Arp Investigation Continues
Attorney to probe Rarity Bay appraisals
Dunavant also to look into alleged falsifying of closing documents
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
A district attorney from Ripley, Tenn., has been assigned to investigate and possibly prosecute the case of property assessments and irregularities in documents linked to lots sold at Vonore's Rarity Bay development.
Mike Dunavant, a district attorney general with the 25th Judicial District in West Tennessee, has confirmed that he will be investigating the case to determine what crimes may have occurred.
Loudon County Assessor Chuck Jenkins discovered in 2008 that 2005 property tax assessments for about 175 properties at Rarity Bay had been lowered as much as 60 percent for no apparent reason by Doyle Arp, who then was Loudon County Assessor and now is the county's mayor. Rarity Bay and other Rarity communities in East Tennessee were developed by Mike Ross and his Rarity Communities development firm.
Arp, who served as property assessor until August 2006, has said he made the reductions after requests from property owners. Ross, who owned almost all the properties in question, has said he did not request any reappraisals. Jenkins has said there were no records of requests for adjustments.
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 has said.
Jenkins later 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 Ross-owned Assurance Title in Vonore falsified closing documents. Neither Arp nor Ross has returned calls seeking comment.
Russell Johnson, attorney general for the 9th Judicial District that includes Loudon, Roane, Morgan and Meigs counties, asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the lowered assessments as well as other irregularities in closing documents filed by Assurance Title. The case was referred to Dunavant's office after the TBI investigation ended in December, according to Johnson. "I contacted Guy Jones, assistant director with the (Tennessee) DAG's Conference at that point, about having the AG's Office or another DAG or both look over the investigation and see what direction, if any, the matter needed to proceed," Johnson said in a statement last week.
Johnson also said that he suggested the state Attorney General's office use the same model done in Knox County, where Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. took over an investigation into financial matters involving the Knox County mayor's office. A Memphis assistant district attorney was appointed to handle the investigation. Last year, the investigation found no wrongdoing by the mayor's office.
"Guy stated that they only went that route with Knox County because of the complexity of the issues and the amounts of money involved," Johnson said.
Jones suggested one or two district attorneys from outside East Tennessee who might be appropriate to investigate in East Tennessee areas where the Rarity developments are, Johnson said.
"At our January executive committee meeting, he had me meet with Mike Dunavant of Ripley, Tennessee, and we went over the summaries and the high points," Johnson said. "General Dunavant agreed to take the matter over for review and I forwarded the box of material to him and put him in contact with TBI special agent Jason Legg."
Dunavant confirmed that he had received information and would be reviewing the case in the near future. He also said he planned to travel to the 9th Judicial District to interview witnesses in the case.