SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 3, 2013

Ex-owner of sober house jailed again

Viola gets 21/2 years for violating probation

(Continued)

“He said that I could be the guy that could keep him out of jail,” Michael Lutrzykowski, the assistant Salem building inspector, testified.

“It seems like there’s a lot of weird stuff out there, I’ll grant you that,” said Viola’s attorney, Steve Judge, who urged Judge Matthew Machera to simply put Viola back on probation.

Prosecutor Alex Grimes had a different view.

“He has been a scammer and a con man and a thief for his entire life,” said the prosecutor, who argued for at least 21/2 years behind bars.

Viola made waves shortly after buying the building on Salem Street and attempting to open a “sober house,” a largely unregulated rooming house for people dealing with substance abuse. A lengthy legal battle with the city over zoning requirements eventually led to an agreement in which Viola promised to install handicapped-accessible doors and other items on the property.

Meanwhile, police charged him with stealing the identities of three former residents of the building and racking up $25,000 in bills — including Valentine’s Day flowers for both his wife and his girlfriend — on their credit cards.

He was convicted and received a 21/2 year suspended sentence and five years of probation, which he’s been accused of violating several times. Among the conditions of his probation was that he cut ties to the sober house.

Then, in March of this year, Viola walked into the city’s building department seeking a permit for renovations in a store that is part of the building, employees of the department testified.

Assuming that Viola was simply dropping off an application for the contractor, officials issued the permit.

When they realized that the contractor hadn’t actually sought the permit, they issued a cease-and-desist order, building inspector Tom St. Pierre testified.

Viola took the stand in his own defense during the probation violation hearing, denying that he owns the house. He insisted that the building is owned by his 25-year-old daughter — who still lives at home, attends school and is supported by her parents.

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