Rarity Bay case goes to AG; No word if crime committed

Hugh G. Willett news@knoxvillebiz.com

Posted January 28, 2010 at midnight


"The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has completed its investigation into irregularities related to property assessments at the Rarity Bay development in Loudon County, but there is no word yet on whether a criminal offense occurred.

Word of the completed investigation comes as Loudon County Assessor Chuck Jenkins said he also discovered irregularities in assessments of Ross-owned properties in the Rarity Pointe development near Lenoir City.

TBI returned the results of the investigation to 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson last month, a TBI spokeswoman said.

A spokesperson for Johnson's office said that the case was being referred to the state Attorney General's office and that a district attorney from West Tennessee would be handling the case.

The case began in early 2008 after Jenkins noticed that 2005 property tax assessments for about 175 Rarity lots owned by developer Mike Ross or one of his affiliated companies had been reduced by as much as 60 percent for no apparent reason.

Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp, who served as property assessor until August 2006, has said he made the reductions after requests from property owners. He did not return calls seeking additional comment. Ross, who owned almost all the properties in question, has said he did not request any reappraisals. Jenkins said there were no records of requests for adjustments. Ross also did not return calls seeking additional comment.

A clerk in the assessor's office has signed an affidavit saying that Arp told her to record the changes to the Rarity appraisals in June 2005, several weeks after the official appraisals had been entered, Jenkins said.

The affidavit also states that Arp told the clerk to destroy the official tax cards after keying in the data rather than following standard procedure of attaching the old cards to the new cards. Jenkins said that the TBI has not yet interviewed the assessor's office clerk.

Arp, who declined to comment for this story, recently announced that he would not seek a second term as county mayor.

Johnson's office began a probe into the assessments in October 2008 and quickly discovered other discrepancies in the records associated with the lots. A number of changes were made in the closing documents prepared by Assurance Title Co. of Vonore, according to Johnson.

In some cases, closing papers filed with the Register of Deeds showed higher prices were paid for the lots than those shown on copies of the closing documents. One lot in Rarity Bay that sold for $500,000 was listed as selling for $900,000, according to closing documents.

Ross was a partner in Assurance Title along with Lenoir City Judge Terry Vann.

Vann, who filed for bankruptcy protection in December, has filed a lawsuit against Ross claiming non-payment of his share of profits from the partnership.

Jenkins has since discovered that Arp's office made unexplained reductions in at least 35 lots belonging to Ross in the Rarity Pointe development in Lenoir City. Lawsuits filed by Ross's partner in Rarity Pointe, Robert Stooksbury Jr., also have alleged that Assurance Title falsified closing documents.

Johnson has not responded to requests for additional information about the investigation."



Hugh G. Willett news@knoxvillebiz.com