A politically influential vendor who has done in excess of $1 million in business with the county hasn’t paid taxes on dozens of different properties for over 24 years, an investigation by the Beaver Countian has uncovered.
Joan Unis, owner of Unis Demolition in Aliquippa, owes approximately $500,000 in unpaid property taxes dating back to the 1990s according to county tax claim dockets examined by the Beaver Countian. The properties owned by Unis span the county and include parcels in Aliquippa, Bridgewater, Center, East Rochester, Freedom, Harmony, Hopewell, Monaca, Ohioville, Patterson, Potter, Rochester Borough, Rochester Township, and South Heights.
County records show that property taxes for Unis Demolition’s headquarters at 1306 Maratta Road in Aliquippa haven’t been paid since 1989 and are currently $39,192.85 in arrears. Another property owned by Unis on Bunker Hill Road in Center Township is currently $71,701.26 past due on its property tax payments. Other amounts in arrears include $32,635.94 for a property on Jordan Street in South Heights and $30,549 for a property on Scenic Drive in Hopewell.
Tax claim records examined by the Beaver Countian appear to show Unis owes municipal, school, and county property taxes dating back nearly two dozen years on dozens of parcels. A cross reference of those records with county assessment records confirm the properties in question are all still deeded to Unis.
According to the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau, the collection of back taxes on properties should be a three year process. During the first year a parcel is delinquent, the property owner is notified about the amount owed and a fee is assessed. In year two, interest continues to accrue at a rate of 9% and the property is scheduled for auction at an upset sale. If the property is not sold at an upset sale, it then goes up for judicial sale in the third year. If the property still doesn’t sell it is placed into repository and can be sold by the county at any time a potential buyer becomes available.
County records show many of the properties owned by Unis were scheduled for upset sale in the early 1990s, until a bankruptcy proceeding put a halt to those collection actions. Following federal law, the Tax Claim Bureau ceases collection activity until a bankruptcy is completed. But the bankruptcy filing by Unis was never registered as completed by the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau, leaving dozens of properties to continue on for decades with no taxes being paid by Unis and no collection activities being initiated by Beaver County.
Municipal and school taxes are collected by local tax collectors from each town, while county taxes are collected by Beaver County Treasurer Connie Javens. All back taxes are collected by the Beaver County Tax Claim Bureau.
Courthouse sources tell the Beaver Countian that Treasurer Javens routinely makes it a point to meet with Joan Unis’ son, Ralph Unis Jr., in her office to personally hand him checks for work Unis Demolition does for the county. Sources inside of Monaca say Unis recently completed work to clear a property for Javens on a location where a home is being built for her son.
The Beaver Countian met with Chief County Assessor Michael P. Kohlman today who searched county records and confirmed the various amounts owed by Unis, and also confirmed no collection actions have been taken by the county in the 24 years since dozens of properties fell into delinquent status. Kohlman said he was unaware of the issue before the Beaver Countian brought the matter to his attention.
Beaver County Commissioner Dennis Nichols said he was stunned to hear about the scope of the delinquencies and the time frames involved when the Beaver Countian brought up the issue. Commissioner Nichols said he is instructing the Tax Claims Bureau to investigate the matter and has vowed to get to the bottom of it.
Joan Unis was arrested back in 2006 along with her son Ralph Jr. by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for illegally dumping demolition debris in Aliquippa. Joan and Ralph Unis were each charged with one count of illegal waste disposal, illegal operation of a waste facility and creating a public nuisance. Charges were eventually dropped against Joan Unis after her son Ralph pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in the case that saw him serve a period of probation and pay a fine.
Despite the prior criminal charges against the proprietors of Unis Demolition, and the apparent growing mountain of unpaid tax liabilities by one of its owners, the county continues to contract with the company to tear down dilapidated properties. Courthouse sources tell the Beaver Countian that Unis Demolition is falling behind on its obligations with many of its demolition contracts with the county, causing an increase in unresolved blight problems for municipalities including Aliquippa and Midland.
The Beaver Countian discovered the apparent property tax issues involving Unis as part of a series of ongoing investigations it is conducting into the City of Aliquippa.
Joan Unis could not be reached by this publication for comment.