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Santorum's Residency is Still an Issue

He has two homes in two states, has claimed residency in both this year—and his newest home in Virginia has a purchase price of $0 listed, opening the door to more questions.

At the Iowa Straw Poll in August, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum handed out samples of what he dubbed “Pennsylvania Presidential Peach Preserves.”

According to a story in the Des Moines (IA) Register, he told a crowd at the Perry Public Library that he, his wife Karen and their children had harvested 600 early peaches from their fruit trees back home, peeled them and made them into 40 jars of peach preserves to take with them to the Straw Poll.

It’s unlikely the peaches came from the $106,000 Penn Hills, PA, home Santorum still—sometimes—claims as his residence. Other than in the supermarkets of the post-World War II suburb that borders Pittsburgh, the only place to find the product of 600 peaches in Penn Hills might be in the juice flavoring used by Turner Dairy Farms to manufacture its peach ice tea.

More likely they came from the yard or nearby the $1.26 million house where his family actually lives in Great Falls, VA.

The question of residency continues to haunt the former U.S. senator . He talked about Pennsylvania peaches in Iowa in August as though he lived in the Keystone State, yet in a Dec. 14 Charlotte Observer story, Santorum said he is a Virginia resident.

The reason the residency scrutiny continues is that, during his first bid for the 18th District U.S. Congressional seat in 1990, Santorum attacked then-Congressman Doug Walgren, a Democrat, for living in McLean, VA, instead of western Pennsylvania for most of the year. Yet Santorum did the same thing when he served in the U.S. Senate.

Pennsylvania or Virginia?

According to the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment website,  Santorum and his wife, Karen, own a house at 111 Stephens Lane in Penn Hills, purchased for $87,800 on Nov. 24, 1997. The 1.5-story white house is off a pothole-ridden, narrow lane and has a gravel driveway leading up to it.

The 18,447-square-foot lot where the house sits is maintained but hardly manicured. The seven-room house has 2,071 square feet of livable space, including three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, which would mean close quarters for the nine-member Santorum family.

“The neighbors will tell you they never lived there,” said Erin Vecchio, former chairperson of the Penn Hills Democratic Committee, who has challenged Santorum on a number of issues related to his residency. “Whenever it benefits him is when he claims to live here." 

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, Santorum lived in Mt. Lebanon when elected to Congress in 1990. He sold that house in 1995, after he won his bid for the U.S. Senate seat, and bought a house in Herndon, VA.

Then, in 1997, the couple purchased the Penn Hills house. The Santorums sold the Herndon house in 2001 and bought one for $643,361 in Leesburg, VA.

According to Fairfax (VA) County Department of Tax Administration’s website,  the Santorums purchased a house assessed at $1.26 million in Great Falls, VA, on June 26, 2009. But according to the website, they paid $0, though that might be misleading.

The former owner is listed as “James M. Sack TR"—“TR” stands for “trust." Sack, a business tax attorney from McLean, VA, whose website says he “regularly provides tax and business advice related to transactional matters, third party negotiation, restructuring of loans and other business arrangements,” purchased the house on Aug. 31, 2007 for $2 million, $560,000 more than the previous owner had paid four years earlier and more than its current assessment.

What raises questions about the sales transaction is that the four previous sales of the house list "valid and verified sale" in the website notes about the property. However, the transaction between Sack, a Republican campaign contributor, and Santorum says "no consideration" in the note section, according to Fairfax County records. That opens the question as to what circumstances surrounded the sale and whether Santorum actually paid for the house.

Fairfax officials could not be reached for a further explanation because of the holiday weekend.

The two-story Virginia house at 10607 Creamcup Lane sits on a five-acre lot, has 4,899 square feet of livable space, an 800-square-foot swimming pool, four bedrooms and one den/bedroom, four-and-a-half baths and three fireplaces. The house has a bit more space than the Penn Hills one for Santorum’s three daughters and four sons, who range in age from 20 to 3. 

Mail, tax and voting issues

Santorum’s residency issue came to light in 2004 during two incidents where it was apparent that the U.S. senator had not been receiving mail delivered to his Penn Hills address, which has a 15147 ZIP code.

In November 2004, the Penn Hills Progress reported that Santorum had failed to appear for jury duty at Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that July. He said at the time that he never received the notice sent to his Penn Hills home to serve as juror.

The senator had the same complaint that April when former Progress reporter Vera Miller called his Washington, D.C., office asking why he had not paid his delinquent 2002 municipal property taxes of $275. A Santorum family member paid off the delinquent tax bill a few days after the reporter's call.

Penn Hills School District filed a delinquent tax claim in the county courthouse in March 2001 for $222, but Santorum did not pay the bill until March 2002.

In 2010, Santorum was again delinquent in paying his Allegheny County property taxes on the Stephens Lane home, which totaled $487.20 and were due April 30, 2010. He paid the outstanding tax, $24.86 penalty and $14.91 interest on Aug. 4, 2010. This year, his taxes were paid on time.

Another tax-related issue came to light in 2006 over whether Santorum was still claiming a homestead exemption on the Stephens Lane property that provided him with a county property tax discount through a reduction of assessed property values for primary residences. County officials determined Santorum didn’t occupy the house enough days during the year to qualify.

