Maybe you noticed the bright yellow 3-inch-square sticky label advertisement attached to the top of Page 1 of The York Dispatch last Thursday. It was an ad promoting Mukie's Seal Coating.
That same day, the founder and former owner of Mukie's, Anthony Muscarelli, was sentenced to one to two years in prison and another 10 years of probation by York County Common Pleas Court Judge John S. Kennedy for deceptive business practices and theft by deception.
The timing could have been worse for present owners of Mukie's, Tom Murphy and John Moore, but only if a hurricane, a tornado, a fire or some other natural disaster had wiped them out lock, stock and barrel.
But when the company's namesake is sent to prison the same day you spend big bucks trying to promote the business, you know it's not going to be a good day.
Murphy, the owner of Murph's Study Hall, Murph's Other Bar and Murph's Other Suds and Laundromat before he sold out last summer, is now the majority owner of Mukie's after seven years as a mostly silent partner.
"In about two days, I went from retirement to working 14-hour days to save this company," Murphy said Monday in an interview. "I was at the shore with my wife and granddaughter on vacation when I got the call that Tony was in jail. We hurried right back to York. I had a lot of explaining to do to a lot of people who were very upset about the way they were treated by Tony Muscarelli.
Muscarelli has not been involved with the business for almost a year -- his last day of work was on July 23, 2007, a few days before his arrest for deceptive business practices, receiving stolen property and theft by deception by Northern York County Regional Police, Murphy said.
In fact, Muscarelli signed over all his interests in the business to Murphy in early January 2008 to settle a $45,000 debt he owed the company.
So now Murphy and Moore own Mukie's Seal Coating outright, which means they're busy trying to pick up all the pieces Muscarelli left behind.
"It hasn't been easy. I keep telling my employees that the worst of the bad news is over," Murphy said. "But the bad calls keep coming. I'm dealing with them the best I can."
If you've been scammed by Muscarelli in the eight years since Murphy signed on as a partner, and you're mad as a hornet, Murphy understands.
"I don't blame people for being angry if they were cheated. I'd be angry, too," Murphy said. "I thought I had things under control. A condition of the partnership was that he wasn't allowed access to the check book, couldn't even look at it, couldn't sign checks. I thought I was on top of
things. But he found ways to keep shooting us in the foot."
Murphy hopes people will give him a chance to prove he's on the up and up. "We pay our bills. We fulfill our contracts. We treat people fairly," Murphy said.
A two-hour meeting he had last year with the Northern York County Regional Police and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Barker convinced them that Murphy was not part of Muscarelli's deceptive business practices, Barker said.
In fact, Barker said, "Murphy was one of many victims in the case."
The problem is that Muscarelli is addicted to gambling, Murphy said. "He has a passion for horses, especially the No. 5 horse. But he also played Texas Hold 'Em, lottery machines, slot machines, any kind of gambling. It became his way of life."
So Muscarelli began taking deposits from customers to gamble with on the hope he'd win enough to pay off the debt. Except, Murphy said, he didn't win. "And the next thing you know he was taking more money from customers to pay off other customers or pay gambling debts. It pyramided out of control. He got in deeper and deeper."
Sometimes Muscarelli would take money for a job and never even start it, police said. Sometimes he'd start the work, but not finish it. Sometimes he'd buy materials to do a job, but not pay for them.
Don't think for a minute, however, that Murphy is feeling sorry for Muscarelli. He's not. "I don't feel the sentence is adequate considering the crime," Murphy said. "I think he deserved more time than he got considering how many people he hurt."
Muscarelli will be expected to make restitution to between 35 and 40 customers -- maybe $100,000 worth -- Murphy said. But court documents indicate that Muscarelli took money and failed to complete jobs valued at $192,000, so restitution could go higher.
Oh, and one more thing. Muscarelli also failed to repay his college loans, taken in the early- '80s. The feds have received a default judgment on an original debt of about $10,000, which has now ballooned (with interest added) to $27,972.
But don't blame Murphy. He had nothing to do with that deal, either.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.