BOSTON, N.Y. -- The Town of Boston has launched a formal investigation into an elected official after the town council discovered missing paperwork for the house that the Town Clerk owns.
Boston has hired outside counsel to determine if those missing grievances, building permits and inspections were purposely ignored for the sake of saving on taxes.
Boston Town Clerk Jennifer Mule purchased an Omphalius Road house in 2012. Records show that the previous year, 7305 Omphalius was assessed at $128,000.
But four days before Mule’s officials purchased, something happened in which records don’t exist to explain.
“Miraculously, just days before the Town Clerk bought her home, the assessment was reduced by $91,000,” said attorney Michael Schiavone.
Schiavone is a corporate and business transactions lawyer with the Lipsitz, Green, Scime, Cambria law firm.
“What’s interesting is that a normal taxpayer would file a grievance to challenge an assessment, and then there would be a due process where the assessment would be reduced. That didn’t happen here,” he said.
Sale information and assessment papers do show that the house had been damaged by fire, and the description of that damage would certainly warrant some assessment reduction.
However, Schiavone says it’s the property owner’s job to take proper steps of filing paperwork for that to legally happen, and he says that’s the step that seems to be missing.
“We haven’t been able to find any records that a grievance was filed and the assessment reduced,” he said.
Additionally, Schiavone says after Mule purchased the home with her partner Gary Ballowe, they had substantial work done to renovate the damage, which again, he says went unaccounted for.
Schiavone found that, even though the Mule’s home underwent a huge makeover, it’s assessed value stayed at just $36,400 through 2014.
“The records indicate that the house was damaged by fire, and there was structural damage. Additionally, it appears as though the house was substantially renovated. When that happens, the normal procedure is that you file a building permit,” Schiavone explained.
The building permit then triggers structural, electrical, and plumbing inspections, all of which there would be records of. Schiavone said the records don’t exist.
“None of those procedures were followed. We have a house that was built under cloak of secrecy without any appropriate procedures being followed, and without the appropriate building permits being pulled,” he said.
For months, Channel 2’s Erica Brecher has tried to reach Jennifer Mule for comment.
In September, she visited Mule’s house in question, but would not open the door or talk with our reporter.
Mule yelled through the walls of the house that Brecher should call her lawyers, but didn’t name who they might be. Lawyer Leonard Berkowitz, who was hired by Mule earlier this year in another dispute between Mule and the town, told Brecher he no longer represents her.
Only four months later, on Monday, December 12, did an attorney who said he represents Ms. Mule contact Brecher.
Several voicemails left at the Town Clerk’s extension went unreturned.
At no point has Mule, herself, taken any steps to talk with Channel 2 about this or refute the accusations her colleagues have made against her.
Meanwhile, during the time in which Mule allegedly failed to have her house reassessed, those years would add up to thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue for the town that elected her to serve.
“If you look at an average effective tax rate throughout the county of somewhere in the $35 dollars per thousand range, and you multiply that by 91, that’ll give you an indication that there would be substantial tax savings by virtue of the reduced assessment,” said Schiavone explained.
The dispute is also costing taxpayers in legal fees.
“Round about, it’s well over $30,000,” said Town Supervisor Martin Ballowe.
Martin Ballowe has been Boston’s Town Supervisor for eight years. He is the brother of Mule's partner, Gary Ballowe. They have not communicated in some time.
Martin Ballowe said everyone on the council (excluding Mule) agreed that the matter needed to be investigated.
“When it was brought to their attention --and I’ve discussed it thoroughly with our town attorney and we brought it to them-- they thought that it was something that we as elected officials have to look into,” Ballowe said. “We cannot brush this aside.”
The value of Mule’s Omphalius Road house and the work done to it over the years isn’t all that’s under investigation.
Martin Ballowe said it was a resident who brought to his attention the Mule may not even be living there most of the time. Supervisor Ballowe said that neighbor and other Boston residents think she is allegedly living with her partner in Angola.
“Elected officials have to reside in the area where they perform their official duties...within the geographical areas of the town,” said Boston Town Attorney Michael Kobiolka.
“As a taxpayer too, we like to see our town officials live here, it’s our tax dollars that support them, give them a job,” said Martin Ballowe. “I think it’s a good practice.”
This is the other matter Schiavone will be trying to find out.
“All indications are that she may actually live elsewhere,” Schiavone said.
He said he’ll be looking into things like where Mule sleeps at night, where she parks her vehicles, where her mail is delivered, and where she votes.
“I believe the outcome will be…the truth. We’re looking for the truth of what really has transpired,” said Ballowe.
Schiavone said if Mule is in fact spending more time elsewhere, she could be failing to comply with state law as an elected official.
It would be up to the town to prosecute it and take it to court. If it does become a court case, the decision handed down by a judge would dictate whether or not Mule would lose her seat in office.
The Boston Town Council was expected to hold a hearing Wednesday (Dec. 14) at 10:00 a.m., However, Mule's attorney filed an Order to Show Cause/Temporary Restraining Order and the hearing was adjourned.