Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Tax Breaks for Town Officials in Berlin Raise Questions About Christopher Boldt's Lack of Legal Ethics

Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

By: Rich Bergeron

     Benjamin Franklin was right. He simply could not be certain about how time would treat the sacred document at the center of our democracy. Though our constitution should guarantee all of us equal treatment under the law, it often falls short of guaranteeing those rights. Those who control our systems of government and law frequently ignore and refuse to enforce the protections of the constitution if it is in their best interests to do so. 

     The fact is, no document will deter devious schemers from working around it to commit fraud and malfeasance. Dishonest and greedy people will always find ways to give themselves special treatment when they gain power in government. 

     Exercising some influence over government political circles, especially the ones that intersect with the legal realm, is crucial for any ambitious lawyer in our broken justice system. Keeping the powers that be happy in a corrupt state like New Hampshire keeps you employed as a municipal lawyer and gets you recommended to the next town government crew who could use your services to hide their improprieties and enrich themselves unfairly. 

     It's a two-way street, though. The smartest lawyers in these scenarios are the ones with the real power once their methods and practices become widely accepted and depended upon by the towns and cities they work for. Fraud begets more fraud as time drags on, and skirting the rules becomes second nature for the hired gun attorney/fixer. Sooner or later he becomes the kind of person nobody is willing to cross. He's got all the secrets and knows where all the bodies are buried. 

     I'm sure it must be an intoxicating feeling to wield that kind of big political stick. In that kind of environment, an attorney like Christopher Boldt is finding a unique way to flourish. He's flying high amid all the corrupt birds of a feather that flock together in little enclaves like the city of Berlin, New Hampshire. We'll discuss what he and his cohorts in neighboring Gorham are up to in the next installment. 

     In Berlin the story starts with this scathing order from the State of New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (hereinafter BTLA):

city-of-berlin-3-17-2021.pdf (

     To spare you the full reading of that BTLA decision, we're going to break down what it means right here and call it our "Cliff Notes" for the latest installment of this Shakespearian saga. The above order came down after a two-day evidentiary hearing, and it involves heavy allegations leveled against Berlin city officials that the BTLA had serious concerns about. Christopher Boldt's legal wrangling to cover it all up cost the town dearly, in both reputational damage and financial losses due to all the legal defense fees he generated. 

     The NH Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) alleged that "inequity and self-dealing" led to the rigging of the tax abatement process in Berlin. The BTLA agreed. 

     The most egregious abatements in question were granted for three members of the city's Board of Assessors (BOA) and one board member's son. These abatements came in the turbulent year of 2018 when Berlin needed to fill a $10 million hole in the city budget. A complete review and recalculation of assessments to account for changes in market value looked like the only solution to fill the gap, even though such a review had been completed just three years earlier. The BOA blamed their own lack of judgment on the appraisal company's flawed approach and pressure from the city manager to get the review done, which were lame excuses the BTLA was simply not buying. 

     "The board finds, however, these complaints voiced by the BOA members in their public deliberations and at the hearing are not supported by the record presented and do not justify or excuse their later actions with respect to abatement applications filed after the BOA accepted the tax year 2018 assessments."

    The above quote from the Berlin order is pretty damning, but another sentence that follows that line is absolutely crucial to consider and remember as you read this entire series:

     "The customary and standard method to determine the accuracy of an assessment model is through the use of ratio studies, analyses of various statistical metrics including the weighted mean assessment to sale ratio, coefficient of dispersion and price related differentials."

     Nowhere in that quote does it say an assessor can simply invent their own convoluted method of evaluation. There is a genuine science to this process, and it's established and outlined in pretty straightforward language here. No individual, business or government official should be able to bend or break the rules of the accepted property assessment process simply to suit their own personal financial needs. Yet it seems these board members tried to do exactly that when the KRT Appraisals firm treated their properties exactly like other city residents and attempted to tax them as fairly and equitably as possible. 

     It is crucial to remember it is the city government leaders who could not balance the budget that actually put Berlin in this position in the first place. According to the Conway Daily Sun's report on the case: "Approximately 160 property owners filed abatement applications disputing the new valuations including the three members of the board of assessors, Robert Goddard, Kem Rozek, and Mark Eastman. While about two-thirds of the abatement requests were rejected, the board approved the applications for the three board members. Thomas Rozek, the son of Kem Rozek, was also granted an abatement."

