Lianne Merchant is unfit to be on the school board for three reasons.
- She has never paid the tens of thousands of dollars in school taxes she owes on property in downtown New Rochelle which she purchased with her husband in 2012.
- She has twice made a material false statement to the District’s external auditors to hide her failure to pay school taxes on that property, falsely claiming she did not owe the school district money, directly or indirectly.
- She has used her position on the board to settle political scores on behalf of her husband, a real estate broker with a less than stellar reputation for probity and integrity.
Lianne Merchant succeeded David Lacher as President of the New Rochelle Board of Education whom she repeatedly, publicly defended and excused despite Lacher having connived with John Quinn, the District’s former CFO to effectively misappropriate $13,500 of public funds to pay for his personal medical insurance. Quinn was fired last summer but with Merchant’s help, Lacher remains.
Merchant has her own serious financial issues.
MERCHANT NOT PAYING HER SCHOOL TAXES
Lianne Merchant and her husband are partners in a corporate shell company called West Friends Management Group LLC. This is an LLC set up by attorney Thomas Leghorn, a former library board trustee who was largely responsible for board oversight of the library’s finances when a $300,000 error was discovered in the library budget in 2011. Thomas Leghorn and his wife, Theresa Kump Leghorn are partners in Alvin & Friends restaurant.
The Leghorns and Merchants have over the years populated various boards and committees in New Rochelle including the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees, the New Rochelle Industrial Development Agency, the New Rochelle Board of Education, the New Rochelle Historical and Landmark Review Board and others — leaving a trail like an incontinent gastropod wherever they go.
Alvin & Friends lists its address as 14 Memorial Highway. The building they occupy is 12 Memorial Highway. There is no 14 Memorial Highway on the tax roll of the City of New Rochelle.
West Friends purchased 12 Memorial Highway on December 27, 2012 for $1,000,000 from RF Realty Properties LLC, a shell company owned by former New Rochelle City Council Member Joseph Fosina and Yankee Hall of Famer Mariano Riviera. The location had originally been built out as Mo's New York Grill in 2007. After that restaurant failed, it was re-opened as 42 Clubhouse Grill in 2011. When that restaurant failed the property was sold to West Friends.
Since purchasing the property Lianne Merchant has not once paid the school taxes on the property but has paid some City tax and some County tax.
Westchester Friends Management Group, LLC currently owes $50,622,82 in unpaid taxes -- $38,950.42 in unpaid school taxes, $6,789.74 in unpaid city taxes, and $4,882.66 in unpaid county taxes.
A lien was placed on the property for $22,030.17 which includes back taxes, penalties and interest. A second lien remains on the property from the previous owner for $11,009.82.
MERCHANT MAKES MATERIAL FALSE STATEMENTS TO DISTRICT AUDITORS
In a filing with the District's external auditors, in 2013 and 2014, Merchant answered "no" when asked on the form "Have you or any related party of yours been indebted to the School District at any time since July 1, 2013?" Based on the school tax debt on 12 Memorial Highway those filings appear to contain material false statements.
The Disclosure Form is a standard part of the annual audit process, conducted by O'Connor Davies, a leading government auditor in Westchester County. O'Connor Davies asks respondents to exclude amounts due for real estate taxes on a principal residence, for services normally provided to residents of the School District, and ordinary travel expenses and advances.
The auditing firm defines "related party" as a party that "has the ability to significantly influence the management or operating policies of the other, to the extent that one of the transacting parties might be prevented from fully pursuing its own separate interest" and this definition applies to "School District management, and members of their immediate families; and any other party with which the School District may deal with.
This would apply to Lianne Merchant, Greg Merchant and any entity which they have the ability to significantly influence such as an corporate entity like an LLC.
Management is defined as "any person(s) having responsibility for achieving the objectives of the organization and the concomitant authority to establish the policies and make the decisions by which such objectives arc to be pursued" and would normally include "Members of the Board, the Superintendent, School District Clerk, Department Heads, etc. and any other individual person who performs similar policy making functions."
This would apply to Greg Merchant through his wife, Lianne Merchant.
MERCHANTS USES HER BOARD SEAT TO EXACT POLITICAL RETRIBUTION ON HER HUSBAND’S REAL ESTATE CLIENTS
New Rochelle Board of Education Vice President Lianne Merchant has sought to use her position to retaliate against a community group that opposed a development project championed by her husband, based on an email obtained by Talk of the Sound.
In an email exchange with fellow board members during the MLK holiday weekend, Merchant voted against restoring a previously scheduled meeting between Hazard Young Attea, the executive search consultants hired to recruit a new Superintendent, and United Citizens For a Better New Rochelle, a community group initially formed to advocate against a development deal involving Forest City/Ratner and the City of New Rochelle but which has since branched out.
Merchant makes clear in the email that her opposition to the meeting is based primarily on UCNBR's opposition to the Echo Bay Project.
"With its proven track record of having single handedly brought down the Mayor and Echo Bay development project (and killed off any possibility for any meaningful waterfront development from any bona-fide developer for the next 10 years) — I would not grant a one-on-one meeting," wrote Merchant.
So long as New Rochelle continues to elect deeply flawed school board members, the New Rochelle School District will continue to be deeply flawed.