MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County officials have run out of patience with the owners of the financially-troubled Hilton Garden Inn in Suncrest Town Centre. Sheriff’s department tax deputies and process servers began a ‘levy of execution’ at the site Friday.
Mountain Blue Hotel Group of Fairmont owes more than $150,000 in hotel-motel taxes extending over the last few years, Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer told MetroNews Friday.
Palmer’s staff, armed with a court order, went into the hotel Friday morning to get the money.
“We went in to levy on the property, whether it be bar products, restaurant products, the furniture. We take all monies and checks in the cash registers and the safe,” Palmer said. “At that time if we do not receive the amount owed, then at a later date the items are sold at a sheriff’s sale.”
Palmer said Mountain Blue has had “numerous opportunities” to pay its tax bill but the county has been largely ignored.
“We had a little bit of correspondence, our prosecuting attorney has been in contact with them. It’s pretty much been ignored. The judgment (which came at an Aug. 14 hearing) was rendered in our circuit court and they didn’t even show up for that,” Palmer said.
“What I know is they owe $140,000 in hotel/motel tax,” Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom told MetroNews recently. “Now what frustrates me is, it isn’t like where you owe a tax and you have to pay it. Other people pay that 6 percent, so they took other people’s money and spent it. That is why I’m so angry and concerned they would do that.
“My frustration is, that was money people paid up front and they didn’t pay to the county. It’s $140,000 that could have gone to programs for the county. Half would have gone to the CVB and half to us. It’s two agencies and all the people in Monongalia County are hurt by them not paying this occupancy tax that is not even their money.”
Palmer said under the levy of execution that occurred Friday the hotel owner is not allowed to do anything with the property that was tagged until the bill is paid, either in cash or at the proceeds from the sheriff’s sale.
A lawsuit against Mountain Blue Hotel Group was filed Aug. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. The lawsuit, filed by filed by trustee U.S. National Bank Association, alleges a commercial breach of contract over the original $15,470,000 loan.
The lawsuit alleges the hotel is in danger of default, risking its Hilton franchise fee and barely getting by on meeting payroll.
A new, multimillion dollar hotel at risk of default is news in its own right, but it’s gotten more attention because of some of the high-profile investors listed in the federal lawsuit. Senator Joe Manchin and his longtime advisor Larry Puccio are among those listed through their AA LLC partnership, although both have said they are not investors in the hotel.
A response filed this past week on behalf of Mountain Blue denies almost all the allegations in the original complaint. The response indicates a complete lack of knowledge of many things, including the role of Manchin and Puccio.
The investor who signed the loan is William Abruzzino, whose companies are also involved with a breach of contract lawsuit over Clarksburg and Elkins hotels and the bankruptcy of the Crossings Mall in Elkview.
Palmer said the hotel remained open during Friday’s activities. He said it would probably be busy this weekend with the home opener for the WVU Mountaineers.
MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny contributed to this story.