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Santoni’s assets may be frozen

Asked Thursday afternoon how he was doing, Robert N. Santoni Jr. replied: “I’ve had better weeks.”

A week that began with Santoni announcing his family would be closing its 83-year-old Highlandtown supermarket is scheduled to end with a federal court appearance Friday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by a produce vendor.

A federal judge has set a hearing to determine why she should not freeze Santoni’s Super Market’s assets until it pays back more than $200,000 to Jessup-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc.

Judge Catherine C. Blake on Thursday granted G. Cefalu’s request for a temporary restraining order, one day after the produce company filed its lawsuit.

G. Cefalu’s lawsuit alleges Santoni’s owes it $203,198.49 for produce sold and delivered between June 1 and Sept. 23. Blake A. Surbey, a lawyer for G. Cefalu, said the produce company has been working with Santoni’s for “a number of years.”

The lawsuit was filed under the federal Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, which was created to ensure payment to produce suppliers. The law also gives PACA trust beneficiaries, of which G. Cefalu is one, priority over all other creditors.

Surbey, the produce company’s lawyer, is with McCarron & Diess, a Washington law firm that specializes in representing produce companies under PACA. The firm’s website describes the PACA trust’s “very strong” collection remedy.

“This remedy allows a produce supplier to file suit immediately in federal court to freeze the assets of a buyer who has not paid,” the website states. “It also requires that produce suppliers be paid before anyone else in a bankruptcy.”

Robert Santoni said Thursday afternoon he had just seen the lawsuit and was unaware of the temporary restraining order or the Friday court hearing. But he said the lawsuit was “a byproduct of us closing.”

“When you fall behind on vendors, that’s what happens,” he said.

Santoni’s Marketplace & Catering, in Glyndon, “is a separately owned and operated company,” according to its website.