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Providence City Council candidate owes city tens of thousands in back taxes

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A candidate running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 10 special election in Providence owes thousands in delinquent property taxes, according to the city, and hasn’t made a payment on his overdue bills in two years.

Pedro Espinal, a real estate investor running to represent Washington Park and Lower South Providence, owes $93,332 in taxes on four properties, according to city spokesperson Victor Morente. Morente said Espinal has not made a payment on the properties since 2017.

Espinal acknowledged the overdue bills and said he is working to rectify the situation.

Three of Espinal’s properties are currently protected from being put up for tax sale because his wife, Clarisa Espinal, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2016. In her bankruptcy filing she lists her properties as 179 Massachusetts Avenue, 989 Broad Street and 8 Miller Avenue.

Pedro Espinal is a co-owner of those properties, according to Morente. The 989 Broad Street home has an outstanding property tax balance of $40,493, according to the city, and the Miller Avenue building has a balance of $25,999.

A bankruptcy plan ordered by the court in 2018 says Clarisa Espinal is required to pay $3,370 per month on her outstanding debts, which include the delinquent property taxes.

Despite the court-ordered payment plan, Morente said no tax payments have been made on those properties.

Espinal also owns a house at 1406-1408 Broad Street, which his wife does not own.

That house, where Espinal and his wife live in one unit, was put up for tax sale by the city earlier this year, due to the delinquent balance. The house was taken off the tax sale list, however, after the city received notice of a purchase and sales agreement. Morente said the sale fell through, and the house will be put back up for tax sale.

Reached by phone, Espinal said while he is working to pay the taxes off, he believes the city’s tax system needs to change.

“We have a tax system that is broken, that is not working,” Espinal said. “We’re carrying the burden, the taxpayers, but the nonprofits are laughing all the way to the bank.” (Nonprofits like hospitals and universities are exempt from property taxes.)

Espinal also said he chooses not to raise rents on his tenants because he knows they make lower incomes.

“It’s no excuse,” Espinal said. “I need to make arrangements, I need to pay it, I need to bring it up to date.”

Espinal also pointed the finger at the campaign of fellow Democrat Natalia Rosa Sosa for spreading the word about his delinquent taxes, calling it a “politically-motivated attack.”

“They’re trying to bully me out of this race,” Espinal said. “They’re walking around with my tax bill going door-to-door. They should be going door-to-door talking about policy.”

Luis Estrada, a well-known political operative and the field director for Rosa Sosa’s campaign, acknowledged that one of the campaign volunteers has been bringing up Espinal’s back taxes.

But he claimed members of Espinal’s campaign have also gone negative.

Estrada said someone from Espinal’s campaign called the police on Estrada and members of Rosa Sosa’s campaign at the Oxford Gardens apartments, where they were waiting on Saturday for mail ballots to arrive. He said the campaign had submitted mail ballot applications for 15 residents of the building, and were there to provide witness and notary services for them.

Espinal denied calling the police himself, but said he doesn’t know if someone else did. He said he was also at the apartment complex and was concerned that the Rosa Sosa campaign volunteers were harassing and intimidating senior citizens.

“Pedro had indicated that he was going to be running a clean campaign with us,” Estrada said.

The candidates are running to replace former City Council President Luis Aponte, who resigned his seat over the summer after pleading to a count of felony embezzlement. Aponte has his own share of financial problems; he has filed for bankruptcy and was arrested earlier this week for failing to pay a $1,500 ethics fine. He also owes $51,000 to the R.I. Board of Elections.

Estrada criticized Espinal for having a campaign slogan of “ending corruption,” when he himself has delinquent taxes.

“I’m thinking you’re the easiest person to corrupt with debt like that,” Estrada said. “Not that I’m saying he will.”

“You have your own issues, how are you going to represent our ward and our city?” Rosa Sosa said.

Rosa Sosa herself had overdue fines from the R.I. Ethics Commission until she paid them off in September. She had been fined after failing to file financial disclosures in 2014 and 2015 during her time as a member of the Providence School Board.

Monica Huertas and Orlando Correa are also running against Espinal and Rosa Sosa in the October 10 primary. Morente said city records do not show the other three Democratic candidates as having delinquent taxes on their real estate.

Correa, who has the endorsement of several labor unions, has raised the most money for his campaign at $17,085. Huertas, who is backed by a new progressive group co-chaired by Matt Brown, has raised $9,577. Rosa Sosa has raised $9,005 and Espinal has raised $5,599, according to Board of Elections filings.

There is only a Democratic primary in this race, as no Republicans filed to run. One independent candidate, Jeffrey Lemire, has filed to run in the general election on Nov. 5.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of of this story, a city spokesperson misstated the properties owned by Pedro Espinal. Espinal owns four properties, not five.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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