Screenshot of video from Billy Ciancaglini's mayoral campaign

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The owner of Le Virtú says a Republican mayoral candidate is inciting harassment against his restaurant after a recent pro-immigrant benefit thrown by the South Philly restaurant.

On March 29, Republican GOP nominee Billy Ciancaglini posted South Philly Review article on his Facebook page about the restaurant’s recent fundraiser to help two undocumented families who took sanctuary in a Germantown church last year. “This is now one place I’ll never eat at again,” Ciancaglini wrote.

On April 2, the South Philly attorney re-upped the article again — this time emphasizing the name and address of the East Passyunk mainstay.

“In the future, please feel free to patronize this restaurant… Or not,” he wrote. “You’re welcome.”

Ciancaglini’s posts have sparked a wave of bogus online reviews and fake reservations for the dining destination, says co-owner Francis Cratil-Cretarola. The fake reviews aside — most of them mention “illegals,” said Cratil-Cretarola, who is third-generation Italian-American — he is now wary about the physical wellbeing of his business and staff as Ciancaglini doubles down on his campaign against the Abruzzese restaurant.

“The very idea that a political candidate running for office in the sixth largest city in the United States is attacking a local business…it’s unbelievable,” Cratil-Cretarola said. “It speaks volumes to the void that is his agenda.”

‘We were expecting some blowback’

Speaking with Billy Penn, Ciancaglini defended his campaign against Le Virtú.

“I’ll keep it simple: They had a fundraiser for illegal immigrants and many people found that detestable,” he said Monday.

In social media posts, the Democrat-turned-Republican candidate has repeatedly demanded receipts for any Le Virtú fundraisers for other local causes, like the city’s homeless, police and veterans groups.

Cratil-Cretarola noted that since Le Virtú opened in 2007, they’ve thrown two fundraisers for Project HOME. They’ve also held benefits for everything from local animal shelters to families who are battling cancer, and contribute regularly to South Philly’s police and firefighter funds, Cratil-Cretarola added.

“We were expecting some blowback” over the sanctuary event, he said. “But this isn’t even about the event at this point. He’s attacking us based on a false premise.”

Cratil-Cretarola said he’s happy to engage people on the topic of why he supports extending amnesty and reforming pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, noting that the families who benefited from Le Virtú’s fundraiser had legally sought asylum in the U.S. and only became deportation priorities in 2018.

But the restaurateur says Ciancaglini, who is campaigning against Mayor Jim Kenney’s sanctuary city policy, isn’t singling out the restaurant to have a real debate about immigration. “He just wants to stoke animus,” Cratil-Cretarola said.

A battle waged on social media

Cratil-Cretarola provided a copy of what he said was one of the “more civil” fake online reviews before he got it scrubbed, noting that the barrage had successfully knocked the restaurant’s rating down a few decimal points.

An online review left for Le Virtu Credit: Courtesy Francis Cratil-Cretarola

In yet another Facebook post Monday, Ciancaglini said he would call Le Virtú to “propose” they do a fundraiser to support recently injured Philadelphia police officer Andy Chan and an unspecified veterans organization.

Asked to elaborate on his campaign against the restaurant, Ciancaglini referred a reporter to his Facebook posts. He said he left a message at Le Virtú about his proposal Monday and would post more updates as he hears back.

“I think I made myself very very clear on my page, my rationale is very clear and I’m very transparent about it,” Ciancaglini said. “We’ll see if he takes me up on my offer.”

Ciancaglini is running unopposed on the Republican ticket in the May primary. Daphne Goggins, who originally beat Ciancaglini for the local Republican party’s endorsement, dropped out of the race last month.

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...