The Lien Removal Timeline
The KPMG report on the Providence Tax Collector’s office provides enough clues to tell us how the Cicilline administration will attempt to explain that no deliberate act of corruption occurred with regard to Felix Garcia’s tax-lien(s).
The timeline of the liens is as follows:
- (January 2006) The initial city lien is placed…
In June 2004, approximately eight months after Garcia Enterprises had ceased making payments on this account, Scott Hammer, on behalf of the City of Providence commenced legal action against Garcia Enterprises with the filing of a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court on June 22, 2004. In June 2005, Hammer filed a motion for summary judgment against Garcia Enterprises Inc, for $90,937, the amount owed by the business in delinquent tangible tax. This amount cited by Hammer in his motion does not apparently reflect the payment of $25,000 made by Garcia Enterprises to the City in August 2004. Hammer recently stated that he was not aware that Garcia Enterprises had made such a payment to the City at that time, and surmised that the $25,000 payment may have been submitted to the Collector’s office in response to his filing of the lawsuit in June 2004.
The motion for summary judgment was granted in August 2005, and the Court entered judgment for the full amount. In January 2006, Hammer levied a lien on behalf of the City against Garcia Enterprises’ property located at 559 Cranston Street Providence Rhode Island. This lien was recorded in the Providence Recorder of Deeds office on January 10, 2006.
- (May 2006) After a $75,000 check from John Cicilline is offered as “collateral” for the back taxes due, the lien is formally lifted…
Scott Hammer filed a Discharge of Lien with the Providence Recorder of Deeds on May 9, 2006,32 at approximately 1:40PM, and the lien on 559 Cranston Street was subsequently lifted.
Hammer advised during his interview with KPMG that it was not his practice to discharge a lien without receiving payment in full in a tax collection matter. He further stated, relative to other collection matters that he handled on the City’s behalf, that he could not recall a similar circumstance where he agreed to remove a lien without actual payment of funds.
- (November 2006) Somehow, it is learned that there are insufficient funds in John Cicilline’s account to cover the $75,000 check. A new check is sought by the city, as is John Cicilline’s signature on an agreement which includes reinstating the lien on the property in question…
- As of November 1, 2006, Garcia Enterprises owed $106,540.22 in overdue tangible taxes to the City of Providence for the years 1998 – 2005.
- John Cicilline’s Fleet account, his “Office Account,” from which both the initial check and the replacement check were written, “has never had sufficient funds available to cash Check.”
- Upon execution of the agreement, a lien in the amount of $111,805.42 (including 2006 tax owed in addition to the 1998-2005 back taxes) would be placed on 559 Cranston Street, Providence, the property owned by Garcia Enterprises.
- The replacement check provided by John Cicilline “is in full settlement of the lawsuit filed in this matter.”
- The replacement check was to be held by Hammer’s law firm “for a period of no more than sixty (60) days and, thereafter, Check will be deposited into Blasbalg & Hammer’s Client Account without further reference,” and
- Once the replacement check cleared the bank, Hammer’s law firm would issue a Satisfaction of Judgment relative to the previously filed lawsuit.
- Eventually this agreement is signed by John Cicilline. However, it is never signed by Scott Hammer (the city’s tax collection attorney), and the lien is never replaced…
Once Ceprano received the original signed Agreement, however, he never forwarded it to Hammer for his execution. KPMG initially obtained a copy of the Agreement from the City Collector’s Garcia Enterprises file, and it was noted upon review that this copy only contained John Cicilline’s signature, and had not been countersigned by Hammer, as attorney representing the City. Prior to speaking with Scott Hammer about this, KPMG interviewed Bob Ceprano, who stated that he had advised Hammer that Cicilline signed the Agreement, but could not fully explain why he had not forwarded the Agreement to Hammer. Ceprano stated that Hammer advised him at the time he was frustrated, and did not want to spend more time on the Garcia Enterprises account without getting paid (under Hammer’s contract with the City, he was paid a commission only on funds actually collected). Ceprano also indicated that Hammer had expressed doubt about the effectiveness of replacing the lien on the property, in that re-filing the lien would not get the City back to its original position due to other liens that had been placed…
Directly contradicting Ceprano’s version of events relative to the Agreement, Hammer subsequently advised KPMG that he had not at the time been informed by Ceprano or anyone else that John Cicilline had signed the Agreement. Hammer stated he only learned of this in early October 2008, when the Rhode Island State Police had shown him the original copy of the Agreement containing Cicilline’s signature. Hammer stated to KPMG that had he been aware of the signed Agreement at the time, he would have similarly signed it, and would have attempted to proceed under the terms of the Agreement, subject to his client’s (the City’s) direction.
Ceprano explained in his interview that neither he, nor the Collector’s Office was responsible for placing or removing liens, and that this was the responsibility of the City’s Collection Attorney, Scott Hammer.…and it becomes clear, I believe, what the Cicilline administration’s explanation for all this is going to be. Whatever was going on with people scrambling behind the scenes, the act that appears to be the most serious act of corruption — the non-replacement of the lien on the Garcia property after the first check was determined to be no good — was really the result of a breakdown in communication between Robert Ceprano and Scott Hammer.
This charge as well as John Cicilline’s charge that the idea of using a check as “collateral” for a tax-lien was Robert Ceprano’s in the first place are the charges that Mr. Ceprano has to be prepared to defend himself against.