Colorado tax felon Douglas Bruce is threatening to sue a small Pennsylvania town for demolishing his building, while simultaneously daring the municipality to file criminal charges against him.
“I have to find a Pennsylvania attorney to sue them in federal court,” said Bruce, a former Colorado state representative and author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
“They have no right to bulldoze an empty building that’s boarded up. Period. The end.”
Bruce owns dozens of blighted properties around the country. Until Tuesday, one of them sat in Pittston, a small city in northeastern Pennsylvania. That property, an old bar, was so decrepit that Bruce was convicted in May of five municipal violations for failing to demolish the building. Since then, additional citations were filed against him.
The city had the bar bulldozed Tuesday, said Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo, and will place a lien on the property to cover the demolition costs.
Lombardo said the matter also could be turned over to police for criminal charges. A conviction for municipal housing code avoidance — a first-degree misdemeanor — could result in a sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Let ‘em,” Bruce said of a potential charge. “Let ‘em do it. They’ve had five years or more to extradite, arrest somebody, and they haven’t done so because they know they don’t have a case. They know they have no jurisdiction to arrest me, take me on a plane and take me to Pittston.”
Bruce insisted that he committed no crime, especially because he hasn’t been in Pennsylvania. He repeatedly declined to say whether he’s physically visited the property, which he maintains was not unsafe.
Of the magistrate who handled his municipal citation convictions, Bruce said: “She’s a slob; she’s incompetent; she’s a political hack.”
Bruce insisted that the city’s actions were illegal, that future liens would similarly be illegal, and he refused to pay them. The building was demolished without due process, he said.
But Lombardo disagrees and says city officials conducted themselves properly and received hostile responses in return.
The local district attorney offered to seek Bruce’s extradition from Colorado to Pennsylvania and pick up part of the cost, Lombardo said, but that would have been counterproductive and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“Our interest all along has either been the stabilization or remediation of the structure or the demolition of the structure, and as far as I’m concerned that’s been done,” Lombardo said.
Now, Lombardo said, his concern is having Bruce pay — in one way or another — for the demolition and the police and public works staff who helped with the task. He said Bruce will be billed $30,000.
One way to collect that tab is to place a lien on the property, Lombardo said. But maintenance likely will be an ongoing concern.
“Here’s the thing. Now we’re going to have a clear, flat level property and eventually weeds are going to grow,” Lombardo said. “So I don’t know where this goes.”
Acknowledging Bruce’s opposition to the citations and demolition, Lombardo maintained his willingness to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion, although that might not be the ultimate resolution.
Often, in similar cases, property owners stop paying taxes, Lombardo said. If the taxes on Bruce’s property fall three years behind, it could be placed up for auction.
“They know they have no jurisdiction to arrest me, take me on a plane and take me to Pittston.” Douglas Bruce