Debts mount, Bronson Pinchot can’t be found
When TV actor Bronson Pinchot began purchasing and restoring homes in the tiny Susquehanna County hamlet of Harford a decade ago, many thought he’d bring a big Hollywood bank account and some attention.
Instead, the man famous for playing Balki Bartokomous for eight seasons on the ABC sitcom “Perfect Strangers” has left a trail of bad debts, property a wrought-iron fence away from being seized by creditors, and late sewer bills for multiple properties.
Multiple cases that popped up in the Susquehanna Court of Common Pleas suggest he’s become a perfect stranger to creditors who have been unable to find him to personally serve him summonses and citations about legal actions to collect those debts. Several of those legal actions have been withdrawn. While the reasons legal actions and collections are withdrawn are rarely explained in court documents, Pinchot said he had taken care of the debts and is working with banks to save the four historic homes he restored. He said he’s not leaving Harford.
Pinchot responded to emailed questions from the newspaper, depicted himself as the victim of gossip in the small hamlet, a visionary who lost his way financially and still in love with the idyllic 19th century town.
“This doesn’t graze the tip of iceberg of what the townspeople may wish to quote from the great mythology created over the back fences of Harford,” Pinchot said, adding that the cancellation of his successful DIY Network show, “The Bronson Pinchot Project,” caught him off guard.
“I have two skills: I can make old houses beautiful and I can make people laugh. The two skills are really one: I make sad people happy and sad structures come to life,” he said. “Other than that, I’m a waste of space. Well, I’m a dedicated son and brother but I have no head for businesses or the sort of diplomacy that might have created a cheerleading squad in a tiny town.”
Those sad structures painstakingly restored are at risk of being confiscated by the bank that lent him nearly $200,000. First National Bank of Pennsylvania, which inherited much of the Pinchot debt in its 2010 acquisition of Community Bank & Trust, tried in vain to serve Pinchot.
“It is believed and therefore averred that Pinchot is concealing his whereabouts,” bank attorney James T. Shoemaker, a Kingston attorney representing the bank, told the Susquehanna County Court on Aug. 11 as it sought alternative means of service to collect $165,629 of principal and costs on three separate loans.
One of the alternative means of service includes publication of a confession of judgment in the newspaper, a sign that the bank plans to seize assets, including real estate, in Pinchot’s name to satisfy the debt. Typically, when borrowers close on an commercial loan, they will sign a confession of judgment agreeing to the measure in the event of a default, said William Hoffmeyer, a Pennsylvania Bar Association real estate law expert based in York.
“The bank has shown the court they’ve done everything they could to find him and now hope that he, or someone who knows him, will see this in the paper and say ‘hey, these people are trying to reach you,’” Hoffmeyer said. “If he doesn’t respond within 20 days with an answer or objection, the bank can seek a judgment, gain access to the property, levy and post all assets, and then sell them.”
The confessions of judgment against Pinchot ran in the legal notices section of the Times-Tribune Aug. 18.
Hinting at some financial strain, Pinchot said he is doing his best to resolve the matter and will not abandon the properties.
“I have been doing everything in my power to work out the problem,” he wrote. “I am not too proud to say that my actual power is not very great at this moment, though my willpower is.”
Pinchot refused to say where he is, or has been, claiming it’s not pertinent. He denied avoiding service of summons, saying his attorneys in Pennsylvania respond to legal matters. But paperwork in cases filed against Pinchot show those attorneys have not been entering appearances on Pinchot’s behalf.
The bank is not the first creditor to find it difficult to locate the celebrity. Harford Twp. turned to its solicitor, Andrew Hailstone of Scranton, to collect unpaid balances on Pinchot’s property in a lien action involving amounts of $389.51 and $740.95 on each of three properties. Susquehanna County Sheriff Lance R. Benedict was also unable to locate Pinchot. In February, he gave up.
“I hereby certify and return that after diligent search and reasonable inquiry, a Bronson Pinchot could not be found in this bailiwick,” he told the court.
The following month the action was withdrawn. Doug Phelps, a township supervisor, said Pinchot paid his past due balances through an attorney.
Phelps said Pinchot is “not around much.”
A Mountain Laurel, New Jersey, debt collection law firm, Apothaker & Associates, sued Pinchot on behalf of American Express April 30, 2010 for $55,790. The firm also was unable to serve Pinchot and withdrew the matter after two years of inactivity on the case in August 2012, at the request of the prothonotary, a common practice to clear inactive cases. A person reached at Apothaker who identified himself as a manager declined to discuss it, but Pinchot said he resolved the issue with American Express “to a mutually satisfactory conclusion” in March of 2013.
A review of civil matters involving Pinchot also shows federal tax liens against him in the amount of $49,285 for a period ending Dec. 31, 2005, and a second for $10,462 for the period ending Dec. 31, 2013, for lack of payment of income taxes.
Pinchot said he resolved all issues with the IRS. The income tax issues were inadvertent: a business manager had partially liquidated a retirement account of Pinchot’s and failed to pay the taxes on the withdrawals.
He connected his problems today with his expectation that the “Bronson Pinchot Project” TV show would be renewed. The show quickly developed a fan base and ratings were strong. Pinchot, thinking he was looking at a multiyear run on a successful television show for the first time in two decades, “made decisions based on a presumed strength,” he said. The show was cancelled not for lack of audience, but for lack of home-improvement advertisers, who found his work too specialized, or “too beautiful,” as he put it. The show will begin airing in reruns starting Sept. 4 at 4:30 a.m.
Despite being the subject of gossip from some residents, he said, he made “bone-deep” friendships in the area and will keep a presence in Harford. He’s looking for a financial partner or backer.
“My nickname in Pennsylvania is ‘B,’” he said. “You know what’s been happening to the bees.”
In a 2012 interview with Sam Roberts, producer of an online podcast, Pinchot discussed his show and his restoration work in Harford. In the interview, Pinchot touted himself as a compulsive “hoarder of houses” who each day may live in a different Harford house, a practice he called “self trick-or-treating.”
“A few years ago, my agent and my mother said, ‘If you don’t get these albatrosses off from around your neck you will end up drowning in houses,” he told Roberts. “And I said, ‘I’m sorry, can you hand me that timber?’”