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AG’s office files complaint against Steubenville man

STEUBENVILLE — The Ohio Attorney General’s office has filed a complaint alleging a Steubenville man conspired with his wife to hide his assets to avoid paying millions of dollars in judgments and civil penalties that had been levied against him for environmental violations at the old Crossridge landfill.

The complaint, filed in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court in May, suggests Joseph G. Scugoza fraudulently transferred cash and property to personal and business accounts in his wife’s name to “hinder, delay or defraud” his creditors, including the state of Ohio.

Specifically, Assistant Ohio Attorney General Amanda Ferguson said Scugoza transferred his interest in a home that he and his wife had purchased in 2007 for $117,500 to his wife, Delores Russell-Scugoza, in March 2017 without receiving any consideration in return. She said the house’s current market value is $127,000.

The suit suggests the transfer was made “with the actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud … the state of Ohio.”

“This transfer, made without receiving fair consideration in exchange for the transfer and with the reasonable belief by defendant Joseph G. Scugoza that he would incur debts beyond his ability to pay as they became due, was fraudulent …” the suit stated, referring to Delores Russell-Scugoza as an insider and stating her husband “remains in possession or control of the Steubenville property, which demonstrates an intent to defraud (the state..”

Then, in June 2014, the complaint alleges Scugoza sold properties at 1417-1419 Adams St., Steubenville, and 1420 Grand St., Hoboken, N.J. — properties his father owned before his death– to another New Jersey entity for $4 million.

Three months earlier, however, a bank account linked to Phoenix Leasing received incoming wire transfer for slightly less than $943,247, with the notation “1417-1419 Adams St. and 1420 Grand St., Hoboken.” On June 13, 2014 — the day the sale was recorded — Phoenix Leasing received a second incoming transfer, this one for $1,096,005, with a note referencing the money as “sale proceeds.”

Delores Russell-Scugoza is the owner and sole member of Phoenix Leasing.

In October 2019, the complaint states Scugoza “testified that he did not receive any net proceeds from the sale of the Hoboken property. He stated, ‘After the sale, there was-there was no money left,’ and indicated that all of the proceeds went toward the payment of outstanding loans.”

It again alleges Scugoza was trying to shield his assets from the state, which is owed nearly $20 million for violating a 2003 consent decree spelling out ground watering and explosive gas monitoring and a closure plan for the former Crossridge Landfill, plus a $4 million civil penalty awarded in 2014 for violations of Ohio’s construction and demolition debris and solid waste laws and $700,000 for violations of Ohio’s water pollution control laws.

The attorney general contends the transfers constitute “a pattern of behavior” by Scugoza “to conceal his true assets by transferring them to or titling them in the name of his wife.

The state wants those transfers of property and assets set aside, and Scugoza, his wife and Phoenix Leasing enjoined from “any further sale, transfer or conveyance of any real property or funds owned in whole or in part” by them, without permission from the court.

Scugoza’s attorney, Steven A. Stickles, did not respond to a request for comment, but in his response to the complaint noted the defendants “(deny) each and every allegation.” He asked for the suit to be dismissed, and said his client also wants his property at 335 Bryden Road, Steubenville, exempted from attachment. Delores Russell-Scugoza, represented by Dinsmore & Shohl, asked the court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice.

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