CROWN POINT — The Lake County auditor plans to legally challenge hundreds of tax deeds issued to Broadway Logistics Complex LLC, which finds itself in the center of a controversial Gary land grab.
This announcement Wednesday follows an ongoing Times investigation into a potentially ineligible bidder — Thomas Wisniewski — who allegedly coordinated bids on behalf of the limited liability corporation at the county commissioner's tax sale events this year.
Wisinewski is delinquent on property taxes for parcels he owns in Lake County, which should have barred him from bidding at the county's tax sale for other tax-delinquent properties, state and local records show.
Randy Wyllie, an attorney with the auditor’s office for the last 16 years, said his office has reviewed evidence, including video evidence of the tax sale obtained and reviewed by The Times and written evidence that suggests Wisniewski worked on behalf of Broadway.
Individuals and companies that purchased tax certificates at the March tax sale are set to appear at a Sept. 26 court hearing to prove they filed the proper paperwork and to obtain a tax deed and become the owner of record of all involved properties, Wyllie said.
“And at that hearing, we’ll object to any tax deeds being issued for these parcels (bid on by Broadway Logistics),” Wyllie said.
Broadway Logistics purchased 544 tax certificates at the March tax sale for $272,000 and a slew of others at the May tax sale, county records show. Many of the parcels went for as little as $500 each — the minimum bid.
State law prohibits a person from participating in the sale if they owe delinquent taxes, special assessments, penalties, interest or costs directly attributable to a prior tax sale. Any bid made in violation would be subject to forfeiture and cancellation.
Such rules are in place so people who owe back taxes cannot snatch up other tax-delinquent land for cheap at the county or treasurer’s tax sale events each year.
County tax sale records show Wisniewski is delinquent on property taxes for at least two parcels under his name.
One caveat in Indiana statute is that the person deemed ineligible to bid has 30 days to become current on taxes owed, and the bids can be considered valid, Wyllie said. If the person does not pay the amounts that the person owes within 30 days after notice is provided, the surplus amount of the person's bid is applied to the person's delinquent taxes, special assessments, penalties and interest, according to state law.
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Sources with knowledge of the county’s tax sale process and Wisniewski’s real estate dealings allege Wisniewski has been gaming the system for years, avoiding taxes by bidding at the tax sales each year under newly created limited liability corporations.
These LLCs are either tied directly to Wisniewski, his wife, or associates. Oftentimes, the corporations are tied to the same addresses on Magoun and Olcott avenues in East Chicago, records show.
Questions surrounding Wisniewski come on the heels of other recent revelations that politically connected attorney Rinzer Williams III is a managing partner of Broadway Logistics.
Williams, as part of the LLC, has been sweeping up land parcels while also working as an attorney for the Gary City Council and for a consultant with Spectacle Entertainment, the casino firm that plans to build a massive new land-based facility near some of the parcels in question.
Williams initially denied to The Times that Wisniewski was involved with Broadway, but video evidence suggests Wisniewski was coordinating bids on behalf of Broadway this past March. Interviews with sources and records obtained by The Times shows Wisniewski has direct or indirect ties to Broadway Logistics Complex and several other LLCs that routinely bid at tax sales.
Wyllie said he is now working with state lawmakers to make it a criminal offense for ineligible bidders to serve as proxies and bid on behalf of a limited liability corporation or other individual.
He said he does not have any personal knowledge of any individual or entity warning the auditor’s office of Wisniewski’s tax delinquency and participation in past years' tax sales.