07/25/2007About a year after losing her husband to a fatal car crash and selling her house to help pay the bills, Robin Pellegrino thought her life had finally turned around on Christmas Eve.
Scott Binsack, of Mansions & Estates International LLC, told the widowed mother on his live radio program that he was going to build a house for her and her infant daughter, Gianna.
But the Keys to Your Castle contest, she said, turned out to be another false promise from the controversial homebuilder.
After months of excuses and delays, there was no house. Not even land on which to build it.
Instead, the Dickson City woman feels as though Mr. Binsack used her name and personal tragedy to burnish his image.
Unlike some of Mr. Binsacks clients and vendors, she lost no money to Mr. Binsack some of and pities those who have. But Mrs. Pellegrino, alreadysteeped in suffering, paid an emotional price.
Reason for hope
Mrs. Pellegrino had never heard of Mr. Binsack or his Clarks Summit-based company. She was too busy with her work as a Head Start teacher and as a mother to Gianna after the car accident that killed her husband, Ralph, in October 2005. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
Within a few months, Mrs. Pellegrino buried her husband, gave birth to Gianna and sold the dream home in Carbondale she and Ralph purchased in 2004 to raise their family.
She couldnt afford the home on her own. Selling the four-bedroom colonial full of woodwork and stained glass meant giving up on the life they had planned for their daughter. The perfect life once in front of Mrs. Pellegrino was slipping away.
Mrs. Pellegrino didnt know it, but a family friend nominated her for the Keys to Your Castle home giveaway contest sponsored by Mansions & Estates. Thanks to the friends flattering essay about her courage in the face of tragedy and her work helping others, Mr. Binsack selected Mrs. Pellegrino.
The day before Christmas, friends and family told her a bank would be at WILK radio studios in Pittston Township to make a donation to Giannas college fund. They were all ushered into the studio during Mr. Binsacks live radio talk show and given the exciting news: She and Gianna would be given a house.
Her family cried. She saw her father-in-law smile for the first time since Ralph, his only child, died.
Everyone thanked Mr. Binsack, who told Mrs. Pellegrino they would build the house together. Even furniture and towels would be donated. She could select every fixture and finish but one, Mr. Binsack said. He insisted on making a Princess Castle room for Gianna.
The donations of time and materials were in place, he told her, and the work would begin as soon as possible. She could even be featured on his new reality television show, he said.
From behind the microphone, Mr. Binsack insisted that the tearful Mrs. Pellegrino recount her personal loss on air. She did.
All I could think of is that I would have a home, she said. It was like getting back a piece of the life that Ralph and I had planned.
That dream, too, soon began to unravel.
A widow left waiting
In the following weeks, she learned that Mr. Binsacks talk show wasnt a WILK-produced show, even though he was featured on the radio stations staff Web page. It was paid-for time, like an infomercial.
She found newspaper accounts of his criminal past and Web sites where disgruntled clients griped about him. Skeptical, she confronted him in January.
Mr. Binsack had an explanation.
The Monroe County district attorney who prosecuted him for fraud, Mark Pazuhanich, was tainted because he later pleaded guilty to child molestation charges, he said.
Mr. Binsacks lawyer failed him, he said.
A car accident, not fraud, prevented him from completing those homes in Monroe County, he said.
The Internet message boards were just full of jealous contractors and unreasonable customers, he said.
I told him I had been through a lot, and that if there was a chance this home wouldnt be built, to tell me, she said. He said, Robin, I promise I will build you this house.
But other than a tour of his office and some preliminary blueprints, she heard nothing for months. He once sent her to pick out land. She drove from lot to lot and selected one in Archbald. Weeks later, he told her they were waiting for land to be donated.
Meanwhile, every Sunday at noon, Mr. Binsack would kick off his WILK show, Building and Remodeling in the Millennium, with talk of his largesse to Mrs. Pellegrino and Gianna. The home giveaway was on billboards, but there was no home.
I thought, how could he use my name on radio and in advertising if he didnt intend on building my house? she said. After a while, I figured he just liked using my name. I started to stop believing.
Everyone was asking her how the house was coming. She wasnt sure what to say and worried people thought she was lying.
As plans for her home languished, Mr. Binsack began soliciting nominations on WILK for the next Keys to Your Castle home giveaway, also scheduled for the holidays. She wondered if he could give away another donated home as hers waited for donors?
When a friend called her last week to tell her Mr. Binsack was arrested and jailed, she wasnt surprised, but she cried.
The truth was now impossible to ignore. There would be no castle for her and Gianna.
God, I wanted so badly to believe him, she said.
On Monday, she and a friend listened to a tape of the Christmas Eve radio show. Recounting the happiness of that day was bitter. She feels exploited.
My daughter and I are the innocents, and he used us, she said. He made me tell my private story on air.
Mrs. Pellegrino continues to rent a home in Dickson City. Raising her daughter alone isnt ideal, but she is thankful for the help and love from Ralphs family and friends. Although she has had misfortune, she says she is financially stable.
Unlike some of Mr. Binsacks clients, Mrs. Pellegrino didnt lose any money.
Instead, she lost a dream.