Lawrence may have no way to collect on roughly $2.8 million in back property taxes and fees the city says it is owed by Andover developer Stephen Stapinski.

Nor does seem likely that the decaying fire hazard that was once the Merrimac Paper Co. will be demolished anytime soon as the city has ordered.

But worse is the hefty dose of bad attitude offered by Stapinski as he mocked the city's effort to collect what officials say he owes.

In an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune, Stapinski blasted Mayor William Lantigua and other city officials for plotting "revenge" against him. Then he ridiculed their "usual ineptitude and incompetence" in attempting to collect from him.

There may have been more than a little ineptitude on the part of the city. But Stapinski's own behavior has made him the kind of developer the city would do well to avoid.

According to Lantigua's chief of staff Leonard Degnan, Stapinski has long been the person city officials dealt with on matters pertaining to the Merrimac Paper building.

But once the city began pressuring him to demolish Merrimac Paper and pay the back taxes owed on it, Stapinski denied any ownership of the building. The mill property, it seems, is owned by Julian Edward Realty LLC. Stapinski is listed as a manager of the company, as is his partner, King Weinstein.

City officials say Stapinski worked out a payment plan on the $150,000 in fire watch detail bills accumulated over the years for Merrimac Paper. Why, Degnan asked in August, would Stapinski do that if he were not the owner of the property.

The city had been holding up permits on other Stapinski projects until he paid some of the debt the city claims he owes. The fire detail payment plan got Stapinski a permit to demolish the former Cedar Crest Restaurant to make way for a Burger King.

One thing is certain: Neither Stapinski not Julian Edward Realty owns the Merrimac Paper building now. The property was sold in late September to a company formed by David Padellaro, a former Lawrence police officer who was fired in 1998. The sale price — $1.

That means the tax and fire detail debt is now Padellaro's. Degnan said at the time he fears Padellaro will end up in bankruptcy, which would put an end to the city's tax and fee claims.

Stapinski has also put the Broadway property being leased to Burger King on the market.

Degnan says Stapinski is unloading his assets in the city to shed the tax debt. In response, the city has filed liens on the Broadway property and Stapinski's Andover home.

The convoluted ownership trail shows how difficult it can be for Lawrence to collect on back taxes.

But Stapinski's talk of "revenge" is foolhardy. None of the actions the city has taken would have been necessary had the taxes and fees owed on Merrimac Paper been paid.

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