March 8 2017 11:28 AM

Major Brown Clarke backer owes $72,000 in delinquent taxes

The host of mayoral candidate Judi Brown Clarke’s kickoff fundraiser owes over $72,000 in delinquent property taxes, interest and fees either personally or through limited liability companies of which he is member.

Property records show Lansing attorney Edwar Zeineh (pronounced Zaney) owns at least 14 properties in Ingham County. Property taxes are delinquent on eight of those properties for a total of $72,374.78 in overdue taxes, interest and fees, Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing verified Monday. Three of the 14 properties are owned by Zeineh himself.

Three are owned by E Squared Holdings, a limited liability company. Documents from the state of Michigan show he was the only member to sign the registration papers for E Squared. The remaining eight properties are owned by E L Investment Properties, another limited liability company. State and court filings list Zeineh as a member of that LLC.

Six of the eight properties are in Lansing. The other two are in Lansing Township.

Brown Clarke was informed of her host’s tax issues four days before he hosted her Feb. 23 fundraiser at the University Club on Forest Road.

“And as far as the back taxes, I'm sure I'll bring it to his attention and I'm sure he will make good on it,” Brown Clarke said in interview with City Pulse before her fundraiser. She told City Pulse on Feb. 27 the event raised over $20,000 for her campaign committee a week before she officially announced her bid for mayor.

Zeineh said by email Monday from Israel that he was “not in a position to articulate specific amounts or properties” while he was “on a spiritual journey.”

“If there are balances due and owing, I’ll pray that on this journey I receive the wisdom and blessings to address any balances in the near future,” he wrote.

Five of the properties are residential. Of those, one appears to have an unregistered land contract on it. The City Council last year amended its ordinances to require land contract properties to be treated as rentals until a land contract is placed on file with the Ingham County Register of Deeds. No land contract has been filed for the property, according to the City of Lansing’s Assessor’s Office and the Ingham County Treasurer’s Office online databases. Two properties are registered as rental properties, while two others are not.

The City Council held a hearing Feb. 27 on an amendment to the city’s rental registration ordinance that would require property owners to be current on property tax payments before being able to register the property as a rental.

During the hearing, several landlords spoke against amending the ordinance, arguing delaying payment of property taxes was a business decision that allowed them to invest more money in improving the properties they owned.

Schertzing, the county treasurer, disputed that business model.

“The business model that purports to work by delaying tax payments is not one I would like to have in my community,” he said. “It is such a very usury business model that really is not a functional business model. If you can’t get money less than what we charge, the prospects for your business are not good.”

With interest and fees, tax bills can be increased nearly 50 percent.

Brown Clarke said Friday on the “City Pulse Newsmakers” TV show that she was uncertain how she will vote.

“There was probably about seven or eight people that came up and gave some really compelling reasons” for opposing the amendment, Brown Clarke said. “I think there’s exceptions to everything. I think you can’t have a blanket all or none you-pay-your-taxes because life happens. I would not be punitive.”

Andy Schor, the only other declared candidate for mayor, declined to comment for this story.

This is not the first time Zeineh has given money to Brown Clarke. Campaign finance records from the county show he donated $300 in his own name, and another $300 for the LLC E L Investment Properties. The later donation had to be returned because it violated campaign finance law, records show.

Zeineh made headlines in 2013 when he sued the city over a property dispute involving 2006 and 2010 E. Michigan Ave. After buying the properties from Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann, he placed obstacles in the back alley. The city argued the alley was a fire lane and ordered him to remove the barriers. He didn’t, so the city removed them. He sued the city and won $7,961 in awards and attorney fees. In July 2016, he filed a federal civil rights action against the city, city fire department officials, officials from the Lansing Police Department and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. That lawsuit is ongoing in the federal district court in Grand Rapids. On March 1 paperwork showed a directed mediation between the parties had failed to result in a settlement of the concerns.

Records also show that Zeineh’s father, Faeik, owes $9,434.40 in delinquent taxes on two properties he owns whose billing address is a Tecumseh River Drive property owned by Edwar Zeineh. One of those properties, 800 Baker St., was the location of a homicide the same day Zeineh was hosting Brown Clarke’s campaign kickoff fundraiser.