Ex-FPU president sues Italian college over unpaid salary

George Hagerty, the former president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, is suing his subsequent employer, St. John International University Inc. — a school chartered in New Hampshire but located in Italy — for not paying him as St. John’s president and CEO.St. John’s Concord phone number is disconnected, but attorney James Bianco Jr. — the school’s secretary, board member, agent and lawyer — said in a response to Hagerty’s attachment of the $100,000 in the university bank account that Hagerty breached both his contract and his fiduciary duties, “causing great harm” to the university.Lorenzina Zampedri, chair of the university’s board of directors and named personally in the suit, referred all questions about the status of the university to Bianco. She offered a personal interview next week when she is in the United States.”Given the confidential and delicate nature of the issue I am thankful for your will to hear both parties’ versions and opinions and to wait for having all the information in order to provide a complete report on the matter,” she said in an e-mail to NHBR on Tuesday morning.”Briefly, it is my understanding that SJIU is open and is providing classes to its 65 students. SJIU anticipates additional students for the upcoming semesters,” said Bianco, also in an email.He added that the university has an interim president, Piero Ceria, who was listed as president before Hagerty, and because Hagerty’s lawsuit was a “contract labor dispute,” it would be “inappropriate to discuss the merits of the matter in the press.”Calls to other New Hampshire board members — who include two state senators, the president of St. Anselm College, a senior vice president of Elliot Hospital and a prominent Portsmouth architect — also were not returned by deadline.Hagerty also could not be reached for comment by deadline. His attorney, Donald Crandlemire of the Shaheen & Gordon law firm, said the university’s attempts to “throw mud” on a distinguished college president for 14 years was not an adequate response to the fact that he wasn’t paid.The university was founded in 2007 by Zampedri, who previously founded five other Italian colleges. It was incorporated in Concord that year, and the following year, the New Hampshire Postsecondary Education Commission granted approval for the university to operate in New Hampshire to offer a variety of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in everything from environmental architecture to international arts administration.The commission did not respond to NHBR’s call and email by deadline.The campus of the school was to be located in Vinovo, Italy, a suburb of the city of Torino, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. In the summer of 2009, the New Hampshire Legislature granted degree-granting authority to the college through a bill sponsored by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who later became a board member.The school was to be “in harmony” but “distinct from the famous Mission of St. John International University” and provide an environment that was a “thoughtful fusion of a rigorous American curriculum with the scholarly, cultural and linguistic diversity abundant in an international living-learning environment,” according to the school’s website.Cost is listed as high as 15,000 euros, or about $20,000. The website did not disclose the number of students at the university, but did list 24 faculty members and 10 administrators.The Harvard-educated Hagerty, who ended his 14-year tenure at Franklin Pierce University in 2009, became president and CEO of St. John in September 2011 for a salary of $135,000, or $11,250 a month, according to the complaint.Shortly after Hagerty started, Zampedri allegedly told him that the university “was having temporary financial difficulties” and that his payment would be delayed, but assured him that situation “would be rectified.”By February, after working “diligently” for five months, Hagerty had been paid one month’s wages and “even that sum was paid in installments and several months late,” according to his suit.Hagerty allegedly “pleaded” with Zampedri for his wages before quitting on Feb. 6. Hagerty is also suing Zampedri individually because she has “enjoyed exclusive control over the University’s operations.”The suit — filed in Merrimack County Superior Court on Feb. 15 — is accompanied by a $100,000 attachment to the university’s bank account at TD Bank.In that filing, Hagerty, who now lives outside Phoenix, Ariz., alleges that “other key employees of the University have also not been paid wages due and owing.”Judge William McGraw approved the attachment on Feb. 23.Bianco, in an objection dated March 6, confirmed that Hagerty was the president and CEO with “access to and knowledge of all information regarding the respondent’s finances and complete control over and responsibility for business development, deposits, payroll and all aspects” of the university’s operations, but he denied Hagerty’s claim.Even if the claim was legitimate, he said $100,000 “is excessive and far exceeds any conceivable amount” of what Hagerty was owed, and wanted the asset attachment removed.During its last filing at the Secretary of State’s office — filed in March 2011 before Hagerty was hired — the school’s president was Piero Ceria of Moncalieri, Italy. Zampedri was listed as treasurer and Bianco was secretary.Bianco and Zampedri were on the board, with Zampedri as chair and Bianco as registered agent. Other board members were D’Allesandro, N.H. Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, president of St. Anselm University, Lisa DeStefano of DeStefano Architects and David Li, vice president of Elliot Hospital.In May 2010, Zampedri listed herself as the “sole incorporator” in amended articles of incorporation, which increased the number of shares from 2,000 to 1 million. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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