INVESTIGATION: Pawtucket Goes After Lincoln Official for Back Taxes
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Records obtained by GoLocalProv show that Frank Sylvester, the fire chief of the Lime Rock Fire District in Lincoln, registered one to three cars each year at his work address, beginning in 1988. That saved him from paying about $10,000 more in taxes because of the lower tax rates in Lincoln. For example, last year, Pawtucket taxed cars at a rate of $53.30 per $1,000 in vehicle value. The comparable rate in Lincoln was $30.66.
GoLocalProv first reported that Sylvester was registering his cars at the Lime Rock Fire Station in August 2010. A State Police investigation ensued, which cleared Sylvester of any “criminal intent” because he had been acting on the advice of DMV employees, according to his attorney, Daniel McKinnon. But, in the same letter, State Police also told him that he should be registering his cars in Pawtucket.
The city now is seeking the return of approximately $25,000 in back taxes, according to Tony Pires, acting Director of Administration in Pawtucket.
Attorney: Chief doesn’t owe anything
McKinnon told GoLocalProv earlier this week that he was unaware the city was seeking back taxes. “I don’t believe the chief owes anything to anything to anybody,” McKinnon said.
“Obviously we’d like to resolve this issue without any protracted controversy,” he added, noting that there might be room for compromise.
McKinnon also disagrees with the State Police that Sylvester should register his cars in Pawtucket. But he said the chief—who declined to comment for this story—decided to do so anyway. (As of Sept. 9, 2011, all of his registrations had been transferred to Pawtucket, according to a city spokesman.)
Sylvester typically registered two of his personal cars in Lincoln each year because one of the conditions of his employment when he was hired was that he be available 24 and 7, according to McKinnon. He said the vehicles were always used in the discharge of his official duties as a fire chief.
DMV employee said it was OK
But Mark McBurney, a local attorney, isn’t satisfied. He says that conclusion ignores the fact that for a number of years Sylvester registered his cars without the blessing of anyone at the DMV. “What state was he in before he got that advice?” McBurney said. “By implication, he may not have been operating within the law.”
Asked to comment, a State Police official said the investigation only went back three years, as far as the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor.
McBurney also has filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission on behalf of John Cullen, a member of the Lime Rock Taxpayer Group. The complaint alleges that Sylvester used his public office for private financial gain, a violation of the state ethics code. The Ethics Commission has yet to rule on the matter and McKinnon declined to discuss details of how he has responded to the complaint.
“In today’s environment, where everybody wants to tear somebody down, people are just moaning and groaning about something that does not exist,” McKinnon told GoLocalProv. “This is just a tempest in the teapot.”
Pawtucket goes after town of Lincoln too
He said the city is prepared to take Sylvester to court over the matter.
If Lincoln refuses to return any money, Pawtucket will seek the full $25,000 from Sylvester, not counting a potential assessment of interest and penalties, according to Pires. He said he was not sure what the city would do with Lincoln.
“At this time, we don’t have any intention of returning any tax money we’ve collected,” T. Joseph Almond, the town administrator in Lincoln, told GoLocalProv on Wednesday.
He said the town did not make any errors in its collection of taxes. He said tax bills were sent to Sylvester based on his declaration to the DMV that the cars were registered in Lincoln. “I think it’s an issue between Pawtucket and the taxpayer. Period,” Almond said. “Why should the town be victimized here? The taxpayers here—they have done nothing wrong.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to Lincoln … that we return money we’ve lawfully collected,” Almond added.
He points out that as recently as 2010, the previous city solicitor for Pawtucket, Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta, decided against seeking back taxes. In an Oct. 28, 2010 memo obtained by GoLocalProv, she wrote that the city did not have the authority to pursue back taxes and that Sylvester had “complied” with the law. (After taking office, Grebien appointed a new city solicitor, Frank Milos.)
McBurney says Pawtucket shouldn’t waste time trying to get some of the money from Lincoln.
“Grebien is not doing the right thing. Lincoln did nothing wrong here. It is ludicrous to assert Lincoln is responsible for insuring its taxpayers don’t also owe money to other jurisdictions,” McBurney told GoLocalProv. “Asking Lincoln for back taxes is a sideshow, will almost certainly fail, and does not come close to restoring Pawtucket’s treasury to the point it should be in. It merely creates the illusion of action by Mayor Grebien.”
McBurney said he believes Sylvester is receiving favorable treatment from the town because he contributed to Grebien’s mayoral campaign. State campaign finance records show that Sylvester and his wife donated a total of $250 to Grebien on Nov. 6, 2010. Because of those contributions, McBurney maintains that Grebien should have recused himself from having any role in the decision about what the city should do with Sylvester.
State records show that Sylvester also donated $100 last year to campaign of Peter Kilmartin, who was elected Attorney General. (After he was elected, Kilmartin’s office reviewed the findings of the State Police investigation into Sylvester.)
Asked why he had not done the same, Grebien responded:
“As for returning campaign donations made by Frank Sylvester because he apparently appreciates the hard work we have been doing to turn the city around, there has been no official determination he did anything intentionally wrong and there is no way any contributions made by him or anyone else will have any influence on our commitment to protect the taxpayers by pursuing all taxes that are fairly owed. That should be self-evident by the course we have pursued, and will continue to pursue, in this matter.”
Also, McKinnon denied that Sylvester had any ulterior motives in making the donations.
“The chief is a man of tremendous integrity,” McKinnon said. “He’s an honest, hard-working man. He’s a public servant.”
Editor's Note: Lisa Holley, the interim DMV administrator, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
If you valued this article, please LIKE GoLocalProv.com on Facebook by clicking HERE.
- GoLocalProv Investigation Uncovers More Tax Cheating in Lincoln
- Lincoln Official Avoiding Taxes: View the Documents
- Top Lincoln Official Uses Job to Avoid Taxes
- Car Tax Dodgers—Providence Plans Crackdown
- Dozens Protest Providence Car Taxes
- NEW: State Senator Seeks To Raise Car Tax Exemption
- Pawtucket Investigating Lincoln Fire Chief for Avoiding Car Taxes
- Providence Residents Planning Car Tax Rally
- The Highest Car Taxes In Rhode Island
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.