By claiming half the sale proceeds, plus his realtor fees, Richard was proposing that only $13,500 of the $134,500 sale price was due to his parents — and would be placed into escrow as they appealed the judgment — while he would personally pocket more than $30,000.

The attorney for the claimants trying to stop the sale laid out several other incidents in which Ralph and Beverly Tisei seemed to have transferred assets, and argued that Richard was helping them do the same thing here. No ruling was ever made on the allegation, because Cresta eventually pulled out as buyer, and the case itself was overturned and dismissed on procedural grounds.

A SIMPLE ERROR

Then, in 1995, just one week after Gertner ruled against Ralph and Beverly Tisei in the FTC suit — and before a penalty was determined — Richard and his parents found a new buyer for the house. This sale went through, with Richard taking half the proceeds. Given the timing, and the past allegations, it could be seen as an attempt to remove the assets from the federal government's reach in that case.

Richard Tisei insists there was nothing shady about the sale of the house. The timing, he says, was coincidental to the litigation: the first attempted sale was prompted by Richard's purchase of a single-family house, and the 1995 sale came after having listed the house for some time.

And both Richard and his mother say that a family attorney's error was to blame for the confusion over ownership of the house.

Tisei's parents had added Richard to the deed when they bought the two-family rental property in 1983, because Richard, then 20 and finishing college in Washington, DC, planned to live there — it was in the district where he intended to run for state representative.

A few years later, they put the house in a trust, with Richard given 10 percent interest. But when they went to sell the house to Cresta, they discovered that their attorney had erroneously transferred only the parents' ownership into the trust — as a result, the trust and Richard had technically become 50-50 co-owners of the building. The family had gifted half the house's value to Richard, but purely by accident and without even knowing it.

This account appears to be backed up by some documentation, including Richard's financial disclosure forms, which he showed to me. (They are not available from the state's Ethics Commission, which keeps those forms for only seven years.)

This suggests that there was no conspiracy to shift the assets to Richard to keep them out of potential creditors' hands — but that Richard was well aware that it had that exact effect.

FAMILY AFFAIRS

To report this story, I tracked down a lot of sources, dug through old case files, and combed through public records. As is often the case, many things that looked extremely suspicious at first eventually appeared to have plausible, if unusual, explanations.

And different people could easily pick out their own pieces of the story, and conclude either the worst or the most innocent version of events.

In all this, the Tisei and Tierney stories may have much in common.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Politics, tisei, mass poli
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