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Officials get May deadline for reviewing Centax data

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

School, town and county officials have until the end of May to rummage through records left by a defunct tax collection company to verify it paid them all of the money they are due.

When Central Tax Bureau of Pennsylvania, or Centax, shut down in September, it left about 10,000 boxes of paper records in more than 10 offices and storage facilities across the state, said Paul Cordaro of Downtown-based Campbell & Levine LLC, which is winding down Centax's operations.

Cordaro in December asked the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court for permission to destroy the records so he would not have to pay to store them.

Cordaro agreed after a hearing on Wednesday before Judge Christine Ward that his firm will leave everything where it is until Feb. 8. After that, all records will be moved to one location in Pittsburgh where they can be reviewed until the end of May.

Records include W-5 forms filed for tax credits, direct payment vouchers, documentation of payments received and final returns filed by taxpayers. Some contain sensitive information such as Social Security and bank account numbers.

Files were not kept according to county, town or school district, and Centax's own employee records and internal paperwork are also included, Cordaro said.

“It's going to be like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said. “What I've seen is that all the documents and all the records for all the townships are mixed together in one box.”

Soon after Campbell & Levine filed a motion to destroy the records, 18 parties filed formal objections, and another 20 or so wrote letters to object.

Most said destroying the records would keep them from finding out what Centax may have collected but not forwarded to them, or whose taxes are delinquent.

Green Tree, which initially sued Centax last summer, at one point was owed at least $30,000 in earned income taxes and $150,000 in local services taxes, Manager David Montz said. The borough has since gotten most of what was owed, he said.

Liberty Mutual, one of several companies that bonded against Centax's losses, agreed to pay to store the records in Pittsburgh.

Representatives of Campbell & Levine will be present while others are looking through records. Municipal representatives who copy records will destroy anything else they inadvertently copy.

At the end of May, Campbell & Levine can shred records.

The agreement, which Ward said she would approve once a few final changes were made to the language, does not affect Centax's electronic records.

H.A. Berkheimer of Allentown, Lehigh County, which is assuming most of Centax's work, agreed to make a copy of electronic records available for former clients to search.

Some former clients were concerned that without timely access to the electronic records, they would not know if they would need to travel to a local Centax office or Pittsburgh to get what they need.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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