County Controller David Rossi and his deputy controller started a company in 2017 to buy and flip properties from tax sales, and this month it became a subject of inquiry by state investigators.
A county official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said state investigators involved in wide-ranging investigations into county government have asked for more information about the controller’s business activities. A second source with knowledge of the ongoing investigations independently confirmed the official’s statements.
Rossi insists everything his company has been doing is above board.
Public records show iCPR LLC was registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State by Rossi and Deputy Controller William Calhoon in July 2017. BeaverCountian.com has monitored its developments since last year.
iCPR’s registered address is that of the Beaver office of attorney Albert Torrence, who serves as the controller’s office solicitor, as well as chief trial counsel for the district attorney’s office. Torrence is not a partner in the company, but has represented the firm.
Torrence is currently awaiting a Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative hearing for a conflict of interest it determined in 2015 he had with a county grant to develop a Rochester subsidized apartment building. Torrence was the company president of the developer’s limited partner. The alleged HUD violation cost the county more than $405,000 in future HUD funds and another $25,000 in upfront fees.
Thus far, iCPR has acquired properties at tax sales including homes, land and commercial sites.
For example, at the Sept. 10, 2018 tax sale, iCPR bought six properties for a little more than $37,000. Three of the six owners contested the purchase of their properties in the Court of Common Pleas. One purchase was set aside by Judge James A. Ross after tax office employees found it had been listed in error. Another purchase was voided after iCPR failed to appear at a hearing. The third sale was upheld.
John Crispino of Rochester is the one who lost his property in September of last year. He admitted to BeaverCountian.com he was late in trying to pay his taxes and had received multiple warnings from the county about its impending sale. By the time he went down to the courthouse to pay what was owed, iCPR had already purchased it at public auction.
In his efforts to keep the property, Crispino said he offered iCPR $15,000, money he was able to scrape together from friends. Torrence countered on behalf of the company, demanding $20,000 plus the original $5,582.53 in back taxes the property was purchased for. Unable to come up with the additional funds, Crispino lost the house after unsuccessfully challenging the sale in court.
At a December 2017 tax sale, iCPR purchased seven properties for a little more than $23,600.
Other county officials have told BeaverCountian.com they are concerned about the optics of the situation, with public employees buying the properties of the community’s most financially vulnerable residents. The controller’s office also is responsible for auditing the county Tax Claim Bureau.
“There is nothing wrong with anything. This is a public auction. I don’t understand what would even be wrong, it makes no sense,” said Rossi.
“It’s a bidding thing open to the public, I don’t understand what there is to look into.”
Rossi said Calhoon’s role as his deputy is kept separate from his role as business partner. The two are longtime friends and served together previously on Monaca Borough Council.
“Nothing is done on county time,” said Rossi. “It’s private money we’re putting up.”
Before being incorporated, tax sale purchases also involving Rossi and Calhoon were made by Wayne Kress, a Democrat planning a run for county sheriff this year. Likewise, Democrat Rossi will seek reelection this election cycle.
Contacted Thursday, Kress said he first met Rossi and Calhoon during his unsuccessful campaign for sheriff in 2015.
Kress said he was involved in buying two properties prior to iCPR’s registration. He said the two properties are still in his name and have not been “flipped,” meaning renovated in some fashion and resold.
“I was at the courthouse that day and they (Rossi and Calhoon) asked me to bid on three properties. They had which ones they liked picked out. I bid on (the properties) for them.
“The tax sales are open to the public. When I was there it was standing room only, there were that many people bidding … After I got the properties they asked me if I wanted to go in with them on them and I agreed … One of the sales (was) reversed that day because it was put up for sale by mistake. I only invested $3,000 total in the other two.”
Rossi said those two houses were in bad need of repair.
“The first couple houses we got were abandoned and had to be completely redone.”
Kress said he’s not involved in any other business ventures with iCPR’s owners.
“Other than me buying the properties, (Rossi and Calhoon) pay the bills. They pay the taxes. The properties are basically just in my name … I am not involved in their day-to-day activities or whatever they do.”
Kress added, “I was never part of iCPR. This was early on, among the first they bought together. After dealing with these properties I decided this was not for me. I should have just stayed out of it.”
BeaverCountian.com contributing editor Lori Boone contributed to this report.