Unless the owners of the Caravan II Albergo property come up with $483,368 in back taxes before 10 a.m. July 23, the property will be sold that day in a special free and clear tax sale.
Interested buyers must register for the sale at the Lawrence County Tax Claim Bureau in the courthouse by the sale date.
The county commissioners prompted the single-property tax sale by successfully fighting a petition for a stay in federal bankruptcy court filed by the owners of Innovative Construction Inc., who were trying to keep the motel property of 11.23 acres from being sold because of delinquent taxes.
The building, at 1465 Sampson St. (Route 422), was the location of the former Holiday Inn, which was destroyed by fire in the 1970s.
"We want to make sure this property owner is held accountable and pays his dues to society," Commissioner Chairman Morgan Boyd said. "Let this be a warning to all the property owners in Lawrence County who may have weaponized the judicial system to receive tax stay after tax stay, or bankruptcy after bankruptcy to avoid going to tax sale. We might have put up with these antics in the past ... but we're not putting up with it any more. We will hold you accountable to the same standard to which we hold the average taxpayer," he said.
The principals of the property are Andrew Menichino as secretary and Linda Menichino as president, according to the Department of State business filing records.
Boyd said that the owners haven't paid property taxes since purchasing the building in 2009. The taxes are owed to the county, Union Township and the Union Area School District.
"Every time it came up for tax or sheriff sales, the property owner either filed for bankruptcy or petitioned the court of common pleas for a stay and they were granted," he said.
Boyd said that the commissioners learned about the situation when he was first elected. They had planned to proceed with selling the property in the county's free and clear tax sale in May, but the owner at that time filed an additional stay in the county court of common pleas. The commissioners intervened and that stay was denied by the judge. The owner then filed a fifth petition for a stay in federal court.
The commissioners were also successful in blocking that filing and prevented the owner from filing for another bankruptcy for two years.
"That allowed us to schedule the special sale," Boyd said, adding that this is the first special judicial sale the county had had in many years.
A Lawrence County Common Pleas court order, issued July 7 and signed by President Judge Dominick Motto, allowed the commissioners to proceed with the sale. The order allows the property owner to file an answer to the order by 4 p.m. July 22. It also allows them to appear in person or request in writing that the property can be removed from the sale if they pay the delinquent taxes, interest and costs in full, on or before the day of the sale.
Otherwise, the property is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel pointed out that the average homeowner who might have a struggle for awhile to pay taxes — either through a COVID-19 situation or another major life event — can ask for a stay or a payment plan.
"This (action) in no way shape or form should impact that," she said. "You have the opportunity to get a payment plan to put before the court. But when it's habitually happening, this serves as that first step. We want to work with our property owners to see that they can continue to own their properties, but at the same time, everyone needs to pay their taxes or at least make that attempt to pay."