Published On: Thu, Jan 21st, 2021

The questionable background of the owner of District 721

~ Who is Mario di Palma Jr.? ~

PHILIPSBURG — To say that Mario di Palma Jr., the apparent owner of the District 721 project in Simpson Bay is a controversial figure seems to be quite an understatement given the press coverage in a series of articles by Melissa Nicolas-Rembotte and Igor Rembotte in St. Martin’s Week. Now Di Palma is in the middle of a conflict with Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Ludmilla de Weever and President of Parliament MP Rolando Brison surrounding his latest venture, the District 721 restaurant in Simpson Bay.

According to St. Martin’s Week, Di Palma is a resident of Cuba, or he was born there and he is a resident of Canada. Or he is an ethnic Cuban born in Canada. Or he may even have a Russian background. Apparently he is now residing on the Dutch side, based on his director’s license for District 721. All these options appear from articles in St. Martin’s Week.

Guy Deldevert told the newspaper that back in 2016 he gave 80 percent of the shares in is company in good confidence to Di Palma on the sole condition that the new owner ensured the company’s continuity and that he honor the ongoing recovery plan. That was a mistake according to St. Martin’s Week: Di Palma soon fired all employees which made Deldevert realize that they were not on the same page: “My name and my father’s name have been soiled instead of being associated with the islands reconstruction.” Deldevert prefers that the company be referred to as the Di Palma Group in the future.

A company called Omnigate won the contract for the reconstruction of the French-side La Lagune residence for a bit over €2.2 million ($2.67 million) but it was transferred to the Deldevert Group, then controlled by Di Palma, soon after. The project came to a standstill in July 2019 and the court in Basse-Terre recently ordered the Deldevert Group to repay close to €690,000 ($837,000), an amount that is equal to the start-up advance the company had on the day it abandoned the project.

These days, the Deldevert Group has gone dark. As Igor Rembotte notes in St. Martin’s Week: the phones are not answered anymore, the offices are empty and the post office box is full of registered letters that nobody will ever collect. The tax debt of Omnigate over the years 2018 and 2019 adds up to €400,000 (a bit over $485,000).

Di Palma’s reputation is nothing to write home about, given the following observation by Melissa Nicolas-Rembotte in St. Martin’s Week: “When the charm no longer works, beautiful promises give way to intimidation, generally in the presence of a bodyguard.” That attitude has resulted in several complaints to the Gendarmerie about assault, intimidation and home invasion.

One of the reasons Di Palma has never been prosecuted for any of these complaints is according to the newspaper “the absence of agreements or partnerships with foreign territories to which certain funds have been directed, including Sint Maarten.”

Nicolas-Rembotte already feels sorry for anyone who is involved with Di Palma’s District 721 project in Simpson Bay: “St. Martin’s Week is anticipating the future pain of the operators of District 721, some of whom are subject to levies that can go as far as 50 percent of their turnover.”

The newspaper notes that District 721 is actually a project of Di Palma’s father who is associated with one Tony Piccione. It suggests that materials used for the project arrived through “regular border crossings by well-loaded small trucks.”

Igor Rembotte interviewed Di Palma Jr. in 2019, after his company had missed out on the contract for the reconstruction of the Riu Resort in Anse Marcel. On that occasion, Rembotte wrote, Di Palma said: “You French are all thieves and you do not understand anything about business.”

Patrick Girard’s company leased thirty cars to the Deldevert Group under Di Palma’s management. Di Palma apparently disabled their GPS systems so that Girard could not locate his property, he ran up debts close to “six figures” and it took in the end the intervention of the Gendarmerie to recover his cars. “Mario di Palma is a guy who commits but never pays,” Girard told St. Martin’s Week.

Alexandre Koenig, a former manager at Deldevert, says about Di Palma: “How did I manage not to realize that I was in front of a megalomaniacal mythomaniac?”

Engineer Gauthier Bichot says about his experience with Di Palma: “Conscience, ethics and professional duty are our guidelines. I think Mario di Palma is far from these values.”

Architect Gilles Laffay:”Mario di Palma clearly did not know anything about building. He took us all for puppets and my wife and I have been subjected to threats and intimidation.”