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December 5, 2013

Councilman thinks house purchase an ‘illegal act by the mayor’

NEW CASTLE — New Castle Councilman William Panella believes the mayor committed an act of malfeasance in buying a property without council’s approval.

“I think it’s an illegal act by the mayor,” Panella said at Tuesday’s work session regarding the purchase of a property at 315 E. Hillcrest Ave.

“I think it’s malfeasance. There’s no authorization for us to buy property and flip it.”

He added there is no line item in this year’s budget to buy homes, saying Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo used money from the mayor’s account to purchase the property that was the scene of a shooting in October.

Panella said the deed already has been made out to the city.

Last month, Mastrangelo proposed buying the property because it “has been an irritant for all the people who live up there.”

His intent is to have the house rehabilitated, then sell it at market value.

The property went up for a free and clear sale by the county after taxes weren’t paid, but it was not sold and ultimately placed in the county’s repository. The county agreed to suspend its normal policy of a bidding process and offered it to the city for $598.50.

Artishia Foster, director of the county’s tax claim bureau, said her office received a check from the city Nov. 1.

Mastrangelo made no comment during council’s discussion.

“It wasn’t a time to argue about this,” he said Wednesday.

“Yes, I may have been ahead of the curve,” he said of his move to buy the property. “But I tried to address an issue.”

“It’s not just one area,” he said, noting other neighborhoods have problem houses, primarily with drugs.

“When you have a cancer in that one home, it affects that whole area.”

Councilman Richard Beshero agreed with the mayor’s position about trying to stabilize a neighborhood.

“Maybe it wasn’t done the way it should be done, but I’m for it.”

He said he doesn’t believe the mayor’s action rises to the level of a criminal act.

Mastrangelo said $98.50 came out of the expenses line item and $500 from office equipment in the mayor’s budget.

The matter may become a moot point because there are $25,000 in federal tax liens on the property.

City solicitor Jason Medure said assistant solicitor Jonathan Miller and county solicitor Thomas Leslie are researching the matter to determine whether the liens are wiped out because the property went through a free and clear sale that eliminates all encumbrances.

“If there is a lien,” Mastrangelo said, “then I think we’re going to have to back off.”

Medure said the process to purchase the property “is not complete and not valid” without council approval, regardless of what paperwork has been done by the county.

Panella argued council cannot approve something if it’s an illegal act.

Medure recommended council keep a resolution approving the purchase tabled until the lien’s status is determined. The resolution was tabled at council’s Nov. 13 meeting because all members were not present.

In response to Panella’s allegation, Medure said the mayor’s action is “not a criminal act,” but may be illegal because city ordinances were not followed.

Councilman Ed Yerage questioned whether the city is setting a precedent by buying individual properties. He said if others approach the city, “how can we tell them no?”

Beshero said if other properties are not in the repository, the city wouldn’t be interested.

“I don’t see the problem.”

(Email: jmanna@ncnewsonline.com)

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