WHEATFIELD – There’s no law against giving a tax break to a convicted felon, the attorney for the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency said Wednesday as the agency’s board accepted an application for assistance for a project in a building owned by former Newfane dentist Scott D. Geise.
In 2010, Geise was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and ordered to make $127,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to insurance fraud and tax evasion charges to settle a 57-count indictment.
The IDA will hold a public hearing March 5 in Lockport on Geise’s request for a five-year, 100 percent tax exemption on the value to be added to Old City Hall, which he owns, when a new winery sets up shop there in May.
Flight of Five Winery, to be operated by Jacqueline R. Connelly, formerly of Niagara Landing Wine Cellars in Cambria, is leasing space in the building on Pine Street overlooking the Erie Canal locks. Last week, the Lockport Common Council voted to grant the winery $50,000 in unspent revenue from its bed tax on hotel and motel bills.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano and City Planning and Development Director R. Charles Bell emphasized then that the money was going to Connelly, not to Geise.
Geise is seeking a complete tax exemption on the added value of his building under terms of the IDA’s Opportunity Zone program, which seeks to attract new businesses to depressed downtown areas in the county’s three cities.
The IDA staff estimated that the deal, which would include a sales tax exemption on furnishings and materials used to renovate the building, would save Geise $79,000.
The application envisions future renovation to parts of the building not used by the winery.
“There is no prohibition in the statute regarding a person with a criminal record,” IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele told reporters after Wednesday’s IDA meeting. He said the agency’s policies are silent on the question.
“We’ve never touched on it,” he said. “Like anything else, the board looked at everything in totality … Is it a situation where the board would look at the history of the person? Yes, and then make an informed decision.”
IDA board member Stephen F. Brady, a National Grid executive, said he is not concerned about Geise’s background. “None of that’s relevant. He paid his penalty. He can do business in this county,” Brady said.
Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker, who has been acting IDA chairman since last month’s resignation of Henry M. Sloma, abstained from voting but made clear his support for the project, telling the board of the city’s financial support for the winery. “I have been concerned with the deteriorating condition of the building,” he said.
Geise told the IDA board that the winery would give visitors “an opportunity to do more than watch the locks open and close.”
The IDA board set a March 5 hearing in Lockport on a 100 percent tax exemption sought by Hydraulic Race Co., operators of the Lockport Cave underground boat ride, for its new ticket office and visitor center on Gooding Street.
Co-owner Clarence “Clancy” Burkwit said the company, in business since 1996, has been based in Old City Hall but outgrew the space.