Monday, March 16, 2009

Lightning Struck The Same Spot 13 Times-Update

To say the Legal Intelligencer is all over it just is putting it too mild.

The builder of the juvenile detention center at the heart of the Luzerne County courthouse corruption probe appealed tax assessments on 13 of his properties over an 11-year period and ended up with a lower assessment value each time, court records show.

Here is more information from that article as an update to interesting reading.

Though he often settled out of court, Robert K. Mericle saw significant reductions in his assessment values and, on two occassions, received rulings from former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan that cut the assessment values by more than half.

In another appeal, Conahan signed an order reducing the assessed value on one of Mericle's properties from $71,250 to $14,310. It was unclear, however, if Conahan made a ruling in that appeal or simply signed an order validating a settlement.

Of the 13 appeals, four — three from 2004 and one from 2006 — are still pending, records show.

Mericle's attorney, Lewis Sebia, did not return a call seeking comment.

David E. Schwager, the solicitor for the county assessment appeals board, said the appeals were not uncommon.

There was no evidence that Mericle did anything improper in appealing the assessments.

Though he was not named in the criminal information filed by federal officials against two former Luzerne County judges, it did allege that Mericle's construction company wired $1 million to a company controlled by those judges during a kickback scheme related to the juvenile detention center. More than $2.6 million was paid to the judges, according to the criminal information.

The information also alleges that Mericle was brought into the deal by former Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. after an attorney, Robert Powell, told Ciavarella in June 2000 he was interested in building a juvenile detention facility in Luzerne County.

According to court records, Ciavarella once represented Mericle in a tax assessment appeal.

In that case, filed in 1995, Mericle's property was assessed at $263,740. Conahan later reduced the assessment to $80,100.

Mericle, referred to in the criminal information as "Participant #2," was described by federal officials as "a contractor … who was a friend of defendant ... Ciavarella." Mericle is the president and chief executive officer of a commercial real estate business. He was to help locate land for the facility and construct it, according to the criminal information.

The detention center, named PA Child Care, was completed in 2003.

Mericle's history of tax assessment appeals is tied to his commercial properties, court records show.

They are as follows:

• According to court records in Mericle Development Group v. Board of Assessment Appeals of Luzerne County , a case that was filed in 1998, Luzerne County Judge Hugh F. Mundy signed an order reducing the total value of one of Mericle's properties from $414,880 to $241,875. It was unclear from the court records, however, whether the figure was reached through settlement.

• On Jan. 18, 2000, court records show Conahan signed an order reducing the land value of another one of Mericle's properties from $71,250 to $14,310. It was unclear whether this case was settled or decided by Conahan.

• On Jan. 28, 2000, court records show Conahan issued an order reducing the assessed value of one of Mericle's properties from $347,780 to $151,500.

• On April 28, 2004, Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr. signed an order approving a settlement between Mericle and the board of appeals for a total assessment of $8,500 for a property that was originally assessed at $11,470.

• On Nov. 18, 2004, Judge Peter Paul Olszewski signed an order approving a settlement between Mericle, the board of appeals, Hazle Township and Hazleton Area School District to reduce the originally assessed value of one of Mericle's properties from $395,220 to $211,310. The parties amended their original settlement agreement in April 2007, so that instead of receiving a tax credit against future real estate taxes, Mericle would receive refund checks based upon the annual real estate taxes for 2007 and 2008 in the amounts of $38,865.08 from Hazleton Area School District, $4,079.04 from Hazle Township and $20,866.13 from Luzerne County.

• On Nov. 19, 2004, Olszewski signed an order approving a settlement between Mericle, the board of appeals, Hazle Township and Hazleton Area School District to reduce the originally assessed total value of one of Mericle's properties from $417,180 to $220,175.

• On June 20, 2005, Mundy signed an order approving a settlement between Mericle, the board of appeals, Hanover Township and Hanover Area School District to reduce the originally assessed value of one of Mericle's properties from $153,280 to $126,000 for 2004 and to $119,000 for 2005.

A search of court records also shows that Robert Kulick, an admitted felon and friend of both Conahan and reputed mob boss William "Big Billy" D'Elia, appealed a tax assessment on a property he owned with his wife, Michelle Mattioli Kulick, in November 2007.

Though the case settled out of court, the Kulicks were able to reduce the assessed value of the property, an abandoned nursing home in Bear Creek, from $66,500 to $6,500.

Ciavarella signed the order that approved the settlement.

When asked about the assessment, Kulick's lawyer, Michael A. Schwartz of Pepper Hamilton, replied with a prepared statement as he has consistently in response to inquiries from The Legal Intelligencer : "Bob Kulick has fully accepted responsibility for the crime for which he has been charged and he continues to answer questions and cooperate with all law enforcement authorities."

And in September 2001, Conahan signed an order that reduced the market value of The Woodlands Inn & Resort — a hotel on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre where D'Elia was such a frequent patron that he was called a "fixture" — from $11,622,837 to $7,090,000. Conahan amended the order in July 2002, writing that The Woodlands was owed $313,912.50 in tax overpayments from several sources.

David E. Schwager, the solicitor for the county assessment appeals board, said the appeals were not uncommon.

Schwager said it was inappropriate to identify the results of a tax assessment appeal as winning or losing.

"The whole goal of the assessment law in Pennsylvania is to have every property assessed at the appropriate fair market value," Schwager said.

Schwager said he has not been interviewed by the FBI regarding tax assessment cases. He also said his records have not been subpeonaed.


And the saga continues.

2 comments:

just ed said...

No shit when you have them all in your pocket way should he have to pay his fair share I am shore that the IRS is going to flip every rock

just ed said...

Why these guys are not charged with RICO ???