Fights. Grand theft auto. After-hours partying. Late-night arrests. Cops attacked and a bouncer killed.
A rash of alarming activity at Game 7 Bar and Grille on Arlington Street has prompted city leaders to block a liquor permit application and to pursue legal action to shutter the night club. Akron Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples is pushing a ballot issue to outlaw liquor sales in the surrounding neighborhood.
But buried beneath the alcohol-related crimes at 627 S. Arlington St. is a property owner known by city and county officials for running up a delinquent tax bill of more than $800,000 — enough to hire about 15 police officers for a year.
The owner is 627 S Arlington, a limited liability company created in 2014 by Gary L. Thomas, according to state records.
City prosecutors, police and Mosley-Samples called a nuisance hearing Friday morning with Thomas, the bar’s new operators — Leslie Garr and Anthony Hunt — and Joe Salem, who holds the liquor permit while the operation is changing hands, to review complaints of shootings, violence, late-night noise and other issues at the property.
Thomas never showed. He sent his attorney, Robert Meeker, instead. Meeker did not return a phone call seeking comment for this article, and Thomas hung up on a reporter earlier in the week.
Along with properties in trusts or registered to his wife, Thomas has created 15 companies that manage 100 Akron properties, mostly rentals. The network of companies, which have become cheaper and easier to create under the current leadership in Columbus, protect the out-of-town businessman from being legally or financially responsible for the taxes or lawsuits that crop up.
Combined, the properties have $822,290 in back taxes, late utility bills, fines and fees — or nearly $1 in every $100 missing from the city’s property tax roll.
While tax-paying Akronites complain of soaring water bills and brace for a possible income tax increase, Thomas — who emerged from bankruptcy court in 2012 — lives in a roughly $350,000 home in Wadsworth registered to his wife, Barbara. There, they pay property taxes on time and in full.
The company Thomas created bought the bar property in 2014 from another business he created in 2009, a year after filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the Northern District Court of Ohio.
Some of his and his companies’ 100 tax-delinquent properties have shuffled from one company to another then back again in as little as a month, according to an Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com review of state business filings and county property records.
County documents list 627 S Arlington LLC as the bar property owner. State documents say the company is registered to Thomas. “That’s not completely correct,” Thomas said, returning a reporter’s call. “But at this time, I have no comment on that situation over there.”
“Thank you very much,” he added, then hung up before the reporter could inquire about his real estate activity, why the companies have fallen so far behind on tax bills and what steps he takes to ensure that bar operators renting from him have the community’s best interests at heart.
Listed in his wife’s name is a two-story home in Wadsworth with a 300-foot concrete driveway. It’s listed at $338,130 on the Medina County auditor’s website.
The Beacon Journal downloaded the names of businesses created by Thomas and then cross-referenced them and their P.O. box addresses with a database of last year’s delinquent properties.
The Thomases and their associated companies are linked to 100 properties: one in Barberton and the rest in Akron. Sixty-seven are listed as rentals, although some have been fined for not paying to be registered as such. Some are valued at less than the court-ordered fees, administrative fines and back taxes on them. And others are in disrepair.
“[Akron] has criminally prosecuted Mr. Thomas several times over the last six years in Akron Municipal Court for Housing Code violations,” said Ellen Lander Nischt, assistant law director for the city.
Along with installing a camera to keep an eye on Game 7, Lander Nischt said the city has collected “several thousand dollars in fees from Mr. Thomas to pay for those inspections. In addition, several properties owned by entities he controls have been demolished pursuant to orders of our Housing Appeals Board, and other have pending orders to be demolished.”
Thomas sometimes buys properties from banks after foreclosure and sheriff sales. The sale price can be as low as $10,000. He rents them out, but the property tax bill soon piles up.
In November, county records show that the right to collect $6,500 in back taxes at the bar property was sold to Adair Asset Management. The private lien collector from Minnesota can now go after the debt, possibly pushing the property into foreclosure, a process that can take up to 18 months.
Asked about interactions with Thomas, Jack LaMonica of the Summit County Fiscal Office said shortly before the November tax lien sale, Thomas tried to set up repayment plans for some of the delinquent tax bills. Properties on repayment plans are exempted from tax lien sales. The county, however, refused Thomas’ request because he’d done this before only to stop making payments, but not until after avoiding a tax lien sale, LaMonica explained.
More recently, LaMonica said Thomas has reached out to the county’s land bank to ask about donating property, which would allow him to write off his losses or unload properties with higher tax bills than they’re worth — some marked for demolition at the owner’s expense.
Source: Akron Beacon Journal