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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Realtor’s arrest highlights perils of meth

Joseph G. Ward Arrested last week on drug and stolen property charges. (Courtesy Photo / The Spokesman-Review)
Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

Joseph G. Ward earned a master’s degree in business from Gonzaga University, spent time as a heralded super stock race car driver and ascended to the top of the land-development industry, winning sales awards, buying acres of coveted land and doing business with real estate moguls Harlan Douglass and Raymond Hanson.

But last week, investigators searching his Nine Mile Falls home found methamphetamine and property from several burglaries, and the owner of Pinnacle Realty spent the night in the Spokane County Jail on drug and stolen property charges.

His arrest spotlights an illegal drug that, while falling out of the headlines, continues to command police attention.

The Jan. 7 arrest – five days after his 61st birthday – followed a raid by the SWAT team and the Washington State Patrol auto theft unit on his five-acre property on Tormey Road overlooking Long Lake. And it accompanied the arrest of three other suspects at his home, including two with lengthy criminal records.

“The type of evidentiary items we found, that was typical,” said WSP Cpl. Dave Bolton. “What’s atypical is the suspect: Joe Ward.”

Ward faces one count of felony possession of a controlled substance, three counts of possession of stolen property and one count of possession of a stolen vehicle, according to WSP.

Members of the Spokane real estate community said they were shocked by the allegations.

“He’s not your ordinary Realtor. He’s one of the best,” said developer Dave Black.

Ward opened Pinnacle Realty in 1988. He handled leasing at the Spokane Valley Mall when Hanson was developing it in the 1990s. He also helped Douglass with projects along North Division Street and other developments

“It takes a guy with a lot of qualities to serve a guy like that,” Black said of the notoriously prickly Douglass.

Rob Higgins, executive vice president of the Spokane Association of Realtors, worked in the same office as Ward in the 1980s.

“No one got to work earlier than Joe or left later than Joe,” Higgins said. “Whatever Joe did, he did better than anybody else.”

In 1990, Ward became the first Eastern Washington shooter to win the state skeet championships.

Ward did not return phone messages left at his downtown Spokane office, and Bolton said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment on Ward’s involvement. Arrested with Ward were Scott A. Johnson, 49, Shad A. Johnson, 36, and Chelce A. Zimmerman, 28.

Both Johnsons have extensive criminal records that include drug and stolen property charges. The investigation into the group began in late November when a man called WSP and said he was concerned about Scott Johnson’s girlfriend, who moved onto Ward’s property with Johnson in the summer after Ward hired Johnson for maintenance work, according to a search warrant.

That man, Michael D. Olinger, told police he “had heard Joe Ward had been very wealthy at one time and has lost most of his money due to an addiction to methamphetamine,” Detective Jeff Thoet wrote in the search warrant.

Scott Johnson worked as an informant for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office until he began using methamphetamine again in 2005, Thoet wrote, and has since provided occasional information about stolen property, including allegations against Olinger, a felon, that were never substantiated.

The search warrant details an apparent feud between Olinger and Johnson that culminated with Olinger’s visit to WSP on Dec. 29 to report abuse by Johnson against his girlfriend and the presence of stolen property at Ward’s home.

Troopers found personal watercraft, ski equipment, a boat, trailers, sprinkler equipment, an ATV and other property they say was reported stolen as far back as last summer. Olinger told investigators that Scott Johnson would steal property in exchange for methamphetamine from Ward.

Shad Johnson was arrested as he drove a Jeep Wrangler from the property, which WSP says was stolen from St. Regis, Mont.

It wasn’t the first time law enforcement had been at the home.

A month earlier, sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of an assault against Zimmerman by her boyfriend, David K. “Ink” Sankey, who allegedly fired gunshots at Ward’s home.

That report prompted the SWAT team to join WSP in the early evening raid of Ward’s home, Bolton said.

“We decided the risks were a little higher than we wanted,” Bolton said.

Black said he hopes Ward’s determination will help him now.

“He didn’t let many things get in his way; he just plowed right ahead, which is what it takes in our business,” Black said. “Don’t count him out.”

Higgins said he’s keeping Ward in his prayers.

“I hope he works his way through this. He’s a good man,” he said.