A former pastor who ran for governor last year and is now running for Congress committed fraud when he sold his home to his church without paying a lengthy mortgage against him, according to a lawsuit filed by former tenants to which he owed nearly 15,000 $.
Phil Rizzo, who had owed the former tenants money since 2015 after winning a counterclaim against his own failed lawsuit against them, paid shortly after they filed their case last summer. According to court documents, Rizzo had previously told tenants that “they would never see a dime from him.”
The former tenants, Wade and Karen Weinzetl, said in their lawsuit that they learned that Rizzo had sold the new Vernon home he now lives in to his church in 2017, while still owing them the money after reading a POLITICO report on the sale.
The Weinzetl family had rented a home from Rizzo in Sparta in 2011 and paid $ 4,500 a month in rent.
In their lawsuit, Weinzetls’ lawyer, Jeffrey Patti, claimed that Rizzo and his wife, Jennifer, “demonstrated their utter contempt for  civil judgment … by knowingly obstructing and deceiving “the couple.
The Weinzetl lawsuit was rejected in September after Rizzo paid them $ 14,598 – double their security deposit plus interest.
Rizzo ran for governor in the Republican primary in 2021, finishing in second place after the final GOP nominee Jack Ciattarelli. He ran a right-wing extremist campaign that was deeply loyal to former President Donald Trump, put an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist on the campaign payroll and attracted the support of some conservative media personalities and politicians.
Rizzo, who announced in June that he was taking a potentially permanent leave as sole pastor of City Baptist Church in Hudson County, started a PAC after the primary election to recruit candidates for the local office and is now running for Congress in the 11th District. According to a report released Monday, he is considering moving to the 7th District.
City Baptist Church’s website said it was no longer able to meet “due to sustained damage from Hurricane Ida.”
Rizzo did not call back to his campaign to seek comments. The Weinzetl family rejected a request for an interview made through their attorney.
The fight dates back about 10 years, according to court documents, after Weinzetls’ Sparta home was damaged by fire, and Rizzo offered to rent them a home he owned in Sussex County township.
The home he offered the couple was so luxurious that the Weinzetl family “were actually reluctant to move in because they had four children and an older dog to look after, and they were afraid they would actually move into a situation that they would later regret., when the house was so carefully finished and maintained, “wrote State Supreme Court Justice William McGovern, summing up the trial in 2015.
It is not clear what previous relationship, if any, Rizzos and Weinzetl had.
The Weinzetls family, who moved out in 2012, admitted, according to court documents, about $ 500 in damages. Rizzo saw it differently and sued the couple for $ 50,000.
After a three-day trial in 2015, McGovern concluded that the damages Rizzo cited were “doubtful”. The judge also ruled that Rizzo “could not provide any conclusive, convincing evidence” of the damage and had “mostly testified in vague terms as to what a particular item replacement cost would be or what a particular repair would cost.”
McGovern dismissed Rizzo’s lawsuit with prejudice, but agreed with Weinzetls’ counterclaim and ordered Rizzo to pay the couple more than $ 6,200 of their approximately $ 6,700 security deposit. He later doubled the amount Rizzo owed, court documents show.
It would not be until 2021, when Rizzo began his career as a politician, that Weinzetls saw the money he owed them.
After reading that Rizzo had sold the new Vernon house he bought in 2017 to his church, the Weinzetls sued, claiming that the verdict against Rizzo should have been treated as part of the sale of the home.
Rizzo’s church took out a $ 750,000 mortgage to buy the $ 1.65 million property that Rizzo lived in as a tax-free parsonage. He later said he did not collect the remaining $ 900,000 of the sale price, according to court documents.
Weinzetls’ 2021 lawsuit also named the title company used by the church, claiming it “did not meet the said state-wide jurisdiction by closing the title on the New Vernon property.”
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