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Gouverneur mayor will file for bankruptcy

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GOUVERNEUR — Mayor Christopher A. Miller is filing for bankruptcy as another of his real estate dealings spirals downward.

“I did what I could,” Mr. Miller said. “Sometimes, it doesn't matter how hard you try.”

Mr. Miller already lost one property when he defaulted on a land contract and has had a number of judgments filed against him, including by E.J. Noble Hospital, Casella Resource Solutions, Cerebral Palsy of the North Country, Robert N. Saidel and Gary Van Ornum, among others.

Also included in his bankruptcy filing will be 18 and 24 South St., apartment houses he purchased in 2010 from Mark E. Hendrick, who held the mortgage on them for $110,000. The story also includes a $14,000 disputed cash deposit Mr. Miller denies receiving from a buyer with a receipt who purchased the houses for $85,000 from him.

“It's a lot of 'he said, she said,'” Mr. Miller said. “I know what the receipt says, but I did not receive $14,000.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Miller stopped making payments on the South Street mortgage and got so far behind on bills in the spring that the heat was turned off in the buildings. While some tenants huddled around personal portable propane heaters, Code Enforcement Officer Michael J. McQuade wrote the mayor up on a housing violation.

“You've got to have heat,” Mr. McQuade said.

The lack of heat was not his fault, Mr. Miller said.

“Tenants didn't pay the rent, which covers the fuel,” he said.

The latest of his transactions to go bad also has resulted in an accusation from the aggrieved buyer that Mr. Miller defrauded him because the property was already in default when Mr. Miller sold it to him.

“He's not an upstanding citizen at all,” said Kyle J. Travis, who signed a lease with option to purchase the South Street properties May 24. “In his political position, he needs to be reprimanded. He needs to take responsibility.”

Mr. Miller declined to comment on whether he knew Mr. Hendrick had started foreclosure proceedings before he sold the South Street buildings to Mr. Travis.

Mr. Hendrick's attorney, Charles A. Gardner, would not specify when Mr. Miller stopped paying.

“He is substantially behind,” Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Miller also is at least a year behind on his property taxes, which include village water and sewer fees.

Representatives of state legal agencies either declined to comment on Mr. Miller's actions or said they needed more information.

“It's too complicated a situation without knowing all the facts,” said Lise Bang-Jensen, director of media services and public affairs for the state Bar Association.

The state attorney general's office declined to take a position other than to advise using an attorney for real estate transactions.

“If you have questions about what you're going through, make sure you have an attorney,” said Jennifer L. Givner, spokeswoman. “Having legal representation is always good advice.”

Mr. Travis said he wanted to hire an attorney but Mr. Miller said he was on a time crunch because he was going out of town. Mr. Travis signed a lease/purchase option agreement provided by Mr. Miller under which he agreed to give him $13,000 as a security deposit for any damages made to the buildings and $1,000 as a deposit toward the purchase price.

He has receipts for the $14,000, which he says he provided in cash, and for the single rent payment he made.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Travis gave him some money and promised the rest later. Mr. Miller would not specify the amount.

“It wasn't enough to do anything with,” Mr. Miller said. “I did give him the receipt. I trusted him.”

Even if Mr. Travis had given him the full amount, he would have lost it when he defaulted on the agreement after he went to jail, Mr. Miller said. He said he was unsure whether Mr. Travis should have his security deposit returned if there was no damage.

“I don't know what to say about that,” he said. “I'd have to read it over.”

Mr. Travis said he had begun making repairs to the buildings before finding out they were in foreclosure. When he tried to get his money back, he said Mr. Miller told him he was filing for bankruptcy and could not explain where the $14,000 had gone.

“When all this occurred, it was like a breakdown,” said Mr. Travis, who was interviewed at the St. Lawrence County jail, Canton, where he is being held on a probation violation. “I feel I would not be here if it wasn't for Chris.”

Mr. Travis said he would have kept up his end of the bargain but when his mother, Julie, went to collect rent in his absence, a tenant would not pay her because the ownership of the buildings was in question.

Mr. Miller said he is sorry if his personal troubles affect the way people view Gouverneur.

“We're really taking the necessary steps to get things done,” he said. “I don't care if I get trashed. What bothers me is it reflecting on the village. We're trying to make things better.”

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