Almost four years after Barbara Abaunza’s 15-year-old daughter, Lisa, was killed in a shooting in Plymouth, there is still no headstone marking the grave in Virginia where Lisa is buried alongside Barbara’s parents.
That’s because shortly after Lisa’s death, Barbara, who lived in Duryea, loaned $9,000 to a friend who confided he was in a jam and was in danger of losing his house. As Barbara reluctantly made the loan, she explained that much of the money was earmarked for Lisa’s headstone. The friend, a pallbearer at Lisa’s funeral, told Barbara he understood. He promised to pay it back in six months.
The friend’s name was Joe Sekelsky, and Barbara has yet to see a dime.
“It was a bad decision to loan that amount of money to anyone,” she said last week. “He knew I needed the money returned … my grief made me an easy target.”
I’ve written a lot about Sekelsky because so many customers of his business, Sekelsky Plumbing & Heating, have contacted me with complaints about getting ripped off. Typically, Sekelsky takes thousands of dollars in advance for a new furnace, when lo and behold, misfortune strikes. Sekelsky suffers a heart attack, a death in the family, or suddenly requires life-altering surgery. After a lengthy period of recuperation and/or grieving, he stops answering his phone.
I had decided that last week’s column about Sekelsky would be my last, at least for a while. When I checked my email after that column ran, I realized this man continues to inflict so much pain on this community that I cannot stop writing about him until he is stopped.
Barbara had a lawyer, a copy of the canceled check for the loan, and numerous text messages to prove Sekelsky borrowed the funds. She needed none of it when she went to court because Sekelsky didn’t show up. She was awarded a $9,158 default judgment in August 2014.
Will Barbara ever see the money? She’ll have to stand in line.
Last October Sekelsky’s next door neighbor, Michael Macario, filed a court complaint against Sekelsky for “tortious interference with contract.”
The complaint says Macario had entered into a contract with a real estate agent to sell his home, and Sekelsky “has been preventing the realtor from completing the contract by giving false information to prospective buyers and doing everything he can to discourage prospective buyers from purchasing.”
Macario, 60, engaged to be married and a well-liked coach and mentor to many local youngsters over the years, was a fan of the New York Giants, the New York Yankees and The Beatles – but not Sekelsky.
“Sekelsky drove him crazy,” said Mike Butera, Marcario’s attorney. “He harassed the realtor and prospective buyers. He’d tell people, ‘don’t buy the property.’ My client was losing buyers.”
Sekelsky also called the attorney’s office and left abusive, harassing messages.
“I saved the recordings,” Butera said.
Macario won a $12,188.75 judgment against Sekelsky in January. It’s doubtful Sekelsky will pay, but it doesn’t much matter anymore.
On Nov. 21, 2015, a little more than three weeks after filing the suit against Sekelsky, Macario died of heart trouble.
Remember Diane Plisga and Jesse Rutkoski, who waited six months for a furnace for which they had paid Sekelsky $6,000 in advance? When Sekelsky finally showed up with the furnace a few weeks ago, he called me from their house, demanding a retraction of my column about his long delays and excuses.
Now Walker Plumbing Supply says they’re chasing $8,900 in bad checks from Sekelsky, one of which was in payment for that very furnace.
James Powers of Forty Fort has been waiting a year for Sekelsky to satisfy a $3,900 judgment for unpaid-for plumbing supplies.
Cindy Swatkoski of Bear Creek Township gave Sekelsky $5,200 for a new furnace he promised to install in early January but never did. She recently had another plumber take a look, and “he said my furnace is working fine and does not need to be replaced,” Swatkoski said last week. “I would appreciate anything you could do to help me get my money back.”
Joyce Panaway of Wilkes-Barre says she has been trying to get back the $1,200 she gave Sekelsky upfront a few years ago, only to get nothing in return.
Philip Bozek of Mountaintop has been waiting since 2009 for Sekelsky to pay a $731 judgment for a car he sold Bozek but which, Bozek learned, Sekelsky did not actually own.
There are more judgments, too many to write about here. Clearly, taking Sekelsky to court, even winning, does not work.
So what will?
On Feb. 29, Jackson Township Police filed a criminal charge against Sekelsky alleging “theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received.”
In other words, Sekelsky is accused of taking someone’s money and keeping it, instead of using it to provide the product or service he promised. A summons and order for Sekelsky’s fingerprints were issued last week.
The Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office web site invites “anyone who has information concerning serious criminal activity occurring within Luzerne County … (to) contact our Detective Division.”
I have twice called and left messages for the detective division. Nobody has called me back.
Though nearly four years have passed since Lisa Abaunza’s murder and Barbara has moved to Virginia, she says she still feels “broken.”
“If Lisa were alive, she would have said, ‘Mommy, don’t be loaning out $9,000.’ She would have talked me out of it. I can’t believe someone who actually carried my child’s coffin would do this to me. How does he live with himself?”