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Are Donald Sterling and His Sister Committing Property Tax Fraud in Boyle Heights?

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Given his well-documented racism, it's hard to imagine, but Clippers owner Donald Sterling famously grew up in Boyle Heights. (Granted, the neighborhood's ethnic makeup was a little different—more Jewish, less Latino—when the 80-year-old lived there.) While Sterling's own landlording business doesn't extend east of Downtown, his family apparently still owns a little real estate in the old neighborhood and USA Today thinks Sterling may be complicit in helping his sister dupe the county out of thousands of dollars in property taxes on his childhood home and a nearby apartment complex. They allege that the pair never told the county assessor that the property owners on record, Sterling's mother and paternal grandmother, have been dead for decades.

Since 2001, taxes on the childhood home, a two-bedroom duplex, have been paid with money orders. The name on the money orders is Sarah Chasa Tokovitz, Sterling's paternal grandmother who died in 1966 in Chicago. There are no records that show how or if the property was transferred to her by Sterling's mother, Sylvia Tokowitz, who was the legal owner from 1961 on, when she won the house and the apartment building in a divorce from Sterling's father.

Reporting the death of a homeowner triggers a property reassessment, which usually translates into an increase in property taxes. But there were no records to indicate that the process had ever begun on these buildings. If the properties were never transferred to living owners, that means they were never reassessed and the property taxpayers could be paying decades-old rates on the land. Last year, the taxes on the duplex were a mere $603.66; on the apartment building, they were $1,545.11. If those numbers sound low, it's because they're based on pre-1978 figures for the properties' worth. According to USA Today, annual taxes for both properties should be "at least $13,000." A drop in the bucket for Sterling, but significantly more than he's paying now. The properties are worth "roughly $1.1 million," based on current numbers from Zillow, Trulia, and National Association of Realtors.

The property taxes for a seven-unit apartment building across the street have also been paid with money orders since 2001. The name on those money orders is Sylvia Tokovitz, Sterling's mother who's been dead since the 1980s. The address on the money orders for both properties is the same address, and it belongs to Brentwood Towers, which is owned by Sterling. Sterling's sister, Marilyn Pizante, also lives in the building.

While many tenants confirm that Sterling's mother Sylvia was indeed their landlord up until her death in the '80s, they also agree that Sterling's sister took over that role after her death. "She would come in the house unannounced and start looking around. She would say, 'This is my property. I'm the owner,'" said a former apartment manager and tenant at the apartment building. That same apartment manager said that, for many years, she had an arrangement with Pizante about collecting rent at the small complex. The manager says she was told to collect rent only in cash (later, money orders were also accepted) and then to bring it to Pizante personally in Brentwood.

That same former manager was evicted in 2005. In the courtroom with her that day was Marilyn Pizante (birth name Marilyn Irene Tokowitz), but court records reflect that the plaintiff was Marilyn Sora Tokowitz. The tenant facing eviction reported that Pizante had told her on the court day to call her Sora, even though that wasn't her name. According to immigration records, Sterling's mother "Sylvia Goodman Tokowitz had changed her name from Sora Tokowitz" in 1943. A later eviction with another tenant in 2009 showed a plaintiff named Sylvia Tokowitz.

In 2012, a tenant alleges that Donald Sterling stopped by the property to check on some work that had been done by painters who told the tenant that they'd been hired by Sterling. Sterling didn't get out of the car, but he was there long enough to be seen and noticed. Tenants say that was one of the very few times he stopped by the property, though several tenants do recall getting free Clippers tickets on occasion.
· Divorce, death and Donald Sterling's boyhood home [USA Today]
· The Revealing Map of Donald Sterling's 162 LA Properties [Curbed LA]