A candidate for the 6th District congressional seat is answering accusations about past family legal problems, and it's not Congressman John Tierney.
Last week, The Boston Phoenix ran an article examining family troubles of both Tierney and challenger Richard Tisei, bringing up on past real estate deals in which Tisei's parents were accused of misdealings. This week, Tisei sat down with Patch to address it.
A focus of the story is a home on Main Street in Wakefield owned by Tisei's parents Ralph and Beverly Tisei, and as it turns out half owned by Richard Tisei himself. The sale of the home collided with legal issues that echoed from years before.
First, Some Background
Tisei's parents purchased the Main Street home in 1983, of which Richard Tisei was half owner, and Richard Tisei lived in it as one of the tenants. A few years later, they transferred the home to a trust run by Ralph and Beverly Tisei.
Ralph and Beverly Tisei also owned a home inspection company that was the subject of several suits in the 1980s and 1990s. In the mid-1990s, the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit against Ralph and Beverly Tisei for alleged franchise regulations violations and witholding information from franchisees. The judge in that case ruled against the Tiseis and ordered them to pay $30,000.
In 1994, the Tiseis decided to sell the home on Main Street to Tisei's legislative aide, Brian Cresta -- who now serves as Tisei's campaign committee treasurer. But with the court ruling, there were two liens on the property that tied up the sale.
"[One lien] was for a home inspection the company did in Springfield, they ended up finding termites later and sued my parents' business," Tisei said.
And upon completing a title search, it was revealed that Tisei was still half owner of the home.
Tisei maintains that there was an error when the property was transferred to a trust -- only his parents' half was transferred and not his half -- and that he didn't know from 1986 until then that he still owned it. After learning this, Tisei amended his Ethics Commission filings from those years to reflect ownership of the home.
Complaintants against the Tiseis at the time reportedly accused them of trying to keep the home out of assets reportable to the government. The sale of the home fell through, but the Tiseis then successfully appealed the ruling, the liens were lifted and they eventually sold the home to another buyer. Tisei ended up getting more than $30,000 from the sale of the home.
"The deal was $134,500 for the first sale that fell through, and when I sold the house the sale price was about $127,000, so there wasn't any sweetheart deal," Tisei said in his Lynnfield office, displaying a pile of documentation relating to the home. "I've been an elected official since I was 22. I've been overly paranoid about avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest."
What Does This Mean in 2012?
The matter has the Tierney campaign and the Massachusetts Democratic Party calling foul. Tisei has made Tierney's in-laws -- and their criminal activity -- a focus of the congressional race, and his opponents are calling it outright hypocritical.
"The fact that Richard Tisei would engage in repeated attacks on my wife and her family when he had all of these issues of fraud in his own family's business dealings shows exactly what kind of campaign he is running," Tierney said. "My sympathy is with the victims in this case--the small businesses who were deceived and hurt."
Like Tierney, Tisei has not been charged with any wrongdoing. And Tisei's parents, although sued mutliple times, were never been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. But like the Tierney family scandal, the core of the attacks on Tisei from Democrats have to do with association and speculation over what Tisei may have known as well money -- in this case, the money Tisei made from the home sale -- he got from business dealings with family.
"The bottom line is that Richard Tisei reaped substantial benefits from his family's fraudulent enterprise that hurt Massachusetts small businesses," Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair John Walsh said. "There is no question that Richard Tisei knew exactly what was going on, but what we don't know is whether he was an active player in this tangled web or just a silent beneficiary."
Ralph Tisei passed away in 2000. Richard Tisei insists that he didn't know he owned the Main Street home until the sale attempt.
"I own a real estate company, I've sold over 3,000 houses in my career," Tisei said. "It is very common for, before the sale takes place, a title search is done and you discover there are liens on the property and issues with the title. It's something that happens to people every day, and shame on John Tierney for trying to make something out of this."
Tisei said the issue was about Tierney's desperation. A Boston Globe story over the weekend revealed that three government watchdog groups are calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation into Tierney regarding any possible money Tierney may have received from his in-laws, and Tisei believes that is why Tierney's campaign has decided to go after Tisei's parents.
"It isn't like my mother was a bookkeeper for an illegal gambler for years and was making money off it," Tisei said. "I would hope people would realize what's going on here, and it is a very sad commentary on John Tierney."