By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — A company owned by a Newfane dentist who served federal prison time following a guilty plea in an insurance and tax fraud case is now in line to receive a tax break agreement through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
Geise Properties, LLC — a firm owned by Dr. Scott D. Geise, a dentist who was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2010 for tax and health insurance fraud — has applied for a five-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement through the agency as part of a $200,000 effort to renovate Lockport's "Old City Hall." Geise is planning to turn the building, located at 2 Pine St. in Lockport, into a venue for tourist-friendly operations, including the Flight of Five Winery and Local Food Market whose owners have already leased space on the upper level of the building.
NCIDA attorney Mark Gabriele said there's nothing in the statute governing agency activities or in any of the agency's own internal policies or procedures that would bar it from considering an application from a firm owned by an individual who has been convicted of a felony.
Gabriele indicated that he would expect board members to take into account all aspects of the project before deciding whether or not to accept the application from Geise's firm, as it would any other project.
"Our board will take a look at everything in totality, including the project and the person submitting the application," Gabriele said.
In July 2010, Geise was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and three years probation in U.S. District Court after admitting to a Judge Richard J. Arcara that he made “poor decisions" by performing dental procedures that he knew were not covered by his clients' insurance companies before billing either Delta Dental, Blue Cross and Blue Shield or Aetna for the procedures under different names. Geise, who owned Newfane Family Dentistry in Newfane, faced a 65-count indictment on charges of theft from an employee benefit plan, false statements relating to health care matters and filing false income tax returns from 2002-05.
He pleaded guilty March 4 on the third day of trial to two counts of filing a false statement in regards to health care matters and filing a false tax return which “resulted in personal income,” prosecutor Timothy C. Lynch said at the time.
As a result of his guilty plea, Geise agreed to pay back $127,804.82 to the IRS and the insurance companies he defrauded.
Geise, who attended Wednesday's NCIDA board meeting to discuss elements of his Old City Hall project, said following the session that he is attempting to move on from the fraud case and focus on his new endeavor which he believes will ultimately prove beneficial to the Lockport community.
"I'm putting it all behind me," Geise said.
Geise is planning to remove an adjacent municipal parking garage as part of the Old City Hall renovation project. He said he is also planning to maintain the late 1800s feel of the building, adding that the owners of Flight of Five Winery intend to use their space in the building to promote local wines, produce and artisans. Long-term, Geise said, he's hoping to bring in more tenants tied to the promotion of Lockport's history and its ties to the Erie Canal.
"We're trying to promote different products from the area and to take time giving people that are there at the bridge itself more to do than just watching the locks open and close," Geise said.
Geise's firm is seeking a 5-year Opportunity Zone PILOT through the NCIDA. The deal would allow Geise Properties to enjoy property and sales tax exemptions on construction and furnishing costs during the life of the agreement. The agency's Opportunity Zone program offers tax incentives to commercial, retail and tourism-related projects located in Niagara County's three cities.
The company's application indicates that the project will result in the creation of 20 full-time jobs, offering a payroll of $350,000 by the end of the third year of its proposed agreement with the IDA. It estimates Geise's company will receive a total of $70,000 in property tax exemptions for the building's existing assessment and improvements during the proposed five-year deal as well as $9,000 in sales tax exemptions. The application estimates that the project will result in a $1.14 million benefit to the community, including $14,000 in property taxes paid, the payroll for the new jobs, estimated value of "indirect and induced" jobs created and $660,000 in additional "economic activity" tied to the effort.
The board voted to set a public hearing date for the project application for 4 p.m. March 5 at the Lockport municipal building.
Lockport Mayor Mike Tucker, who chaired Wednesday's board meeting, abstained from the vote. He did offer his support for the project as mayor, noting that it represents an opportunity to restore an historic building while adding to the offerings for visitors to Lockport.
"It's a great project for our city," Tucker said. "We're excited about it."