Owner of bankrupt Lakeland antique market had history of embezzlement, not paying clients

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — The future of a Lakeland antique mall, and its hundreds of vendors is still uncertain.

Wildwood Antique Mall suddenly closed Thursday after a judge’s ruling in bankruptcy court. That left hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise held hostage and vendors left unpaid.

“We’re all wondering what’s going on with our stuff man, when are we going to get it back?” asked antiques dealer Ron Galletti.

Wildwood first filed for bankruptcy in August, according to court documents, which was right around when Galletti set up shop. However, Galletti was reassured at the time the Lakeland store would not close.

Some vendors left because they weren’t getting paid commission owed by Wildwood. Galletti chose to stay.

“I heard the rumors and a lot of people out on the streets saying ‘I’m out of there, I won’t come back’,” Galletti explained. “But for me, I was selling and it was all good.”

There’s more than just rumors. 8 On Your Side found records in Broward county that show Wildwood’s registered owner, Manny Pesco, pleaded guilty to theft, embezzlement, and tax violations in the 70s.

In 2014, another one of Pesco’s ventures was disciplined by the state board of auctioneers for failing to pay people or give them their property in a timely manner.

Galletti says he has roughly $8,000 in inventory tied up in Wildwood, plus money owed.

He may peddle in the past, but he’s hopeful for the future.

“It’s devastating but I have hopes that it’s going to work out, you know?” Galletti said, expressing optimism that new management may come in and reopen Wildwood.

An attorney representing Manny Pesco in the bankruptcy proceedings refused to comment.

Calls to the court-appointed trustee tasked with handling Wildwood operations in the wake of bankruptcy did not return calls or emails Friday.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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