Recently hired West New York Assistant Town Attorney Mario Blanch owes nearly $200,000 in unpaid federal and state taxes, according to documents provided to the press by Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York), who called for Blanch to step down from his position.
“This man Blanch is a serial tax evader. He has no business representing taxpayers and serving in such a sensitive legal position,” said Jimenez in a press release that accompanied the documents. “He was just hit with another big tax lien last month and he is sinking in a sea of debt.”
In addition to working for the town of West New York, Blanch operates a private practice in town and lives in North Bergen.
Blanch has drawn the political ire in the neighboring town of North Bergen after consistently criticizing Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco at town meetings on behalf of a group called the North Bergen Concerned Citizens.
Records show that Blanch, who has represented the Concerned Citizens in various bouts with Sacco, owes $89,093.25 from 2006 and $43,941.50 from 2007 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Additionally, he owes the state of New Jersey a total of $65,217.19 on three separate liens amounted at $28,644.30, $17,279.77 and $19,293.12.
“They’re calling me a tax evader, and I’m not that.” - Mario Blanch
Blanch, who was reached by telephone early Wednesday morning, said that Jimenez’s figures are off.
“The number’s wrong, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ll be meeting with my accountant and preparing a statement,” he said.
And while Blanch did not deny that he owes the government money, he said that Jimenez’s facts were grossly misrepresented.
“They’re calling me a tax evader, and I’m not that,” he said. “What basically happened was that in the years that I owe those taxes [2006 and 2007], those were good years economically. Then the economy bottomed out. It was difficult.”
Blanch said he has worked out a payment plan with the IRS and has been paying off the debts each month.
“Tax evasion is essentially committing fraud to get out of paying taxes,” he said. “I’m on a payment plan with the IRS. It’s not that evading. I pay them every single month.”
The IRS’ media relations office in Washington could not confirm the claim, stating that the agency does not discuss a taxpayer’s personal information. However, a media representative did say payment plans with the agency exist.
As for the three recent debts leveled by the state, Blanch said that two of the three bills were not his responsibility, but appeared on his tax bill as the result of a recent divorce. The third was a lien leveled as a result of his payment plan, said Blanch.
“It’s a result of my payment plan to repay the money from 2006. Even though they just took the lien on recently, it was only because I worked out a payment plan with them,” he said. “They put a lien on so they can guarantee you can make your payments.”
Mayor Felix Roque said he was unaware of Blanch’s tax issues until he saw the assemblywoman’s statement on Wednesday.
“Criminal background checks are a standard part of the town’s hiring process, but tax issues aren’t something that would have come up,” he said. “This is personal information, it has no affect on his performance as assistant town attorney.”
Roque said that he had spoken with Blanch, and was satisfied with the conversation.
“He said that he knew [about the tax issues], and had made an arrangement with the authorities to work it out,” said Roque. “We know that everybody’s struggling in this economy, with paying mortgages, taxes, things like that. It won’t affect his job performance.”
Roque said he had no plans to remove Blanch from his position and also stated he was confused as to Jimenez’s motivations.
“I’m surprised that Jimenez would bring this to the media,” he said. “It leads me to believe that this is more politically motivated on her part, I wonder who is pulling her strings.”
“I think this is coming from Nick Sacco,” Blanch said. “I think the assemblywoman is nothing but Sacco’s puppet. A puppet without a brain.”
Paul Swibinski, a spokesman for Sacco, denied the mayor’s involvement and fired back at Blanch and Roque, calling their dismissal of Jimenez “demeaning and sexist.”
“This continues a pattern of dismissing anything the assemblywoman does as being controlled or ordered by someone else,” he said. “Don’t shoot the messenger. The issue here is that Blanch is a deadbeat who doesn’t pay his taxes.”
Swibinski said that the revelation of Blanch’s personal problems called seriously into question his actions on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of North Bergen, who style themselves as an advocacy group for taxpayers.
“It’s the highest form of hypocrisy,” he said. “The best thing Blanch can do for the taxpayers is pay his taxes.”
West New York Commissioner Count Wiley, an opponent of Roque who is organizing a recall election against him, said that the hiring of Blanch is one example of why he thinks the town needs new leadership.
“There was no reason for him to be hired,” he said. “It adds a bad element to the community.”
Still, Blanch held firm against his critics, stating that his finances and the manner in which he handles them are his personal business.
“Tax evasion is a crime; I’ve never once evaded taxes. I have always filed taxes,” he said. “I’m a court official and I value honesty. The fact that I didn’t have the money to pay it shouldn’t have an effect on the kind of person that I am or what I do.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org