While Santorum claimed to live in the Stephens Lane house and listed it as his address for voting purposes, two relatives of his wife were also registered voters at the same address between 2000 and 2004, raising more questions about whether the Santorums actually lived there.

Cyber charter school residency issues

Santorum is running an ad in Iowa with a pop-up that says his children were homeschooled.

“They didn’t homeschool their kids,” Vecchio said. “They were cyberschooled. There’s a difference.”

Vecchio should know. The former Penn Hills School Board member was the person who brought to light that five Santorum children attended online classes through Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (now PA Cyber Charter School) between 2001-05 at the expense of Penn Hills taxpayers, despite the fact their main residence was in Leesburg, VA.

Virginia had no cyber schools, Vecchio said. Pennsylvania law requires local school districts to pay the tuition of charter school students who live in the district. 

In 2004, Penn Hills School District records showed local taxpayers had paid more than $100,000 for Santorum's children to attend the cyber charter school. After the controversy started, Santorum said he would pull the children from the school, but the charter school officials offered to allow Santorum to enroll the children without the tuition provided he pick up the technology costs.

The school board challenged Santorum’s residency but state hearing officer Barry Kramer, who was appointed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, ruled the district had waited too long to make the challenge. The board appealed and, in the end, the school board accepted the state Department of Education's offer of $55,000 to resolve the dispute over the cyber charter bills.

Hometown boy?

Despite living in Virginia since 1995, Santorum failed to submit the 10,000 signatures needed to qualify for the Virginia primary election on March 6, according to the Washington Post.

But what kind of support does he have in Penn Hills?

Jane Wills, Penn Hills Republican Committee chairperson, is “thrilled to death” that Santorum has his hat in the presidential ring. Many Penn Hills Republicans who worked with Santorum on his first campaign are still involved in supporting him today.

She said Santorum delves into issues; has a keen, sharp mind; and has a “wonderful” family.

“This man is definitely presidential material,” Wills said. “He is really a very exceptional person in general. The country would be blessed to have him as president.”

On the other hand, Democrat Vecchio takes Santorum to task for “judging everyone,” pointing to his inflammatory statements about gays and other issues.

“What kills me is he’s supposed to be such a righteous man, a Christian,” Vecchio said. “He’s a hypocrite.”

Wills calls all the controversy over his residency, taxes and cyber school issues “a political football.” She said Santorum has been absolved in all the issues, yet they remain in the background of his campaign.

“It was very sad to see,” Wills said. “I hope that doesn’t get held against him.”

Mike Jones (Editor) January 05, 2012 at 02:32 PM
I think the answer lies within the lack of a homestead exemption that is afforded to Allegheny County property owners who actually live in their homes. Who wouldn't take a $15,000 decrease in their assessment?
Sara-Summer Oliphant January 05, 2012 at 03:30 PM
He continues to mislead the public and tries to get by on technicalities. I find it all very troublesome.
ED January 05, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Talk about beating a dead horse. However, I must admit that anyone who would own any house in Penn Hills does show a lack of good judgement. At least Santorum has enough commom sense not to occupy it.
Mike Jones (Editor) January 05, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I'm sure this will just be one of many equines beaten into the hardscrabble earth over the next year.
Zandy Dudiak January 05, 2012 at 06:48 PM
ED, I really don't think that's a fair assessment of Penn Hills. As a Penn Hills native, I don't agree with you. Penn Hills is still a nice community, though the media has painted it with a less-than-fair picture, perhaps because of its racial diversity. Yes, it has some problems but there are few places that don't anymore. Its crime index is "average." http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Penn-Hills-Pennsylvania.html There are beautiful homes in Penn Hills, active churches and still a number of students who get a good education there. And Business Week has ranked Penn Hills in the top 25 best performing housing markets in the country. http://images.businessweek.com/slideshows/20111021/america-s-best-and-worst-performing-housing-markets/slides/7 Why do you think owning a house in Penn Hills shows a lack of good judgment?
EC January 05, 2012 at 08:09 PM
The law of the universe, what comes around goes around. In this case when one reviews the epilog of how a democratic incumbent congressman was scrutinized for not maintaining a residence in Pa. Mr. Santorum has legally maintained a property which is to be based as a residence, however, as noted the property is seldom if ever resided in but referenced legally as a property that granted the children access to the cyber school program while living in Virginia. The loop holes that were available to jump through were just that loop holes to jump through and giving the general public the image of residence to a family in absentee. Is this a question of character or moral integrity? The public should be given an answer and should the former Senator be given the question there is no doubt and answer would be given with detail as to why and how the resident question becomes a viable gray area in the political arena. Stay tune for the applicable answer to the journey.
ED January 05, 2012 at 11:04 PM
"Why do you think owning a house in Penn Hills shows a lack of good judgment?"...I may be wrong, it has happened once or twice before and if so I apologize. But I assume that as the residents of Wilkinsburg, Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington, Larimer' East Hills, etc. continue to destroy their neighborhoods their progression will continue to be east, as they seek new areas to plunder.
Eric February 09, 2012 at 07:42 PM
The 'Holier than thou' Rickster does seem to have an ethical achilles when it comes to residency. Even more intriguing, where can we all line up to get our free half-million plus VA homes?
Mike Jones (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 09:27 PM
It looks like we have a definitive answer to Rick Santorum's residency question. He filed his Pennsylvania primary petition this week as a resident from Fairfax County, Va.

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