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Former Gouverneur mayor charged with grand larceny

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GOUVERNEUR— Former Mayor Christopher A. Miller was arrested by St. Lawrence County sheriff’s investigators Tuesday afternoon and charged with felony third-degree grand larceny.

Mr. Miller, 30, of 171 Rowley St., who resigned from his position last Wednesday, is accused of drawing up a fraudulent land sale contract.

He sold a house at 31 Edith St. to Ronald and Heather Sliter in March for $50,000, but allegedly failed to tell them he was a joint owner of the property with Dylan T. Liebenow, Gouverneur. Therefore, he did not have the right to sell the property, deputies said.

On March 29, the Sliters agreed to give Mr. Miller $10,000 down and pay him $560 per month at 4.8 percent interest for 30 years. Detectives said the down payment, half of April’s payment and all of May’s payment were transferred from the Sliters’ personal account to the account of Shannon D. Degroot, Mr. Miller’s mother.

“I didn’t know about the transaction until after the fact,” said Mr. Liebenow, Mr. Miller’s former partner. “I was considering bankruptcy then but I had not filed yet.”

In May, the Sliters learned that the house was owned jointly by Mr. Liebenow when he showed them a copy of the deed that included his name.

After Mr. Miller’s arrival at the house, there was an argument and Mr. Miller allegedly told the Sliters to call the police if Mr. Liebenow showed up again at their door. Mr. Miller then reportedly called an attorney in front of the Sliters and told them a new contract would be drawn up, detectives said.

Mr. Liebenow said he consulted a number of attorneys who told him it appeared Mr. Miller had sold his half of the house so nothing could be done. Eventually, Mr. Liebenow filed for bankruptcy and surrendered his half of the property to Bank of America, which held a $40,000 mortgage.

Meanwhile, the Sliters thought that Mr. Miller and Mr. Liebenow had settled their disagreement and a contract was in the works, detectives said.

In early June, Mr. Miller asked the Sliters if they would accept a quit claim deed buying his half of the house and taking his name off the deed, but they declined and asked again for a copy of the contract, detectives said.

Mr. Miller provided them with the original land contract and a new lease/purchase option that he already had signed. On reviewing the document, the Sliters saw they were credited with a $1,000 down payment, not $10,000. They learned the house had approximately $30,000 in liens against it and they got a surprise when they went to the law firm that Mr. Miller told them had approved his deals. Henry J. Leader, who is the village and town attorney, said he told the Sliters he did not represent Mr. Miller personally.

At that point, they requested the sheriff’s office conduct a criminal investigation.

“I’m really, really sorry for these people because I don’t know how they’ll get their money back. I hope these people don’t end up holding an empty bag,” Mr. Liebenow said. “I’m just happy I’m free of it and that it’s come to light.”

Mr. Liebenow said he was contacted by detectives to verify information.

Mr. Miller did not return a phone call for comment, but in an earlier interview, he said he had sold the Edith Street house as a lease/purchase and was allowing the tenants to improve the house. In a later interview, he said that he was not going to include the Edith Street house in his own bankruptcy and that he was up to date on the mortgage payments to the bank.

Mr. Miller also once threatened to have a reporter arrested for trespassing after Ms. Sliter declined an interview in July.

Mr. Liebenow said he did not know how Mr. Miller spent his money.

“To quote his mother, he has always had a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget,” Mr. Liebenow said.

Mr. Miller was brought before Canton Town Justice Christopher R. Curley and released under probation supervision.

Mr. Miller resigned as mayor after a discussion last week with Ronald P. McDougall, then the deputy mayor, who said he had an inkling Mr. Miller was being investigated.

“I had suspicions but no hard facts,” Mr. McDougall said. “I took the initiative, ‘let’s do something before it gets worse.’”

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