Back on Earp Street, But Without the Animals

The nightmare may be over, but neighbors say 739 Earp St. still stinks.

And last week, they were notified that Fran Rotonta—who plead guilty Tuesday to 129 counts of animal cruelty for keeping 85 Chihuahas, two cats and the remains of two dogs—and her husband, Richard, have legally re-entered their South Philly home.

In exchange for the guilty plea, Rotonta received 10 years’ probation (reporting only the first year) and is not allowed to own animals or work for an organization that involves animals for 15 years. She must also submit to a mental-health evaluation and to random inspections by the PSPCA.

PSPCA case manager Nicole Wilson called Rotonta “very compliant” and says that inspections will begin monthly and then taper off to quarterly.

But the sentence was a slap on the wrist because of the missing financial component. According to court records, Rotonta will not have to pay any of the fines that PSPCA Director of Law Enforcement George Bengal had previously confirmed are usually associated with the charges. At $750 a charge, her financial penalty, if it had been enforced, would have amounted to $96,750.

On July 14, after almost a decade of complaints about foul odors radiating from the house, the PSPCA raided Rotonta’s home and discovered 85 dogs, two cats and the remains of two dogs—a final count that has risen since the raid indicating that more remains were likely been found buried in the feces or yard.

Even as the criminal case closes, the neighborhood is concerned about what happens next. Records from the Department of Licenses and Inspections show that the house was a source of rodent and insect infestation. The house was condemned after the raid revealed that the floors and surfaces were coated in at least two feet of feces.

The professional cleanup began in August. Neighbors assumed that a total cleanup would be impossible; that further investigation would reveal structural problems; that the Stink would never go away; and that the house would likely be demolished.

“[The odor] will dissipate now that it’s going into fall,” says one resident familiar with the cycle. “But it’s not gone.”

“My concern is that there’s a fire hazard,” said one neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous (citing a fear of retaliation, all sources wish to remain anonymous in this ongoing story). Fire is the biggest concern on the block.

According to Scott Mulderig, L&I’s chief of emergency services and abatement unit, the house is structurally sound. In fact, the Rotontas have been legally living in the house since Aug. 25—news that comes as a surprise to neighbors.

“I heard both sides, that [the Rotontas] were allowed back in and that they weren’t allowed back in,” an Earp Street resident says. “No one seems to know … and you can’t trust anybody.”

Mulderig says the neighbors were notified that the Rotontas were legally re-entering the property.

“One of my inspectors went out and met with the owners and the sergeant from the police department from that district. We opened it back up for them and knocked on the adjoining doors, so I know the people on either side are definitely aware,” he says.

The Rotontas are ultimately responsible for the cost of cleanup. However, they were able to move back in to the house by simply agreeing to pay the city’s Law Department.

“Hopefully they will hold up their end of the agreement,” says Mulderig, who estimates the cleanup will cost about $20,000 to $25,000.

If not?

“The city’s revenue department would follow up and place a lien [on the house].”

The Rotontas’ home has had a tax lien on it every year since 2004. According to the Board of Revision of Taxes, the current total owed is $5,765.37.

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