By Marwa Barakat and Stephanie Quinn, Capital News Service
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a tax lien filed against Grace Rivera-Oven, a Montgomery County Board of Education candidate in District 1 and her husband, Mark J. Oven. That $106,676.10 lien from 2016 was satisfied last year.
At least 12 of Maryland’s 155 school board candidates have had state or federal liens filed against them in the past two decades for not paying their taxes on time.
Capital News Service reporters scoured the state court records of every school board candidate in the state, and tax liens were the most common court record found.
CNS is reporting on the candidates’ tax liens because they reflect the financial habits of individuals who could soon play a major role in deciding how school districts spend their money.
But April Christina Curley, one of the four candidates running for the school board in Baltimore City, said the lien that she needs to settle stems from the fact that she’s poor.
“It is public information,” Curley said of the lien. “But at the same time, I think it’s a good reflection of how this system was created to keep regular people out.”
A lien is a legal claim filed in court against the assets of someone who has not paid a debt.
“By filing a lien, the Comptroller’s Office essentially marks their place in line as a creditor” to extract payment from someone who owes at least several thousand dollars in back taxes, said Nicholas Berger, a senior director at Frost Law, a Maryland-based firm specializing in tax law.
“The individual or business with the unpaid tax balances and tax lien can then set up a payment plan or negotiate a settlement to resolve the unpaid debt,” said Berger, who used to work at the state Comptroller’s Office. “If the assessment remains unpaid and ignored, the Comptroller’s Office can take more drastic action such as levies, garnishments or holds on professional licenses and driver’s licenses.”
Court records indicate, though, that that didn’t happen with the Maryland school board candidates who had liens filed against them. In most cases, the candidates eventually paid their taxes.
Below, the candidates with past liens have been listed under the county in which they are running. The counties are arranged by the number of candidates with liens, the counties with more at the top.
Calvin Montgomery Sr., a candidate for the District 1 seat, has had several federal and state tax liens filed against him. In April 2011, a federal lien was filed against him in the amount of $44,691.54. Another federal tax lien was filed against him in April the year after in the amount of $11,245.85. There was no evidence in the court records about how or whether those liens were satisfied.
Montgomery had both a state and federal tax lien filed against him in June 2015. On June 24, 2015, a state lien was filed in the amount of $3,328.54, and it has been satisfied. On June 30, 2015, a federal lien was filed for $12,296.57, and it was settled in July 2022.
Montgomery did not reply to requests for comment on these liens.
Yonelle Moore Lee, who is running for the District 4 seat, has had three liens filed against her, each in a different Maryland county.
The first was filed in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court in December 2004 in the amount of $8,353.02. The second, which was filed in the Montgomery County Circuit Court in January 2005, was in the amount of $23,225.68. The two previously stated liens were settled in 2013. The final and most recent lien, in the amount of $1,079.41, was a state tax lien filed in April 2014 in Charles County Circuit Court and satisfied in February 2015. Lee did not respond to requests for comment.
Julie Brown, who is running for the District 2 seat, shares an address in Indian Head and a birthday with a Julie Lee Melton, who had $13,774.19 in state tax liens filed against her at that address on Jan. 25, 2022. Brown denied going by the name Julie Lee Melton and said: “I don’t have tax liens,” but said Melton is her daughter’s maiden name.
The liens were divided into four subsets: $2,402.87, $5,008.73, $4,879.62 and $1,482.97. The case was closed, but it is unclear whether Melton has paid.
Grace Rivera-Oven, a District 1 candidate, and her husband Mark J. Oven had a federal lien of $106,767 filed against them on April 22, 2016. That lien was satisfied on June 2, 2021.
This lien is listed in the names of Mark J. Oven and G.C. Rivera-Oven. The candidate used the name Grace Rivera Oven in her campaign filing with the Board of Elections, but the candidate confirmed on her campaign website that she is married to Mark J. Oven.
CNS emailed the candidate for comment, but has not yet received a response.
Esther L. Wells, running for the county’s District 1 seat, had a lien filed against her in Montgomery Circuit Court in January 2020 in the amount of $8,708.66. After the lien was filed, Wells said she submitted proper documentation that took several months to process due to pandemic-related slowdowns at the Maryland Comptroller’s Office. The lien was then satisfied in April 2021.
Tracy Cameransi has had three liens filed against her. In January 2008, there was a judgment lien filed against her in the amount of $73,468.96, which was then satisfied in September 2013. There was a second judgment lien filed against her for $10,596.79 that was released in June 2015. A third lien, recorded in December 2011, was in the amount of $14,171.19.
“Any lien that we had was due to an unfortunate situation many years ago,” Cameransi stated in an email. She said she worked with a public accountant, and all of the liens have been satisfied.
Aretha Dorsey has had two liens filed against her and Samuel Dorsey. The first was recorded in February 2009 in the amount of $3,268.74, and it was satisfied in March 2011. The second, filed in March 2011 in the amount of $3,740.11, was settled in February 2013. Dorsey did not answer requests for comment.
Salimah Jasani had one state tax lien filed against her in November 2019 for $1,302.95 that was settled shortly after in January 2020.
Jasani said she served as a member of Americorps, an independent agency of the federal government focused on community service work. As a member, she received an education award, or scholarship, about seven years ago that was sent to the Johns Hopkins University, where she was completing a master’s degree in education studies.
Because the award was sent directly to the university, Jasani only saw a decrease in the amount that she owed the university. However, she later heard from the IRS that she was supposed to report that funding as income when she filed her taxes.
After communication with the IRS, Jasani said that they told her she owed more taxes because of this income, so she paid it off. After the issue was resolved, Jasani received a lien notice from the state of Maryland, which was the first communication from the state on this matter. She said she settled the lien as soon as she received it.
April Christina Curley said her state tax lien of $16,418.60 reflects many Baltimore families’ struggles with indebtedness and poverty.
“The reality is I’m poor,” she said. “I am absolutely poor.”
Curley said she works two jobs and financially supports her sister, five nephews, niece and mother.
While Curley said she isn’t sure what she owes taxes for, she thinks the lien has to do with living in multiple states in 2018. That year, Curley transferred from Google’s office in New York City to Washington, D.C., and said she was taxed in Maryland, the District and New York. She plans to address the tax lien after the election.
Lori Lepley had a state tax lien filed against her in August 2022 in the amount of $8,159.02.
Lepley said she had included a Historic District Tax Credit in her filings after her accountant had recommended it because she owns a building in Cumberland’s historic downtown district, but it was denied by the state. After many attempts to reach out and appeal the decision with no success, Lepley was instead notified of a tax lien. She said she has since entered a payment arrangement to satisfy the lien.
“It was disappointing that the state was denying tax credits for such an important part of our historic downtown because building owners like me invest that money in continuing to improve our downtown,” Lepley stated in an email response. “However, I will abide by their decision. I am glad it is resolved, even if I did not get a satisfactory answer to my own questions.”
Cindy Rose had a tax lien of $2,685.73 filed against her and Jamie Rose in April 2003 that was settled in 2005.
“That was a long time ago. To the best of my recollection we owed some sort of tax in 2003 but couldn’t afford to pay it off until 2005,” Rose said in an email statement.
Michael Guessford is an incumbent of the school board. He has had both state and federal liens filed against him. A state lien, recorded in August 2001 for $4,881.96, was settled in January 2002. There was also a series of federal liens filed against him in June 2012 totaling $69,782.17. They were satisfied in July 2014. Guessford did not respond to requests for comment on these liens.
CNS reporter Khushboo Rathore contributed to this report.