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City Keeps Sending Bogus $106K Tax Bill to Man Over Ancient Burial Plot

By Katie Honan | November 2, 2016 1:38pm
 The Leverich family burial ground in Jackson Heights during a recent 'Day of the Dead' event.
The Leverich family burial ground in Jackson Heights during a recent 'Day of the Dead' event.
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Rodrigo Salizar

JACKSON HEIGHTS — A man says he's been sent a bill for more than $106,000 on his family's historic burial site after a bureaucratic mix-up that even the Department of Finance says they can't figure out.

Tom Leverich, 67, who lives in New Jersey, says he's been fighting the city for years to get his name off property tax bills for the 7,754-square-foot plot of land near 72nd Street and 35th Avenue that was a cemetery for his ancestors in the 1700s.

He's been hit with a $106,608.53 bill for unpaid property taxes twice a year for the past decade, although the last deed dating back to 1955 lists the owner as Leverich Building Corp, and that entity has been inactive for years, according to the DOF and records.

Leverich believes the bills started arriving after a historical group used his name as a reference to show the burial ground's significance, and his name was probably later attached to the property file, he said.

"The city just arbitrarily assigned my name to the case file, and I've been getting correspondence roughly twice a year ever since," the retired USDA employee said.

He's written numerous letters to the city for years to clear the issue up and they've never responded, he said. 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said they're not sure why Leverich keeps getting property tax bills, adding that they'd removed the property off yearly tax lien sales lists. They said they will also dismiss the property tax bill.

"We do not know the status of the last owners on record, but will remove Tom Leverich’s name from the property files connected to the burial ground," DOF spokeswoman Sonia Alleyne said in an email.

Leverich feared the massive bill could jeopardize the community's efforts to turn the lot into a park, which is much-needed in Jackson Heights.

As his family's genealogist, he's spent more than 40 years researching the lineage of the Rev. William Leverich, who came to the United States from England in the 1600s. He says there are thousands of Leverich ancestors around the country, who can all be traced back to this Jackson Heights pastor. 

Although Leverich has no financial or legal ties to the lot, he's given his blessing to the efforts from Hibridos Collective, who host cleanups and events at the space. 

The group said they hope everything can get resolved so they can continue to turn it into a greenspace for the public.

"In many ways the community has already stepped up and started taking care of that space," Beatriz Gil, from the Hibridos Collective, said.

"We need the support from the city to make that for the long term. Right now we see a need."