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Baker’s transition pick quits amid financial woes

Richard Taylor (second from left) was transportation secretary under William Weld.
Richard Taylor (second from left) was transportation secretary under William Weld.

Richard L. Taylor, a one-time state transportation secretary and Governor-elect Charlie Baker's choice to play a key role in his transition, abruptly resigned from the post Friday after the Globe confronted him about his extensive unpaid tax and business judgments of more than $1 million.

The Internal Revenue Service and the state Revenue Department have outstanding tax liens against Taylor for $596,262, according to public records examined Friday by the Globe. In addition, there are court judgments against him for $426,389, which Taylor said stem from a failed restaurant franchise. He also lost his home three years ago when Bank of America foreclosed on his Chestnut Hill residence.

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It is not the first time Taylor has encountered financial troubles. During his two tumultuous years working as the Weld administration's first transportation secretary in the early 1990s, he ran into highly publicized problems involving the misuse of expense funds and unpaid taxes.

Baker, who served with him in that administration, said through aides that Taylor had not revealed the latest problems to him.

In a brief interview Friday afternoon, Taylor said his financial issues are solely linked to his failed Popeyes chicken franchise business, and he said he is paying off the taxes and the business debts.

"It's public knowledge that the franchise business I had several years ago created some significant hardship for me,'' Taylor said. "This is the result only of the business franchise. The obligations are being paid off on an agreed-upon schedule."

Taylor declined to comment when asked if he should have informed Baker and his team of his financial problems. He said he did not expect the scrutiny because he was not taking an official position in the state government.

The series of outstanding tax liens, which are on public file in Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Dukes counties, were filed between March 2011 and September 2012 and would have been readily accessible to the Baker transition team. Of the $596,262, just over $400,000 is owed to the IRS.

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Baker's aides said they and the governor-elect — who had a prime seat for Taylor's earlier troubles — were unaware of Taylor's debts when they appointed him to the transition team Thursday.

"The transition team has no process for vetting the all-volunteer transition advisory committees,'' Baker adviser Jim Conroy said. "Given the short time frame, it was important to get this volunteer group formed and up working as quickly as possible."

He also downplayed the influence of the transition team's role, saying issues such as Taylor's tax debts are not as critical as they would be if the members were state officials.

"In no way are they dictating policy or agenda items,'' Conroy said of the members. "That is not their charge. They are brainstorming entities."

He said anyone who is appointed to a government position will be vetted thoroughly, including state police background checks.

Taylor, a Rhodes Scholar with law and business degrees from Harvard, is one of three cochairs of Baker's so-called "State of the State" working group within the transition team. That panel is responsible for evaluating the status of a range of major state administration issues, from the viability of the Health Connector to the state's highway construction projects and its human resources programs.

Though Taylor's tax liabilities remain unpaid, he has had sufficient funds to make$5,275 in political contributions since federal and state tax officials began issuing liens in 2011 for nonpayment of his taxes.

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Those donations include $350 this year to Baker, whom Taylor helped make inroads into Boston's minority communities. He also gave to Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and state Treasurer Steve Grossman.

Taylor's financial problems are the first postelection embarrassment for Baker. The two served together in the Weld administration when Taylor's earlier problems made headlines and eventually led to his resignation.

Taylor said the business judgments grew out of his now-defunct chicken franchise, National Franchise Corp. The largest court judgment — $327,184 — was granted in October 2013.

In 2010, the attorney general's office found Taylor and his restaurant manager had failed to pay $9,748 in wages to immigrant workers at the franchise. In May of that year, they were ordered to reimburse the workers and also fined $5,000.

Taylor also lost his home to foreclosure in 2011, according to Massachusetts Land Court records. The records show that Taylor and his wife defaulted on a $948,908 mortgage.

In 2013, the bank sold the property on Hammond Street in the prestigious Chestnut Hill section of Newton for $1.1 million to a buyer who resold it this year for $1,590,000.

Since 2008, Taylor has been the director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University's Sawyer Business School. One of the lawsuits against Taylor that resulted in a judgment of $36,675 included an attempt to garnish his wages at Suffolk.

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Taylor's earlier financial problems became public while he served in Weld's cabinet. Within days of his taking the transportation post in 1991, the Globe reported he had only recently filed his 1989 tax returns. At the time, he owed the federal government more than $50,000.

It also came to light that he had lost his driver's license twice in two years — 1989 and 1990 — for failing to pay speeding tickets and that the Registry of Motor Vehicles had frozen his license renewal for a series of unpaid parking tickets.

Separately, reports of his missteps as secretary led to his resignation in October 1992.

A House committee uncovered evidence that he and his transportation colleagues spent excessively on out-of-state travel — $111,052 — in fiscal 1992.


Lisa Tuite of the Globe staff contributed. Walter V. Robinson can be reached at walter.robinson@globe.com. Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.