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Salem - With Salem Country Gardens scheduled to be sold at a tax foreclosure auction in little more than a week, the owner of the Route 85 garden center said Wednesday he's hoping to keep the business going.
"I haven't decided what I'm doing," Robert LaSaracina said. "We're still active, and I'm working to keep operating."
LaSaracina, a principal of Salem Country Realty LLC and Robert Matthew Industries, corporate entities that own the property, declined to say what options he has and whether any of them might forestall the auction, which is set for noon Saturday, Sept. 15.
Ruling in a foreclosure proceeding brought by the town, New London Superior Court Judge James Devine ordered months ago that the auction go forward. The town, in the suit originally filed in 2009, claims Salem Country Realty owed nearly $182,000 in real estate taxes as of the first of the year, a sum that has grown since then.
LaSaracina said he's been running the garden center for 11 years and that it's been in operation for 25 to 30 years overall. He said the center is open from March to late October and has 15 seasonal employees.
References to Robert Matthew Industries surfaced in the case of LaSaracina's father, former Norwich accountant F. Robert LaSaracina, who was accused of fraudulently diverting money from an estate he was overseeing as trustee. According to a federal court affidavit, the elder LaSaracina claimed to have loaned trust funds to Robert Matthew Industries, a claim his son denied.
F. Robert LaSaracina is serving a federal prison term for wire fraud and failure to pay taxes.
The auction sale will settle tax liens totaling nearly $148,000, representing taxes levied on the grand lists of 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, according to Tracy Collins, the New London attorney appointed by the court to oversee the auction.
In addition, the successful bidder will be responsible for about $48,000 in taxes that have been levied since the foreclosure proceeding began, Collins said.
The garden center has been among the top-assessed businesses in town for years, most recently ranking eighth on the grand list of Oct. 1, 2011, with an assessment of $839,200. A property's assessed value is 70 percent of its appraised value. The town put Salem Country Gardens' appraised value at nearly $1.2 million last year.
Earlier, Salem Country Realty had sued the town over the assessor's $1.3 million assessment on the grand list of Oct. 1, 2010, claiming it was "grossly excessive" and "disproportionate." The garden center owner first appealed to the town Board of Assessment Appeals, which elected not to hear the matter.
The suit has no bearing on the foreclosure case, Collins said.
Earlier this year, Salem Country Gardens was independently appraised at $1,050,000, court documents show.
On the day of the auction sale, bidders will be required to register and submit a certified check for $105,000 - 10 percent of the property's appraised value. The bids will be opened and the successful bidder will be required to endorse his or her deposit check to the Clerk of the Superior Court.
Collins' determination of the high bid will be subject to a judge's approval. Within 30 days of that approval, a closing must take place.
People's Bank and the U.S. Small Business Administration hold first and second mortgages on the property, respectively.