Florida officials are formally examining whether Ann LePage, wife of Republican gubernatorial nominee Paul LePage, has violated property tax statutes there.

Morgan Gilreath, property appraiser for Volusia County, Fla., said he began looking into the matter after being tipped off by a newspaper story.

“We’ve got a file going on the situation now,” he said earlier this week in an interview. “We have opened an investigative file on that property for the homestead exemption for the year of 2009 and we are actively following through with that.”

Ann LePage, who owns property in Ormond Beach, Fla., and in Waterville, applied for and received homestead exemptions — reducing the amount of property taxes owed — on both properties in 2009, claiming each was her permanent residence, according to public records. This violates tax statutes in both Maine and Florida. The tax savings in 2009 on both properties totaled about $1,700.

The issue was first reported in MaineToday Media publications, including the Portland Press Herald, last week.

Paul LePage said last week that the house in Florida was purchased to help his wife care for her ailing mother.

Ann LePage also purchased a property in Flagler County, just north of Volusia, on July 17 of this year, according to property tax records.

She paid $4,600 for a 1987 mobile home on a lot at 2283 Blueberry St., in Bunnell, Fla. She did not seek a homestead exemption on that property, but on the deed she listed her post office address as 558 Woodgrove St., Ormond Beach, Fla.

According to Maine records, she was issued a Maine driver’s license on July 29 of this year.

Paul LePage, mayor of Waterville, lives in the Maine residence. His campaign admitted a “paperwork error” had occurred and said his wife would correct it.

On Monday, Paul LePage told the Bangor Daily News that the couple had already notified tax assessors in both Waterville and Florida.

But Gilreath and other Volusia County tax officials said Friday they had not received any communications from the LePages.

Paul Castonguay, the Waterville tax assessor, said Ann LePage called him this week on the matter. He said he had already been preparing a supplemental tax bill to send to her.

“The total for 2009 was $227.93 and the extra for 2010 was $191,” he said. “I did it on my own when I read the stuff in the paper. But Mrs. LePage contacted me, I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday. I told her I already had done it.”

Gilreath told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Ann LePage signed the Florida application for a $50,000 homestead exemption on Jan. 20, 2009.

The document states that any person giving false information for the purpose of claiming a homestead exemption is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, according to Gilreath. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, punishment could include a year in prison or a $5,000 fine, or both.

If she is deemed in violation, Florida tax officials will send Ann LePage a letter giving her 30 days to justify the exemption, Gilreath said.

Violators are required to pay back taxes plus 15 percent annual interest on the outstanding amounts, plus an additional 50 percent of the total of the outstanding balance and accrued interest as a penalty, according to Gilreath. He told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that criminal prosecution is rare.

The LePage campaign declined to comment Friday.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com