This story has been updated to include comments from Mayor Douglas French.
RYE, N.Y. – Rye Mayor Douglas French has been implicated in tax fraud for allegedly claiming a tax exemption on a rental property he owns with his wife in Rye.
Public records indicate that French has been claiming a STAR exemption for both his primary residence at 47 Meadow Place and a rental property at 13 Richard Place. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (NYSTAF) website states a homeowner is eligible for the STAR tax exemption on a “primary residence” only.
Geoff Gloak, a spokesperson from the NYSTAF, confirmed the website’s statement.
“When you sign the STAR Tax Exemption form, you’re certifying that the property is your primary residence,” Gloak said over the phone. “The definition of ‘primary residence’ is determined by a variety of factors.”
According to Rye Tax Assessor Noreen Whitty, the assessor’s office was notified of the irregularity in April and subsequently notified French via a letter and removed the STAR tax exemption from the his Richard Place property.
But French claims that the letter he received from Whitty made no mention of the double exemption claim.
"I was made aware of the situation a few weeks ago,” French said over the phone. "The letter I received from Assessor Whitty did not indicate that two exemptions were being claimed.”
Whitty also added that, according to records, the Richard Place residence was the mayor’s primary residence in 1998 when the STAR tax exemption was filed on the property.
“Things have crept up within STAR over the past few years,” Whitty said. “When Mayor French applied for the tax exemption on his Meadow Place residence, he wasn’t asked if he was claiming STAR on another property, which would’ve been a red flag.”
Whitty corroborated French's claim that he notified the assessor of his change in primary residence when he located to 47 Meadow Place in 2001.
French said he is currently awaiting word from the assessor's office and that he would "make good" on the amount owed by the double exemption claim.
Records indicate that French’s illegal tax exemptions over the past decade exceed $10,000. As reported by The Daily Rye two weeks ago, the Richard Pace residence is being investigated by the city manager for building violations.
According to Gloak, the penalty for violating the STAR tax exemption is $100 and a ban on using the program for five years. Gloak also said that violators, “may be subject to criminal prosecution,” but ultimately that is for the county district attorney and Rye city assessor to decide.
“The mayor’s situation is very unique” Whitty said. “It’s not common for a resident of Rye to own two properties within the city, which makes this more difficult to catch.”