     City Manager Jim Wheeler did not fare any better in terms of his own obvious culpability in the whole saga. Sun Reporter Barbara Tetreault captured the moment perfectly when Wheeler blew the whistle on himself and threw the BOA members under the bus with him:

"BTLA member Theresa Walker asked Wheeler if the city was concerned about the appearance of impropriety in having the board members decide on abatement applications for other members.

“I think it’s completely fair to say there is an appearance of impropriety,” he admitted."

     Wheeler should have learned in Political Ethics 101 that the "appearance of impropriety" is what really matters. To execute proper and responsible government policy, even that mere perception of self-dealing creates conflict of interest concerns and whispers of potential underlying corruption. This is why best-case practices call for government officials to avoid all such instances where their behavior could possibly be seen as collusive or self-dealing. 

    The BOA members who applied for abatements insisted laughably that everything was kosher since they recused themselves individually from the decision process regarding their own abatement applications. Those applications were approved for three members and a member's son at three different hearings. Despite the recusals, BOA members remained in the hearing room while fellow board members deliberated and decided on the abatements in question. 

      This story brings to mind the old quote "what's good for the goose is good for the gander." Equal treatment under the law is supposed to be a sacred principal in government. The Berlin order from the BTLA goes to great lengths to explain that state DRA experts determined the granted abatements to BOA members were obviously flawed. The BTLA order eviscerated them for thinking personal recusals from their own abatement decisions would cover their asses:

"As public officials, whether compensated or acting as 'volunteers,' the BOA had important duties and responsibilities to act in the best interest of the City and its residents...The DRA aptly notes a number of objective appraisal and assessing standards that should have guided the BOA members in their responsibilities, had they made themselves aware of them instead of the 'I was taking care of me' approach expressed by one BOA member in defending her own conduct."

     The order does not stop there with the scathing indictment of the piss poor judgment of BOA members in this scenario. It goes on to cite the conclusions of the DRA's Director of Municipal Property Division, James Gerry. "The abatements at issue in this matter show a lack of transparency and accountability, of fairness and equity [sic] that we expect of public officials," Gerry concluded in testimony before the BTLA.  

      So, essentially the BTLA concluded these BOA members should be held accountable for both acting on other board members' abatement applications AND using baseless logic and bogus reasoning to justify their respective abatement requests. The order also mandated 35 additional properties granted abatements by the same BOA be re-evaluated due to questions regarding the entire approval process. These were all parcels where the board did not consult with any appraisal firm to properly analyze the factors that went into the initial appraisal. The order explains it best here: 

"The board finds these abated assessments were not arrived at using fair market value evidence and likely created additional assessing inequities and inconsistencies."

      Finally the order suggested BOA members get supplemental training and educate themselves on the issues presented by their failure to avoid the appearance of impropriety and their unprofessional approach to granting certain abatements. They ultimately resigned their posts instead. 

     Christopher Boldt later delivered the required documentation to prove the city abided by all of the BTLA's mandates. Included in the 89 pages are the demand letters the City Manager Jim Wheeler had to send to each offending BOA member and the son of one member. The granted abatements deemed to be self-dealing all had to be refunded to the city. 

      So where is Jim Wheeler now? He recently announced at an Assessing Standards Board meeting that he is no longer an employee of the City of Berlin. He now works for none other than George "Skip" Sansoucy. So a guy who is fresh off an assessment scandal in the City of Berlin is suddenly working for the guy with a very questionable assessment process. 

      What's worse than the seamless transition Wheeler made from the government to the private sector is how little he learned about conflict of interest standards in this whole process. Consider this passage from the meeting minutes: 

"...he added that the Mayor requested that he remain on the Board. Mr. Gerry will inquire with Attorney Haley whether or not this is acceptable or if another person will need to be appointed. As there is a quorum of the Board not including Mr. Wheeler, it was suggested he abstain from any further votes until an answer has been provided." 

     Considering his most recent history you'd think Wheeler would rather be safe than sorry in his very peculiar career change. And why wouldn't the mayor who suggested he stay on realize the clear conflict of a Sansoucy employee being a formal member of a standards board like that? 

     To add insult to injury, a representative from the New Hampshire Association of Assessing Officials immediately suggested appointing Wheeler to replace another member of a "study commission to review the equalization rate used for property tax abatement." The board chair had to remind everyone that the question of whether or not Wheeler would even be allowed to stay on the board would have to be answered first. 

