Military Times

Italian case puts freeze on NAS Sigonella commissary's groceries

Note; This article was updated on July 13 to reflect the correct status of the NAS Sigonella commissary in the early 2000s.

An Italian national who was fired from his Navy Exchange job more than a decade ago has taken his fight to the shelves of the commissary at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, limiting what customers can buy at the base.

Officials with the departments of Justice, Defense and State are trying to resolve the situation.

Last week, after obtaining a court order to seize store assets, Italian national Carmelo Cocuzza reportedly visited the commissary with officers of the Italian legal system to enforce a court order to the ruling. , placing a freeze on most of the groceries in the commissary as a step toward seizing the products seize the groceries in order to sell them and recover what the court awarded him in a wrongful termination lawsuit. A source said the groceries hadn’t been removed, and that Cocuzza didn’t enter the Navy Exchange, which was closed when he came onto the base. Both the commissary and exchange are on the base. 

Although Cocuzza's legal action was against the Navy Exchange, from where he was reportedly fired in 2000, the products involved were at the commissary. The commissary is not owned by the Navy Exchange, but by the Defense Commissary Agency, and is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars.

On Tuesday, t The Navy Exchange at Sigonella was operating normally and the commissary was open, but with temporarily limited offerings, said Jeffrey Galvin, press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Customer purchases are limited to fresh produce, meat and dairy at the commissary. Base officials are also working to expand the number of products that are available at other retail locations on base, Galvin said.

Another source said the commissary will sell products that have arrived at the commissary since Cocuzza visited the store.

Meanwhile, no one can answer the question of how a plaintiff who is a resident of Italy can claim the right to property on a U.S. base in that country. Officials are reportedly sorting out the issues, including the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Italy, regarding the operation of bases in that country.

"We are working through jurisdiction issues in terms of court officers' attempt to enforce the ruling, at the same time that we continue to work with Mr. Cocuzza and his representatives to find a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute," Galvin said.

"Because this is an ongoing process, we cannot discuss particulars of the case at this time."

A hearing on the case scheduled for July 12 has been postponed to July 19.

A Defense Department source said there is no assumption that the local officials were following protocol. A source outside DoD said commissaries and exchanges are well-protected under status of forces agreements in countries around the world, and depending on the facts behind this court order, this case could possibly have consequences at military stores elsewhere overseas.

Sources said Cocuzza was fired in 2000 from the Navy Exchange for allegedly falsifying time records.

But after Cocuzza took the case to the Italian courts, they found in Cocuzza's favor, including Italy's Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling that entitled Cocuzza to $600,000 in damages, and to be rehired by the Navy Exchange, according to Stars and Stripes, and MeridioNews.

It was unclear why the plaintiff was able to put a temporary hold on groceries in the commissary. In the early 2000s, at the time But at the time Cocuzza was reportedly fired, reportedly in 2000, there was a joint construction project and contract award for the building of the commissary and exchange shopping center at NAS Sigonella, but when they were built, they were operated separately by the commissary agency and Navy Exchange, according to commissary officials.  were operated as a joint store, according to a February, 2000 DoD budget document.

In a July 9 posting on the installation's Facebook page, the installation's command master chief urged anyone with an emergency need such as baby food or formula to contact him. He noted the base "is aggressively working this."

A base spokeswoman referred all questions to the U.S. Embassy.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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