Stu Bykofsky: Haunted by ghost tenants

Sal Altimare shows that his South Philly rowhouse is clearly not an apartment building. Over the years, Altimare has received dozens of bills addressed to men with Hispanic surnames.
Sal Altimare shows that his South Philly rowhouse is clearly not an apartment building. Over the years, Altimare has received dozens of bills addressed to men with Hispanic surnames. (STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: February 20, 2012

IT MUST BE getting crowded inside 811 Fernon St.

Sal Altimare lives there with his wife, MaryJane, but - if you look at the bills delivered there - he also lives with Allans Sanchez Perez, Samuel Valenti Torrez, Luis Cabrera Colon, Jesus Jaime Morales and about 40 other men.

Sal, 62, is a hospitable man, but not that hospitable. And he's not running a boardinghouse.

He hands me envelopes showing the above names using his address and says that there were dozens more over the years, which he marked "return to sender" or gave to his letter carrier to handle. Most of the addresses, oddly, are marked with the same apartment number - "S3" or "3S" - as if it were an apartment building.

It is a three-bedroom rowhouse on a small South Philly street.

The fact that dozens of men, all with Hispanic names, are using the same apartment number raises suspicion that it's either one man with many, many aliases or many men sharing an address they know to be "safe."

It is "safe" because no matter how many times Sal reports this to authorities, nothing happens, he complains. He's frustrated and afraid that he may somehow get entangled in this, worried that he may open the mail to find a lien against his property.

Bills that came from the state Department of Revenue - personal income-tax assessments - he has sent back to Harrisburg. "At least 50 of them," he tells me, adding that he does the same when they come from collection agencies hired by the state.

Because he's retired on a disability, Sal has time to follow up with phone calls. On one occasion, a helpful Revenue Department bureaucrat suggested to Sal: "You oughta move."

Your tax dollars at work.

Sal gave me some of the bills. I called Harrisburg and found Revenue Department press secretary Elizabeth Brassell very helpful.

She explained that the assessments arriving at Sal's house come from the state and that if they are ignored, they are turned over to a collection agency. If it has no luck, another private bill collector gets to try.

If the state can't collect the money owed in two years, it goes into the "uncollectible" file.

I asked Brassell: What does it mean that all these men with Hispanic names can't be found, despite collection agencies having some very sophisticated means to do so?

For reasons I understand, she would not speculate.

I will. They're probably "undocumented workers" here illegally, (all together now) "taking jobs that Americans won't do" (such as construction, house painting, maintenance, hospital work, etc., that unemployed Americans will do).

The good news, maybe, is that when Luis Cabrera Colon owes $645 in back taxes, that means that he was paid above the table, instead of under it. But when he vanishes into the woodwork, it produces the same end result - he works, but doesn't pay income tax.

But Luis will be treated - for free - at a local hospital if he gets sick. (Free to him, not to you.) If he has kids, they're in school - free - and maybe getting food stamps - free! - because Colon's low salary would qualify. (It's free to him, not to you.)

And he may work for a substandard salary, in substandard conditions, because he's here illegally and too scared to complain. When he works for less than a citizen will, Colon depresses what avaricious employers have to pay.

Sal Altimare is depressed, too, because the bills keep coming, as do the ghost boarders at 811 Fernon St.

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