Wilder speaks out after judge rules National Slavery Museum land must be sold

Posted at 8:27 PM, Sep 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-29 20:27:56-04

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WTVR) -- The land where the National Slavery Museum was supposed to be built in Fredericksburg will be back for sale at public auction.

A judge ruled former Governor L. Douglas Wilder, the museum's creator, must pay all the back taxes owed on the Fredericksburg property after the museum board failed to do so.

The city says the debt has reached more than $400,000 for the 38 acres of land for the multi-million dollar project.

"This is not the end of this game," said Wilder. "No one should be forced to pay taxes on property that they don't know the value of."

Over the years, the taxes have been piling up. Last year, the museum board filed for bankruptcy, but a federal judge dismissed the case after an anonymous donor was supposed to come forward.

“I would like to see somebody come forward to pay the taxes. I would be relieved if they did,” said John Rife, an attorney for the City of Fredericksburg.

However, according to city leaders, that never happened.

When CBS 6 News Sandra Jones asked Wilder why he had not paid any of the back taxes, he said "because we don't know the value of what we have to pay."

When questioned further about why he had not paid something against the tab, Wilder's attorney stepped in.

"How can you pay taxes on a moving target? It is totally unfair for the museum to pay taxes when they don’t know what it’s worth,” said attorney Joe Morrissey.

Morrissey and his co-counsel argued that point in a Caroline courtroom on Wilder's behalf. But attorneys for the City of Fredericksburg disagreed.

"They've been given notice of what the taxes are - what they've been assessed with year over year for the last five years. And if they don't know what they're assessed with somebody's not opening up the mail,” said Rife.

Wilder and his attorneys said they plan to appeal the ruling, which could mean stopping the tax sale by filing for bankruptcy again.

"I’m not overly concerned," said Rife. "If they file for bankruptcy, we'll take it in stride and do what we have to do to represent the city's interest. I think the outcome will be similar in nature of what we have right now.”

The public sale of the land could happen in 30 days. The judge’s decision comes after a group of baseball investors and the museum board failed to negotiate a price on the sale of the property. However, a possible deal could be reached before that public auction.