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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