Credit: Dreamstime/TNS | TNS

A Hermon woman convicted of drug dealing has sued the town to let her pay her back property taxes and retain the foreclosed property. Others hit by hard times have been able to do that in the past, but town councilors have refused to negotiate with the woman after expressing concerns she had sold drugs from her home in the past.

Erica Oliveira, 30, bought the Fuller Road mobile home on a 1.25-acre lot in 2011 and told the town council that she would sell it and let the town approve a potential buyer.

Still the council refused, which is permitted under Maine law, according to Bangor attorney Edmond Bearor, who represents the town.

“The town council has determined in this instance the best interest of the town of Hermon is not served by allowing the former owner to redeem [the property],” the lawyer said earlier this week.

Oliveira fell behind on her property taxes in 2014, according to the town’s annual reports posted on its website. She failed to pay them in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The delinquent tax reports for 2018 and 2019 are not available online but it is unlikely she paid those years since Oliveira was incarcerated for most of that time.

She was released from the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prison on March 27, 2019, after spending time at a halfway house in Portland and time in home confinement, according to her attorney, William Palmer of Bangor. Oliveira now lives with her 11-year-old son and her mother in Hermon.

The town last year foreclosed on the property, which was valued in 2017 for tax purposes at $69,700.

Oliveira’s lawyer argued in the lawsuit that Hermon’s refusal to allow the woman to gain back her property goes against its own policy that outlines ways for homeowners to retain ownership of their foreclosed properties if they are able to meet the past tax obligations.

“According to the records of the [Penobscot County] Registry of Deeds, they have accepted just such a payment, after the period of redemption had expired, from dozens of other town residents,” Palmer said earlier this week. “In my experience, it is standard operating procedure for a town to release its interest upon the payment of back taxes.”

When the town took steps last year to demolish the woman’s trailer, Palmer sued the town in Penobscot County Superior Court alleging that Hermon was treating Oliveira differently than it has treated others who have paid back taxes and been given their property back.

Oliveira paid $52,000 in cash for the property using the settlement from a car accident in which she was seriously injured, according to Palmer. As a result of her injuries, she was prescribed opioids and “developed a problem,” he said.

“That property represents her entire life savings,” Palmer said. “Ideally, she would like to sell the property and move forward with her life. She would be happy to work with the town in any way which would allow that to happen.”

The demolition was put on hold while the lawsuit makes its way through Penobscot Superior Court. Recently, Justice William Anderson denied the town’s motion to dismiss Oliveira’s complaint, so the litigation will go forward once the court system is back on a regular schedule.

The cases being considered that require people to appear in court have been limited to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

Hermon is not the first town to decline to return a property once delinquent taxes have been paid, according to Bearor.

In the 1990s, the owner of the former Freese’s Department Store in downtown Bangor sued the city after it took possession of the property for back taxes.

The case was settled in 1999 after the Maine Supreme Judicial ruled against the former owner Charles Fitzgerald of Dover-Foxcroft. The former Freese’s building now houses the Maine Children’s Museum, the Fork and Spoon Restaurant and an assisted living facility.

Oliveira has taken responsibility for her drug activity on the property, according to Palmer.

“She is doing well and is disgusted by her life on drugs and will not be returning to that life,” the lawyer said. “She has been sober nearly two years, no drugs, no alcohol and has a great family support system. She does not take any maintenance drugs such as methadone or suboxone, nor any other medication.”

Palmer also said that Oliveira, a licensed cosmetologist, was working in a local hair salon before it was shut down due to the coronavirus restrictions.

In December 2018, she admitted in U.S. District Court in Bangor that for nearly three years between Jan. 1, 2015, and Sept. 1, 2017, she sold drugs out of her home and allowed others to use the property to store and distribute them, according to court documents. In return, Oliveira was compensated in drugs as she struggled with substance use disorder, according to federal court documents.

Oliveira was indicted Aug. 18, 2018, along with six others, by a federal grand jury on drug conspiracy and other charges. She was arrested five day later and agreed to be held without bail while awaiting trial.

In October of that year, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine. One count of maintaining a drug-involved place was dismissed in exchange for her guilty plea.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock on May 28, 2019, sentenced Oliveira to two years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. The time she was incarcerated while awaiting the resolution of her case, about 9 months, was applied to her sentence.

She also most likely earned good time that allowed her to be released before serving the full two years.