As a bar and grill, East Gloucester's Harbor House was probably best known for large television screens and free fish fries.
But with bright orange seizure signs now gracing the windows, the watering hole's new notoriety is for being secretly owned, the state says, by a Beverly businessman who for years has been a fixture on the list of Massachusetts' biggest tax scofflaws.
Robert Lockwood owes the state $2.6 million in back taxes, according to the Department of Revenue, ranking him fifth on the state's tax scofflaws list for businesses.
With a $4 million oceanfront mansion on Beverly Farms' West Street for an address and business interests throughout the state, Lockwood has become a top target for tax collectors, who have been chasing him since the 1980s.
So when some of the bar's managers told investigators this year that Lockwood really controlled the establishment, the state jumped at the chance to get back at least some of what it says it has lost to him.
"We have been nipping at his heels for a while, but this is the first time we have a property that we have proof is controlled by him," said Robert Bliss, a spokesman for the state Department of Revenue. "This is taking the department's efforts for something of what he owes to a different level. It is a fresh effort, and it is being done because Mr. Lockwood is, in the judgment of DOR, a particularly egregious delinquency."
Although his name appears on no deed, bank account or permit connected with the Harbor House, the Department of Revenue says Lockwood has owned the restaurant for several years with acquaintances acting as paper owners in return for an opportunity to manage the place.
A Harvard graduate, Lockwood has built a reputation as a financier working with distressed enterprises. His commercial interests have included mobile phone companies, as well as restaurants.