Glitch delays tax sale of former hotel

The Caravan II Albergo on Route 422 in Union Township is behind $483,368 in back taxes and will go to a special free and clear tax sale if the owners can’t pay them. 

A technical glitch in the name of a creditor notification will delay the tax sale of the Caravan II Albergo for 60 more days, according to Lawrence County Commissioner Chairman Morgan Boyd.

But another attempt in court Thursday by the owner to stay the sale of the old hotel was rejected by the president judge.

A special free and clear tax sale of the hotel building and 11.23 acres of property at 1465 Sampson Street, Union Township, was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the courthouse. Owners Andrew and Linda Menichino, under the corporate name of Innovative Construction Inc., are in arrears by $483,368 in delinquent taxes, according to county tax records. 

Boyd said that after talking with county solicitor Jason Medure, the commissioners decided to postpone the sale for two months because, when officially notifying creditors of the sale, the county title searchers improperly listed the name of the creditor as Sandro Inc. It should have been Sandro LLC, a limited liability company with an address at 3 Timberwood Drive, Greenville, Pennsylvania.

He said that at the county's official special sale time on Friday, a new time and date will be publicly announced for the sale. Four interested buyers had registered for Friday's sale at the Lawrence County Tax Claim Bureau.

The commissioners prompted the single-property tax sale by successfully fighting a petition for a stay in federal bankruptcy court filed by the hotel property owners, who were trying to keep the property from out of a tax sale.

Andrew Menichino, under the name Sandro LLC, in turn filed a petition in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday, seeking an emergency hearing and seeking a stay of the sale.

Lawrence County Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto handed down an order later in the morning, citing case law and ruling that Sandro LLC may not proceed in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas except through a licensed attorney, and that Menichino's petition for allowance of appeal is denied.

"Andrew Menichino presenting the petition is not a licensed attorney and is prohibited by law from representing Sandro," the order states.

It notes that no factual basis was presented to the court that would justify a stay in the sale.

Boyd commented at a commissioners meeting last week, "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.

Boyd said that the owners of Caravan II Albergo haven't paid property taxes on property since they bought the building in 2009. The taxes are outstanding to the county, Union Township and the Union Area School District.

Boyd had explained that every time the property came up for a tax or sheriff sale, the property owner either filed for bankruptcy or petitioned the court of common pleas for a stay and it was granted. 

The commissioners 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.

Motto had issued a court order July 7 allowing the commissioners to proceed with the sale.

The order allowed the property owners to file an answer to the order by Thursday, and it allowed 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 sale date. Otherwise, the property would be sold to the highest bidder.

The building, at 1465 Sampson St. (Route 422), was the location of a former Holiday Inn, which was destroyed by fire in the early morning of Nov. 3, 1977. 

A Pittsburgh attorney, Matthew Verlich, was one of four people who died in the fire. Retired federal judge Francis X. Caiazza recently shared that Verlich was his friend and had been in town to take a deposition in a civil case for attorney Colbert Levine, who often referred accident cases to the Pittsburgh firm, Stokes, Laurie, and Tracy.

Caiazza also shared that the Caravan, the tavern in the Holiday Inn, was a popular night spot years ago, where some big names in the entertainment world performed. One was Julius LaRosa, a famous singer and radio personality who appeared in the Arthur Godfrey shows.

The original Caravan, which was under different ownership then, closed after a New Years Eve party, because it was losing money, Caiazza recalled.

The section that had burned was torn down. The rest of the building was later used as a church and was the site of Calvary Temple for awhile. Lately, the remaining rooms as Caravan II Albergo were rented out to people as a hotel.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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