CROWN POINT — A tax-delinquent investor in the spotlight for apparently participating illegally in this year's tax sale auctions is once again trying to skirt state law and avoid paying his property taxes, according to Lake County records and officials.
Thomas Wisniewski, 56, owes nearly $208,000 in property taxes for parcels he owns in Lake County.
That should have barred him from bidding at the county's auction of tax-delinquent property, but a Times investigation found Wisniewski was coordinating bids this year on behalf of the most active bidder, Broadway Logistics Complex LLC, helping the firm snatch up hundreds of tax-delinquent properties.
Broadway's hundreds of bids are now being challenged by the county treasurer and auditor offices. Per state law, Wisiniewski has 30 days to become current on his property taxes to avoid forfeiture of those parcels.
In the past two weeks, Wisniewski has filed paperwork with the Lake County Recorder's Office attempting to transfer six properties in his name to Whitegloves, a limited liability corporation, county records show.
Whitegloves was dissolved in April 2018, state records show.
The quit claim deeds — or land transfers — were filed with the Lake County Recorder's Office Sept. 4 and Sept. 9.
The document states the transfers were purportedly dated Aug. 30, one day before a Times investigation revealed Wisniewski was at the center of the scandal and when county leaders announced they planned to investigate.
He also filed paperwork to transfer a property under another LLC associated with his name — Apple Real Estate Investments — to Alfred Richardson/Richardson Properties, county records show.
When someone quit claims a property to another person or entity, the delinquent taxes follow the property and are transferred to the new owner.
County documents indicate his wife, Marilyn Wisniewski, whose maiden name is Rodriguez, prepared the deed. The public notary is listed as Joel Rodriquez, Marilyn's brother, a Democratic Party employee of the county elections board and a East Chicago school board member.
If valid, the transfers would wipe out $77,700 of the $208,000 taxes owed to county, leaving $130,300 past due. The remaining taxes owed by Wisniewski are tied to limited liability corporations associated with him.
John Stanish, attorney for the treasurer's office, called Wisniewski's attempts to transfer delinquent property from his name "nonsense."
"He's out of luck," Stanish said.
Put on notice
Wisniewski has incentive to pay down his back taxes. Lake County Treasurer Peggy Katona put Wisniewski on notice in Sept. 11 letter, stating he has 30 days to pay his back taxes to avoid forfeiture of his winning bids at this year's tax sale auctions.
“Broadway Logistics (Complex LLC) acted as an agent for Tom Wisniewski, who is delinquent in his real estate taxes,” her letter stated.
Wisniewski previously told The Times he plans to pay back taxes by the deadline to save his company’s $430,899 in real estate investments. Someone who answered Wisniewski's phone abruptly hung up twice Friday when a reporter identified as being with The Times called seeking comment on the land transfers.
Lake County Auditor attorney Randy Wyllie said Friday he will object to Broadway Logistics’s bids at a Sept. 26 court hearing, where all bidders in the March tax sale must prove they filed proper paperwork and to obtain a tax deed and become the owner of record of properties.
Wyllie declined to speak on Wisniewski's recent land transfers.
"What I can say is I serve as legal counsel for the auditor's office. ... In regards to any potential criminal activity by any tax sale bidder, that is up to the local, state and federal authorities to investigate," Wyllie said.
He declined to say if he's contacted law enforcement about Wisniewski's alleged bidder fraud.
Matt Fech, attorney for the Lake County Commissioner's Office, said the county will be researching whether it can force the transfers to be cancelled if deemed fraudulent.
Stanish said if Wisniewski tries to argue in court the properties that remain are not direct in his name, it "is not going to work."
Attorney recuses himself
Rinzer Williams III, a politically connected attorney who represents the Gary City Council, also is listed as a manager for Broadway Logistics on the Secretary of State's website. He disclosed to The Times last month he was an investing partner.
Williams also allegedly conducted the title work and noticing requirements for Broadway Logistics — a process typically handled by attorneys — to ensure bidders ultimately become the owner of record.
The attorney is mired in controversy over the tax sale purchases, with critics claiming deep conflicts of interest for Williams, who also holds legal contracts with the county commissioners.
As of Friday, Williams was going to recuse himself from representing Broadway as the firm fights the county's challenge of bids at the upcoming court hearing, Wyllie said.
Wyllie said he received notice Friday from local attorney James Dillon — who unsuccessfully ran for Gary City Council this year — that he would be representing Wisniewski moving forward.
Dillon, a former Lake County deputy prosecutor now practicing privately, confirmed Friday he would be representing Wisniewski. He later clarified, saying Broadway Logistics is his client.