A MAGA-backed pastor running for governor in New Jersey turned his luxury $1.6 million home into a parsonage and now resides there free of property taxes, Politico reports.
Phil Rizzo — who leads the tiny City Baptist Church in Hudson County — and his wife, Jennifer, paid $1.55 million in 2015 for a five-bedroom, seven-bath home on six secluded acres in New Vernon, Morris County, about 45 minutes away from the church. Two years later, the Rizzos sold the house for $1.65 million to City Baptist Church. Rizzo has said his family still lives in the house — property-tax free. Public records list it as a property tax-exempt parsonage, saving more than $15,000 in taxes per year in the state that has among the highest property taxes in the country.
Rizzo, who according to his online bio is a third generation real estate developer, ranks behind Jack Ciatterelli in the race for the Republican nomination, making him a longshot to become governor of the Garden State. The winner of that contest will face incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in November. On Twitter, Rizzo has espoused baseless claims about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and conspiracy theories that left-wing activists were responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Since selling the house to the church, the home has undergone luxury improvements, according to the Zillow listing. In September 2020, it was put up for sale, but the listing was withdrawn in November, according to Zillow. The asking price was $2.65 million.
In a statement to Politico, Rizzo said when he “decided to walk away” from his business building and renovating homes, the church could not pay him a salary and decided to go this route instead.
“Instead, the church decided to purchase my home as an asset and allow my family and I to continue living there,” he said. “In addition, the home provided peaceful and beautiful acreage in Harding, out of the city, where we could bring our church and community for family dinners, picnics, games, Bible studies, and kids events. You can fault me for many things — just ask my kids! But I don’t believe this is one of them.“
Rizzo’s campaign declined to answer follow-up questions about how the church was able to raise the money to purchase his home, why it paid him more for the house than he paid for it, whether he or the church paid for the renovations and examples of recent church events he held at the home.
The house is now exempt from property taxes, according to public records. According to the Zillow listing, it was assessed at $1.37 million in 2018 and the property taxes were $15,388. According to public records, the house was assessed at nearly $1.84 million in 2020.
Image credit: Screengrab / NJ Spotlight News / YouTube