A tax delinquent real estate investor, now subject to a county investigation as a result of a Times probe, has a pending felony theft case against him for allegedly collecting $34,560 in rent payments on property he didn’t own.
The felony theft case against Thomas Wisniewski, 56, dates back to 2011, court records show. A civil complaint seeking damages against him for the crime remains pending.
A recent Times investigation found Wisniewski allegedly was coordinating bids on behalf of a politically connected attorney's limited-liability corporation — Broadway Logistics Complex — during the county commissioner's tax sale events this year.
This week, county attorneys said they will seek to make null and void Broadway Logistic's winning bids of hundreds of parcels, which total $430,899, because of Wisniewski's involvement.
County records show Wisniewski owes at least $207,878.83 in back taxes.
Michael Benghiat, a California resident, first filed a police report against Wisniewski on June 21, 2011, saying he discovered Wisniewski allegedly was collecting rent from tenants totaling $34,560 at two East Chicago properties Benghiat owned at the time.
Records show Benghiat purchased tax certificates for 4847 Northcote Ave. and 4943 Olctott Ave. at a Lake County auditor’s tax sale, and received notice in 2010 that he successfully obtained the deeds, according to an East Chicago Police Department report and documents from the Lake County recorder’s office.
Wisniewski allegedly told tenants he was collecting rent on behalf of Benghiat, though Benghiat “never gave Thomas permission” to do so, according to the police report.
Records show Benghiat obtained the deeds by filing orders quieting titles for both properties — which is essentially a complaint brought over property ownership disputes — against Joel G. Markovich and Sandra T. Markovich in 2010, the previous owners.
Joel Markovich is a former Lake County Council president known for clocking prison time in connection with the infamous "Sidewalk Six" scandal that capped Mayor Robert Pastrick's 33-year mayoral rule.
County land records do not indicate why Wisniewski chose these particular addresses to allegedly start stealing rental income from the landlord.
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Benghiat filed a civil complaint Dec. 13, 2011, against Wisniewski for damages, alleging he collected rent from Dec. 28, 2009, through June 2011, that he was not authorized to collect. The suit alleges Wisniewski failed and refused to turn over the collected rent to Benghiat, records show.
Wisniewski allegedly told the tenants he was collecting rent on behalf of the landlord, Benghiat, when in fact the rent payments were “being converted to Defendant’s own use, benefit, possession and control without Plaintiff’s knowledge or consent,” the suit states.
A judgment was entered against Wisniewski on April 23, 2013, ordering him to pay $52,833 to Benghiat.
Wisniewski tried to offer Benghiat a parcel in East Chicago’s Indiana Harbor — which turned out to be up for auction at the tax sale — to settle the civil suit against him in 2015. Benghiat said the offer was rejected because the property was "worthless."
Contacted Thursday, Wisniewski told The Times he lost the case only because he had ineffective counsel.
Records show Wisniewski turned around and sued his attorney in the case, Marco Molina, of East Chicago, two weeks after a judgment was made against him in Benghiat's civil case, alleging Molina failed to adequately represent him in the case.
Wisniewski’s suit against Molina sought a judgment against him in excess of $50,000 “to make him whole and to compensate him for all damages suffered by him as a result of Molina’s negligence, and for all other appropriate relief.”
“I sued. He pled no contest, and I never saw the money,” Wisniewski said.
Six years after he first filed suit, Benghiat — contacted for comment on this story — said he has yet to see a dime.
The owed amount, with interest growing at 8% per year, stands at about $83,000, Benghiat said.