NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence will tonight bestow the Community Enterprise Award on Alvin and Gwen Clayton, long-time New Rochelle residents and owners of Alvin & Friends restaurant located in downtown New Rochelle.
There to present the award will be New Rochelle Board of Education President Lianne Merchant and Greg Merchant, her husband, and former member of the New Rochelle Industrial Development Agency and current member of the board of the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence.
Meanwhile, 12 Memorial Highway, the property Alvin & Friends calls home, has never paid its schools taxes since it was acquired in 2012 by an LLC that includes the Merchants.
A lien for back taxes was placed on the property in 2013.
Local officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed concern that people with such strong connections to the New Rochelle School District would be involved in an enterprise that was not paying its school taxes.
“It’s unseemly,” said one.
Westchester Friends Management Group, LLC currently owes $35,754.76 in unpaid taxes — $25,162.91. in school taxes. The breakdown is as follows: $16,920.25 in New Rochelle School taxes from 2013, $8,242.66 in New Rochelle School taxes from 2014, $4,410.15 in City of New Rochelle taxes from 2014 and $6,181.70 in Westchester County taxes from 2014.
A lien was placed on the property in early 2014 for $19,898.21 which includes back taxes, penalties and interest. A second lien remains on the property from the previous owner for $11,009.82. Typically, a lien is paid off before ownership of a property is transferred suggesting a line of future inquiry.
12 Memorial Highway was purchased by Westchester Friends Management Group, LLC from RF Realty Properties LLC (Rivera/Fosina) on December 27, 2012 for $1,000,000. The location had originally been built out as Mo’s New York Grill in 2007. After that restaurant failed, it was re-opened as 42 Clubhouse Grill in 2011.
Discussions with City and County officials and a search of the Westchester County Clerk database failed to turn up any tax certioris or similar filings in the name of Westchester Friends Management Group, LLC.
The property is owned by Westchester Friends Management Group, LLC. The New York State Department of State contact for the LLC is Thomas Leghorn, Esq., a partner at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP located in New York City.
Behind the corporate front, according to sources, the friends are said to include Alvin and Gwen Clayton, Greg and Lianne Merchant and Theresa Kump Leghorn and Thomas Leghorn. One company reportedly owns the restaurant and another owns the building.
Gregory A. Merchant is currently on the board of the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence. Merchant became the subject of controversy when he was linked to a scheme to pass off phony petitions as support for the doomed Forest City Echo Bay Development.
Lianne Merchant is current the President of the New Rochelle Board of Education. Merchant was the subject of controversy when she was found to have used her position on the school board to retaliate against a community group that opposed the same Forest City Echo Bay Development projected championed by her husband.
Theresa Kump Leghorn previously served as the President of the New Rochelle High School Museum of Arts & Culture, for which she was reportedly paid $30,000 by the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, according to one source. She resigned after she sought a raise and the board responded by cutting her funding.
Thomas Leghorn previously served on the Board of the New Rochelle Public Library but resigned in 2011 amidst controversy over financial mismanagement – later identified as an over-reporting of an existing cash balance of $300,000.