Thursday, February 5, 2009

Congressman Gene Taylor Wants Details on Warr Purchase of Home Property from AFRH

Congressman Gene Taylor Wants Details on Warr Purchase of Home Property from AFRH by Keith Burton - GCN 2/5/09 Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor is pursuing answers to how Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr acquired the property for his home on Scenic Drive in Gulfport from the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Warr is facing a January 28, 2009 federal indictment for a Mississippi Development Authority homeowner grant that government investigators say he did not deserve. On February 3, 2009, Taylor sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the home. The property at question is located just east of the AFRH and was purchased by Warr in 2003. According to how the AFRH is structured, excess property owned by the AFRH must have the approval of the Secretary of Defense to be sold. At the time of the sale, the Secretary of Defense was Donald Rumsfeld who served under the administration of George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. Federal law gives the Secretary of Defense authority to buy property for AFRH’s benefit and to sell property the home does not need as long as the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are notified. In his letter to Gates, Taylor says he has questions about the sale of the property to Warr following his recent receipt of two letters dated from 2003 from Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Charles Abell to the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees that notified them of the sale of the AFRH property. In Abell's letters, Taylor learned that the federal government bought 10.02 acres next to the Armed Forces Retirement Home for $5.692 million. Abell said the Warrs had offered to buy two beachfront parcels that would result in $1 million being deposited in the AFRH accounts. Warr purchased 3.81 acres that included two large homes located on the beachfront portion of the property, which initially stretched from Scenic Drive to the CSX railroad tracks. This purchase is about $262,467.19 per acre, substantially less than than what the government paid for the property at $568,063.87 per acre, nearly a 54 -percent reduction in price. Taylor writes in in letter to Gates: "Dear Mr Secretary," Taylor writes to Gates, "I write to express my concerns over the acquisition and subsequent sale of real property of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) in Gulfport, Mississippi occuring in 2003..." Taylor then outlines his questions. "1. At the time the AFRH purchased the original 10.02 acres, what was the property's total appraised value, including acreage and all structures on the property? 2. What was the size of the smaller parcels sold to the Warrs? What, if any, portions were retained by the AFRH after the sale? 3. What was the appraised value of the property that the AFRH sold to the Warrs? 4. What was the sale price of the AFRH property that the AFRH sold to the Warrs? 5. According to the the 2003 letters, $1 million was to be deposited into the AFRH Trust Fund. "If there was a discrepancy between the sale price and the sum deposited in the AFRH Trust Fund for these properties, what became of the balance? 6. Mr. Abell's letter described the parcels that the AFRH sold to the Warrs as beachfront properties. Where are these properties located in respect to the original purchase? Are these parcels within the boundaries of the 10.02 acres in the original purchase?" In a Sun Herald story, Taylor is quoted as saying why he has sent his letter to Gates: “We ought to know why something was bought and, if something was sold, for how much,” Taylor said Tuesday. “Did it at least turn a profit for the taxpayer? That’s something I want to know off the bat.” Last year, Taylor placed restrictions on the Government's turnover of the former Gulfport Veteran's Administration Hospital property located along on the beach along U.S. 90 some 2.3 miles from the AFRH property. The restrictions were reportedly placed on VA property recently deeded to the city so that it could not be sold in the same way. “It’s very important that when we’re dealing with public resources, everything should be transparent and above board,” Taylor told the Sun Herald. Not commonly known about the VA hospital property is that Brent Warr's father served on a committee prior to Brent Warr's election that oversaw the VA's closure that was underway prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. GCN first reported this in a story published in 2006 titled, "The Invisible Government," which also included the information on the AFRH purchase by the Warrs. This story was published well before the Sun Herald and other media acknowledged these issues. Hurricane Katrina only accelerated the closing of the VA hospital. Over the past several years before the hurricane, the Veterans Administration had been closing hospitals and consolidating services under what has been called the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES project. CARES was established as a system-wide process to prepare the Veterans Administration for meeting the current and future health care needs of veterans in modern health care facilities. As part of that plan, each VA property that became included in the program created a Local Advisory Panel, which was ordered to develop a transition plan, hold public meetings, and recommend a process for closure and transferring services. The outcome for the Gulfport VA was to transfer much of its activities to the Biloxi VA and expand its work there with new buildings and assistance from Keesler’s Hospital. At that time the time frame for instituting this change began in 2004 and ended in late 2009, with final activation and demobilization to be complete by mid 2010. But, with hurricane Katrina’s destruction, the time frame was moved forward. (Photo right: Gulfport VA-click on photo to enlarge) Among the local representatives of the Gulfport VA Advisory Panel back in 2004 when the CARES process got underway in Gulfport, were Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and Gulfport businessman Gene Warr, who is the father of Gulfport’s Mayor Brent Warr. It is clear that Gene Warr has had an intimate knowledge of the closure of the VA property well before the public became aware of what was happening to the VA and before his son Brent Warr was elected mayor. Moving to the present time, it is clear that Congressman Taylor is still seeking information on this growing and complex case. So too is GCN. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- More Information: The Warr Home - GCN 1/30/09 Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr has a Homeowner Grant - GCN 1/04/08 New Armed Forces Retirement Complex Towers Above Tree Line - GCN Building Permit Fees of Mayor Brent Warr - GCN 1/26/08 Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and Wife Indicted by Federal Authorities for Katrina Fraud, Plead Not Guilty - GCN 1/28/09 Federal Warr Indictment - .pdf file GCN Warr Archives

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