TLC 53672

September 25, 1987

Essex, ss.



The City of Lawrence seeks to foreclose the taxpayers' right of redemption on property now known as and numbered 162-162B-164 Essex Street for alleged non-payment of the 1970 real estate taxes assessed thereon. The defendants Maria Venti, Gina Venti and Ruth Venti, the heirs-at-law of the assessed owner, Antonio Venti (called Antonio Vens in the tax bill in question), now deceased, allege as their defense to the city's action that the taxes have been paid. A hearing was held at the Land Court on September 22, 1987. On all the evidence I find and rule as follows:

1. On an ill-fated day in November of 1970, the Office of the Collector of Taxes in Lawrence was robbed, and payments of the tax bills, both in cash and by check, were stolen. The tax bill in question is one of the two remaining as to which there remains a question of payment.

2. Antonio Venti died on April 30, 1971. His widow, Maria, was unfamiliar with business matters generally and with Mr. Venti's florist business in particular; the business, now closed, was located in the premises in question. Mrs. Venti has no personal knowledge as to how payment was made of the real estate taxes in question.

3. The present Tax Collector of Lawrence, who was a clerk in the office at the time of the robbery, claims to remember that Mr. Venti paid by check and not by cash. An extensive effort has been made, however, to locate any bank account Mr. Venti might have had or from which he might have purchased a bank check. Such efforts were unfruitful. The only evidence which bears on the question of payment is the receipted tax bill issued by the Collector's Office. While the city alleges that a receipted bill was given when taxes were paid, even if by check, the bill is the only evidence which bears on payment.

4. All taxes since 1970 have been paid, and it is only the taxes for that year, with interest and other charges thereon, that are in issue here.

5. If either party has to suffer from the criminal act, it should be the city from whose custody the funds were taken, not innocent third parties.

On all the evidence I find and rule that Mr. Venti paid the taxes in full on or about November 2, 1970 and that the tax taking therefor by the City of Lawrence which was dated January 24, 1973 and recorded with Essex (North District) Registry of Deeds in Book 1211, Page 214, is invalid and of no force and effect. Accordingly, the complaint in this action will be dismissed.

Judgment accordingly.