This is a breaking news type of story in Spokane Wa and I have to really wonder what kind of problems I'll encounter with this office? Trying to imagine the impact it will have on my rei career? Maybe corruption, fraud, and what not? How do you deal with this in your town?
SPOKANE -- Late last year, a Spokane woman filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging possible criminal fraud inside the Spokane County Assessor's Office. She ultimately resigned, but not before uncovering a mess in the Assessor's Office.
Debi Mason was a Spokane County appraiser. Her job was to take an assigned schedule of neighborhoods and make sure any add-ons, improvements or any homes built on those properties were on the tax rolls.
Almost immediately, she started finding properties that were missing from those roles. They were homes that the prior appraiser somehow missed even though she claimed to have inspected those neighborhoods.
"A good portion of the homes that I found, yes, had been...the homes had existed at the time the neighborhood was inspected," said Mason.
Many of these homes are quite large. Most of the missed homes were along major roads.
Back in 2006, KREM 2 News first brought some of these missing properties to light. Now there were even more. In 2007, Debi Mason gave her suspicions and a specific list to her immediate supervisor. Her supervisor took it up the ranks inside the Assessor's Office. But she never got an answer.
KREM 2 centered this investigation on the White neighborhood south of Spokane off Highway 195. Despite a document the prior appraiser checked the neighborhood and received tax dollars in salary and mileage, the appraiser did not find the homes. It has created a legal nightmare for some homeowners ready and willing to pay taxes. Two of them say they could not get anyone from the Assessor's Office to even come out. They had to get lawyers.
Debi was now up to 60 missing homes. Nearly $20 million in missing property from the tax roles. She says some were off the roles for up to six years. When she sounded the alarm bells, she says she got no response. So she filed a formal whistle-blower complaint with the Assessor's Office.
"This was far too many properties to not indicate...possible fraud is what I supposed," said Debi.
She filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging potential fraud in the Assessor's Office. Taxpayer money in salary and mileage reimbursements, hundreds of dollars per document, and a lot of money going to at least one appraiser. That appraiser claimed to have been there, but missed millions and millions in property evaluations, new homes and improvements. No one KREM 2 talked to inside the Assessor's Office could ever remember any other appraiser ever missing that much property.
The whistle-blower complaint went to Human Resources Director Kathy Malzahn. She refused to answer any questions on why no law enforcement agency was asked to investigate when fraud was being alleged in the whistle-blower complaint or why she allowed the Assessor's Office to in effect, investigate itself.
After blowing the whistle, Debi Mason was re-assigned. County Assessor Ralph Baker pulled her off the job that everyone said was doing well. He put her under the direct supervision of the women he promoted. The very woman Debi Mason claimed had missed all those properties, the very woman she had filed the whistle-blower complaint against is now her new boss. Debi Mason resigned.
The internal investigation found no wrong doing but did admit to numerous problems within the Assessor's Office. The investigation also found the appraiser had health issues. At least some of the new construction was missed because the appraiser's inspections were supposed to be assigned to others. The report even admits properties were missed.
Wednesday night at 6:00, KREM 2 will take a look at those findings and uncover who really did the investigation. Plus, find out why almost everyone involved in this case will not talk on advice of attorneys.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender!