A $75,000 egg sandwich paid for by Pa. taxpayers

Roxy's Cafe in Harrisburg. Its owner and an ex-secretary of health battled since 2011.
Roxy's Cafe in Harrisburg. Its owner and an ex-secretary of health battled since 2011. (PAUL CHAPLIN / Harrisburg Patriot News)
Posted: April 10, 2014

HARRISBURG - It could be one of the priciest egg sandwiches ever made - yet never eaten.

And Pennsylvania taxpayers are footing the bill.

A long-running court battle between a Harrisburg restaurant owner and a former member of Gov. Corbett's cabinet over the preparation of an egg sandwich has ended with a $75,000 settlement, court records show.

The state's payout to Richard Hanna, finalized late last month, came more than two years after he accused the commonwealth and then-Health Secretary Eli Avila of retaliating against him for the way Hanna had cooked the new cabinet member's egg one morning in 2011.

Hanna claimed that Avila pitched a fit and shouted, "Do you know who I am?" Later, he contended, the health secretary sicced city inspectors on his diner, Roxy's Cafe, and tried to block his bid for the Capitol cafeteria contract.

Avila denied the allegations. In court filings, he said Hanna had tried to serve him a "precooked" egg, which he said he told Hanna was unsafe and unlawful.

Their dustup occurred just weeks after Corbett had lured Avila, a physician and lawyer, from New York to join his administration and oversee a department with 1,700 employees and a $1 billion budget. Avila lasted a little more than a year, leaving in October 2012.

The dispute with Hanna outlasted his cabinet job.

In a filing when the case was briefly in federal court, lawyers for Avila disputed Hanna's account. It said Avila did not tell the restaurant owner he was in a hurry that morning or say, "You don't know who I am," records show.

Avila also claimed that Hanna retrieved a precooked egg and put it on the griddle. Avila said he told Hanna that it was unsafe to serve eggs prepared in that manner and that Hanna had responded "with hostility," retrieved a new egg, and threw it, shell and all, on the griddle.

Avila said he canceled the order and left the restaurant without a sandwich.

Avila later directed an aide to call the Harrisburg Health Department, which sent inspectors to Roxy's. He also e-mailed another cabinet official who was involved in picking a vendor to run the Capitol cafeteria. In the e-mail, Avila said he had seen evidence of unsafe standards at the diner and did not believe Hanna should get the contract.

Hanna's retaliation claim never made it to trial, instead bouncing from state court to federal court and back to state court. Filings in Dauphin County Court show the deal to settle the case was reached in December. It was made public only last month because the state failed to pay up, according to court documents.

A court filing dated March 28 indicates the case is now settled.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Hanna said he was barred under the settlement from discussing any details of the case. Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni referred calls to the Attorney General's Office, which represented Avila in the case.

"Unfortunately, we cannot comment because of the nondisclosure agreement," said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.

Efforts to reach Avila were unsuccessful. He is now health commissioner for Orange County, N.Y.

The egg-sandwich incident was one of several that stirred scrutiny during Avila's tenure in Harrisburg. He also drew headlines for ordering special "Department of Health" windbreakers and badges for himself and his staff, and for a confrontation over a bloodmobile's blocking his parking space behind the Capitol.

Corbett, in a statement upon Avila's resignation, called the secretary "an asset" and praised his work as an advocate for children's health.


aworden@phillynews.com

717-783-2584 @inkyamy

www.inquirer.com/phillydawg

www.inquirer.com/commonwealthconfidential

Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.

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