City probes Henson over back taxes Former Pratt aide and his ex-wife may owe $56,000

Lawsuit was filed in 1989

He says he thought Mosher St. rowhouse was sold 19 years ago

April 13, 1996|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

A day after Julius Henson resigned as Baltimore's real estate officer, city lawyers are seeking to verify that he and his former wife owe $56,000 in unpaid taxes and other liens on an abandoned inner-city property.

The city Law Department has reopened a long-dormant investigation into the back taxes on 702 Mosher St., a vacant, dilapidated rowhouse in West Baltimore.

Property records list Mr. Henson and Brenda A. Henson, his former wife, as the owners of the Mosher Street house.

Tax records show that they owe $8,800 for unpaid taxes dating to 1985 and bills for water and boarding up the house. The other $47,200 consists of compounded interest at 24 percent a year, penalties and the cost of putting the property up for sale at the city's annual tax auction.

City lawyers filed suit against Mr. Henson in 1989 in an attempt to collect what was then $11,800 in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties on the property. But Mr. Henson never was brought to court because the bills and court summonses were sent to an apartment building where he apparently no longer lived.

"It came to the department's attention several days ago that the former real estate officer may unfortunately also be the person who jointly owes back real estate, water and [other] obligations for the property known as 702 Mosher St.," Michael Raimondi, the city's senior solicitor, said yesterday.

"Accordingly, the collection division of the Law Department has taken steps to pursue this matter and will continue to do so until the financial debt is paid."

Mr. Henson acknowledged in a telephone interview yesterday that he and his former wife bought the rowhouse in 1975 but said he thought it was sold a year later with several other rental homes the couple had purchased.

In the past few days, he said, he has learned about the lien and the fact that his name was still on the deed.

"I haven't heard about that house for 19 years," he said. "I haven't had an opportunity to look at it. My time and attention has been with the present situation. Whatever the disposition is, I'll look at it next week."

Thursday, Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt was informed of the unpaid bill by a reporter for The Sun, which had

been researching the property for several days. She expressed shock at the amount of the lien and said she had not been aware of it.

An hour later, Mr. Henson announced that he was resigning, after less than a month in the $79,400-a-year post, at the request of Ms. Pratt. She had appointed Mr. Henson, her campaign manager, close friend and business partner, to the real estate job a month before.

The tax lien is the latest of several questions about Mr. Henson that have emerged since he was appointed.

This week, The Sun reported that Mr. Henson had run into trouble on a city contract and had been sued numerous times in the past decade for failing to fulfill business deals and for doing poor work while running small contractors.

Thursday, two official accounts of his professional background were released showing significant discrepancies in his listed work experience.

Yesterday, Ms. Pratt said she had asked Mr. Henson to resign because the three-week controversy over her close relationship with him was "distracting." She said she wanted to "move forward" with her job.

During a news conference at City Hall that she cut short after less than five minutes, Ms. Pratt deflected questions about Mr. Henson and the criticisms he leveled at the Schmoke administration when he quit his job.

The first-term comptroller stopped short of saying that she made a mistake in hiring Mr. Henson, without interviewing anyone else, to a job overseeing the city's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio.

She promised to conduct a search for a replacement and said she would consider applications from any candidates who think they are qualified.

"I asked for Mr. Henson's resignation because it was important to me that I spend the maximum amount of time doing the business of the comptroller's office," Ms. Pratt said.

"I do not want to spend 10 minutes on dealing with issues that distract me from serving the citizens of Baltimore."

In announcing his resignation Thursday night, Mr. Henson took some swipes at the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

He said the mayor and his aides had accomplished little in more than eight years in office and that administration officials had conspired with reporters to discredit him because they were afraid of what he might uncover and because they didn't want competent people around who might disagree with them.

Ms. Pratt declined yesterday to say whether she agreed with Mr. Henson's views, but she denied that the mayor had forced her to ask for the real estate officer's resignation.

"I made the decision," she said.

Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke brushed aside Mr. Henson's criticisms.

"I don't think it's appropriate for Mr. Henson to try to blame his current problems on anybody but himself," he said. "I certainly have not undermined the comptroller. I've always made a distinction between Ms. Pratt and Mr. Henson."

City officials said yesterday that because Mr. Henson had been on the job such a short time, he would not be eligible for money in lieu of accumulated leave time or other payments.

"We don't have a severance package," Personnel Director Jesse Hoskins said.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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