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State seizes Peck accounts

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GOUVERNEUR — St. Lawrence County Legislator Donald A. Peck’s bank accounts have been seized by the state Department of Taxation and Finance for nonpayment of sales tax from the early 1990s.

“They’ve cleaned out my auction and personal accounts,” said Mr. Peck, R-Gouverneur. “I’m living on what little money I had in my pocket.”

The state claims Mr. Peck owes $81,700 in sales tax from when he operated Peck’s Auction Barn, a company that went belly up in 1994. With interest and penalties, that figure has grown to more than $500,000, Mr. Peck said.

The state filed two warrants, one in 1992 for sales tax owed in periods from 1990 to 1991, and one in 1994 for periods from 1992 to 1993, said Geoffrey T. Gloak, spokesman with the Department of Taxation and Finance.

The warrants remain open for 20 years, he said.

Mr. Peck said the time period when fell he behind on state taxes was difficult financially for him. He filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after Jefferson National Bank failed and no other lending institution picked up the $566,000 he had in outstanding loans. Mr. Peck was overextended and had worked out a five-year repayment plan with the bank, which itself got into trouble by making loans other institutions would not handle.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which seized the bank’s assets when it was closed in 1993, called in Mr. Peck’s loans. He had used some of the money to put an addition on his auction barn on Cream of the Valley Road.

Any sales tax his business owed would not be discharged by bankruptcy, Mr. Gloak said.

“You collect sales tax from customers with the trust that you will send it to the government,” he said.

Mr. Peck said he no longer has records to figure out what he should have paid.

“I don’t know what I would owe, but it wouldn’t be $500,000,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to go after a small business like that after 18 and a half years. This is against me personally.”

Mr. Peck was in the second year of his repayment plan when Jefferson National closed. He formed a separate corporation, Auctions Plus, to continue to operate. Mr. Peck’s auction business is now run under Don Peck Auctions.

Mr. Gloak could not say whether the state tried to work out a repayment plan with Mr. Peck in the past or why it was acting now. But he said the department has an extensive outreach system.

“Generally, we don’t pursue a warrant if someone has agreed to a repayment plan,” he said. “The warrant’s kind of a last resort.”

Mr. Peck, who said all the state’s paperwork was addressed to a place he no longer lives, learned of his problems in March when he missed a field visit by a tax agent who left him a note that he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last week, the state took control of his accounts. Mr. Peck declined to reveal how much money was seized and Mr. Gloak would not confirm any information about Mr. Peck’s accounts.

The state will try to reach a resolution with Mr. Peck, Mr. Gloak said.

Mr. Peck has retained an attorney and asked for the assistance of U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

“It’s very difficult,” Mr. Peck said. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”

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