Bennett fan gets $15,000 refund

Auction mixup resolved by Hopkins

July 02, 2004|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

Thirty-seven years ago, crooner Tony Bennett recorded an LP called Tony Makes It Happen. Gary Pusateri, a longtime Bennett fan from Washington must believe that little has changed in all that time.

Yesterday, at Bennett's urging, a $15,000 bid Pusateri had made at a charity auction in the mistaken hope of dining with the singer was returned to him, bringing an end, it seemed, to a misunderstanding that had made headlines.

"I had quite a problem on my hands," Pusateri said yesterday, "and Mr. Bennett directly intervened. It says a lot for him. I'm pleased with the way things turned out."

Pusateri's dilemma began last Saturday night, when he attended a Bennett concert at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Before the show, he had bid in a charity auction benefiting the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. The prize, he believed, was a chance to dine with the star after the show at Little Italy's Da Mimmo restaurant.

In fact, Mary Ann Cricchio, Da Mimmo's owner, said her intent was merely that the winner be in the restaurant as Bennett dined, but that the auctioneer misstated the prize. (The auctioneer, however, has said he read the prize exactly as it was listed on his script.)

So, after Pusateri's $15,000 bid won and he went to Da Mimmo, he wasn't seated with the performer. Instead, he found himself at an upstairs table. From there, he couldn't even see his musical hero. "It was a letdown," he said.

Pusateri, 52, a retired computer analyst and a gentlemanly sort, was prepared to write off the mixup as an expensive misunderstanding. "Nobody was really at fault," Pusateri said. Besides, proceeds from the auction, which raised $250,000, went to the Packard Center at Hopkins, a cause - research into Lou Gehrig's disease - he considered more than worthy.

Still, Pusateri, an amateur musician, says he would not have bid so extravagantly for so remote an encounter.

Enter the singer and his manager/son, Danny. "When they heard about my dilemma, they were distraught," Pusateri said, "and got involved right away." On Wednesday, they asked Hopkins that full restitution be made.

Yesterday, it was. "At Hopkins' request, full refunds have been made," a statement from Johns Hopkins Medicine read.

"They made the transaction null and void," said Pusateri.

Everyone came out ahead. Pusateri's bid also brought him tickets to four concerts and a $2,000 bracelet from J. Brown Jewelers, which he intends to be donated to the Packard Center. For now, that's where he thinks he'll leave matters. Bennett's management team thanked concert and auction organizers for making prompt restitution.

By chance, Pusateri actually did get to meet Bennett as the singer hopped from his limousine outside Da Mimmo Saturday night. "He had a police escort," he said. "We pulled in right in front of him. We thought we were about to be arrested, but we had a happy surprise."

Pusateri shook the star's hand and managed to say a few words about how much he admired him. And he says the episode has done nothing to diminish his admiration for the singer, who had no way of knowing about the oversight until after it happened.

"I'll always admire a person who has the kind of charisma and talent Mr. Bennett has," he said, "and who has been able to stay so current for so long. He ... showed that Saturday night."

In the end, Pusateri didn't have to leave his heart in Little Italy. "I consider myself a lucky man," he said. "People did their utmost to straighten things out, and I was happy to learn that Mr. Bennett has the character to match what he does onstage."

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