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Owner of defunct Fort Drum storage company returns to north country

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The former owner of now-defunct Fort Drum Vehicle Storage is back in the north country.

JoAnn Sanchez-Norquist abruptly left the area after her business closed in August, leaving about 170 soldiers not knowing the whereabouts of their vehicles because they had been moved and stored in facilities in Oswego County without their knowledge.

But she was spotted in Watertown City Hall on Thursday, asking about the amount of back taxes she owes on her city properties and giving the assessor’s office her current address.

“I didn’t know that was her,” City Assessor Brian S. Phelps said, noting a City Hall staffer had to point her out to him.

The Watertown Local Development Corp. wanted to know where she was because she still owes the economic development agency money on a $40,000 loan from 2009. She was believed to have been living in Las Vegas, but Watertown Trust officials did not know for sure.

The address she submitted to the city shows she has moved back to her husband John S. Norquist’s home at 27790 Nellis Road, Evans Mills, according to the city’s and Jefferson County’s real property websites.

They formed Fort Drum Vehicle Storage in 2005 mainly to serve deploying soldiers in need of a place to store their vehicles.

Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust, said earlier this week he was aware that she had visited City Hall last week, but did not know the reason. While he did not know that she has returned to the area, local attorney Stephen W. Gebo, who was hired by the trust to go after the company for the unpaid loan, said the information could prove helpful in the trust’s quest for the money.

In November, the Watertown Trust said it was going to hire an Arizona attorney to seek delinquent payments from the storage company by going after the former owner’s parents, who guaranteed the business loan.

“It’s in the works,” Mr. Gebo said.

In 2009, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage borrowed $40,000 from the WLDC and eventually paid back $12,000 before it defaulted on the loan, Trust officials said.

Jenny and Peter O. Sanchez Jr., of Gold Canyon, Ariz., were signers of “unlimited continuing guaranties” on loans totaling $105,000 from the Watertown Trust and two other local economic development agencies.

The company went through tumultuous financial times after losing its West Main Street warehouse, where it stored vehicles, to back taxes. Ms. Sanchez-Norquist also has lost three vacant motels in Jefferson County as a result of back taxes.

When she was in City Hall, Ms. Sanchez-Norquist was told that she owed $4,495.54 in back taxes on four properties that are listed in corporations she owns. They are a vacant lot at 471 Poplar St.; a vacant building at 455 Martin St.; a single-family home at 137 Highland St.; and a vacant lot at 412 Maple Ave.

However, she did not inquire about a 28-unit apartment building she owns at 505 Washington St., city officials said. City Comptroller James E. Mills said that property is in the tax sale certificate process; she owes $60,147.83 in delinquent taxes.

Although the properties are in corporate names, the Watertown Trust can go after them as assets for the money owed to it.

Last summer, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage made headlines when dozens of soldiers came home from deployment and were unable to retrieve their vehicles because they had been moved to Oswego and Lacona without their knowledge.

The state attorney general’s office intervened to help soldiers get their vehicles returned.

The attorney general’s office also started proceedings against the company for violating the state’s general business and labor laws and filed a cease-and-desist notice with the owners to stop them from collecting money from Fort Drum soldiers who had stored vehicles with the company.

The business is still under investigation by the attorney general’s office. On Wednesday, spokeswoman Casey M. Aguglia declined to comment, saying it was “an ongoing investigation.” She also would not say whether the probe was a criminal or civil matter or how long it would take.

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