Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taylor wants info on AFRH

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GULFPORT — U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor wants to know more about the sale of federal property to Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr and his father, he says in a letter written Tuesday to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"I write to express my concerns about the acquisition and subsequent sale of real property of the Armed Forces Retirement Home at Gulfport, Miss., occurring in 2003," Taylor's letter begins.

Brent Warr and his wife, Laura, have been indicted for Katrina fraud because the government contends they lied when they claimed a house on the property was their primary residence when Katrina hit. They received a $150,000 federal homeowners grant and $9,558 in FEMA relief for the damage.


No charges have been filed over the property transactions with the Armed Forces Retirement Home in 2003. 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.

AFRH bought the property on an unspecified date in 2003, according to the Under Secretary of Defense's Office, but had decided to sell it to the Warrs by August 2003. Another document indicates AFRH bought the property in 2002.

In an August 2003 letter, Principal Deputy Charles S. Abell, in the Under Secretary's Office, said 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.

"The resale of the two smaller beachfront properties will result in $1 million, which will be deposited in the AFRH Trust Fund," Abell wrote in the letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

Taylor, whose office has been looking into the property acquisitions since the Sun Herald published a story about them in October, enclosed the 2003 correspondence with 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."

Taylor made sure restrictions were placed on Veterans Affairs 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 aboveboard," he said.

Brent Warr and his father, Gene Warr, could not be reached to comment. Gene Warr and his wife live in the house next to their son's. Both homes are east of the site of the remaining Armed Forces Retirement Home property off U.S. 90. A new retirement home is being built there.

County land records show that Gene Warr's home sits on 1.42 acres, while Brent Warr has 2.39 acres. Realtor Sherry Owen, who handled the property transactions, told the Sun Herald in October that she called Brent Warr about the property because she knew he was looking for land.

Owen's husband, Joe Sam Owen, is Brent Warr's attorney in the Katrina fraud case made public last week.

In his letter, Taylor has asked Gates the appraised value of the 10.02 acres, plus buildings, when AFRH purchased the property; the appraised value and size of the parcels sold to the Warrs; and whether there was any discrepancy between the amount earned from the sale and the amount deposited in the AFRH trust fund.

Taylor wrote, "I would greatly appreciate it if you could furnish answers to the questions posed above and any relevant documents on which they are based, including but not limited to appraisals, deeds, financial transactions, property descriptions, sale papers, etc."

Taylor asked for a response within two weeks.


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