Linwood Code Enforcement Officer Edward Beck recently sold the tax lien certificate for a former American Legion building back to city after allegations arose that purchasing the lien was a conflict of interest.
Beck bought the tax lien certificate on the rundown and vacant property at a Linwood sales tax auction in 2010 for $325 at an 18 percent interest rate.
Linwood Mayor Richard DePamphilis, city commissioners and residents learned of his purchase while considering the building for demolition.
Keith Bonchi, general counsel to the New Jersey Tax Collectors and Treasurers Association, who is also the former Northfield city solicitor and was already aware of this situation, said the purchase was clearly a conflict of interest.
"If the city had approved the building demolition or decided to take out additional liens on the property, it could have negatively affected Beck's investment," Bonchi said. "I don't see how he could do his job. He'd be testifying on behalf of the city and policing himself."
Beck's attorney, Carl Tripician, declined to comment on the lien sale, referring questions to city officials.
Mayor Richard DePamphilis said he was unaware Beck had purchased the tax lien certificate until after taking a tour of the hazardous site and holding a demolition hearing on Aug. 20.
Several residents on West Elm Avenue, also unaware at the time that Beck had purchased the tax lien, sent a petition to Mayor DePamphilis requesting the building on their block be demolished because of safety concerns. After touring the site, DePamphilis agreed it was a hazard and set the demolition hearing, citing a city ordinance allowing council to directly address unsafe structures.
After learning of Beck's interest, officials halted the demolition process.
Bonchi said Beck's action wasn't criminal, nor does he believe Beck is "a bad person," but in his opinion, a code enforcement official should not buy a tax lien on property in the same town that he is employed.
"If it were another town, it would be a whole different story," Bonchi said.
Since the tax lien has now been sold back to Linwood, the demolition process will resume, DePamphilis said. A public meeting on the issue will be set soon.
Contact Elisa Lala:
Follow Elisa Lala on Twitter @ElisaLala