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State files judgments against Peck

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CANTON — The state Department of Taxation and Finance has filed judgments totaling more than $50,000 against a business operated by St. Lawrence County Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, for nonpayment of sales tax in recent years.

The judgments are in addition to previous warrants filed by the Tax Department for nonpayment of sales tax from the early 1990s.

Last summer, the state seized Mr. Peck’s business and personal bank accounts on those earlier warrants. At the time, Mr. Peck said interest and penalties ballooned the amount to more than $500,000.

“We can confirm that new warrants against Don Peck Auction LLC were filed Aug. 6 with the St. Lawrence County Clerk by the NYS Tax Department,” spokesman Cary B. Ziter wrote in an email. “Said warrants are for sales tax due the state in the amount of $46,180 for filing periods in 2011 and 2012 and for $4,798 for 2008.”

The total includes penalties and interest.

Mr. Peck said he was unaware the state had filed the most recent of the judgments against him.

“I did pay sales tax,” he said. “I filed quarterly returns.”

Mr. Peck said he did not have his returns available to see whether the amounts matched those the state said he owes.

He said he received no notice of the amounts that the state claims as owed.

“Once they’ve got it out for you, they’ve got it out for you,” he said. “I just give up on them.”

In June, Mr. Ziter said Mr. Peck, and his business at the time, Peck’s Auction Barn, still owed the state $263,212.

Mr. Peck filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after Jefferson National Bank collapsed and his loan of $566,000 was called in by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Sales tax Mr. Peck’s business owed was not discharged by the bankruptcy.

Afterward, Mr. Peck formed a separate corporation, Auctions Plus, and now operates his business under Don Peck Auctions.

Mr. Peck, the vice chairman of the board and the board’s representative to the county Industrial Development Agency, said he does not plan to resign as a legislator. He also is president of one of the two associations that operate the Gouverneur & St. Lawrence County Fair.

After the first revelations about his finances, some Republican legislators privately suggested to Mr. Peck that he should step down from political office.

“Every self-employed businessperson has rough patches. He isn’t the only person who hasn’t paid sales tax, but we’re held to a higher standard,” said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon. “It’s a huge black eye for the 14 of us who sit next to him.”

Mr. Peck’s differences with the Republican Party grew large enough for him to change his party registration to Democrat, but the switch will not become official until after the general election.

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire declined comment on Mr. Peck’s finances, as did IDA Executive Director Patrick J. Kelly.

Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said Mr. Peck should be treated as innocent until proven otherwise.

“Mr. Peck’s personal financial problems haven’t affected his attendance at meetings or his operation of the fair,” Mr. Putney said. “As of now, he hasn’t been found guilty of anything.”

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said Mr. Peck should resign for the good of the board.

“If that were me, I’d find a hole to crawl into. I would have already resigned,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “I feel the public perception of Mr. Peck is going to reflect unfavorably on the rest of the Legislature. We are going to be criticized for granting him the positions he currently enjoys.”

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