      It should have been seen as a foregone conclusion that all the red flags of conflict of interest should soundly disqualify Wheeler from wielding positions with both the Sansoucy firm and on the board. It's a pretty basic principal we're talking about. I can't imagine any way that arrangement could ever possibly work without the very real appearance of impropriety. Another old saying comes to mind: "some people never learn."

     The untold story here is what the Hell was Boldt doing while all this assessment manipulation was actually going on? As we've shown in this series before, Boldt's been in hot water in the past for his failure to properly advise government officials when it comes to these kind of boilerplate issues like conflicts of interest and abatement abuse. Did he simply stand by and let this debacle unfold from start to finish, collecting legal fees all the way for defending it? Or did he ever speak up and suggest a more ethical course of action for these officials in Berlin? There are more questions than answers when it comes to Boldt's obvious dereliction of duty as "counsel" to the City of Berlin. 

     It would be too easy in this scenario for Boldt to take advantage of the fact that he was getting paid either way. Win or lose in defense of the city's methodology and practice of government, he would collect his paycheck for services rendered. Why step in and stop the madness if the compounded madness will actually increase your financial bottom line? Why be a whistleblower or disruptor of the mischief if letting that behavior persist instead will be a more lucrative prospect? 

     I mean, honestly, how much do you think Boldt billed the town just for assembling those 89 pages of evidentiary material proving to the BTLA that accountability was rendered in this case? How much did the whole legal defense of the indefensible actions of the BOA cost in compounded legal fees? At the end of the day the taxpayers of Berlin would have been better off hiring a clown to twist balloon animals before the BTLA. They would have received just as much return on investment as they got from Boldt's three-ring legal circus. 

     It seems Boldt has become a master of getting rewarded even when he screws up, so one has to ask the question: does he purposely make these mistakes or is it simply coincidental that he always finds ways to profit off his poor judgment? Maybe it's just the nature of the system and the parameters of the game that is municipal legal wrangling. Either way, Christopher Boldt is laughing all the way to to the bank. 

     The reality is there is nothing funny about what Boldt and crooked town officials that he continues to protect, insulate and defend are doing to the communities they are supposed to be helping. It is a sad state of affairs when bad legal advice becomes a profitable enterprise. Taxpayers across this commonwealth are paying the ultimate price in the long run. Boldt's little empire of influence continues to grow, and his questionable methods of operation continue to gain momentum as the public's ability to stop him once and for all exponentially shrinks.

      There is only one way to turn the tide and fight back against this kind of reckless behavior perpetrated and perpetuated by public officials and paid attorneys. You're looking at it right now. Traditional channels won't work since the system is rigged and corrupted. Only warning the public and exposing these continued transgressions and violations of the public trust will give the offenders any pause. They are vampires who cannot operate in the light. Their successful methods of graft and grift can only be sustained under the cloak of darkness and secrecy. 

     Our next installment will tackle serious corruption issues facing the town of Gorham, New Hampshire. If you have personal experience to share regarding any subject area of our coverage, please feel free to visit our about us page and reach out to share your story. Though I thought this series would be a little bit shorter, I feel the need now to quote a great American patriot named John Paul Jones:

     "We have not yet begun to fight."

Read and Share the entire Christopher Boldt Series:

The Plan B Justice Group: To Be or Not To Be... Corrupt to the Core, The Christopher Boldt Series (Part One)

The Plan B Justice Group: Deep in the Heart of Texas a Scandal is Born, Chris Boldt Plays a Supporting Role (Part Two)

The Plan B Justice Group: Christopher Boldt's Texas-Sized Mistakes Follow Him to New Hampshire (Part Three)

The Plan B Justice Group: Stealing Power: Christopher Boldt Helps Municipalities in New Hampshire Squeeze Utilities For More Tax Dollars (Part Four)

The Plan B Justice Group: Tax Breaks for Town Officials in Berlin Raise Questions About Christopher Boldt's Lack of Legal Ethics (Part Five)

The Plan B Justice Group: Rigging the Rates Against the Deepest Pockets Doesn't Stop at Utilities for the Boldt and Sansoucy Gravy Train (Part Six)

The Plan B Justice Group: Gorham's Businesses Struggle Under Financial Pressure from Town's Deliberate Property Tax Gouging Scheme (Part Seven)

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