Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, May 29, 2017
Officials: More than $100K in overdue taxes owed on Risoldi, Morris properties
Posted May 29, 2017
A 10-acre estate that's the centerpiece of a $20-million insurance fraud case involving a politically prominent Bucks County family could go up for sheriff’s sale later this year for unpaid real estate taxes, along with three other properties.
The estate, with its 5,600-square-foot white Georgian-style mansion known as Clairemont, is owned by the Risoldi family. The other three properties are houses the attorney general's office says the family directly or indirectly owns. All four could be sold in a September sheriff's sale unless the $50,806.10 owed for 2015 is paid in full by June 30, officials said.
All four properties are the subject of a temporary restraining order barring their sale. The order was sought by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, shortly after the January 2015 arrests of family matriarch Claire Risoldi, 69, her son, Carl A. Risoldi, 45, Carl’s wife Shelia Risoldi, 46, and Carl’s sister, Carla V. Risoldi, 50, on insurance fraud charges in connection with an October 2013 fire that heavily damaged Clairemont.
The order was sought because the state believes the properties -- worth an estimated $2.3 million - could be sold for restitution if the Risoldis are convicted. In addition to the two directly owned by the family, the state AG believes the family "indirectly" owns two others, though the name of a family friend, Karl Morris, is on the deed. Morris, who is not facing criminal charges, rents those houses to Carl A. Risoldi and Claire Risoldi.
Bucks County is owed $104,286.15 in back taxes on the properties, including fees and interest, for 2015 and 2016, according to the county tax claim bureau. The bureau collects delinquent real estate taxes and sells tax-delinquent properties, with the proceeds going to county government. Almost half of what is owed -- $46,104.31 – is for Clairemont. The Risoldis have until June 30, 2018 to pay the 2016 taxes or face the threat of sheriff's sale again.
2008 event at Clairemont hosted by the Risoldis
In a voice mail to this reporter, Claire Risoldi said: "I want you to be sure when you write your story that you make it understood that we have been trying to pay our taxes, but due to the fact the judge is off of the case until the decision is made from the higher court if he will remain our judge on this litigation, he cannot make a decision on us paying our taxes.”
Attorney Michael Jay Diamondstein, who represents Carl A. Risoldi, said the family doesn’t have the money to pay the taxes.
“There is nothing more that Carl Risoldi would like to do than pay the outstanding taxes, however the OAG (Office of Attorney General) is standing in the way of his ability to do so,” Diamondstein said. “They have seized all the Risoldis’ money and then they have the unmitigated gall to file a motion in court to ask them to pay money they don’t have.”
Diamondstein said that even if the Risoldis lost the fraud case, all they could potentially owe is the alternative living expenses that insurer AIG paid, which is less than $1 million. The state alleges AIG paid $11 million for damages in the 2013 fire.
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching attorneys representing Claire and Carla Risoldi for comment. Family members have consistently denied any wrongdoing in the fraud case. Attorney Jake Griffin, who represents Morris, declined comment.
The state alleges in court documents that Morris bought two homes, in the 4800 and 4900 blocks of Danielle Drive, at the request of Claire Risoldi and paid for them with “unlawfully obtained” insurance proceedings from the Risoldis. The fourth property, also in the 4800 block of Danielle Drive, is owned by Gemini Capital Limited Group LLC. But the AG’s office alleges settlement documents show it's actually owned by Carl A. Risoldi.
The Risoldi siblings and Morris don't owe real estate taxes on other properties they own, according to county tax records.
Carl Risoldi, who owns Clairemont with his sister, Carla, asked Senior Judge Thomas Gavin, who's overseeing the case, to release $50,000 in frozen family assets to pay the delinquent taxes. In addition to the four properties, the state has seized more than $3 million in vehicles and cash from the family in connection to the fraud case. That motion is pending in county court.
The AG’s office opposes the release of seized assets to pay the taxes. It also filed a motion asking Gavin to delay the tax sales and order the Risoldis’ pay their taxes. That motion is also pending.
The attorney general's motion said the state believes the Risoldis could have paid the taxes when they were due, but chose not to do so.
“A review of the defendants’ financial documents for 2015 reveals that they had access to more than $600,000,” according to the motion. “Additionally, a review of the defendants’ expenses for 2015 shows an amount in excess of $48,072 due in taxes (at that time) was spent on antiques, jewelry, country club expenses and landscaping. All expenses that should not have taken priority over the real estate tax obligation.”
A trial date for the Risoldis, who are free on bail, remains on indefinite hold while several related matters are pending before the state Superior Court.