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Liens, default judgments and the IRS: Warwick mayor's decades-long struggle with debt

Hummel Report finds that Frank Picozzi is now the subject of an ethics complaint by a resident who alleges he failed to properly disclose what he owes.

WARWICK — Three months before Frank Picozzi launched his 2020 campaign to become mayor, the Internal Revenue Service put a lien on his house in Conimicut for four years of missed federal tax payments, totaling more than $33,000, according to city records. 

It was the latest in a series of financial problems for Picozzi and his wife Kimberly that include lawsuits and default judgments dating back decades. They added up to tens of thousands of dollars that the Picozzis owed to creditors, including The Home Depot. Add in the IRS judgment and the total at one point was more than $100,000, according to city and court records. 


The mayor, in a telephone interview with The Hummel Report on Wednesday, acknowledged the federal tax lien and credit-card debt, saying he was a bad businessman. 


“I was buying materials for jobs with credit cards. I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Picozzi, a self-employed home improvement contractor before upsetting incumbent Mayor Joseph Solomon in a November 2020 landslide.

He billed himself on the campaign trail as a political outsider who was best known for a mammoth Christmas light display at his house that he had put on for years. Right after his victory, he wrote on his Facebook page: “My administration will have absolute transparency and be completely void of political games.”

Now Picozzi, who was sworn in last year as mayor of a city that has a $330-million budget, is the subject of a complaint filed by a Warwick resident with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The allegation: that the mayor did not properly list his debts on his financial disclosure form for 2020. The staff is reviewing the complaint to determine whether it will ask the full commission to authorize an investigation. 

The mayor, whose salary is $100,000, said he is on an installment plan to pay off the $33,000 he owes the IRS, but would not disclose details. 


“I pay them every month. I’m not going to get into that. It’s a substantial amount of money,” he said, adding that he’s operating under a signed agreement and that his wages are not being garnished. 


Picozzi said he wasn’t sure how much debt he and his wife had accumulated, but didn’t think it was as high as $100,000. Court documents obtained by The Hummel Report indicate he has had seven court judgments against him totaling more than $26,000. His wife Kimberly has had 11 judgments totaling more than $54,000 for credit-card debt forwarded to collection agencies. 


Picozzi said he had reached settlements on some of them, but would not offer any specifics. The Picozzis often represented themselves pro se for their legal proceedings and did not show up for court hearings on multiple occasions. 


Why was an ethics complaint filed against the Warwick mayor?

Like all public officials, Picozzi is required to disclose any person or business that he, his spouse or dependent child owe more than $1,000 – excluding a mortgage or active credit-card account. 


On the report for the year 2020, which he filed on April 21, 2021, the mayor listed four entities: Ford Motor Credit in Michigan, TD Auto Finance in South Carolina, the IRS in Kentucky and Prosper Loans in California. It offered no details. 


City records show that two years ago the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien with the city on the property the Picozzis own on Grist Mill Road.  


It includes taxes for $7,947.18 in 2015; $10.763.85 for 2016; $8,113.71 for 2017 and $6,395.53 in 2018. 

The IRS said on the lien: “We are giving notice that taxes (including interest and penalties) have been assessed against [the Picozzis]. We have made a demand for payment of this liability, but it remains unpaid.” 


“He may be a very nice man, and I’ve said that a hundred times. I voted for him,” said Robert Cote, the Warwick resident who filed the ethics complaint against the mayor earlier this week. “I had hopes for the guy because he seemed to be a decent man. But ... he’s not a businessman, he’s not a finance expert.” 

Cote’s ethics complaint includes 17 pages of documents from District and Superior Courts detailing some of Picozzi’s judgments.  He began digging into Picozzi’s financial background after what Cote says were several unsound financial decisions the mayor made for the city. He questioned Picozzi’s awarding police and public works employees a 10.6% pay increase over three years during COVID. 


Another example: signing a lease for a building to gather municipal offices scattered in largely rent-free space across the city under one roof, at a cost of $500,000 annually. But the contract, Cote said, had no commodities escalation clause.


When contractors began readying the century-old building, they found it would cost an extra $800,000 to renovate. 


Picozzi insisted during our interview that he had disclosed his debt during the campaign. 


“I acknowledged all of that,” the mayor said. “I disclosed it when I ran. I said I have had tremendous debt. I defaulted on things. I got behind to the IRS. I wasn’t able to make a living. ... I went through savings, I  lived on credit cards, I tried to work. The work I did do I didn’t make a lot of money.” 


Cote said he did not hear that level of detail during the campaign and was stunned when he began to add up the default judgments. 


Asked when he disclosed the enormity of the debt, Picozzi cited a WPRI-TV debate between him and Solomon. 

Video of the program, posted on WPRI’s website,  shows that it didn’t come up until the very end, when each candidate gave a one-minute closing statement. 


"My greatest qualification is I'm not a politician,” Picozzi told moderator Tim White. “I owe no one, when I get elected, I have no debts, no political debts whatsoever. I still have personal debts ... and I'm going to hire the best people and put them in positions..." 


White cut him off because of time constraints. 


Solomon responded: “I feel badly for Mr. Picozzi and his personal debts, especially the one recently put on for back taxes here in March, when COVID began he got a lien for back taxes. But if you can't take care of your own personal finances, I ask: How can you take care of a $300-million budget city?" Solomon died six months after the election.


Picozzi says his financial problems began during the Great Recession

Picozzi, in our interview,  said his challenges began during the recession 14 years ago. 

“In 2008 when the Great Recession hit, materials went up, the price of fuel went up. I was working in Cumberland; you almost had to give jobs away to get them,” he said. “There was a lot of competition for work.” 


He pointed to the recession in a Facebook post at the outset of his campaign: “I went through my savings and used credit to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I ended up defaulting and some creditors got judgments against me. I also fell behind with my taxes to the IRS which is like owing a loan shark. But I didn’t opt for bankruptcy I kept working hard and things very slowly got better."  


The post offered no specifics.  


But the credit-card defaults piled up from 2014 to 2020, after the economy had rebounded. Records also show the Picozzis had financial issues long before the recession.  


Picozzi’s troubles started in the late 1980s with federal tax liens totaling more than $6,000 against property he and his wife owned at the time on Sayles Avenue. The liens were later discharged from the property, in two separate actions by the IRS over the next decade, according to city records. Records also shows he and his wife bought the Grist Mill Road property in September 2002 for $160,000. It is now assessed at $197,100. 


There was a flurry of activity involving the Picozzis in District, Superior and small claims Court beginning in 2014 as the credit-card debt mounted. 


The largest claim against the future mayor was for $10,950.92 by Portfolio Recovery Associates on behalf of The Home Depot on Feb. 12, 2015. Court documents say the judgment is “unsatisfied.” Seven claims against Frank Picozzi total more than $26,000. 


The largest claim against Kimberly Picozzi is by a company called CACH LLC, on Jan. 17, 2017, for $13,192.69. Eleven claims against her total more than $54,000. 


Add in the IRS lien of $33,200 and the total at one point was more than $113,000. 


“This is why people don ‘t want to run for office,” Picozzi said. “I’m not a politician. I didn’t want to come here to be mayor. I came here because the city needed someone. In the time I was in debt like that, I’m not a criminal. I was coaching kids in Little League, I was running charity things. It’s just I wasn’t very successful [in business].” 


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