Man with political ties charged with back taxes

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The president of a Downtown financial firm, who has ties to Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, has been scheduled for a June 11 municipal court trial for six years of back taxes and failing to respond to a summons for more than a year.

Yesterday Thomas J. Santone, of Mt. Lebanon, said he did not think the city of Pittsburgh was correct in alleging that his firm, Prime Solutions Capital, owed around $18,000 in business privilege taxes, penalties and interest.

"I just have a respectful disagreement with the amount of taxes due," he said. "If I'm proven wrong, I'll pay it."

He said the matter got to this point -- the issuance of a warrant, a Wednesday visit by a sheriff's deputy to his home, and the scheduling yesterday of the hearing -- because his office couldn't find anyone to listen to his argument. Now, a district judge will sort it out.

Mr. Santone's firm, based at 225 Ross St., does investment banking work both locally and as far afield as Mexico and the Middle East, he said. He works with Edward J. Grattan, a political mover who helped Mr. Onorato's campaign in 2003 and Mr. Ravenstahl's in 2007, according to campaign finance records on file with the county Elections Division.

In 2005, Mr. Santone was appointed by Mr. Onorato to chair a committee charged with identifying problems with the county's John J. Kane Regional Centers. That panel has finished its work.

During the first half of last year, another firm for which Mr. Santone serves as president provided Mr. Ravenstahl's political committee with a $7,000 break on rent and utilities costs at 225 Ross, a building it owns that is best known as base camp for many political campaigns. The mayor's campaign later paid $5,000 for utilities expenses there, according to campaign finance reports.

In March 2007, the municipal court's housing district sent 11 summonses to Mr. Santone's home, alleging unpaid business privilege taxes from 2000 through 2005, and unpaid emergency municipal services taxes from 2005. Someone illegibly signed certified mail receipt cards on March 31, 2007, but Mr. Santone said it wasn't him.

The business privilege tax is levied against the gross receipts of businesses in the city and has been steadily reduced from $6 for every $1,000 in income before 2005 to $1 per $1,000 now. The EMS tax, now called the local services tax, is a $52 charge on every employee who works within the city.

Mr. Santone said he eventually became aware of the taxes, and his office manager tried to find someone who might discuss them, but couldn't.

The court issued a bench warrant April 11, and this week deputies showed up.

"[Thursday] morning I obviously ran down there," to the municipal courts, he said, "and said, 'I'm really sorry.'"

The city was unable yesterday to provide a breakdown of the taxes, interest and penalties alleged. Mr. Santone said more than half of the alleged debt consists of penalties and interest.

"If they tell me, 'No, you owe it,' and tell me the penalty and interest, I'll tell them, 'OK, here's the payment,' " he said.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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