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Legis. Rick Montano: Stop payments to Suffolk shelter operator

Viral Patel, who previously ran a hotel on

Viral Patel, who previously ran a hotel on the Brentwood site, is receiving $2.7 million a year in county money for rent, even as the county is billing him nearly $900,000 for back taxes, public records show. (April 15, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

A Suffolk lawmaker wants to stop paying the operator of a new county homeless shelter because its landlord owes the county $900,000 in back taxes.

Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood) requested the action in a letter Tuesday to county Comptroller Joseph Sawicki. Newsday reported Tuesday that the county is providing $2.7 million a year in rental income, through a nonprofit contractor, to a man who owes it $899,749 over the past three tax years.

Viral Patel's Commack Hospitality LLC owns the Brentwood site where Suffolk recently opened a 400-bed family shelter. Patel leases the building -- an old hotel -- to Long Island Women's Empowerment Network, which has an annual contract for up to $6.6 million to run the shelter for the county social services department.

The Central Islip-based nonprofit will pay Patel $2.7 million in rent this year. Suffolk provides that money to the nonprofit, before the state reimburses all county costs for emergency family housing.

Montano cited county law requiring owners to pay their taxes or have their properties seized in arguing that Suffolk "should not provide funding to an entity that is currently paying rent to another entity. . . . Such action violates the sprit and intent, if not the letter, of this law."

Chief Deputy Comptroller Christina Capobianco said the office had received Montano's letter and is reviewing the issue.

Julie Levine, president of empowerment network, declined to comment on the lease with Patel.

Patel, who declined to comment when reached Wednesday, last made a $90,000 payment on his 2011 tax bill in April, according to the county treasurer's office. The treasurer may seize and sell properties with taxes that have been delinquent for more than a year. Officials say they often try to arrange payment plans with site owners or their mortgage companies.

Chief Deputy County Treasurer Douglas Sutherland said Wednesday that an investment company recently bought Patel's mortgage and has promised to pay the remaining $207,487 on his 2011 tax bill shortly. If that occurs, the mortgage holder -- which has begun foreclosure proceedings against Commack Hospitality -- would have until December to begin paying the 2012 tax bill to avoid seizure.

Montano opposes the 109-room homeless shelter, which is near his district. He has written to Treasurer Angie Carpenter, requesting she "immediately" seize the property.

"Failure to do so will likely continue this practice of evasion of its legal obligation," Montano wrote of the landlord.

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