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Judge orders Leon to pay city for fire cleanup

More than a year after Austin's major downtown fire, the woman who owns a majority of the destroyed property must pay back the city of Austin for its cleanup costs.

Maria Leon, now living in Worthington, Minn., was ordered by a Mower County judge on Friday to pay $140,440.56 to the city of Austin, Mower District Court records show.

Judge Donald E. Rysavy ruled that the city's itemized expenses, attorney fees and court costs are reasonable under state statute. Leon also had not objected to the city's submitted expenses, he wrote.

Assistant City Attorney Craig Byram, however, did not know Monday why the judge's order was $4,500 less than the city's submitted total of $144,940.56.

City officials will need to discuss a payback plan with Leon, Byram said. The ultimate decision, he said, is when the city would want to begin taking a collection effort against Leon, whom officials believe has not yet been paid by her insurance company.


In court papers, Leon has agreed to cooperate with the city in establishing a lien against her potential insurance claim, Byram said. If a claim is ever paid to Leon, the city would be paid first, he said.

Byram has created a document outlining the process and plans to send it to Leon's attorney.

If Leon doesn't pay, the city, like any creditor, would pursue collection, Byram said.

Douglas Nepp of Minneapolis, an attorney representing Leon, was not available for comment Monday.

Leon could not be reached for comment and has not spoken publicly about the downtown fire.

On Jan. 15, 2009, fire destroyed and damaged several buildings in the 400 block of North Main Street's east side, including Leon's Mi Tierra clothing store, restaurant and grocery store.

Authorities say the blaze was started intentionally in the front of the Mi Tierra clothing store, but they have not named suspects or provided details on how the fire started.

In prior court documents, Nepp stated that Austin police "prematurely and erroneously" accused Leon of arson, which has delayed insurance benefits being paid to her. The hold up with insurance also delayed the cleanup of Leon's property, Nepp wrote. Police denied his allegation.

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