CROWN POINT — A real estate investor faced with losing hundreds of tax certificates won at the county’s auction of tax-delinquent property has filed a civil lawsuit against the Lake County treasurer and auditor offices.
By filing the Lake Superior Court suit Monday, Thomas Wisniewski, 56, claims the county wrongfully determined he owes $208,000 in overdue taxes on approximately 40 properties.
The county used that determination as the basis of its argument to object to Broadway Logistics Complex LLC's 500-plus bids this past March because video evidence showed Wisniewski participated in the auction on behalf of the firm. State law bars tax-delinquent property owners from bidding.
Those bids are now in limbo.
In the suit, Wisniewski argues the county had no grounds to object to the Gary firm's bids because he’s only a “non-member consultant” for Broadway Logistics.
At the heart of the suit is Lake County Treasurer Peggy Katona’s Sept. 11 letter to Wisniewski requiring he pay down $208,000 in back taxes on approximately 40 properties within 30 days or face forfeiture of the firm’s winning bids.
The complaint argues neither Wisniewski nor Broadway Logistics has ties to those properties.
The lawsuit makes no mention of the fact Wisniewski has attempted to transfer some of those properties in his name or firms associated with him to other individuals or firms in recent weeks to reduce what he owes, county land records show.
James Dillon, attorney for Wisniewski and the firm, stated his clients have sent three written requests since Sept. 20 for meetings with the treasurer and auditor’s office but have been denied.
County officials have refused to meet with Wisniewski and Broadway Logistics despite the requests, and despite the offer “to place significant money in escrow with the county to allow for investigation of the properties in question and still comply with the thirty (30) day deadline,” the suit states.
The suit alleges the county treasurer and auditor’s office “are purposefully and maliciously refusing to meet with Plaintiffs for the purpose of causing forfeiture of the tax certificates, without due process, as required by state and federal law.”
Dillon states an emergency exists because the county’s refusal to speak with Wisniewski has significantly shortened the window of time to come into compliance.
He's asking the court to pause the 30-day deadline, prohibit the county from invalidating or forfeiting the tax sale certificates, and set the matter for an emergency hearing prior to the 30-day deadline of Oct. 11.
“The undo financial harm done to Plaintiffs will be significant” if the court does not intervene, Dillon wrote in the emergency motion.
Lake Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Scheele granted Dillon’s request Tuesday for an emergency hearing. It’s now set for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 8 in Scheele’s courtroom.
Randy Wyllie, attorney for the auditor's office, said Wednesday the office plans to vigorously defend against the case, saying the emergency motion appears "to be not only procedurally deficient but substantively deficient as well."
The auditor’s objections to the 500-plus petitions for tax deeds filed by Broadway Logistics remain in place and are set for a status hearing on Dec. 19 in Lake Circuit Court, Wyllie said.
Wyllie said he has scheduled an in-person conference with Dillon for Thursday at his request.