Rocco’s Pizzeria Owner Convicted of Tax Fraud

Photo Courtesy of the Daily Freeman

A local business owner has pleaded guilty to five charges of falsifying tax returns spanning over five years.

The owner of Rocco’s Pizzeria and the now-closed Rocco’s Fine Dining, 60-year-old Susan Salanitri of New Paltz, was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay over $300,000 in restitution on Nov. 9.

From 2015 through 2019, Salanitri admitted to purposefully underreporting the revenues of her restaurants through her IRS tax filings, which ultimately amounted to an underpayment of $307,665 in taxes, according to U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman and Thomas Fattorusso of the IRS’ criminal division.

The case was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Michael Barnett, who provided a plea agreement signed by Salanitri on Sept. 22, 2022 to the Daily Freeman, stating that she “willfully under-reported” the revenues of the restaurants on her tax returns from 2015 through 2019.

Rocco’s Pizzeria, located at 4 New Paltz Plaza in the shopping center with Tops and New Paltz Cinemas, first opened in 2011 under the ownership of Rocco Panetta, a New Paltz local who also owned La Stazione, a renowned restaurant that was located at the historical New Paltz train station before being bought out in March of this year.

Panetta has had his own interactions with the law as well. According to The Times Herald-Record, Panetta was implicated in a $10 million illegal sports betting crew that spread over several counties in New York.

Panetta also helped Chris Colombo, the son of Joe Colombo, get released from federal custody on bail in 2004.

Joe Colombo was the head of the Colombo family, one of the Five Families of the American Mafia in New York City.

Panetta and Colombo were both actors in the film “Front Man” and a scene was filmed at La Stazione in 2008,where Colombo played the role of a gangster. The movie follows the story of a singer who falls in love with an actor belonging to the Mob.

According to the plea deal, the ownership of Rocco’s was transferred to Salanitri in March 2014 and she opened Rocco’s Fine Dining next door in July 2018. 

She owned Radiance Day Spa at 234 Main Street for 33 years before taking over the pizzeria, without having any experience in the restaurant business.

According to the IRS, the U.S. loses $1 trillion each year in unpaid taxes. The number was a drastic increase from the estimated $441 billion in unpaid taxes from 2011 to 2013.

A report from the Government Accountability Office in 2019 stated that underreporting taxes was the most common method of tax evasion.

Of the 17 listed New Paltz pizza eateries on Yelp, Rocco’s ranked 15th with an average of 3.2 stars and 67 reviews. 20 of the reviews gave the restaurant just one star.

“I think when they interview people, one of the prerequisites must be asking “Are you a sourpuss?” If so, you have a job,” a review from August 2022 reads.

Not all of the reviews are scathing, however. The same reviewee wrote, “If the rating were on the pizza alone, it would be a 5.”