Yesterday, at a press conference to release his 2015 budget proposal, Spokane Mayor David Condon stood in front of a Hillyard warehouse that will soon be home to the city's second police precinct.
The idea is, by decentralizing the police force into a precinct model, police work will become more community-oriented and responsive to neighborhood concerns.
In our report in today's paper, we mentioned that the building was purchased in 2005 for $410,000 using seizure funds. We didn't mention that the sale almost a decade ago raised some eyebrows, which came to light this morning thanks to some additional sleuthing.
According to a story that ran on the front page of the March 16, 2005 edition of the Spokesman-Review, the police department bought the building from a retired Spokane police captain and the deal was brokered by a retired Spokane police chief.
The property was owned by Chuck Crabtree, who retired in 1981 as captain in charge of the department’s uniformed division. Former Assistant Police Chief John Sullivan was one of two real estate listing agents, and was reported to earn a share of the $24,600 commission on the sale.
Read the original story below.
"Police say deal no conflict," March 16, 2005
The Spokane Police Department wants to spend $410,000 to buy a Hillyard warehouse owned by one of its retired police captains.
A real estate agent who helped broker the deal is a retired assistant police chief.
City officials insisted Tuesday that the connections are simply coincidence, and that the deal was negotiated by a private real estate firm brought in to avoid the perception of a conflict. The Spokane City Council will be asked next week to approve the purchase.
The property, which the Police Department wants to convert into an evidence warehouse, is owned by Chuck Crabtree, who retired in 1981 as captain in charge of the department’s uniformed division, and his wife, Delores. Their real estate listing agents are Rod Plese and former Assistant Police Chief John Sullivan, who stand to earn a share of the $24,600 commission on the sale.
Deputy Police Chief Al Odenthal said a new evidence warehouse is needed because the department’s existing downtown facility along State Street no longer meets building safety codes and is a fire hazard. It was built in 1907 and is nearly twice as big as Crabtree’s warehouse.
When asked if he knew who owns the Hillyard warehouse, Odenthal initially said: "I have no idea."
Told it was Crabtree, Odenthal responded: "It doesn’t matter to me."
Later in the same interview, Odenthal acknowledged that he knew that Crabtree owns the property. Odenthal said one of the city’s real estate staffers "did tell me that."
In fact, the department already has been leasing a portion of Crabtree’s warehouse for evidence storage.
"I don’t care if it was Chuck Crabtree or (former mayor) Sheri Barnard," Odenthal said. "If you want to write this is a former police officer who got a sweet deal, then write it. I never talked to Chuck Crabtree. I never talked to John Sullivan. I just dealt with my real estate agent like I was buying my own house."
Odenthal abruptly ended the interview and walked away.
Crabtree purchased the Hillyard property along Market Street in 2000 for about $100,000, according to county records. A year later, he erected a warehouse-office building that he has been using for storage and car sales businesses, which he has pursued since retirement. The building was estimated to be worth $230,000 at the time of construction, according to a city building permit.
The Police Department wants to use the 7,700-square-foot building to store evidence seized in crimes. Money for the purchase would come from funds obtained through the sale of criminal property forfeitures.
"It’s ideal for what they want," Sullivan said.
Plese said Crabtree has invested at least $400,000 in the property.
Spokane County currently has the property assessed at $303,000 for tax purposes, but assessed tax values are typically set below market values.
Crabtree reportedly decided to sell because of health reasons. Plese said Crabtree told officers he was selling the property, and that triggered the department’s interest in purchasing it.
The city enlisted its independent agent to approach Plese about a purchase. Plese said the agent, Tracy Lucas, of Kiemle and Hagood Co., initially did not say who he was representing.
Dave Ingle, police information bureau director, said Lucas was brought into the deal to provide a layer of separation between the seller and the Police Department.
Lucas said he conducted a market analysis of similar properties that were for sale and discovered that the Crabtree property was priced competitively, in the middle point of the other properties.
Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch said Police Chief Roger Bragdon had disclosed the connection between the department and Crabtree in recommending the purchase, and the deal got approval from the legal department, as long as the property was worth the sale price based on an appraisal that has not yet been completed.
The negotiated price of $410,000 was a midpoint between the city’s initial offer of $395,000 and Crabtree’s asking price of $425,000, officials said. An appraisal is expected prior to closing the deal, they said.
This hasn’t been the first time the city tried to find a replacement for the aging evidence warehouse.
The first proposal for a new facility came in 2003 when the City Council approved up to $250,000 for the purchase of five acres in Airway Heights.
That option remains open but would require the department to develop the site.
"Frankly, I don’t have enough money to construct a facility that meets the requirements of the county’s comprehensive plan," Odenthal said.
The purchase of Crabtree’s warehouse would become an intermediate step while the city continues to collect money from the sale of items seized from drug dealers to pay for developing the Airway Heights property, he said.
"I can buy and use this (Crabtree) property on the short term, sell it and not lose anything," Odenthal said. "If we can’t get money for the West Plains property, we can stay in this one."
Police spokesman Dick Cottam said Bragdon was on vacation Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
The proposed purchase is not the first time Bragdon’s friendship with Crabtree has made news.
In 2003, Bragdon urged judicial leniency for Crabtree’s son, Jim Crabtree, a former Spokane County deputy sheriff turned drug dealer, who was convicted in a drug-related auto crash that nearly killed sheriff’s Sgt. Earl Howerton in 2001.
Jim Crabtree was sentenced to five years in prison for vehicular assault, two counts of possession and four counts of selling crack cocaine.
Chuck Crabtree did not return two messages left at his home.